What is ABM? Account Based Marketing Explained

account based marketing

Some go-to-market strategies cast a wide net to appeal to a broad target audience. While this approach can generate a large number of prospects, it won’t always resonate with high-value accounts. Account-based marketing solves this issue by encouraging your marketing and sales team to target accounts with personalized messaging.


What is account-based marketing?

Account-based marketing (ABM) — also called key account marketing — is a type of outbound marketing that uses personalized campaigns to target a particular account.

The most common types of sales and marketing strategies use approaches that pitch toward a broad amount of customers. While there is merit to this technique, it means that your sales process can fall short when it comes to delivering business that moves the needle.

Account-based marketing takes a different approach. It looks at the highest value accounts and tailors personalized marketing messages to increase chances of resonating with key decision-makers.

Closing deals in our modern marketplace is tough. Statistics suggest that anywhere between six and ten decision-makers are involved in a deal. The days of just needing to convince a CTO or CEO are over.

An account-based marketing framework allows your business to exclude unqualified leads or prospects that don’t fit your business objectives. Instead, your sales team can focus their time and energy on specific accounts leading to increased annual recurring revenue (ARR), a shorter sales process, and higher-quality clients.

Essentially, account-based marketing treats a specific company as a whole market. From there, it devises a content marketing strategy for each account. As a result, your marketing team can prepare deeply personalized content and tailored marketing.

How marketing and sales teams work together on ABM

Marketing and sales teams have their own areas of expertise. However, account-based marketing combines both specialties to help businesses target accounts that can benefit from personalized marketing.

Between the two departments, they need to:

Target accounts

Targeting accounts is a big part of a good ABM strategy. But identifying target accounts requires a lot of research to find and identify businesses that will generate wins for your business. Once they’ve been defined, you can move on to the next step.

Engage accounts

From there, sales and marketing need to deliver personalized content to engage the target accounts. This content can take any form as long as it speaks to the target accounts business.

Close deals

The marketing and sales teams both work on campaigns that will speak to high-value accounts. From there, it’s about closing deals and securing key customers.

high value accounts

Benefits of an account-based marketing strategy

#1. An efficient sales and marketing teams funnel

One of the most significant benefits of account-based marketing is its incredible efficiency. Because your sales and marketing teams are laser-focused on key accounts, you are not throwing money away on prospects that are unlikely to convert or generate a return on investment.

#2. A better and more personalized customer experience

Customer experience is such an important aspect of modern sales and marketing. When you decide on your target accounts, you need to do a bunch of research and determine the precise customer journey that will resonate with that business.

Then, you can deliver tailored content that shows a deep understanding of their business and the particular context they work within.

#3. Better alignment between sales and marketing teams

In some organizations, sales and marketing teams are siloed. This creates a situation where their priorities and even KPIs are different and, in the worst cases, conflicting. As a result, many businesses have been trying to build deeper alignment between those two departments and customer success.

When marketing and sales teams get around the same goals, it can lead to a more consistent message for target accounts.

#4. Faster sales cycle

Speeding up the sales cycle is a priority for most organizations. If you can move prospects through the customer journey more quickly, you can boost sales and revenues.

Account-based marketing targets accounts with personalized campaigns that are built for them. That can speed up the sales process significantly if it’s well designed.

#5. Better ROI

All good sales and marketing campaigns need to make a return on investment (ROI). Management will be happy to open the checkbook if they know the money (and more) will come back.

The good thing is that account-based marketing has a proven ROI.

#6. Outwork your competitors

As we mentioned above, account-based marketing allows you to devise personalized campaigns for particular key accounts. That means your campaign can be way more relevant than anything your competitors using traditional sales tactics serve up.

How to combine account-based marketing and inbound marketing

At first glance, it might seem that account-based marketing and inbound marketing have drastically different functions. An ABM strategy selects high-value accounts and commits your marketing efforts and resources towards securing this lucrative business.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is more passive. It consists of things like producing a variety of content that lures in customers to generate leads and sales over the long term. From there, once intent data has been received, sales reps follow up to close deals.

However, there is a strong case for combining both approaches. For example, you can repurpose any content you use from ABM for inbound marketing. Additionally, inbound marketing can create demand among decision-makers in your target accounts.

abm strategy

What are the key elements of an account-based marketing framework?

By now, you should understand:

  • what account-based marketing is
  • how it requires marketing and sales team alignment
  • some of the benefits it can provide.
  • Now, we’ll take a look at the basic framework of an ABM strategy before showing you how you can put together your own successful ABM program.

There are three key components of account-based marketing programs.

A strong alignment between the sales and marketing team

We’ve touched on this point above. However, it’s worth emphasizing and expanding on it.

Account-based marketing uses multiple channels and is characterized by a collaborative approach from your customer-facing teams. This grouping can include your customer success teams.

Over the last few years, many businesses have broken organizational silos. As a result, we’ve seen the emergence of several changes in the way that the customer journey is delivered. One of the more interesting innovations was the implementation of RevOps, aka revenue operations.

This sales and marketing strategy was built around consistent messaging and service for businesses. To achieve this, proponents of RevOps suggest that sales, marketing, and customer success teams should all gather under one roof and be driven by metrics involved in revenue generation.

Well, account-based marketing takes a similar approach. It involves approaching high-value accounts and giving them a white glove service. Of course, if these marketing efforts are successful, that close bond and customized service should carry through to your customer success approach.

To achieve the alignment that account-based marketing strategies require, each department must assign roles and responsibilities for each team and decide how to allocate resources to connect with the target accounts.

How account qualification works under an ABM strategy

It’s one thing saying you are going to target high-value accounts, but to achieve alignment, your customer-facing teams need to all agree on what constitutes high-value.

Again, this process involves having discussions to agree on who or what type of business constitutes a target account. It could be about revenue, growth potential, or even prestige.

Let’s explore different factors that you should consider while drawing up your AMB framework.


Accounts that produce a high amount of revenue are a common target for an account-based marketing strategy. Most teams have limited resources, and targeting a “big fish” can pay off if you catch it. 

However, teams should balance the costs of allocating a large amount of budget and time towards landing a specific account but not being able to achieve their goals.

Growth & Scalability

Another way to consider allocating your account-based marketing efforts is to look for businesses with high potential for growth and scale. By capturing the stars of tomorrow, your business can benefit when these teams expand and become more established, leading to eventual revenue increases.

One advantage of this ABM strategy is that accounts can be easier to win when they are in their infancy. For starters, emerging businesses might fly under your rival’s radar. Additionally, their chief decision makers can be easier to access when the company is still small. 

However, predicting which companies will generate the type of growth we are talking about isn’t always easy.

Know your competition

Finally, you need to understand who your competition is. So, conduct research on products or services that are similar to yours and take note of the customers they are chasing and how they are marketing. You might be able to spot opportunities or gaps in their approach.

How to devise a go-to-market with an ABM strategy

When your teams are aligned, and you’ve agreed on the type of business that you should target, you’re ready to go to market.

One important thing that you need to figure out is what each customer’s journey will look like. In many ways, account-based marketing flips the sales funnel on its head and allows targeted accounts to move through the sales process at their own pace.

So build out a journey and look for areas of potential roadblock and friction. Remember that a big element of ABM campaigns is the high level of personalization they provide. 

And that doesn’t just apply to the content and conversations you have with your prospective customers. It also takes in their management structures, the pace of change at the organization, and their specific company goals and objectives.

All of these elements need to be considered when making a customized go-to-market strategy designed to capture target high-value accounts.

Is there room for a multi-threaded approach with account-based marketing?

Multi-threaded sales and marketing are another popular way to target large accounts that are important to your business. The basic premise of this approach is that big accounts shouldn’t hinge on one or two relationships.

For example, imagine you have a sales rep who is working on winning an account. Let’s say they have established a relationship with the CTO of the business, and things are moving along nicely. Then, however, the CTO moves company, gets promoted, or otherwise goes dark, leaving you to try to pick up the pieces with their replacement and start the process all over again.

A multi-threading approach addresses this problem by suggesting that businesses should develop several relationships (or threads) across every level of the organization. As we mentioned earlier, there are up to 10 decision makers involved in each decision these days, so why not attempt to build something with each one?

As for whether account-based marketing is compatible with this approach, the answer is an overwhelming yes! Multi-threading sales and marketing fit in with the personalized approach of ABM campaigns. In fact, you can even make your marketing more granular by targeting key decision-makers at a departmental level.

A step-by-step guide to implementing account-based marketing campaigns

Now that you understand the revenue potential of a good ABM strategy, it’s time to learn how to implement a great campaign. We’ll take you through some critical steps that help you land high-value target accounts with effective account-based marketing.

Step 1: Align your marketing and sales teams

We’ve covered this point extensively already, so we’ll keep it brief. Get both sales and marketing aligned so you can create a consistent and seamless approach between lead generation and sales.

Step 2: Find and identify target accounts

Perhaps the most crucial step of any account-based marketing strategy is to identify your target accounts. You can conduct this research yourself or use third-party data.

Gather your sales and marketing teams and build a target account list. Split ABM accounts into categories based on how many resources you should allocate. Potential revenue is considered a good guide. However, you are free to take whatever approach suits your business objectives.

It’s important to remember that this should be a collaborative process between your marketing and sales teams.

Some things you can also consider are:

  • What tools are each company using already
  • What is each businesses mission or objective
  • Are any of these prospects already in your sales funnel or engaged with your marketing channels?
  • Any other data points that are relevant

How you decide on which accounts to target is up to you. But just ensure that sales and marketing agree on the customer personas to put on your lists.

Step 3: Agree on a process

You need to establish a process for sales and marketing to work together on an account-based marketing approach. Typically, organizations split the workload like this:

  • Marketing sets up and executes the ABM program
  • Sales follow up and attempt to close the deal

As you can see, this approach works to each department’s strengths. But this division of labor shouldn’t give you the wrong impression. Both teams will be working tightly together.

Some things you should iron out are:

A communication schedule

Establish a schedule for meetings, updates, and information sharing. This can be at whatever cadence you deem appropriate.

Share information

Both departments need to keep each other in the loop. This includes details of conversations with key stakeholders or decision-makers. You need to ensure your target audience is getting the same information.

Establish KPIs

As with any other marketing strategy, you must establish goals, KPIs, metrics, and timelines. This will help you keep up with your digital marketing activities and measure success.

Step 4: Make a plan for each account

Account-based marketing is about personalization. No two accounts are entirely the same. Therefore, once you have your list, you’ll need to work out which contacts and digital channels you need to use.

How you plan to approach each target will depend on several factors. With bigger accounts, you will be more likely to take a one-to-one approach. That means an entirely tailored and personalized type of marketing.

Here are a few general principles you can follow:

  • Treat each account as personally as possible. For example, consider sending direct mail gifts to develop a relationship
  • Figure out which marketing channel or channels will help you reach your prospects
  • Identify the key stakeholders or decision makers. These could be the CEO, CFO, CTO, department heads, legal team, or other influential staff members.

Step 5: Supplement your ABM aims with inbound marketing

Take your list of key stakeholders and decision-makers. In a perfect world, you could quickly be able to establish a relationship with each one. However, this is not a perfect world.

Sometimes it’s very challenging to reach these contacts with an outbound approach. So employ account-based marketing tools, like LinkedIn, to help you identify where you could find these contacts.

Try and find out where they go online to find and discuss solutions. Establish a presence in these spaces. Some areas you might consider are forums, social media, LinkedIn groups, industry publications, or even events.

Select the most promising and relevant channels and allocate resources accordingly.

Step 6: Build key relationships

As you implement your account-based marketing plan, you should be building relationships. Sales and marketing should be hard at work establishing rapport with each decision maker, just like they would with a multi-threading approach.

While sales will drive the action, you should ensure that marketing is still contributing. They can focus on producing content that can help close the deal. For example:

  • case studies
  • whitepapers
  • testimonials
  • webinars
  • video content

Step 7: Constant measurement

If you want to perfect your account-based marketing tactics, you should constantly measure and optimize. Some of the best KPIs to track are:

  • Percentage of buyers targeted
  • Interactions with buyers
  • Sales velocity
  • Close rate
  • Revenue generated per each target account

Keeping these data points up-to-date will give you a clear picture of your account-based marketing strategy. Additionally, you can track other digital marketing metrics to help you optimize the type of content that is getting results. You can even extract this information from your existing customers.

abm accounts

Account-based marketing tactics and tips to help you land high-value accounts

There are several account-based marketing tactics that can help you target accounts that will provide a great ROI.

Here are a few tips and tactics to help you smooth the approach.

Get company-wide buy-in

Sales, marketing, and customer success buy-in are essential. But you also need to get everyone else on board. Make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet so you can offer a consistent customer experience.

Take your time

Pivoting to an account-based marketing approach can’t happen overnight. So take your time. Some businesses choose to start off with just one rep from sales and one from marketing. That way, you can fine-tune your approach without investing too many resources until you’ve got a winning formula.

Use existing accounts and contacts

If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll already have an inbound marketing strategy. Mine your email list for contacts that are in target accounts. If you have already developed a relationship with some of these accounts, you’ve got a head start.

Account-based marketing examples

You should have a good grasp of account-based marketing by now, but here are some examples of the strategy done right. Each instance can teach us something about ABM.

#1 Snowflake: The importance of customized content

Snowflake is a well-known cloud-based storage provider. When they wanted to win key accounts, they built a huge library of first-class content. Once they had this excellent cloud-based content repository, they tailored the material for each key account based on where they were in the customer lifecycle process.

Snowflake’s approach was about building trust, credibility, and expertise. The accounts that engaged with the content gradually became leads. This example shows how you can use content to drive sales.

#2. LiveRamp: How to target

LiveRamp is a data enablement platform. They developed intelligence on a list of Fortune 500 companies. Some of the things they looked at were growth trends, company size, sector, and annual revenues.

Once they had their list, they narrowed their targets down to 15 accounts. The result was $50m of new business.

#3. GumGum: How they landed T-Mobile

GumGum is a contextual intelligence company. They wanted to land T-Mobile as a client, so they got creative. The T-Mobile CEO John Legard is an avid Twitter user. GumGum used this to its advantage by monitoring his account to understand who he is and what type of marketing he would respond to.

As it turns out, he’s a huge Batman fan. So, GumGum put together a Batman-inspired comic book with John Legard as T-Man. When Legard saw it, he was delighted. He re-tweeted it, netting GumGum some free publicity. It also won them the account.

Now, we’re not suggesting you try and pull a similar stunt. However, it shows that personalized (literally) content can be really effective for breaking through the noise.

#4. Caroo: Microsites

Caroo is an office snack platform. However, COVID-19 lockdown measures forced them into a re-think. They pivoted into a gifting platform for remote workers.

Caroo’s director chose an ABM strategy to reach accounts in this emerging and specialist industry. They planned and documented their approach and built microsites to capture the different personas and use cases. Soon, they’d won 85% of their target accounts and essentially saved the company.

Picture of Bryan Philips
Bryan Philips
I'm Bryan Philips from In Motion Marketing, where we turn B2B marketing challenges into growth opportunities. I create marketing strategies and deliver clear messaging, working closely with CEOs, marketers, and entrepreneurs. We're known for our precision in messaging, creating impactful demand generation, and producing content that drives conversions, all tailored to each client's unique needs.
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