What is Account-Based Marketing?

Learn how account-based marketing (ABM) can build stronger customer relationships, drive revenue growth, and help your teams collaborate.

Account-Based Marketing Definition

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a B2B marketing strategy for high-value customer accounts. In ABM, you focus on each account as a “market of one,” offering highly personalized 1-to-1 experiences and tailored content.

Through a focus on building stronger relationships with high-value accounts, ABM can help B2B marketers who need to increase pipeline quality, retain top accounts for longer, and boost the revenue those accounts bring in.

ABM is meant to support and complement traditional lead generation, not replace it. It’s also important to remember that ABM is a strategy supported by your products; it isn’t a product itself. With the right people and plans in place, any B2B marketing team can lead a successful ABM strategyopens in a new window.

In this article, we’ll explore how ABM can benefit your business, how to get started with ABM, and how to create an ABM strategy that excels. You’ll learn how to identify the right accounts for ABM, how to align your teams to target them, and how to measure success along the way. Finally, we’ll take a look at what it takes to future-proof your ABM strategy.

Account-Based Marketing: Table of Contents

The benefits of ABM

How can your business benefit from ABM? Let us count the ways. B2B companies with ABM programs report a 38% higher sales win rate and 91% larger deal sizes, leading to 24% faster revenue growth.

When it comes to solving common B2B marketing challenges, ABM can be a piece of the puzzle. If your marketing and sales teams need alignment, you’re struggling to deliver personalized engagement at scale, or you need to make the most of a limited marketing budget, adopting an ABM strategy can help you.

Dedicating resources and effort to ABM can also help you streamline marketing budgets and make it easier to measure ROI (which 87% of B2B marketers agree is higher with ABM), as well as align sales, marketing, and service teams under a single view of high-value target accounts.

  • Personalized Marketing: ABM allows your team to directly personalize marketing touchpoints for key contacts in target accounts. By tailoring content and messages to specific individuals or teams, you create a more valuable and relevant experience.
  • Build & Nurture Customer Relationships: ABM isn’t just for prospects; it’s also valuable for building and nurturing ongoing relationships with existing customers.
  • Align Marketing & Sales Teams: One of the biggest benefits of ABM is aligning marketing and sales efforts. By collaborating on scoring and targeting based on account attributes and spending patterns, both teams can engage with prospects more effectively.
  • Accelerate Sales Cycles: ABM enables you to target key contacts at high-potential accounts even before they engage with sales. By influencing decision-makers early, ABM can shorten sales cycles and improve conversions.
  • Maximize Relevance Among High-Value Accounts: ABM focuses resources on a set of target accounts, ensuring that your marketing efforts are highly relevant to those accounts.
  • Higher Marketing ROI: ABM provides the highest ROI among B2B marketing tactics and strategies. By concentrating efforts on specific accounts, you reduce waste and minimize the risk of ineffective marketing spend.

History of Account Based Marketing

Many articles about ABM comment on its recent rise in popularity, but the fact is that ABM has been around for a long timeopens in a new window.

The origins of ABM lie in the early 1990s, when The One to One Future predicted a move away from the mass marketing of the past toward more personalized 1-to-1 marketing. With this breakthrough 1-to-1 concept, the idea of account-based marketing — focusing on highest-value accounts to drive higher revenue — was a logical next step.

However, it took a while for technology to truly catch up to the idea of ABM. Early versions of ABM were attempted by companies using the first CRM technology in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it wasn’t until the 2010s that ABM really took off. That’s when certification programs for ABM were first offered, and when B2B marketing platforms (such as Marketing Cloud Account Engagement) that streamline ABM efforts were first launched.

Today’s digital technologies — such as cloud CRM, B2B marketing platforms, and smart AI — make ABM easier and more powerful than ever before. While early ABM practitioners had to sift through mountains of CRM data to find the information needed to personalize engagement with target accounts, new technologies surface these insights instantly.

Although the idea of ABM is a bit older than you might expect, B2B marketers have only scratched the surface of ABM’s potential. We’ve only just begun, and as technology continues to unlock new opportunities for personalized engagement with top accounts, B2B marketers will continue to achieve new levels of ABM success well into the future.

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How to create an account-based marketing strategy

If ABM hasn’t been on your radar until now, you may wonder where to start. As with any type of marketing, planning is crucial, so creating a clearly defined strategy should be your first step:

1. Identify key accounts

As ABM focuses on the accounts that will give you the most returns, you need to start by identifying exactly which accounts they are. Which accounts will be more inclined to spend money? Which of those more inclined to spend are likely to spend the most?

This step could be the most important because if you’re putting time and effort into a targeted ABM campaign, you want to target the correct accounts. While input from your employees is always valuable, relying solely on human input isn’t the most successful method. AI technology can help marketers drill down into customer data and determine the most suitable accounts.

2. Engage buyers with the right messaging

Once you have identified the accounts, ABM will tailor your messaging to hit their sweet spots. That means identifying which channels get the most engagement from your key accounts (which may be multiple channels) and personalizing the messaging.

3. Deliver connected engagement

ABM is all about personalized, connected marketing. This means sales and marketing have to work together, not in silos. No matter which department your customers are dealing with at any time, they need to get the same engagement and positive, personal messaging. Every employee should aligned around common goals for a connected customer engagement at every customer touchpoint.

4. Grow and nurture customer relationships

ABM aims to boost revenue by developing more profound and significant relationships with customers. This will take time, so you must monitor and analyze your campaigns from the beginning.

So, how else can you measure success? Monitor performance, optimize campaigns, and track accounts as they move through your ABM funnel. This will help you grow the most valuable customer relationships.

How to get started with ABM

Decide if ABM is right for you.

As more than 79% of marketers report higher ROI from ABM than any other marketing effort, it's clear that ABM can be an effective strategy for almost any B2B company or business with long sales cycles. With the right approach, ABM can work for a company of any size — from enterprises to small and midsize businesses — across every industry.

However, ABM isn't necessarily for everyone. To get started with ABM, you need enough high-value customer accounts to make the strategy worthwhile; the data in your CRM can help you see whether this is the case.

Once you've selected your target accounts, ABM takes time, effort, and coordination. If your marketing department has the correct accounts, team members, and amount of time for ABM, then ABM is likely a good fit for you. If not, it's always good to keep ABM in mind as a helpful strategy you can try in the future.

Make sure you have the right tools for ABM.

ABM requires accurate accounts, team, time, and cloud solutions. It starts with a CRM to collect and manage customer data. A strong understanding of your top accounts' data allows you to create the personalized experiences that define ABM.

Technology tools like marketing automation and artificial intelligence can help you automate many ABM processes, including identifying accounts and engaging buyers. With seamless automation and AI, your teams may find it easier to align your ABM efforts and grow relationships with high-value accounts.

Collaborate with other teams on ABM.

Even though the "M" in ABM stands for "marketing," ABM should never be just a marketing strategy. While marketing teams may ultimately own ABM, it impacts every other team interacting with high-value target accounts.

These teams need to be consulted and kept in the loop about ABM from the beginning, as it may change how they approach certain accounts. Sales, service, support, and more need to be aware of which accounts are included in your ABM efforts, and they need access to data and tools that can help them create successful interactions with those accounts.

To get all your teams on the same page:

  • Train everyone on managing leads for ABM and teach them how to talk to high-value accounts similarly. This education will create more consistency and unification across every step of the ABM customer journey.
  • Build open, cross-team communication into everyone's workflows, giving all teams access to email and chat tools that allow them to collaborate and share critical insights about top accounts.
  • Use your CRM to build shared lists of ABM accounts that all teams can easily access. This will prevent people from wasting time searching for the information they need to identify, target, and engage the best accounts.

Set goals to crawl and then walk before you run.

You don't need to jump in with both feet immediately to succeed with ABM. The best ABM programs are built slowly and carefully, with a growing investment of time and effort. It is important to set goals and establish your ABM program at a pace that works well for your teams and your target accounts.

Start small, at a slow crawl, by creating a pilot campaign for a potential list of high-value accounts. You can work with other sales and customer service teams to determine key characteristics shared among your best target accounts. Then, together, you can study your customers' pain points and tailor your messaging to address their problems.

If your slow crawl (your pilot program) results are encouraging, you can graduate to walking: personalizing content for every account through data. But first, do a debrief with your team and try to answer questions like:

  • What kind of customization had the most impact?
  • Did accounts respond better to one type of outreach over another?

You can apply these learnings when scaling up. For example, create personas based on what you learned in the pilot program and sort key accounts into those personas.

Focus on your current client base. Now, you can use the data in your CRM to personalize your cross-channel messaging to these accounts, including direct mail campaigns, ads, social media, and the web.

Finally, if your ABM program is going smoothly, you can speed up to a run by implementing additional analytics and AI to boost your efficiency. By this point, your pilot campaigns should have evolved into complete ABM programs, filled with personalized messaging leading to excellent engagement with key accounts.

Adding advanced analytics and AI to your ABM mix can take things to the next level. For example, AI-powered behavior scoring can review prospects' behavioral patterns and assign scores prioritizing accounts for nurturing and sales engagement. Insights from behavior scoring have helped companies set criteria and develop touchpoints that have led to as much as a 2,500% ROI.

Adding AI to your ABM mix not only improves results but also makes things easier on marketing teams. It prioritizes the best leads without extra analysis, freeing up time (and energy) for the team to think deeper and more creatively about strategy.

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How to excel at ABM Campaigns

1. Start with your customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

Remember, ABM is all about targeting your highest-value accounts with personalized engagement. To make the most of ABM, you need to start with a great list of potential target accounts. For that, you’ve got to head to your customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

With a 360-degree view of all of the accounts in your CRM, you can compare and contrast until you’ve put together a list of potential high-value accounts for your new ABM strategy. Be sure to focus on accounts from your top industry segments, and take note of any characteristics shared among the accounts you choose. Accounts with similar needs may benefit from similar ABM strategies further down the line.

2. Work with sales to identify target accounts.

Be sure to bring your sales team into the conversation when choosing which accounts to build a new ABM strategy around. Sales has the inside track on what top accounts really appreciate, and they can help your marketing team develop effective personas to target more high-value customers.

To encourage cross-team collaboration, set up a training initiative to get everyone on the same page where ABM is concerned. It will also help to ensure that your teams have an easy way to communicate quickly and efficiently — such as through a messaging platform like Slackopens in a new window. The continued success of your ABM strategy will depend on close alignment between marketing and sales throughout the entire process.

3. Build 1-to-1 experiences.

Personalized experiences are the basis for everything in ABM. Use the data in your CRM and information from your sales team to craft content and experiences for every target account, based on their specific preferences.

AI and automation can help make personalization more efficient, analyzing data on the similarities and differences between your target accounts to suggest content and experiences that will appeal to each of them individually.

4. Engage target accounts.

Once you’ve selected your target accounts and created personalized content for them, it’s time to engage them with your ABM strategy. With close alignment between marketing and sales, you can provide high-touch engagement to high-value accounts and nurture them toward renewals, upgrades, and expanded product and service offerings at relevant times.

Remember, ABM customer engagement is about continued, personalized connection — it’s very different from broad-based marketing or one-and-done campaigns. Make sure that both marketing and sales teams continue to collaborate on providing meaningful engagement to high-value accounts, no matter where they are in their customer journeys. ABM relationships don't end with just one closed sale.

5. Measure and report ROI.

As ABM revolves around a select few high-value customers, results are much easier to measure than with broader marketing efforts. Done correctly, ABM has yielded percentage increases of hundreds and thousands in terms of marketing ROI.

Keep an eye on your CRM as your ABM strategy continues, and be sure to collect and report important engagement, brand awareness, and lead quality metrics to prove marketing ROI. As you keep teams aligned and continue to engage top accounts throughout their customer lifecycles, explore how adding more AI and automation to the mix might help you save time and boost ROI.

6. Ensure ABM continues through service.

The best ABM doesn’t stop with marketing and sales: It continues on through service. Keep your service teams aligned with what marketing and sales are doing with ABM, and give them access to all the data and content they need to provide seamlessly personalized service experiences long after each top account deal closes.

Giving all your teams a shared point of connection through a messaging platform like Slack is a great place to start, so marketing and sales teams can keep service updated on key account insights. You can also use AI and automation to augment your service teams’ ABM efforts, streamlining customer requests and allowing service teams to prioritize top accounts, if needed.

Future of ABM: Advanced targeting and personalization

As ABM is all about personalizing engagement with top accounts to maximize revenue, it stands to reason that future innovation in ABM will happen in two main categories: account identification and marketing personalization. But in both categories, the keys to innovation will be artificial intelligence and automation.

New machine learning and deep learning AI technologies will allow you to launch ABM initiatives faster and more confidently than before. These technologies will use the data in your CRM in new ways to analyze and identify new accounts based on their intent to engage with you. They will also be able to surface data that leads to increased levels of personalization, while adhering to the latest privacy legislation.

For example, the industry leading ABM feature, Einstein Key Account Identification, helps identify candidates for ABM efforts. It creates a scoring model based on previous opportunities and provides a tier ranking for individual accounts. It provides insights on account attributes and engagement metrics to help you focus your strategies.

Innovations in automation will also help B2B marketers scale their ABM programs in the future, as automation decreases the amount of effort needed to personalize engagement with key accounts. This will give B2B marketers more time to fine-tune their ABM strategies and make one-on-one moments with key customers count.

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Account-Based Marketing Tools and Software

ABM automation allows your business to target key customers with a customized approach and seamlessly move them through the sales process.

ABM tools and software empower sales and marketing teams to collaborate seamlessly and execute personalized campaigns tailored to individual accounts. These tools offer a wide range of functionalities, including:

  • Account Selection and Segmentation: ABM platforms leverage advanced algorithms and data analytics to identify and prioritize target accounts based on company size, industry, revenue potential, and past interactions.
  • Personalization and Customization: Personalization lies at the heart of ABM, and tools in this category enable marketers to create highly targeted content, messages, and experiences tailored to the specific needs and pain points of each account.
  • Multichannel Engagement: ABM platforms facilitate engagement across multiple channels, including email, social media, digital advertising, and personalized web experiences, ensuring a cohesive and integrated approach to reaching target accounts.
  • Account-Based Advertising: These tools enable businesses to run targeted advertising campaigns for key decision-makers within target accounts, increasing visibility and driving engagement.
  • CRM Integration: Integration with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems ensures seamless data flow between sales and marketing teams, providing a holistic view of account interactions and enabling better coordination and alignment.
  • Marketing Analytics and Reporting: ABM tools offer robust analytics capabilities, allowing teams to track the performance of their campaigns in real time, measure ROI, and gain actionable insights to optimize future efforts.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Examples

Creating content that’s specifically based on your chosen key accounts. Whether it’s blog posts, guides, or webinars, you’re probably already tailoring them to your general customer base. With ABM, you go even deeper into the pain points, interests, and challenges of your target account.

ABM has led to countless B2B marketing successes for companies in virtually every industry. Here are some of our favorite success stories. Could your company be next on the list?

Taking the work out of personalization: A top cancer charity, Cure Cancer, attributed a 226% rise in donations via email channels and an 119% increase in website traffic to ABM-style emails that nurtured customer journeys with personalized content. With AI-powered insights about its top donors, the charity is adding increased personalization to its ABM fundraising efforts.

Identifying potential high-revenue partners: One of North America’s leading coupon advertisers, Valpak, led an ABM transformation, updating old marketing and sales processes and aligning around a new focus on high-value account engagement. Among other unprecedented success metrics (including a 4 times open rate and a 100 times forward rate for automated emails), the company saw a 450% ROI on its personalized ABM campaigns.

Pinpoint just the right moment to engage: Lyft, a global ride-sharing service, successfully used ABM strategies to connect with top accounts on a more personal level. ABM has helped the company’s buying committees communicate better, enabled cross-team strategies for engaging buyers, and allowed the company to find accounts that fit its ideal customer profiles faster.

While ABM is generally perceived as a B2B strategy, 82% of high-performing marketers believe that B2B and B2C marketing tactics are joining. The future of ABM includes B2C.