Main illustration: Elise Rigollet
Over the last two decades, account-based marketing (ABM) has been both hailed as a surefire win for B2B businesses and written off as little more than an industry buzzword.
ABM’s mixed reputation reflects the challenges that companies have faced implementing an account-based approach. Just two years ago, only 29% of marketers reported ABM to be an effective strategy. Organizations were struggling to align sales and marketing, personalize their tactics, and build truly one-to-one relationships with stakeholders.
Since then, the success of ABM has grown dramatically – 97% now say it has a higher ROI than other marketing tactics. That’s because, when deployed thoughtfully, ABM enables marketing and sales teams to close their biggest deals in a targeted and coordinated way.
In this guide, we explain how you can turn ABM into a win for your business – by putting the right team, tools, and processes in place.
What is account-based marketing (ABM)?
Account-based marketing (ABM) is a targeting strategy where businesses market and sell to accounts – different people at one company – rather than to individual prospects at many different companies. With ABM, businesses treat each account as a market of one, tailoring their tactics to the needs of that specific account.
“With ABM, businesses treat each account as a market of one”
How ABM differs from traditional B2B sales
Imagine taking the traditional sales funnel and flipping it on its head. That, in a nutshell, describes the key differences between account-based marketing and traditional sales. Rather than casting a wide net for leads with large-scale marketing campaigns, ABM targets a few high-value accounts and then focuses on nurturing, converting, and retaining them over time.
With ABM, sales and marketing work together to create a hyper-personalized experience for each target account. Here’s an example: to stand out amongst their competitors, the two teams might partner on a direct mail campaign where they send a physical gift and handwritten note to decision makers at specific accounts.
It’s important to note that ABM and traditional demand generation tactics, such as paid ads and content marketing, are complementary rather than mutually exclusively. ABM is well-suited to pursuing large companies who have longer sales cycles and more complex sales needs. Traditional B2B sales, on the other hand, works well for small and medium businesses who tend to be cheaper to acquire and quicker to purchase.
4 benefits of account-based marketing
While ABM offers many benefits, here are four that any organization can reap right away.
1. Narrow focus on high-value accounts
With account-based marketing, you’re optimizing for quality not quantity. Sales and marketing leaders select a list of accounts that best align to your ideal customer profile, or your company’s most valuable buyers. This allows you to filter low-value prospects out of your sales pipeline and prioritize your team’s time and resources where you’ll see the greatest impact.
This narrowed focus on high-value accounts contributes to the improved ROI that organizations see from ABM. A survey from ITSMA and ABM Leadership Alliance found that 45% of marketers report seeing at least double the ROI compared to traditional marketing.
2. Customer-centric approach to growing revenue
By narrowing the business’s focus to a handful of high-value prospects, account-based marketing encourages sales and marketing teams to weave customer centricity into the fabric of their work. For marketers, creating hyper-personalized campaigns requires an intimate knowledge of their target accounts’ pain points, decision criteria, and opportunities for growth.
“Account-based marketing encourages sales and marketing teams to weave customer-centricity into the fabric of their work”
Account-based marketing has a similar effect on sales teams. Because ABM requires sustained, one-to-one relationships with customers, sales reps have to take a consultative approach to closing deals. They need to understand the nuances of their prospects’ businesses and sell the value of the solution, not just negotiate on price.
3. Strong alignment between sales and marketing
Executing a consistent, customer-centric experience is not possible without close collaboration between sales and marketing. Marketing teams must partner with their sales counterparts to determine the list of target accounts, identify the right channels, and coordinate on messaging.
With account-based marketing, the finger pointing that inevitably plagues sales and marketing teams can finally come to an end. ABM guarantees that marketing will deliver high-quality leads to sales and that sales will work the leads that marketing delivers.
4. Improved customer retention and expansion
Account-based marketing doesn’t just help close deals, it also has post-sales benefits. In a study from consulting firm TOPO, marketers reported that ABM improves upsell and cross-sell (81%), lifetime value (80%), and retention rate (75%), as compared to traditional tactics.
With ABM, you’re building trust early on in the sales process and sustaining it throughout the customer lifecycle. You’re forming one-to-one connections with decision makers across your target accounts. And unsurprisingly, the more connected you are to your customers, the more likely they are to stick around and spend more in the future.
Building your cross-functional ABM team
Let’s take a deeper look at the unique roles that marketing, sales, and customer success play in a successful ABM program. Which responsibilities should each department own, and how should they execute on them?
The marketing team own where and how you’ll reach your target accounts along with what you’ll be communicating to them.
- Where: Which channels will you use to reach contacts at your target accounts? These channels often include email, direct mail, phone, events, and live chat.
- How: How will you connect with a prospect? For example, if you decide to tell leads from your target accounts about a new product launch, you could have your sales reps write personalized notes or use a marketing automation tool with custom email fields.
- What: What messages will you communicate to your target accounts? You might share an overview of your company, dive into specific solutions, or send a case study.
ABM campaigns are tailored to speak directly to your target accounts, using the channels, tactics, and messages that will resonate best. To enable these hyper-personalized experiences, your marketing team will also need to take on new responsibilities. Many of these will be shared with sales, such as selecting the target account list and deciding on an attribution model.
The sales team executes on ABM campaigns by researching and prospecting into target accounts, reaching out to specific stakeholders, and, of course, actually closing the deal. What distinguishes account-based sales is the time and effort spent on each account.
Because sales resources are focused on a much smaller number of deals, reps will spend more time personalizing their outreach, identifying the right content to leverage, and involving leaders as needed. Account-based sales is high effort, high reward.
“Account-based sales is high effort, high reward”
Operationally, sales will also be involved in setting up your CRM for ABM, ensuring adequate account coverage, and training and onboarding reps to this new business motion.
Once the deal is closed, then it’s the job of customer success to ensure customers see ongoing value. Depending on your business, customer success may be responsible for the full post-sale lifecycle – onboarding, adoption, retention, and expansion. In other cases, like at Intercom, customer success will partner with their sales counterparts to drive revenue.
With ABM, customer success managers will run bespoke campaigns to ensure accounts have everything they need for long term success. These campaigns can include in-person workshops, personalized upsell campaigns, and account plans to capture a 360-view of the customer’s business. The goal is to be your customers’ number one advocate.
Best practices to make ABM work at your company
ABM is designed to help your business land high-value accounts and build long-lasting customer relationships. But it can succeed only if everything is working cohesively. Here are three best practices to keep in mind.
1. Connected customer touch points
Creating a “market of one” experience requires coordination between sales, marketing, and customer success. Each team must know what the others are doing and align their strategy accordingly. Jumbled messages and tactics are the fastest way to put off a high-value account.
That’s why it’s important your CRM, marketing automation, and messaging platforms all speak to each other. We use Intercom as our messaging platform (no surprise there 😉) and we leverage our Salesforce and Marketo integrations. Having data from Salesforce and Marketo right in the Intercom Inbox allows our sales reps to see quickly see relevant details about the deal while they’re chatting to a target account in real time.
2. Personalized experiences for decision makers
A personalized buyer experience is essential to the success of account-based marketing. ABM requires marketers and salespeople to move beyond generic “just checking in” emails and unrelenting requests for 15 minutes of time.
One of our favorite personalization examples? A comic book that Gum Gum, an applied computer vision company, created for T-Mobile. After learning that T-Mobile CEO John Legere is a Batman fan, the team at Gum Gum wrote T-Man and Gums to illustrate how their two companies could work together. They made a big (and expensive) bet that won them T-Mobile’s business.
3. Quick communication and follow-ups
Speed is important when you’re working any deal, but it’s especially crucial when you’ve invested a lot of time and money to pursue big-ticket accounts. A study from XANT (formerly InsideSales.com) found your chances of ever connecting with a lead decreases by 10x after the first five minutes.
At Intercom, we use live chat to ensure our sales reps are able to connect with target accounts when they’re most engaged – on our website. Reps are notified whenever anyone from their accounts drops by, so they can chat with them in real time.
4 product functionalities you need to implement ABM
Implementing ABM isn’t as simple as choosing a few target accounts and going after them. Along with a marketing automation tool, messaging platform, and CRM (your must-haves), you’ll also need to add a few new functionalities. Here are four to consider adding to your tech stack.
1. Data enrichment
Data enrichment tools help you select accounts and identify the right people to target within those accounts. At the most basic level, you’ll need a tool to populate account data, e.g. industry and company size, and another for contact data, e.g. email address and title.
At Intercom, we use the Clearbit Reveal app to automatically enrich leads on our website and match them to our target accounts. This allows us to automatically send personalized messages to key decision makers and convert them while they’re actively checking out our solution.
2. Account mapping and routing
Account mapping and routing ensures the right people are associated with the right accounts and then directed to the right sales reps. The foundation of ABM is one-to-one relationships, so it’s essential to ensure decision makers talk to their account owners.
With Intercom, we can automatically assign new live chat conversations from target accounts to their respective sales reps. We can even mark the conversations as “high priority” to help sales reps quickly identify and respond to key decision makers.
3. Multi-channel messaging
Just as with traditional demand generation, with ABM you need to be where your target accounts are. That means taking a multi-channel approach to running ABM campaigns and leveraging channels such as email, live chat, direct mail, programmatic advertising, and more.
Using Intercom as our messaging platform allows us to coordinate our touchpoints for our target accounts across email, in-app messages, and push notifications. We’re also able to take an account-based approach to the entire customer lifecycle, from acquisition to onboarding and retention.
Measuring the success of ABM campaigns requires paying careful attention to its impact on your sales metrics. For example, ABM should reduce the time-to-close for your biggest deals because you’re taking a much more targeted approach to working with key decision makers. You’ll also need to track new types of metrics like account coverage and reach.
In Intercom, we look at KPIs like influenced revenue, influenced deals, meetings booked, and time-to-close to understand the impact of our messaging campaigns on our target accounts. This allows us to optimize the channels and content we’re using to convert key decision makers.
Scaling revenue with account-based marketing
For B2B companies looking to get higher ROI from their marketing efforts and build long-lasting relationships with big-ticket accounts, ABM can be the right path. But careful consideration must be given to what internal changes will need to be made to your teams, what tools need to be implemented, and what processes need to be put in place.