The numbers are compelling. 91% of B2B Marketers report bigger deal sizes with ABM. 86% report higher win rates with a 70% increase in the number of opportunities created.
There is a lot of debate on LinkedIn (and other well-known social channels) as to whether ABM is just good B2B Marketing.
Our position is clear. It is not.
We mean it is not the same. It is much more than just B2B marketing. It’s a strategic pivot impacting your entire organization - going wide and deep.
- ABM is highly personalized
- ABM is not a good fit for all B2B organizations
- ABM is a strategy - not a tactic
- You need to choose your ABM accounts carefully
- ABM is a marathon and you need to be prepared
- Without Sales ABM can’t succeed
- ABM requires Marketers to become data scientists
- You need to get under the skin of your target accounts with ABM
1. ABM: Treating an account as a market of one
When it comes to ABM, there are dozens of different definitions, interpretations, and understandings of what it is, who it’s best suited to, and how it should be done.
But looking back to its inception in 2003, ABM can be defined as:
“A strategic approach that combines targeted, insight-led marketing with sales to increase mindshare, strengthen relationships, and drive growth in specific new and existing accounts.” - ITSMA
In other words, treating an account, or a cluster of accounts, as a market of one.
It’s a highly personalized strategy, with deep account-level investigation together with harnessing technology, data, and insights to craft a unique value proposition that informs your messaging, content, and campaign strategy.
All this then comes together in what we call an Account Experience.
The objective? Well, that will depend on your company and growth objectives. We typically see our clients deploy ABM to:
- Change perceptions of your brand
- Win new accounts
- Penetrate existing accounts
- Pursue major opportunities
The key is how you personalize your ABM campaign to address one or more of the above objectives.
ABM is all about personalization - the key to unlocking the account and the buying committee within that account.
2. ABM isn’t a good fit for everyone
Of course, with 87% of B2B marketers surveyed by ITSMA reporting that their ABM initiatives outperform their other marketing investments in terms of ROI, it’s clear that an Account-based strategy is now part of the arsenal of many organizations.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for everyone.
We believe certain criteria need to be met in order for ABM to work for your organization:
- You’re selling a high-value (north of 50,000 £/$/€ ARR) or complex solution into mid-market/enterprise
- Your product or solution has a long and/or complicated sales cycle
- You are looking to target people within an organization that goes across several departments and influence a ‘buying committee’ within an account
- You are reaching a level of maturity in Marketing and Sales that means you are able to take on a resource-heavy strategy - either internally or in tandem with an external Agency
Chances are if you fit one or multiple of these categories, then you could see some serious benefits with an ABM program.
Conversely, ABM is not suitable for your business if:
- You’re still at the product/market fit stage
- You have a low average deal value
- You don’t have a fully defined Marketing function within your business
3. ABM is a strategy - not a tactic
ABM has triggered an explosion of debate in the B2B world.
And this opens up the topic to multiple interpretations - some of which are often misleading.
First things first, ABM is not a tactic.
It’s not just running some targeted LinkedIn ads, or adding personalization to your messaging, or sending coffee card vouchers.
It’s a strategy - and a resource-heavy one at that.
Of course, these can both be elements of a wider strategy, and these might be tactics you adopt as part of your ABM program.
In its purest form, ABM is a strategic pivot for the whole organization. It’s not just good B2B Marketing, and it requires the input and buy-in from the whole business, not just the Marketing team.
We are seeing more and more where the C-suite is actively involved in shaping the ABM strategy for their organizations or being the main sponsor.
If ABM is now a C-suite issue - then ABM is not just good B2B Marketing.
Why? Accounts, clients, customers - whatever you choose to call them - are the lifeblood of every single organization.
There is no room for complacency. B2B, B2C, B2B2C - all these acronyms mean one thing - delivering the best service possible to your clients - to keep them, to grow them, to turn them into advocates, to learn from them, etc.
An Account-based strategy is a cradle to grave strategy, i.e. it impacts all parts of your organization - from Marketing to Sales to Customer Success to Operations, etc.
It’s Account-based Everything.
4. Crawl, walk, run
When launching ABM, it can be very easy to get caught up in all the excitement and go in big.
But the best way to move forward and succeed is to start small and try not to bite off more than you can chew.
Start off with a very limited number of accounts to run a pilot program with, and grow and expand from there.
Of course, there are various ABM program types that you can choose from depending on your target audience, budget, and ultimate business goals:
- One-to-many: technology has helped to make this possible building brand awareness into your Total Addressable Market.
- One-to-few: a more personalized approach, targeting around 15 accounts per quarter, with 15-20% personalization for each account.
- One-to-one: the most advanced program type, with full-scale personalization aimed at a very select few accounts.
We're seeing great success with a Blended ABM approach - combining say One-to-many and One-to-few.
5. Be prepared for the journey
ABM is a marathon, not a sprint.
This is probably one of the greatest learnings about ABM and one of the greatest differentiators from traditional B2B Marketing.
ABM is resource-heavy as we mentioned earlier.
Equally, because of the nature of the companies that you are targeting, the fact that you are selling a complex/long sales cycle solution, and the high value of this solution you are not going to get results overnight.
You need to be very transparent and open about this with your internal sponsors. They will not see results overnight.
They will not see revenue pour in overnight.
Your Sales team will not be deluged with leads.
There are a number of building blocks to get in place first- whether it be alignment with your Sales colleagues, agreeing on your ICP, making sure you select the right accounts, etc.
But all is not lost.
There are many early successes to report on. Be sure to build that reporting dashboard to share those early successes.
6. It's a team effort
Sales and Marketing alignment is key to ABM success.
And yet, at least 25% of Sales and Marketing teams continue to operate as independent, siloed departments.
So one of the first things we will ask our prospects when discussing ABM, is what kind of relationship do you have with Sales?
Because without that alignment, you’re not doing ABM - you’re just doing good Marketing.
We recommend you create an ABM team that spans Sales and Marketing. That you open communication channels that you have never opened before with your SDRs, AEs, etc.
That you build a joint dashboard that you all agreed on.
That you celebrate together (and commiserate together as there will be moments of desperation on your ABM journey too).
“Make sure that you have that Marketing and Sales alignment because if you don't have that at the very beginning, you're never going to have it” - Amy Hall, Global ABM Manager at Hitachi Vantara
7. Never stop asking questions
ABM is effective - there’s no doubt about that. But it’s certainly not easy.
To see the strategy through to its fruition, you have to be curious.
Curious about your target accounts. Curious about the industry and the market. Curious about ABM in general.
“Be curious, connect with people, connect with peers, you know, learn from them. Attend as many webinars as you can about the subject” - Matt Kent, Senior Marketing Manager (UK & IE), Pegasystems
Ultimately, your aim is to know your client better than they know themselves. You’re looking to penetrate the account, change perceptions and pursue major opportunities within those accounts.
You need to know what messaging will resonate, what value proposition is going to work, what account experience is going to engage them, what data you need to draw on to understand the account - and use all of this to inform your strategy from the beginning to end.
So you need to be naturally curious to help fuel this process.
8. Lead with strategy, support with tech
One of the biggest mistakes ABMers often make is to lead with the technology and try to fit the strategy around it.
Technology should support your strategy, not the other way around.
There are thousands of great platforms out there that can help augment, automate and streamline your processes. But the truth is, you don’t need all of them, and you certainly shouldn’t be relying solely on your tech when launching ABM.
Of course, you can always add more tech as you grow and expand, but you need that strategy in place first.
Every Marketing department has a CRM - whether it's HubSpot, Salesforce, or another platform. This should be your first port of call, and then you can start looking for ways to enhance this central platform, whether through intent data, automation or reporting.
18 years and counting...
Account-based Marketing has seen some major transformations over the past 18 years, and it shows no signs of slowing.
You can find out more about all things ABM in our Let’s talk ABM podcast and webinar series, where we hear from leading ABM practitioners from around the world.