The Ultimate Guide to Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Learn how to identify and reach high-value customers with the most-effective account-based marketing (ABM) tactics and software.
Account-based Marketing (ABM) is a focused growth strategy in which Marketing and Sales collaborate to create personalized buying experiences for a mutually-identified set of high-value accounts.
Imagine a world where you could start the sales process by selling directly to your best-fit, highest-value accounts. No wasted time working to market and sell to unqualified leads who aren’t the right fit for your business. Meaning, you could move straight into the phases of engaging and delighting your target accounts.
Talk about efficiency, right?
With account-based marketing, all of this is made possible. The process allows you to align your marketing and sales teams from the get-go to promote long-term business growth, delight customers, and boost revenue.
What is account-based marketing?
Account-based marketing allows you to weed out less-valuable companies early on and ensure Marketing and Sales are in complete alignment — in return, your team can leap into the critical processes of engaging and delighting those accounts much faster.
ABM helps your business work and communicate with high-value accounts as if they’re individual markets. By doing this — along with personalizing the buyer’s journey and tailoring all communications, content, and campaigns to those specific accounts — you'll see greater ROI and a boost in customer loyalty.
Before we take a look at additional benefits of account-based marketing and specific tactics you can implement at your company, let’s review its relationship with another important strategy: inbound marketing.
Often, these strategies are thought of as entirely different entities. However, they can be quite complementary.
Account-Based Marketing And Inbound Marketing
Batman and Robin. LeBron and D-Wade. Peanut butter and jelly. Arguably some of the strongest partnerships ever to exist 💪. These dynamic duos are forces to be reckoned with when they work together.
Similarly, when paired, account-based marketing and inbound marketing have the power to make waves (the good ones) for your business.
You might be wondering, “How exactly does this partnership work?”
Well, we just reviewed the definition of account-based marketing — as you learned, ABM is a highly-targeted strategy.
Meanwhile, inbound marketing is more foundational — the methodology and growth strategy allows you to attract customers through the creation of valuable content, SEO, and a delightful customer experience.
Rather than interrupting your target audience and customers (as you would with outbound marketing), inbound marketing allows you to more organically provide your audience with the information they want when they want it. Inbound lays the foundation for a strong ABM strategy by allowing for highly-targeted and efficient resource allocation of high-value accounts.
Here are a few more reasons to implement both ABM and inbound marketing:
Inbound marketing helps you attract target accounts and ABM then accelerates the flywheel so you can win and delight those target accounts with a remarkable customer experience (and as a result, you’ll grow better).
Inbound marketing lays the foundation for a strong ABM strategy — ABM builds off of inbound by allowing for targeted and efficient resource allocation of high-value accounts.
With this combined approach, you attract a broader group of prospects than you would while using just one method and catch any opportunities the other strategy may have missed.
Your content has a two-for-one value — you can create and use content that serves both an ABM and inbound strategy (e.g. create a personalized case study for a target account that you also share on your website).
Software options, like HubSpot’s account-based marketing software, are available and make it easy to implement ABM and inbound strategies in a complementary way.
Next, we’ll take a look at some of the definable benefits of account-based marketing.
Benefits of Account-Based Marketing
Keep Marketing and Sales aligned.
Maximize your business’s relevance among high-value accounts.
Deliver consistent customer experiences.
Measure your return on investment.
Streamline the sales cycle.
Expand business through account relationships.
There are a number of benefits associated with account-based marketing. We've compiled the following list of commonly-noted results that positively impact (all types of) businesses.
1. Keep Marketing and Sales aligned.
Cross-team collaboration and improved communication across any organization are beneficial to growth. In terms of account-based marketing, this transparency and alignment will ensure your marketing and sales teams are focused on the same goals, stick to the mutually-agreed-upon budget, and understand the specific roles of each internal stakeholder.
This alignment helps ensure all communications, interactions, and content (and more) are consistent for the accounts you work with. Meaning, no matter how long an account works with your company, your team members can pick up where others left off at any point in time without question — this creates a seamless and delightful customer experience.
🧡The easiest way to maintain internal account-based marketing alignment is with the help of software, likeHubSpot, which makes connecting your marketing and sales teams exceptionally easy.
2. Maximize your business’s relevance among high-value accounts.
Account-based marketing requires you to personalize everything (e.g. content, product information, communications, and campaigns) for each account you invest your resources in. Through this personalization and customization, your relevance among these accounts is maximized.
That’s because your content and interactions are tailored in a way that shows them how your specific products, services, offerings, and team are what they need to solve their challenges and to grow better. Meaning, ABM allows you to angle your business in a way that makes it the most-relevant and ideal option for your target accounts.
3. Deliver consistent customer experiences.
As mentioned, account-based marketing requires you to deliver consistent experiences for your accounts — this plays a major role in your success. A large part of the reason for this is because ABM is a long process that often lasts several months or years.
So, for your ABM efforts to be remarkable, you must maintain a long-term sense of delight among your accounts. This is how you’ll make each account feel as though they’re your business’s market of one — and why would they ever want to stop doing business with you if that’s their experience?
Delivering these long-term, consistent experiences may seem a bit daunting. Although this is understandable, the good news is that ABM is a process that naturally encourages you to do so.
Think about it this way: We already discussed the way ABM requires Marketing and Sales to be aligned on all things related to each account (e.g. their goals, budget, unique needs, members of their team and buying committee).
When there’s a universal understanding of these factors within your organization, Marketing and Sales (and anyone else involved) will be able to effectively and naturally deliver that feeling of consistency through everything they communicate and share with each account (e.g. personalized content, targeted campaigns, pricing and product information, and more).
4. Measure your return on investment.
With account-based marketing, you can easily measure return on investment (ROI) for each account you invest your resources and time into. This is beneficial because you can confirm whether certain accounts you invested in were ideal for your business.
Then, you can nurture and delight those accounts long term as well as identify and target similar accounts in the future. If your ROI proves your ABM tactics worked, use those results as a motivator to drive your strategy forward as well as one you can count on to continually improve your bottom line.
5. Streamline the sales cycle.
Depending on your business, industry, and resources, the sales cycle typically looks something like this:
1) Prospect → 2) Connect → 3) Research → 4) Present → 5) Close → 6) Delight
With account-based marketing, this cycle is streamlined — by focusing your efforts on specific high-value target accounts, you save time and resources, and spend more time on the stages of the cycle that positively impact your bottom line:
1) Identify Target Accounts → 2) Present to Target Accounts → 3) Close Target Accounts → 4) Delight Accounts
ABM streamlines your sales cycle by helping you stay efficient. Rather than experimenting with different tactics to prospect and qualify a large pool of leads, ABM ensures your target accounts are ideal for your business so you can quickly dive into building relationships.
The sales cycle stage of closing is also streamlined through ABM. That’s because your chances of converting accounts and retaining them long term increase thanks to marketing and sales alignment, consistent customer experiences, and personalization.
6. Expand business through account relationships.
The saying "quality over quantity” applies to account-based marketing. The process requires you to invest significant time and resources in engaging and delighting a group of carefully-chosen, high-value accounts, versus trying to quickly close deals with less-qualified leads who may not be the best fit for your company in the long run.
By taking the time to build these trusting relationships with accounts, you’ll expand business by retaining those valuable customers longer. And considering it costs more to obtain customers than retain them, this will positively impact your bottom line.
Additionally, as a result of personalized, thoughtful, and consistent customer experiences, accounts will become loyal to your business over time — and loyal customers become your best marketers, promoters, and brand advocates.
In other words, your accounts will help you expand your business among their networks (e.g. partners, customers) through referrals, word-of-mouth marketing, testimonials, and more.
Now let’s cover some account-based marketing tactics you can apply to your strategy to improve the likelihood of success.
Account-Based Marketing Tactics
Secure organizational ABM alignment.
Build your ABM team.
Identify and pick your ideal set of target accounts.
Encourage Marketing and Sales to create account plans together.
Attract contacts from high-quality accounts.
Forge strong relationships with the account’s buying committee.
Measure and analyze your ABM results (and make necessary iterations).
ABM tactics are the building blocks of your strategy — so, work through the following list to ensure your ABM efforts and investment are successful.
1. Secure organizational ABM alignment.
One of the most important account-based marketing tactics is arguably one of the most straightforward: Secure organizational ABM alignment.
This means getting all internal stakeholders on board with the various factors related to your account-based marketing strategy. In doing so, it’ll be easier for your business to create consistent experiences for accounts and make sure your strategy is as efficient and streamlined as possible.
For example, your VP of Marketing and VP of Sales should secure organizational alignment and spread awareness regarding:
Marketing and sales team members who are directly involved in the strategy
Account buying committee members and any other account stakeholders
Your business’s point-of-difference for each target account
ABM budget and resources
ABM goals and KPIs
2. Build your ABM team.
Similar to the first tactic we reviewed above, VPs of Marketing and Sales will also likely be leaders in the discussion regarding how you’ll build your ABM team.
They, along with managers on their respective teams, will need to identify a minimum of one marketer and one sales rep who will be completely dedicated to the accounts you work with.
These people will create and publish content for accounts as well as work to manage and close business deals with each account’s buying committee. (As a rule of thumb, try to limit your team size to no more than ten sales reps and one marketer.)
In addition to the marketer(s) and sales rep(s), don’t forget to identify any other internal key players — such as customer success reps — who should be aware of and aligned on your ABM strategy.
3. Identify and pick your ideal set of target accounts.
Identify and pick your ideal set of high-value target accounts to invest your time and resources in.
Here are some recommendations on how you can do this:
Set search alerts for your ideal customer profile on LinkedIn.
Create a workflow that filters incoming qualified leads based on specific criteria (e.g. company size, industry, etc.) and tags them as an ideal customer type in your CRM.
Ask, “If we could replicate one deal from last year, what would it be?” Then, use the characteristics of that deal (e.g. industry, company size, value) to help you identify other good-fit customers.
Pick target accounts based on a particular industry or geographical location.
Review major companies and leads who are using and engaging with your inbound content but don’t have a deal attached (yet!).
Identify the lighthouse accounts you could use for reference.
Stick to no more than 10 accounts per sales rep.
4. Encourage Marketing and Sales to create account plans together.
Throughout this guide, you’ve probably picked up on the fact account-based marketing is a team effort. That’s why ensuring appropriate marketing and sales team members are involved in account planning is so important.
Make sure Marketing and Sales ask the following questions while they work on account plans:
Who will we need to know at each account (e.g. buying committee members and account stakeholders)?
What content will we need to attract and engage account buying committee members (and any other stakeholders)?
Which channels will we use to share content with the right people at each account?
How will we (marketers and sales reps) provide the right type of support throughout each stage of the strategy and sales process — in other words, how will sales help at the outset and how will marketing support in the later stages?
🧡Store your account plans as pinned notes in your HubSpot CRM, Google Docs, Asana Boards, pinned messages in Slack, and more to allow for easy access and collaboration.
Here are a few other tips Marketing and Sales can use to make your account plans successful:
Ensure Marketing and Sales align on your product or service’s value proposition and point-of-difference for every account.
Create personalized content — or update existing content — so it’s tailored to each unique account.
Customize your allocated resources and budget for each account.
5. Attract contacts from high-quality accounts.
Next, you’ll want to attract the buying committee members and stakeholders of your target accounts. Depending on how long you’ve been in business and any previous ABM work you’ve done, you may or may not already have contacts for specific accounts.
The key to successfully attracting high-quality accounts is to personalize content to those accounts — this will help you elevate brand awareness and maximize relevance among audience members.
Here are some GDPR-compliant recommendations for attracting high-quality accounts:
Engage accounts on social media (e.g. determine which platforms they’re on, join the groups they’re in, contribute to conversations they're a part of, and share helpful and relevant content you’ve created).
Produce a podcast or video series and invite a leader from the account to be a special guest.
Sponsor a booth at a target account’s conference or event.
Send direct messages via social media and direct mail via email or post.
Communicate through LinkedIn InMail outreach (do this simply and without ever leaving HubSpot with the LinkedIn integration).
Build custom landing pages tailored to the needs, questions, and concerns of accounts.
Offer gifts for engagement and interaction (e.g. prizes, swag, and discount codes).
Distribute content such as blog articles across channels that are relevant to each account (e.g. website, social media, and magazines).
Create ad campaigns and social ads to target different factors such as location, skill, and job title.
Ask current contacts, accounts, and customers for referrals.
Invite contacts to (physical or digital) events and ask attendees to invite their colleagues.
6. Forge strong relationships with the account’s buying committee.
Once you’ve attracted high-value accounts, it’s time to forge strong relationships with their buying committees. This is something your team will likely work on over an extended period of time — in fact, it often takes months and even years to develop these bonds. Think of this tactic as one tied to delighting your accounts — you never stop the process of delight.
Here are some thoughts on how you can forge strong, long-lasting relationships with an account’s buying committee.
Provide education around the value your business — and your product/ service — brings accounts through tailored interactions and engagement.
Create and share personalized content, such as case studies, to prove the ways you’ll exceed expectations and resolve the challenges of each account.
Communicate one-on-one when possible to make buying committee members feel like they’re your only priority.
Host events with and for account members (e.g. dinner) so they get to know your brand and team on a personal level.
Stick to organized, well-timed meetings.
Use email sequencing to enhance all communication, be professional, and maintain consistency.
7. Measure and analyze your ABM results (and make necessary iterations).
While working through and upon completion of the tactics above, it’s crucial you monitor your success. By reviewing and analyzing your ABM results, you’ll identify any gaps or parts of your strategy that need to be changed. This will allow you to make your strategy more effective for your business, marketing and sales teams, and accounts.
Here are some examples of common account-based marketing KPIs that provide insight into how you’re doing:
Account penetration (net new contacts added to an account)
Percent of deals closed.
Grow Better With Account-Based Marketing
Account-based marketing doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By working through the tactics we’ve listed above and implementing software — such as HubSpot’s ABM software — for your marketing and sales team to use together, you’ll identify valuable accounts more efficiently, reduce any friction impacting your flywheel, and grow better.