A long, long time ago, in a time known as “the 2000s,” marketers were obsessed with casting these super-wide nets in the hopes of pulling in as many leads as possible.
Blogs became content farms, covering topics that were meant to attract anyone and everyone. As far as marketers were concerned, the more traffic they could send to their sites, the better.
Their underlying philosophy at the time: Attract enough fish into the net, and you were bound to have a few keepers in there somewhere. Keep your fingers crossed! 🤞
Over the years, however, an alternative philosophy called account based marketing began to evolve, one that gets rid of the net and replaces it with a spear.
Table of Contents 📖
- What is Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
- Account Based Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing
- How To Run An Account Based Marketing Campaign
- How To Create An Account Based Marketing Team
- Examples of Account Based Marketing Campaigns
- Recommended Account Based Marketing Tools & Software
- How Conversations Are Changing Account Based Marketing
What is Account Based Marketing?
Account based marketing is a form of marketing that uses highly targeted, personalized campaigns to win over particular accounts.
Rather than relying on blanket campaigns that are meant to appeal to an entire market, ABM treats “individual accounts as markets in their own right” (by ITSMA’s definition – the Information Technology Services Marketing Association).
Remember, when it comes to closing a deal, it’s rarely a single person making the decision. With enterprise deals in particular, 10 people are typically involved in the decision-making process (…10!).
ABM differs from other types of marketing in that it acknowledges all of the different people — and different viewpoints — that comprise each account.
Account based marketing flips the traditional inbound marketing funnel on its head.
Instead of ending with a target company that’s a good fit for you to sell to (after you’ve filtered out all the bad leads), with ABM, you start with target companies. You identify the biggest opportunities at the beginning and then proactively go after them.
Translation: Instead of waiting for a hundred fish to swim into your net, hoping you’ll catch the one fish you actually want, with ABM you’re laser-focused on that one fish from the start, and you’re devoting all of your energy to hauling that one, beautiful fish into the boat.
ABM is a highly efficient system, one that eliminates the “by-catch” problem of inbound marketing (i.e. when you generate a ton of low-quality leads that will never convert).
Here’s how the CMO at Pendo, Joe Chernov, explained it to me:
“ABM aspires to be ‘zero-waste’ marketing. It’s a model that targets only the companies and contacts that are likely to buy your product and that sales has pre-committed to try to close.”
ABM puts a strong emphasis on quality outreach and relationship-building.
So instead of publishing blog post after blog post and blasting email lists with content created for a mass audience, ABM best practices revolve around creating content and crafting experiences for particular people from particular accounts.
Or as Bridge Group Founder & CEO, Trish Bertuzzi, once put it:
“With ABM, you’re creating this really strategic, orchestrated set of activities that make you rise above the noise of what everyone else out there is doing and gets that account to say, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you.”
Account Based Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing
A quick disclaimer: The goal of this section isn’t to prove that ABM is superior to inbound marketing, or vice versa — the reality is that ABM and inbound are two entirely separate strategies that can be used in parallel.
While ABM is a proven strategy for enterprise deals — your Fortune 500 deals — inbound is a proven strategy for small and medium-sized business (SMB) deals — your Fortune 500,000 deals.
You can also think of inbound marketing as feeding into your ABM funnel. Because if an inbound lead ends up being part of a target account, ABM can pick up right where inbound leaves off.
Or, to use the fish analogy again, once you’ve got a bunch of fish in your inbound net 🎣, you can use your ABM spear 🎯 to pick out the ones that look promising.
But just so we’re all clear on why the ABM model is different from what we’ve always been doing, here are three key points to consider.
- ABM marketing is highly targeted. Instead of relying on broad-reaching campaigns that aim to draw a larger number of prospects to you, ABM focuses on just those prospects that are most likely to buy and uses personalized campaigns to engage them specifically. In order to source these high-quality prospects, account-based marketing professionals build ideal customer profiles (ICPs) using firmographic and technographic data (and sometimes predictive analytics).
- ABM marketing focuses on accounts, not markets or industries. Account based marketing pros gain a deep understanding of their target accounts in order to create content and campaigns optimized for them. This is different from your typical approach to content marketing where you’re addressing a broader market or industry.
- ABM marketing targets both prospects and customers. ABM’s goal is to “land and expand” using optimized campaigns to bring in new customers and act on opportunities to grow current accounts (i.e. cross-sell, upsell).
Here’s a little graphic that sums up the key differences between ABM and inbound:
The Top Four Benefits of Account Based Marketing
Here are four (of the many) benefits that ABM brings to your demand generation funnel.
1) Strong Alignment Between Sales And Marketing
Because account based marketing pros are focused on accounts instead of individual leads, they end up speaking the same language as their sales counterparts. And that leads to an incredible alignment between sales and marketing.
Think about it: For years, marketers have been trained to write and create campaigns for people in particular markets and industries. Meanwhile, sales have been focused on engaging with just those accounts that are likely to buy. With ABM, sales and marketing are both focused on target accounts and are working toward a common goal.
According to Forrester Research, organizations with aligned sales and marketing teams see an average of 32% annual revenue growth, while less aligned companies see a 7% decline in growth.
With ABM, arguments over lead quantity and lead quality go away, and your sales and marketing teams become a single unit.
“In traditional demand generation, marketing throws leads over the fence for sales to chase. In ABM, there is no fence. The collaboration is close, constant, and totally focused on defined, account-specific objectives.”
2) An Efficient and Optimized Marketing & Sales Funnel
I mentioned this in the introduction, but it’s worth repeating: Because ABM is so targeted with its marketing efforts, resource-waste is limited. As Joe Chernov said, “ABM aspires to be ‘zero-waste’ marketing.”
Remember, ABM is fishing with a spear, not a net. There’s considerably less “by-catch” as you’re only engaging with prospects that are likely to buy. Combine that narrow focus with an amazing customer experience (more on that below) and conversion rates start to climb.
3) Better Customer Experiences
Instead of going broad by blasting folks with content that appeals to a particular market or industry, with ABM you go deep — you research accounts and design campaigns specifically for them. Every touchpoint along the buyer’s journey is personalized.
At Drift, we’re obsessed with being customer-driven, so this aspect of ABM aligns perfectly with how we run things. Instead of doing what’s convenient for the company (re: automating everything and reusing the same content for all of your leads), with ABM the focus is on doing what’s most convenient for the contacts and decision-makers inside of your target accounts.
4) Return On Investment
ITSMA’s 2019 benchmark survey found that tracking metrics and ROI for account based marketing campaigns continues to be a challenge for marketers.
Marketing’s biggest challenges have always been justifying budget. And while one ROI survey likely won’t be enough to convince decision-makers at your company that ABM is worth it, what will convince them is proving ROI within your own company by running a pilot program. 👇
How to Run an Account Based Marketing Campaign
With a better idea of the “why” behind ABM, let’s dig into the fundamentals of a best practice account based marketing campaign, including:
- The different approaches to ABM
- The steps for selecting target accounts
- Aligning with sales and developing SLAs
- Choosing your channels and offers
Three Approaches to Account Based Marketing
ITSMA defines three distinct types of ABM that marketers have started to use since ABM’s introduction in the early 2000s. Each takes a different approach to the coverage and activities for new and existing accounts, and each requires a certain level of investment.
Here’s a breakdown of what these approaches entail:
- One-to-One ABM: As the name implies, this ABM strategy is as granular as it gets. Marketing and sales use highly customized campaigns for a small number of individual accounts. According to ITSMA’s recent benchmark report, the mean account coverage at this level is around 15.
- One-to-Few ABM: At this level, marketing works with sales to focus on account clusters that have similar “attributes” like industries, pain points, etc. The mean account coverage here is around 36.
- One-to-Many ABM: As you can guess, the bottom of the pyramid has the largest scope of all (mean of 900 accounts). With this approach, marketing and sales create larger account lists and scale their campaigns using martech to personalize outreach.
Selecting Your Target Accounts
Once you determine the type of ABM campaign you want to run, you can start creating your target account list.
Marketers rarely pick these accounts in isolation, and should instead work alongside sales to develop lists that reflect their company’s ideal customer profiles (ICP).
A general rule of thumb for creating target account lists is that the closer you get to revenue (i.e., the inner circle as shown below), the more you should invest in personalization and outreach.
At Drift, we use a “double funnel” approach to our pipeline, where volume and account based leads are split.
If this sounds like a lot of pipeline and account management talk, that’s because it is. Sales alignment during target account selection is critically important to executing on ABM campaigns.
Aligning with Sales & Developing Follow-up SLAs
Defining target accounts should happen between marketing and sales leadership. From there, both teams need to come together and agree on “rules of engagement” within these accounts.
Specifically, marketing and sales should align on:
- How many personas sales should reach out to for each account (WHO)
- The messaging for the personas in these accounts (HOW)
- And when sales should reach out (WHEN)
Business development representatives (BDRs) are crucial players for executing a successful ABM campaign. Particularly, BDR outbounding activities such as email and phone calls.
In fact, in TOPO’s 2019 Account Based Benchmarks Report, 88% of survey respondents said that BDR outreach was THE most important ABM channel at their disposal.
I’ll dive more into what channels and offers make sense for your ABM program in the next section, but the point here is that channels mean little if companies don’t have gameplans for follow-up.
Marketing must own the setup and execution of campaigns, but sales needs to own the follow-up and convert engagement into opportunities.
Marketing-sales friction often surfaces over when and how this follow-up should happen. So establish clear SLAs ahead of time to avoid issues down the line.
Choosing Your Account Based Marketing Channels & Offers
Depending on your preferred approach to ABM, your channels and tactics will vary. The image here is another great breakdown from ITSMA on how marketers should divide their time between online vs. offline activities.
For example, in a one-to-many approach, you are focusing on a larger number of accounts. In this scenario, your energies (and ROI) are probably best spent on online activities with greater personalization vs. multiple costly in-person events.
Earlier I mentioned that Drift’s double funnel splits into account-based and volume. Within our account-based funnel, we use a one-to-many approach for target accounts in SMB, SME and enterprise, and a one-to-one approach for our top 250 accounts.
Depending on where an account falls in this funnel, the type of offer/content/channel may change.
Source: ITSMA, Third Annual ABM Benchmark Study: Moving To ABM Maturity
👆Given all the building blocks that go into running a successful ABM campaign, it would be crazy to think that one marketer could do it alone.
So, who should join your ABM squad?
Create an Account Based Marketing Team
Account based marketing campaigns are rarely a solo act. In fact, much of what makes today’s ABM successful is the cooperation and coordination that happens across marketing, sales and operations.
I mentioned it before and I’ll say it again: Best practice ABM campaigns are multi-channel. This means you need to coordinate your campaign with channel owners and the people who connect these channels together.
But what does an ABM all-star team look like? In a perfect world, it looks a bit like the breakdown here:
👆If this doesn’t mirror your own team, don’t worry. As you can see, not all of these titles necessarily live in marketing. But, to have a truly multi-channel campaign, you need people who can own both online and offline channels. Depending on the size of your organization, this might mean people who own multiple channels.
Let’s dive into each of these roles:
- Head of Account Based Marketing: Your head of ABM may be an actual FTE, but it could also be owned by a demand generation leader. What’s important is that there’s a clear DRI responsible for overseeing your ABM program and reporting on the results to leadership.
- Integrated Campaigns Manager: Think of this role as the ultimate marketing project manager. Integrated campaign managers manage the quarterly campaigns and ABM components of a marketing team. They work across marketing, sales, creative and operations to ensure all offers and channels are aligned, analyzed and optimized.
- Webinar/Content Manager: Having a content machine in place to support your ABM efforts is important to delivering collateral at scale. Luckily, even small marketing teams often have content marketers in some capacity on their staff.
- Digital Marketing Manager: People often confuse the roles of content marketers and digital marketers as one in the same. And while in some cases they are, most often digital marketers are responsible for paid and organic traffic. Aligning your ABM and digital marketing strategy is how companies can tactically approach both online and offline ABM activities. That’s what makes this role so valuable.
- Field Marketers: When it comes to events, having field marketers can be a real gamechanger. Field marketers help execute events and campaigns, and manage operations on the ground between potential customers and your salespeople.
- Marketing Operations: Want to track the ROI of your ABM campaign? Need systems in place to ensure the right accounts are distributed to the right reps in your CRM? Then you need ops. Martech has become quintessential to a well-oiled marketing machine, which means there’s a greater demand for technical expertise than ever before. Marketing operations link the systems and people that make your ABM campaign tick.
- Sales/BDRs: It may seem silly to drive the point home here again, but sales must be part of any ABM team. And they need to feel they are part of it. Keep your salespeople informed of SLAs for follow-up and then arm your BDRs with the scripts and processes to turn engagement into opportunities.
Examples of Account Based Marketing Campaigns
Here are two great examples of ABM campaigns I’ve come across.
Terminus’ Air Cover, Event Marketing, & Pipeline Acceleration Campaigns
“Air Cover,” “Event Marketing,” and “Pipeline Acceleration” are three distinct ABM campaigns that Terminus’ sales and marketing team can run in parallel.
I’ll break them down one by one:
- Air Cover Campaign: As BDRs work on target accounts, Terminus’ marketers target the contacts and decision-makers within those accounts with relevant online ads. The targeted ads help build awareness within accounts before and/or at the same time a BDR is reaching out.
- Event Marketing Campaign: Because events are a big part of their broader marketing strategy, Terminus has built an event marketing campaign playbook that covers activities that happen leading up to, during, and after events.Sales and marketing work together to identify the target accounts for these campaigns — they look at past event attendees, pre-registration lists, and also target accounts that are located near where the event is taking place.After an event, follow-up kicks into gear, which includes ads targeted at attendees, emails and social posts, and calls and emails from BDRs.
- Pipeline Acceleration Campaign: This campaign is technically three campaigns, but all three are focused on one thing: closing deals. Sales and marketing work together to come up with targeted messages and ads that match the opportunity stage different accounts are in — early-stage opportunities, mid-stage opportunities, and late-stage opportunities.
While Terminus had campaign-specific goals for each of the examples I described above, they also have key metrics they look at for every ABM campaign they run. I’ve summarized those ABM campaign metrics here:
- Engagement (How many target companies are you engaging with?)
- Close rates (Are they improving?)
- Time to close (Is it decreasing?)
- Deal size (Is it increasing?)
- Upsell/cross-sell opportunities (Are they increasing?)
- More opportunities being influenced (Is it happening?)
Engagio’s Complex Account Based Everything Bonanza
The section title above is a direct quote from Engagio’s first-ever ABM campaign. Here’s how the campaign worked:
- Target accounts: 300
- Goal: have 20% of those accounts turn into opportunities (65% MQA per engagement with a 30% meeting rate)
- Marketing: owns initial setup and execution of the campaign, delivers MQAs to sales
- Sales: owns follow-up to any responses and MQAs, converts engagement into opportunities
Channels utilized: Human emails from/to multiple players + Direct mail package + LinkedIn profile views + LinkedIn messages + Phone calls + Account based ads
Here’s Engagio’s day-by-day breakdown of how the campaign played out:
- Day 0: Package sent + Email
- Day 2: Package delivered + Email
- Day 4: Phone call
- Day 6: Phone call
- Day 7: Phone call + LVM
- Day 10: Email from rep cc’ing play
- Day 11: LinkedIn view from rep
- Day 13: Email
- Day 15+: FU’s to other 5 personas
Ultimately, Engagio discovered that engagement with the campaign didn’t cluster around a particular channel. It was scattered.
The takeaway: Don’t limit ABM campaigns to a single channel. Different people are going to respond to different touchpoints. The important thing is that you always deliver value, regardless of the channel you’re using.
Top Account Based Marketing Tools
Marketers ❤️ martech.
And for many ABM-ers, there’s some account based marketing tech they couldn’t live without.
This includes tech like:
- CRM & marketing automation
- General account based platforms
- Marketing & sales intelligence
- Email marketing
- Content marketing and CMS
- Ad tech and retargeting
- Predictive analytics
- Conversational marketing
While all these tools help execute personalized ABM at scale, it’s important to remember that, as with all great sales and marketing, nothing beats the human touch.
Always remember that you’re marketing and selling to people – not prospects, not acronyms (MQL, SQL, SAL, need I go on?), PEOPLE. The best ABM efforts strike the right balance between human, machine and strategy.
Here’s some tech to help scale your efforts:
CRM, Marketing Automation, Engagement Tools
We don’t need to go into the fundamentals of why CRM, marketing automation and engagement software are essential for marketers. For instance, CRM is a staple tool, regardless of marketing’s commitment to ABM. But given the explosion of vendors in martech – especially in these categories – it helps to know which software is considered the most “ABM-friendly.”
The below list is by no means exhaustive, but here are some popular tools many companies use:
- Salesforce: Salesforce is generally considered the undisputed king of CRM. That said, there’s a ton of options out there for small, medium and enterprise companies (SugarCRM, Zoho…please don’t make me write them all). So do your research.Given its top-tier status, it’s a no-brainer then that Salesforce would throw its hat into the account based marketing ring. Their Einstein feature, in particular, allows ABM teams to scale their activities through artificial intelligence (AI).This has turned their traditional CRM into a full-blown ABM solution, allowing marketing and sales to identify key accounts, engage with buyers across channels and more.
- Marketo: Even prior to their acquisition by Adobe, Marketo was a big name in the account based marketing game. As one of the most powerful marketing automation tools for tactical ABM campaigns, it’s no wonder why.With Marketo Engage, marketers can easily create target account lists, match leads to accounts, build sophisticated account-level engagement scoring – and a ton more. Since teaming up with Adobe Experience Cloud and Bizible, Marketo can also manage the end-to-end customer lifecycle and offer better ABM attribution than most of its competitors. Win-win-win.
ABM Platforms & Tools
There are a number of platforms that advertise themselves as “account based everything.” We decided to focus on a few favorites.
While every one of these provides similar features, each has its own unique specialty worth looking into:
- Engagio: Engagio is the best ABM platform if you’re looking to solve marketing and sales alignment issues within your program. That’s because Engagio offers the ability to monitor and optimize marketing and sales activities for ABM – all in one place. No disparate systems, just one single source of truth.
- Demandbase: Like the other names here, Demandbase is a general-purpose ABM platform. But if you’re looking for a system that specializes in reporting and B2B digital advertising – this may be the tool for you. The ability to couple your ABM hub with digital marketing efforts is especially useful for teams that are focused on online-based ABM campaigns. Plus, Demandbase gives teams the ability to personalize websites and content using things like intent and firmographic data.
- Drift: Conversational marketing is all about meeting your buyers where they are making Drift is the ultimate compliment to your account based marketing strategy. Drift Audiences lets you deliver a VIP-level experience to your ABM accounts – based on the data you have in your tech stack – so you can engage in real-time conversations that convert those visitors to revenue.
- Terminus: Co-founded by FlipMyFunnel’s Sangram Vajre, Terminus has deep roots in the ABM world. As a result, they have some of the best resources and certifications for marketers on account based marketing. We’re also a big fan of their account based advertising features.
Marketing & Sales Intelligence Tools
Marketing without attribution and data intelligence is a bit like the blind leading the blind. Luckily, there are providers out there to help in this category. Here are some rock stars we’re fond of:
- 6sense: “Break free from the Dark FunnelTM.” What’s the dark funnel you ask? Well, according to 6sense it’s the part of the buyer’s journey that you don’t see. 6sense gives greater visibility to the sales funnel and allows companies to provide personalization at scale with powerful data insights.
- Clearbit: Very much in the same vein as 6sense, Clearbit is a marketing and sales intelligence tool that arms teams with insight into their target accounts and visitors.
- Bizible: How are your accounts engaging with you? What content is most likely to convert your ICP accounts? Where are your accounts and leads coming from? Bizible, part of the Marketo family, can answer these questions and more.
Content Marketing & CMS Tools
What’s an ABM campaign without content? Not much.
Putting together a comprehensive campaign means you need the right content for the right people at the right time. If you have a great content team, then your next steps are determining that “right people, right time” bit.
There’s a lot of cool vendors out there to help you better embed content and content insights into your ABM campaign. Here are three we love:
- Uberflip: If your account based marketing campaign is focused on acquiring net new accounts, you’ll need to create content for the entire buyer journey. Vendors like Uberflip offer a central hub for your journey-based content, plus the ability to personalize, distribute and analyze the performance of that content – all in one place.
- Pathfactory: A big component of ABM is serving up the right content to the right person at the right time, depending on where they are in the funnel. Pathfactory delivers AI-powered content journeys tailored to each individual, and gets smarter over time. It helps you seamlessly package up account-specific content, understand how your accounts are consuming it, and which topics and assets are resonating with them.
- Highspot: How many times have you heard this: “Do we have a one-sheeter on XYZ?” Right, too many times to count. And to be fair to your salespeople, it’s not their fault. What Highspot provides is an AI-powered search feature so salespeople can easily find the content they need. In addition, Highspot integrates with CRMs like Salesforce so different recommended content appears as an account or opportunity moves through your funnel.
- Optimizely: Content isn’t just eBooks or one-pagers or blogs. The entire digital journey of a potential buyer is a content opportunity. Personalizing and experimenting with messaging on landing pages is a great white-glove approach to digital ABM campaigns. Companies like Optimizely are revolutionizing how to do this all at scale – meaning marketers can test and personalize messaging in real-time.
Email, Messaging & Outreach Tools
I could go on and on with the tools and features marketers can use for ABM. But we’ll end here with a discussion on outreach. I.e., how to start direct conversations with your soon-to-be customers.
Remember that 88% stat I mentioned earlier? The one that said when it comes to ABM channels and tactics, BDR outbounding is still the most popular and successful?
So regardless of what people may think, outbounding is here to stay.
Luckily, there are a number of channels sales and marketing can use to outbound, including:
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Drift is all about starting conversations. From chat to video to email – we’re not only helping our customers talk to their customers in real-time, but in the channel they prefer. If your ABM campaign calls for outreach across channels, we’ve got you covered.
But, we’re also huge proponents of the other amazing products that give this same customer-centric approach. Check out some of the many companies we’re proud to call our partners 👇
Build your ABM toolkit! Learn how to connect your favorite tech with Drift
In the meantime, let’s end this article with a look at how you can jumpstart your ABM now 👇
How Conversations Are Changing Account Based Marketing
At Drift, we love the more personalized and targeted approach that ABM takes, but there’s this one inconsistency we keep noticing:
Sales and marketing teams are spending all of this time and energy becoming aligned and developing these high-value ABM campaigns (which is awesome), but then they’re serving up the same-old, form-based experience once they’ve succeeded in getting folks to pay attention.
By doing this, marketers are essentially telling the contacts and decision-makers from their target accounts, “Nah, we don’t want to talk to you right now. Fill out this form and we’ll get back to you when we feel like it.”
But think about it: These are your ABM prospects, the best of the best. You shouldn’t be forcing them to fill out lead capture forms, you should be rolling out the red carpet. Or, ya know, you should at least be giving these folks the opportunity to chat with you in real-time.
And with today’s live chat software, sales and marketing teams can do more than just have conversations.
Imagine getting a push notification on your phone or desktop the instant a decision-maker from one of your target accounts lands on your website. With a swipe of your thumb, you can reach out to them proactively in real-time and provide any assistance they might need.
By targeting your ABM audience with a personalized message from their dedicated account owner, you can engage in real-time conversations that convert these visitors to revenue. With the ABM playbook for Drift Audiences, companies can:
Choose the target account audience from Salesforce or similar CRM and use a dedicated playbook to set up the workflow and messaging.
Have their account reps be notified when a contact from that account lands on the website. Imagine getting a push notification on your phone or desktop the instant a decision-maker arrives on a page. With a swipe of your thumb, you can reach out to them proactively in real-time and provide any assistance they might need.
Greet accounts with a personalized message the moment they arrive on a page.
This is the type of white-glove treatment your target accounts should be getting with ABM. Instead of hitting them with forms once they land on your website, you should be saying hello and making it as easy as possible for them to communicate with you moving forward.
ABM does a great job of identifying those decision-makers and engaging them with personalized content.
Drift helps with the other part: having meaningful conversations with those decision-makers.
If you’re interested in transforming your ABM strategy today, we’re here to help! Learn how Drift ABM can automate and elevate your account based marketing campaigns today.