Account-based marketing (ABM) focuses marketing efforts on a limited number of high-value targets. Successful ABM holds the potential to improve a company’s positioning, messaging, and relationships with ideal customers.
“ABM is the recognition that not all customers present the same value. Pursuing ABM means a company is willing to take a risk and funnel time and energy into attracting those fewer companies that would offer more value.”
— Jonathan Franchell, CEO, Ironpaper
ABM is not a single action; it is the culmination of a process of discovery, clarification, and iteration. After ABM, a business can better define its value proposition, identify its ideal customers, rewrite processes, and dedicate resources to the pursuit of a small pool of high-value targets.
Successful ABM requires research, strategy, tools, and organizational alignment. Common pitfalls include a lack of executive support, a misunderstanding of the assumed risk involved with the strategy, an overly optimistic timeline to results, or a lack of investment in asset development and change management.
ABM is (by definition) a unique, individualized approach — but some characteristics of great ABM are consistent across different businesses. Applying these efforts to ABM will significantly increase the chance of a successful strategy.
“For great ABM, you have to understand your buyer: what are their motivations or the challenges they are wrestling with? You have to invest in research and get the process data at the start.”
— Jonathan Franchell, CEO of Ironpaper
A clear, concise value proposition is the core of great ABM, providing a central point of reference for the entire strategy. Even if a value proposition already exists the ABM version will be slightly different, better emphasizing the specific business value to a more condensed pool of target companies.
Then, as the ABM strategy is refined, the value proposition will evolve to become specific to ideal targets. A value proposition will change over time as better information about target companies becomes available — to better align with a target’s specific, unique needs.
Communicating the ABM value proposition requires a process for communication and implies alignment around a common goal, especially for sales and marketing. The process of communicating throughout the organization will remain critical as the value proposition evolves and changes over time.
A clear value proposition helps a business identify ideal customers for ABM: those that promote significant long-term value for both parties. Additionally, a deep understanding of customer pain points, challenges, and opportunities defines the target audience.
Which companies are facing the specific challenges that your business or product is best suited to solve?
Once a category of potential ABM targets has been identified, more research must be conducted to refine the larger pool down to just a few candidates.
Pre-market engagement is critical to great ABM. Once an ABM target is identified the approach can turn on several different points, including:
The goals of an ABM strategy and measures of success must be clearly defined, but the process must be flexible and adaptive. The starting point and destination shouldn’t change much — but the roadmap will evolve based on new or changing data.
If flexibility is built into the ABM strategy it is easier to refine the marketing approach as more information is gathered. ABM is continually improved, becoming more personalized and effective as new information is discovered.
Taking a learning approach — gathering new data about the target and adapting strategies based on new information — is the key to great ABM.
“Investing in process changes is essential for both marketing and sales teams so they work better together. Fragmented work processes are a threat to successful ABM.”
— Jonathan Franchell, CEO, Ironpaper
It is easy for sales and marketing teams to find themselves at odds with each other. The two departments have related goals but are significantly different from one another and success measures that depend on the other team’s performance.
Great ABM requires the entire organization (but particularly the sales and marketing teams) to be aligned, focused, and moving together toward a common goal.
Some key components for organizational alignment include:
Without this alignment, great ABM is nearly impossible. All efforts must be buyer-focused, concentrated on communicating value and solving challenges. Additionally, great ABM is iterative, adapting to new information. All buyer interactions are recorded, and information is accessible by both sales and marketing teams. There must be a process for a two-way exchange of information so that the whole team informs and improves adaptive ABM.
Challenges to great ABM can be grouped into three categories: agreement, investment, and execution.
Great ABM requires key stakeholders to align on the concept, strategy, and potential ideal customers. Managing expectations is important since ABM can have an extended lifecycle before reaching a conclusion. Process and technology changes require buy-in from end users to ensure adoption. As stated above, fragmented processes can sink an entire ABM strategy by undermining the focus and adaptability required for success.
ABM requires dedicated resources, some of which will likely be diverted from alternate projects. Investment in ABM comes in many forms: the time required to research and select targets, the money required to purchase technology, and the effort necessary to sustain over an extended lifecycle. Without adequate investment, an ABM strategy can be undermined by a lack of people, data, technology, tools, processes, and content.
Finally, the best research, plans, and resources won’t get an ABM plan anywhere without execution. This means executing the pre-ABM research and targeting, the strategy building, ongoing iteration and adaptation, and continued investment of resources.
The primary benefit of successful ABM is clear: it unites a business with its ideal customer for the long-term interest of both. That’s not the only advantage of ABM, however. There are a number of complementary benefits that arise during the process of ABM as well.
Great ABM means the entire organization can clearly describe the company’s value proposition. This consistency builds trust and brand recognition. A recent study found that brand consistency contributes to 20% greater overall growth and 33% higher revenue than the competition.
Great ABM relies heavily on alignment throughout the organization. Once established, this alignment has applications beyond just ABM. Organizational alignment improves employee morale, retention, collaboration, transparency, and accountability.
In a recent survey, Ironpaper discovered that ABM is a vital part of company strategy in 50% of companies. Another 20% rated it ‘somewhat’ important, while a nearly equal percentage said they were unsure.
As more businesses explore the potential benefits of ABM, it is important to remember the resources and effort required to ensure ABM's success.
Interestingly, when breaking out only B2B companies, the number of marketers that consider ABM vital to company strategy rises by 10%. This indicates that the benefits of ABM are more appealing to B2B businesses than to others or that the efforts required are less daunting.