The old way of marketing is dying and a new way is taking its place. In the past, marketing was driven by “leads” and “contacts”. It was one-to-many and often quite spammy. Rarely did marketers take a holistic view of an account - and few tools were designed to help them do this.
The basic premise is criminally simple: treat the people who work at the company you would like to sell to as if they were a connected group of people who probably talk to each other and possibly take decisions together. Woah! As the founder of ABM leader Engagio (and also the founder of Marketo) Jon Miller says, “The reality is, as we always talk about in ABM, sales people don’t focus on leads. They focus on accounts. So, when they’re in Salesforce, they’re logging in, and they’re looking on the account page, they’re looking at the opportunity page, and not looking over on that lead page.” Miller’s point is that maybe marketing should not focus on leads. Because, any crackerjack enterprise sales gal or guy can tell you - this is how things have ALWAYS worked. Marketing teams, however, have not always been in line with sales on viewing accounts through the ABM lens. In face, our close partner ( and customers) Outreach.io now has a specific use case built around Account Based Account-Based Sales, the clear twin of ABM. So really ABM is all about aligning the output, tools and creative of marketing with the holistic account-based view that sales prefers and has always taken.
A more radical way to think about this? Marketing leader Ernan Roman wrote in this 2015 CMO.com article, “The days of spray and pray marketing are over." Ironically, even though ABM has always been the way sales happened, today ABM is the new awesome sauce.Dozens of technology companies are designing tools for it. And yet...lots of people still don’t know exactly what ABM means. And, truth be told, ABM can have a pretty fluid definition.
This document is designed to be the definitive guide to ABM. It should give anyone reading this a firm footing in the domain and prep them to go out and dive deeper into specific content areas and specializations within the broad ABM umbrella of activities, tactics and strategies.
More specifically, we will cover the following:
Ready to get your ABM on?
Account-based marketing (ABM) is a business strategy in which a marketing team designs complete marketing campaigns focused on reaching a potential customer, called an account. This can include a wide range of activities coordinated with sales teams. An ABM campaign might target just one contact or lead, but most of the time ABM is designed to speak to multiple parties who occupy different roles at a target account.
An ABM campaign might contain any or all of the following:
Unlike the old spray-and-pray approach of sending massive amounts of email without targeting, ABM is actually not designed to operate at that scale. To the contrary, ABM makes the bet that a highly focused effort will actually yield better results and faster sales cycles with higher dollar deals than legacy marketing activities. This is not to say ABM replaces all the old methods completely; lots of people still buy lists. But proponents of ABM say it works better, feels better and is more sustainable over the longer term.
Here’s how it works in practice. If you wanted to convince Company ZXY to buy your fancy new SaaS S’Mores (You know - Smore’s-As-A-Service, or SMaaS) 😉 you would identify who the key decision makers are on the account. Then you would plan a slate of activities to speak to them individually but also collectively.
A CMO or marketing leader might get an email explaining how personalized S’Mores is the best marketing asset to delight customers since sliced bread.
A sales leader might get an email citing data on how SMaaS creates stickier relationships and decreases conversion time by 50%.
A sales or marketing ops leader might get a note explaining how easy it is to integrate SMaaS with all the major CRMs and marketing automation systems.
A CTO or IT leaders might get an email explaining how the proprietary tech stack of SMaaS gives it the longest shelf-life of any comparable product and that it can remain warm and sticky for days without needing a reboot.
Next, we might buy some display ads on a service like ListenLoop as a way to reach people at Company ZXY and reinforce the emails. Next, we may have the sales team reach out via LinkedIn to directly message contacts in the account at ZXY and name-drop that we are also contacting other folks. We might send them a large box of S’Mores addressed to all of them, in order to start the conversation. We would include a personalized note.
Naturally, we would include beautiful advertising banners under our email signatures with images of mouth-watering s’mores batches 😋.
All of this would drive traffic to a landing page customized to ZXY, with a company logo and messaging that clearly shows the prospects “We have taken the time to get to know you and your business.” We say business because ABM is mostly useful for B2B sales. ABM is particularly helpful for multi-stakeholder deals, which are often the highest dollar amounts in the B2B landscape.
To reiterate, ABM is particularly useful when trying to connect with multiple buyers in the same organization -- which are likely your largest target accounts. ABM is also useful for upselling existing accounts with potential to grow. The key benefits of ABM are easy to track and it basically enforces the Golden Rule of Sales; put most of your time and energy into the prospects that have the most money to spend on your product.
Here are some more specific benefits of account-based marketing.
Imagine if you were walking down the street and saw a billboard sign that not only had your name on it but also knew what you did for a living? Spooky, I know. But you would pay attention. Well, that’s what makes ABM so powerful. Because ABM focuses down on such a small group, it's possible to craft a campaign that has a very high chance of resonating and will certainly register with your prospects. Contrast this with trying to write copy and design campaigns that appeal to a wide audience. It feels less...personal. Everyone likes it when someone knows their name. This applies that principle to marketing.
ABM campaigns are designed to have multiple touches and many ways to interact. This means it is hard to attribute the success or failure of a campaign to any one touch or tactic. And that’s OK. Because many organizations waste massive amounts of energy on attribution. This reduces their ability to take action. In reality, at the end of the day the most important metric is simple. Did you close the deal? With ABM, you can focus on that one true metric.
Because ABM campaigns are self-contained and have their own budgets, its very easy to know what the ROI of each campaign is. So if you spend $1,000 on an ABM campaign to bring in a beverage company and they sign up to a $10,000 contract, your ROI was $9,000 (in year one, mind you). One-for-one attribution also makes it incredibly easy to roll up ROI by account, by vertical, by region and by country. Granted, you may have a harder time figuring out exactly which tactic has the most impact, but you would probably have that problem anyway if you are using many marketing tactics.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, it allows your sales and marketing teams to focus more intensely on smaller lists of prospects. As a result, the research phase is much faster and focused far more on the obvious Ideal Customer Prospects rather than wasting time casting a super-broad net. ABM also tends to drive a yes or no response much faster. This in turn allows for even greater focus on the viable Ideal Customer Prospects.
ABM campaigns admit something that all CFOs could have told you a long time ago. In B2B sales, 80% or your revenues come from 20% of your customers. This frees your marketing team from the expensive grind of trying to constantly generate new leads from thin-air. Rather, ABM posits that a smaller pool of targets that could all definitely turn into very large accounts is a far better strategy.
If you hear about some new process or tool or some new type of advertising unit, the beautiful thing about account-based marketing is that it is designed to be flexible and agile. You can mix and match as you wish and there are few rigid processes. This helps your marketing team behave in a more nimble fashion. It’s also quite amenable to the concept of iteration and marketing sprints.
While ABM is not really scalable, its playbooks are highly repeatable. This means that marketing teams can identify a recipe that works for a company in one specific vertical and then quickly clone it to market to other companies in that vertical. If you run task management tools like Asana, Trello, Monday, Wrike or Microsoft Teams, you can create a simple template that you can clone and run over and over again.
The entire point of inbound marketing is to give people useful content that they might otherwise read or follow to solve problems and educate themselves. The point of account-based marketing is to give people content that is personalized to their needs and that they will find interesting. So, for example, a CMO or a Director of Field Marketing is more likely to read and appreciate an inbound article on how to sell more tickets to their conferences than an article on best IT practices for running events. ABM makes it easier to deliver that granular level of personalization which magnifies the impact and resonance of great inbound content.
Identify which companies match your Ideal Customer Prospect (ICP). This is usually quite easy. Sales teams have lists of their top targets in their CRMs or in spreadsheets. If you wish to focus on an industry, lists of leading companies in any given industry are readily available online. You can define your ICP by any number of criteria: annual revenues, number of employees, industry, location, technology stack. Note: Sales should also be bought into this project so it’s imperative you ask your sales team to suggest accounts (they may actually do the entire job for you with solid list). From that list make an initial list of 5 target accounts. They may even be accounts that your sales team has been trying to work on. No matter. But keep it small for your first pass through. Make sure everyone signs off on those five accounts. You probably also want to capture key data about the account - industry, location, size, revenues, techstack (if you are selling tech - check BuiltWith or Datanyze for this). There are also a host of tools that will automatically populate companies with data.Then move on to Step 2.
A key part of any successful ABM campaign is having information about the exact people you want to hold conversations with. This means knowing where they are located, their job title, who their boss is, and other tidbits that will be useful in starting a conversation. Think of this as how you normally prep for a conference. You find your targets, look up information to chat them up, etc. Same deal here with ABM. So where will you find this information?
This process is exactly what LinkedIn was built for. You also may have some of this information internally in your CRM or contacts database. That should be your first stop. But chances are your data will not be as good as what you can pull out of LinkedIn.
Fortunately, building a simple ABM campaign contact list with LinkedIn literally takes a few minutes. Let’s say you are trying to sell into Uber. You want to find the right people inside Uber, obviously.
LinkedIn allows you to search for people who list a company as their current employer. You want to click or tap the search box in the upper left corner and then select “People” from the pop-up menu. Then you want to limit your search by any of the relevant factors - location, title, etc, - to pull in the best contacts. Once you know the names of your targets, then you can begin to market to the account. Suppose you wanted to find marketing executives who work at Uber. You could follow this method by performing a “People” search, setting “Current Company” to Uber, and then including “Marketing”.
If that list is too big, instead put into the Title field “Vice President of Marketing” or “Product Marketing” - whatever fits the persona you wish to reach. Rinse and repeat for other personas.
If a CTO or VP of IT is required in the sales process, you will want to find them. Keep in mind, as well - different organizations have different titles for the same job. For example, an Accounts Receivables team may have titles that range from Senior AR Manager to Cash Operations Manager to Staff Accountant. (ProTip: The more specific the title, the more likely you are to find the right contacts.).
Now that you know who you are trying to reach, you have to figure out how to find them and “where they live.” There are many options. Social media options may include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and SnapChat. If you are targeting people in foreign countries, the list gets long. In Europe, for example, in Germany many people use Xing. On all of those options you can have some degree of precision ad targeting although you cannot do one-to-one targeting. (That's best accomplished with LinkedIn InMails or direct emails). You can also use targeted display ads. ListenLoop, for example, allows you to build a la carte display ad targeting pegged to job descriptions and companies. Terminus allows you to combine display and LinkedIn ads. If you are using MailChimp for your email marketing, they actually have a retargeting system for display ads, too!
LinkedIn is the easiest option; it allows for the most granular ad targeting of any social media. As we covered before, LinkedIn also allows you to target down to specific companies and job titles. That said, you can’t easily target very small groups - LinkedIn has a minimal threshold of potential people in the target group for sponsored content. So you may opt to send InMails (which is akin to direct sales but is super useful because it does not require opt-in in the same way that traditional direct email does). InMails are rather expensive but they do enjoy high open rates and response rates, if properly executed (as in, not too salesy).
You should also check to see if anyone from your account targets has already opted in to email communications from your company and, if possible apply ABM for email. If they have, you are in luck. Emails and email signature banners are a fabulous way to speak directly to contacts in accounts. You should craft email sequences that are both automated and personal, acknowledging the individual role and concerns of each recipient. For an even bigger impact, try adding email signature banners. These are basically like display ads tucked onto the end of email signature blocks. Signatures banners enjoy click-through-rates of as much as 10%, according to our internal metrics at Opensense. (One of our product features is email signature banners).
That’s a markedly higher CTR rate than standard display ads - and email signature banners are already finely targeted. We often see the smartest marketing teams put out ABM campaigns that have three or four banners in rotation for email signatures, with each banner customized to a persona, lifecycle stage, or geography.
The channel that’s probably most amenable to fun is personalized gifting. For example, we received a gift of delicious cupcakes after a well-crafted sales call. Yes, we ate the cupcakes. What’s more, we looked at the company’s logo on the box in our break room for more than a week. Talk about targeting.
Braydan Young, a co-founder of Sendoso, which offers personalized gifts as a service linked to CRM, says that cupcakes are among the most effective gifts because it drives conversation and is shared among teams or interlocking decision makers.
While ABM is all about personalization, you only want to personalize to a certain degree. You should provide content that is clearly useful and aimed at relatively broad personas (marketing, IT, sales) with small nods to the individual. But by striking the right balance between personalized and broad, you can easily repurpose campaign content and plans for multiple accounts. This helps ABM scale out a bit more easily. ABM that is too personalized and specific might as well be direct sales. So finding a balance is key to making this economical and cost effective.
Not all channels will work for your accounts. For example, if you are selling a product to developers, LinkedIn may not be the best way to reach them because it’s not where they spend their time. Twitter may be a better option. Direct email may be a total non-starter for developers who are barraged by recruiters. However for sales leaders, LinkedIn may be a far better option.
Another factor to consider - may people say one thing and do another. We know many marketers who swear by Facebook ads for B2B campaigns even though most people associate FB primarily with family pictures and sharing news items and personal updates. The big takeaway? We can't stress enough how key it is that you determine which channels will work best for your accounts and named contacts.
Similarly, if your goal is to drive people to buy tickets for your event, you may want to design an event-based ABM strategy (Alon Waks of Bizabo outlines some ideas for this in this article). In that case, you may want to heavily rely on using email as an ABM channel.
Lauren Alt, Sr. Director of DemandGen at Outreach.io and a rising star in the industry found that invites and email banner ads generated a 10% increase in total paid conference registrations because the contacts where already warm and acquainted with the product; ABM email was among the most productive marketing channels for Outreach.
A critical part of building any effective ABM campaign is understanding the costs. These costs tend to be expressed in the language of online advertising - CPM (cost per thousand), CPC (cost per click), CPV (cost per view), CPA/CPCon (cost per action or cost per conversion). There are real price differences between the advertising vehicles across social media and retargeting. LinkedIn tends to be the most expensive option on a CPM basis and requires the most investment but is often cited as having the highest ROI for B2B marketing. Facebook ads are generally the least expensive but there are wide variances. You will probably want someone with familiarity with online advertising to help you plan your campaigns.
Once you have decided on channels you can craft the content based on the delivery options and the action you want to elicit. LinkedIn is probably business-centric content. If you are retargeting display ads, you want a concise and fun message in an eye-catching background. Similarly, if you are using email signature banners, you want something that really jumps out at users. See the example below from our friends Outreach.io (who are, by the way, big fans of ABM and using email for ABM).
To weave all these together, build a cohesive content inventory and a plan on what content should be rolled out where and when. You may want to queue up waves of content so that your targeted accounts are always getting new information.
Cool. You have targets, you content and messages, you have channels. You have a spending budget. You probably even have cupcakes (or SMaaS). Before you launch, think about how you want to sequence the different elements of the campaigns. Which one should land first? What kind of follow ups do you think would work best? And how do the different efforts and content elements play off each other? Sometimes you want a unified message that is the same across all persona. Sometimes you want a slight variation. Sometimes you want to create precise sequencing with a series of unique messages for the different personas in your account contacts.
The upshot? Be thoughtful as ABM can easily turn into what feels like stalking. We’d recommend you lay out all the elements in a Gantt Chart or on a Kanban board like Trello or Asana or Smartsheet. They usually also give you a timeline view so you can visually comprehend how everything fits together. Don't be afraid to adjust the cadence, either. Again, however, people may complain that you are messaging them too often but the data shows higher response rates when the cadence is more frequent. So listen to what people say, hear their complaints but watch what they actually do to reality check sentiments. You don't want to shut down an efficient channel based on a few errant data points.
Also, before you launch make sure you have all the pieces in place for proper measurement. This can mean looking at LinkedIn campaigns, Google or ListenLoop or AdRoll retargeting, email opens and views, or content downloads (if you are directing recipients to landing pages). But keep in mind - the ultimate measurement is whether you get the deal. Attribution is difficult - how much does each ABM element contribute to the decision? And how can you measure the compound impact. You can’t. But that’s the beauty of ABM. Yes, track the metrics and see where you are getting the most engagement. For example, Opensense Email Analytics platform lets our sales and marketing team users know exactly what parts of a PDF or slidedeck that a customer has downloaded they are spending time with, and which of the five recipients on a proposal email are actually opening and watching the videos. This helps some of our customers, like C3 Metrics, know not only whether their email ABM campaign is working but also who is their internal champion. Ultimately, that is who you want to identify and engage with.
Congratulations! Now you have a basic understanding of how to put on your very first ABM campaign - or possibly how to refine a failed effort.
There are many moving parts but, even when taken together, ABM is a pretty logical process. You should be able to lay out some basic steps after reading this and then, with help from a few experts in areas like online ads, create a viable and effective plan for an initial ABM campaign or five. Keep in mind, ABM is a rapidly evolving area so you should probably continue to read up on it and check out other relevant information that pertains to ABM (like which types of media channels are trending and are the most effective and how much they all cost). Above all, ABM has to be a team effort; it’s a lot of work but has a huge payoff.
We hope that you have great success with your first campaign. And we’re also happy to advise on any upcoming email ABM campaigns you might have planned.