06.06.2022

ABM Sales Strategy: All you need to know about account-based marketing

The B2B marketing environment is becoming increasingly fragmented and dynamic. The rise of digital marketing channels has given customers more control over how, where, and when they interact with brands. In today’s world, account-based marketing (ABM) is helping businesses meet the changing landscape of the buyer’s journey by focusing on specific companies and their unique challenges rather than trying to reposition the most common problems plaguing prospects.

But what exactly is ABM? How does it differ from conventional B2B marketing practices? And why should you adopt an ABM approach in your business? By the end of this article, you’ll have all the answers to these questions and be ready to build an ABM roadmap to incorporate into your company’s sales strategy.

What is an ABM Sales Strategy?

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a coordinated B2B strategy between sales and marketing that focuses on converting specific companies into customers by attracting and engaging key decision-makers and influencers.

In other words, ABM strategies help you narrow in on your best-fit accounts while, at the same time, avoiding the efforts that would be wasted on prospects that are unlikely to buy. Because the targeting is so concentrated when using an ABM approach, 80% of marketers surveyed say that customer lifetime values increased.

However, ABM strategies aren’t purely customer acquisition tactics. Upselling and cross-selling opportunities are also good candidates for ABM. Keep this in mind as we go through the process of building a roadmap so you can decide how to split your efforts accordingly.

Account-Based Marketing Strategies

The evolution of ABM over the years has divided this strategy into three methodologies, according to ITSMA. Let’s break them down, going from the lowest to the highest level of ABM complexity.

  • Programmatic ABM (one-to-many): Closer to traditional B2B marketing but powered by technology, this strategy advocates the promotion of relevant marketing materials to accounts based on online behaviors and distinct commonalities. It’s the fastest way to do personalization at scale. Most companies are already implementing programmatic ABM in one way or another.
  • ABM Lite (one-to-few): Those who subscribe to the ABM Lite strategy focus on tight-knit groups with which to market that are carefully curated based on specific, shared business challenges. ABM Lite is more targeted in comparison to programmatic ABM. But just like the lite version of your favorite app, performance is limited.
  • Strategic ABM (one-to-one): The epitome of these methodologies is Strategic ABM. It’s what most of us think of when we picture account-based marketing in action. In this method, marketing and sales single out high-value potential clients with bespoke content and programs created based on hours of account research.

If this is your first run of ABM, starting with a Programmatic strategy and working your way up would be the easiest way to get your team’s feet wet, as it takes a great deal of coordination and cooperation to dive headfirst into Strategic ABM. As your team strengthens its ABM tactics, you’ll discover a more refined process that will give them increased confidence when pursuing accounts that may seem intimidating or unattainable at the moment.

ABM sales strategy implementation

Benefits of Account-Based Marketing and Sales

ABM helps you navigate the many twists and turns of today’s B2B buying journey by concentrating on account-level actions, including touchpoints, campaigns, and sales activities. Through any one of the ABM strategies mentioned above, you will also be able to attract more qualified opportunities with precision targeting. And by focusing on the accounts that would benefit most from your solution, you will increase your chances of closing more deals and maximizing your revenue.

Improved Retention with Better Relationships

When marketing to the masses, we tend to skip over the “getting to know you” part of the relationship, which is just as bad for professional partnerships as it is for personal ones. ABM gives your team the opportunity to understand each prospect’s pain points, needs, and desires, leading to stronger relationships with higher retention rates.

You have to bring your “A” game, though. All will be for not if you don’t create personalized content tailored to the accounts and decision-makers you are trying to engage. Email and voicemails are nice and all, but can you create some content that’s a bit outside your normal campaign scope? Consider video presentations, customized self-help guides, or personalized gifts to make your company stand out in the sea of sales pitches.

Shortened Sales Cycles

One study found that businesses executing traditional B2B marketing strategies had an average sales cycle of 120 days, but ABM advocates experienced a much more manageable 90 sales cycle. This is because by focusing your efforts on the right accounts, you can eliminate unqualified leads from the campaigns before starting your outreach. You also make sure that you don’t lose opportunities by neglecting accounts that might be a good fit. Automating outreach based on account activity track through engagement tools also adds some gas to the fire while putting your brand light years ahead of the competition.

Increased Sales and Revenue

208%. That’s the difference in revenue generated by those that embrace ABM and those that don’t — with the former coming out ahead. And if think about it, this incredible claim seems to add up. If you combine the increased retention with the shortened sales cycles mentioned above, it’s easy to imagine how an ABM strategy could be a game-changer for your company’s revenue growth. It’s no wonder why we see so much buzz about ABM in the B2B world, but there are also reasons why sales and marketing aren’t 100% focused on this methodology.

Drawbacks to Account-Based Marketing

Even though ABM is an excellent approach to modern marketing and sales, it does come with its fair share of challenges. ABM campaigns are time-consuming, for starters, and your sales team will need to be ready for a long-term commitment. While nurturing your accounts is essential, it can be challenging to create enough time to do so while also managing other sales activities. You’ll need to guide your team on how to manage their time effectively. In addition, while ABM is a great way to generate revenue, it’s not the best approach for scaling your overall leads and revenue in a short period of time. As such, ABM is best used alongside other B2B strategies like demand generation and volume-based outbound outreach.

Build an Account-Based Marketing Campaign Roadmap

Creating an ABM campaign is much like building a house. You need a solid foundation and blueprints before breaking ground, or else you’ll risk having to tear down your work and rebuild it again later. If you’re just getting started with ABM, creating a campaign roadmap will help you set the right expectations for stakeholders and drive measurable results by aligning your ABM efforts with your business objectives. An effective roadmap will also help you prevent scope creep, which happens when everyone around the table wants to add more details to something that should be fairly simple. It can help you avoid getting stuck in endless brainstorming sessions and identify potential pitfalls before they become problems. Whether working solo or with a team, creating an ABM campaign plan can save time and resources during implementation.

Create Alignment Between Your Sales and Marketing Teams

You might be nose to the grind in marketing, but your sales team will be the ones interacting with the target accounts. ABM campaigns are a shift in focus from product-centric marketing activities to account-centric ones, so there may be some resistance to change.

To create alignment and communicate the value of ABM, start by clearly defining the problem you’re solving with ABM by asking, “Why are we struggling to get our foot in the door with some of our ideal clients?” Further the discussion by sharing examples of the types of outreach you’d like to see from the sales team and asking them to give you feedback on your ABM content.

Having one marketer and one salesperson working together to identify and engage with target accounts is sufficient when starting with ABM, but as your efforts scale, you’ll want to expand your marketing team’s support to additional salespeople.

Define Your ABM Objectives

So what exactly are you hoping to accomplish through ABM? Is it a 25% jump in deals won over the next six months> Or are you more concerned about the revenue generated from a particular product or service?

Whatever it may be, we recommend you set your objective before you do anything else. Your objectives will dictate every other piece of your campaign roadmap, from the channels you choose to reach accounts to the content you create and even the timing of your outreach activities.

Keep your objective near and dear to the heart of your team. Type it out at the top of every document, sign off with it in every email, or better yet, chant it during every Zoom meeting — if it doesn’t seem to push the boundaries of cult and culture. This way, you can keep your goals in check along with overzealous colleagues who tend to get a bit off track when implementing new ideas.

Conduct Research to Determine Account Personas

If you have a decent client base, you most likely have buyer personas detailing your ideal customers’ information. You could probably even rattle off their personified biography in the same way you would describe your old roommates while having a chat about your college years.

Through these buyer personas, you can repurpose the demographic firmographic and technographic data to create account personas, making it easier to decide just how you are going to carry out your ABM objectives. Start by determining the monthly recurring revenue (MRR) of accounts that bring in the largest profits and record what these clients have in common to build out the first draft of their profiles.

Even if you don’t have an extensive list of clients, you can create account personas based on the problems your product solves. Data such as the number of employees, yearly revenue, seed funding, growth trajectory, software licensing, and so forth are all key inputs that can help you develop account personas that point you towards the best-fit companies for your ABM campaigns.

Define Your Account-Based Marketing Strategy

As we mentioned before, despite the benefits, ABM is not the best approach for every account persona. Your team’s time is valuable, so you’ll need to protect it by weighing the hours it takes to convert accounts vs. the average customer lifetime value. Group account personas based on the most viable ABM strategy: Programmatic, Lite, or Strategic.

For instance, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are not the best candidates for Strategic ABM. It would be like catching a minnow with a deep-sea angler fishing rod. It can get the job done, but the ends don’t justify the means. Instead, SMB account personas would be best for a Programmatic approach where you are reaching out to the decision-makers based on their job title, industry, and sub-market.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) matching your ideal account personas are perfect for ABM Lite. The value of these accounts justifies the hour or so of social stalking your team does for each decision-maker in order to create a more customized buying experience.

And, as you may have guessed, you’ll want to save Strategic ABM for the enterprise-level and Fortune 500 companies. Senior and c-suite team members may be more involved in the planning and execution process as courting high-value accounts take a great deal of preparation and planning. You’ll want to look at every possible angle. Leaders at your company with extensive personal networks may be able open doors that would otherwise be sealed shut. Or you may find that current clients or vendors can help you earn referrals if the relationship is strong enough. One thing is for sure, Strategic ABM cannot be rushed. Be patient in the process and your efforts will be rewarded if the company is truly a good fit.

By defining your ABM strategies and grouping them based on account personas, your team will have a firm foundation to build their content and campaigns.

Build the Marketing Foundation

Once you’ve aligned your campaign objectives and strategies, you’ll want to start building the marketing foundation. This includes setting up your ABM tools and platform, curating lists of your core audiences, and selecting the sales channels that will be used in the campaigns.

It’s important to keep your strategy simple in the beginning. Once your ABM platform is up and running, you’ll want to start populating it with the account personas you’ve chosen to target. You can pull these personas from your sales data or invest in the ABM tools mentioned later in this article to help you generate account lists.

Attract Contacts Associated with Target Accounts

Hope is not a strategy. For ABM to work, you’ll have to take the first step toward your target audiences. You can start with a list of your top prospective accounts and expand your reach from there. If you already have contact information and are working toward generating new opportunities, outbound marketing with personalized emails and tailored content is one of the best ways to get noticed by specific decision-makers. If you are struggling to scrape together a lead list, you’ll have to do some good old-fashion manual research — relying heavily on LinkedIn and Google — or invest in a B2B database.

Define Marketing Tactics to Get the Buying Committee Involved

Getting the buying committee involved early in the process can help you avoid the dreaded ghosting phenomena that usually claim the deals of disjointed procurement teams. It’s also a great way to build trust with the people on the other side of the table.

As you develop relationships with key contacts, make sure both sales and marketing are actively engaging everyone who will be involved in the buying decision. To measure the potential success of an ABM strategy on an account-by-account basis, marketing and sales teams can use the following metrics such as the influence level of buyers associated with target accounts and the number of interactions with these buyers.

Effective Ways to Implement Your ABM Approach

In the complex world of digital marketing, it’s easy to get carried away with new techniques and technologies. And we all know how that goes: one minute, you’re super-excited about your new geo-targeted, mind-reading microsite, and the next, you’re staring at a spreadsheet full of numbers that make no sense because you forgot to take into account user drop off rates and conversion rates by browser type. The point is, as marketers, we need to be critical and discerning when adopting new strategies.

That being said, when it comes to implementing your ABM strategy effectively, how do you go about it?

Define What Success Looks Like

ABM campaigns are won or lost based on their ability to deliver results. If you’re not achieving the results you need to grow your business, your ABM approach simply isn’t working. That’s why it’s vital to define what success looks like for your ABM campaign. It’s not just about optimizing conversion rates, it’s also about the investment it takes to generate those leads. You may also want to consider how the campaign fits into your broader marketing strategy. What does success look like for your ABM strategy from a branding perspective? What does it mean for your sales cycle? And what does success look like for your customers?

Build Your Data Foundation

The effectiveness of your ABM approach starts with how you build your data foundation and how you use the insights you glean to inform your targeting and creative strategy. The data you acquire can come in many forms and from many sources, including your Google Analytics, your database subscriptions, and your CRM. You need to ensure that all data you use is consistent and robust. When it comes to selecting your analytics tool, make sure you choose one that has the ability to segment your audiences, collect and store data hygienically, and make it easy to access for all team members. When it comes to the data itself, you want to look for insights that help inform your strategic targeting and creative approach. That could be demographic information, behavioral patterns, or even the type of device your users are browsing with.

Choose the Best Channels for Your Campaigns

The channels you use for your ABM strategy need to be chosen based on the insights you’ve gathered about your audiences. Determine where your ideal clients spend most of their time both on and offline and what influencers they follow. Advanced sales and marketing teams opt for a multichannel approach using a combination of emails, social selling, phone calls, and even a sprinkle of customized direct mail every now and then to achieve that “wow” factor. As campaigns run their course, both teams can analyze the data to decide which channels are keepers, which need some TLC, and which channels are the weakest link.

Consider the impact various channels have on your business and their relative cost. Let’s take paid search and social, for example. Both of these channels are incredibly powerful tools for targeting your ideal prospects and bringing them into your funnel. You may choose to use both channels as a way to complement your ABM strategy or just one, but that decision should be informed by the data you’ve gathered.

We recommend you choose your top three channels within your team’s skillset in the beginning. As you master your multichannel approach, then you can experiment with fun and creative ways to attract your dream accounts.

Manage What You Measure

As soon as you’ve implemented your ABM strategy, you need to start measuring the impact. This means tracking the amount of traffic each of your channels brings and segmenting your audience data according to the various criteria you are targeting. Keep your focus on the quantified objectives and goals to avoid analysis paralysis. That way, as you continue to iterate and optimize your ABM approach.

Be Selective and Flexible

So we have established that ABM is a repeatable process, but you should never let your team get stuck in an endless loop. This means that you need to be flexible in approaching your ABM strategies. Embrace change based on the data you gather and the insights you’re gleaning from it. You also need to be selective in how you apply your ABM strategies. It shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. Each of your customer segments should have its own ABM strategy. You need to be willing to adjust your approach as you gather more data and progress through the customer journey because what worked last quarter, or even last month, might stop working tomorrow.

Account-Based Marketing Strategy Tools

You can use various tools and tactics to put your ABM strategy into practice. A marketing automation platform will help you to nurture your accounts and send timely, personalized communications. A lead enrichment tool is perfect for keeping your data clean while ensuring you have a holistic view of all your prospects and their interests. A lead-scoring tool will help you identify your best-fit accounts and assign a value based on the factors that matter to your business. And finally, a sales CRM will help you to organize your accounts, track activities, and collaborate with your team members. Let’s look at the ways these tools enhance your ABM performance.

ABM campaigns roadmap

Collect and Analyze Account Data

We’ve already discussed the “why” of collecting and analyzing data for your ABM strategy, but we didn’t give you the “how.” So, here it is.

There are two main types of tools that can help you gather, organize, and score account data. One option is a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that has account-tracking functionality built in. Another option is more advanced platforms like sales lead management systems such as Salesforce. If you don’t have a CRM or a lead management tool already in place, you may want to consider a platform that can track account engagement across multiple channels like Hubspot.

If you are lacking leads, an AI-powered B2B data platform may be just what you are looking for. Through these databases, you’ll not only be able to pinpoint prospects at specific companies but also discover intent data based on keyword surges to signal where they are in the buying process.

Relationship Building with Key Decision-Makers

Building relationships with the people who have influence over key accounts takes structured communication processes with both manual and automated sequences. One way to build these relationships is with email marketing. Because you’re focused on a handful of specific accounts, you can tailor your emails to resonate with the people holding certain job titles or managing applicable departments. For example, when you publish a blog post relevant to the people in one of your target accounts, you can include an email footer encouraging the decision-maker to share the post with their network. This is a great way to build rapport with a key player in your target account, and it gives you an opportunity to position yourself as an expert providing value-first content.

Other ways you might consider striking up a conversation with your shortlist of prospects would be through LinkedIn direct messaging, chatbots, texts, and phone calls. When incorporating automated outreach, there is the danger of your sales channel wires getting crossed if you don’t centralize your communications. You may find everything you need in the aforementioned CRM or lead management options — all-in-one tools are all the rage these days. But at the very least, ensure whatever communication hub you choose integrates well with your tracking system.

Resources and Team Experiences Needed for Success

Successful account-based marketing strategies require investment from both the marketing and sales teams. You’ll want to make sure that your marketing team has the resources they need to create the content and campaigns required for ABM. You’ll also want to ensure that your sales team has the resources they need to nurture the relationships they’ve built with the people in those accounts. If your sales and marketing teams aren’t adequately equipped to handle your ABM strategy, your results will be lackluster at best.

Whether you need to add more people to your team or increase hours, it’s important to be realistic about what it’s going to take to achieve your objectives. Not every sales and marketing professional has experience in ABM methodologies. If that’s the case with your team, it’s a process that can be learned through trial and error. But if you are under a time or budget crunch, consider partnering with an outsourced sales agency to provide your internal team with the extra support they need to hit the ground running.

Final Thoughts

Account-based marketing has been around for nearly two decades, but its popularity has risen exponentially over the past few years. As you have probably deduced from this article, those that have not embraced ABM strategies are starting to feel the monetary consequences of lagging behind the majority. Even so, now is as good a time as any to start building and implementing your ABM roadmap. Get together with your sales and marketing team so you can formalize the ABM strategies that will carve out your share of the market.

Vito Vishnepolsky
Vito Vishnepolsky
CEO and Founder at Martal Group