We’d all love to pretend that marketing and sales are two halves of a coordinated whole, always working toward the same goals.
In reality, marketing and sales are more like the marching band and the football team — they’re at the same game, but they’re not exactly playing the same sport (and you probably won’t catch them at the same afterparty).
Traditional inbound marketing fits this paradigm just fine. Marketing fills the funnel, hands those contacts off to sales, and everyone gets to go about their business.
But there’s another kind of marketing that blurs the line between marketing and sales: Account-based marketing (ABM).
For many B2B companies, ABM is pretty much mandatory. If some portion of your marketing spend isn’t going toward ABM initiatives, you’re probably missing out on deals.
In fact, 87% of account-based marketers say that ABM initiatives outperform other marketing investments.
But ABM isn’t always easy to pull off. As an agency that supports both marketing and sales teams, Salted Stone has witnessed first-hand the challenges of executing effective ABM campaigns.
We’ve also developed some strategies for overcoming some of those challenges.
In this post, we’ll explore:
- What ABM actually is (and isn’t)
- Who can benefit most from an ABM strategy
- The different kinds of ABM
- How much ABM costs
- Getting marketing and sales aligned
Get ready, because we’re switching metaphors (goodbye football; hello fishing!) and taking a deep dive into account-based marketing.
What is ABM?
ABM is the strategy of directing marketing efforts to engage a specific account or set of accounts.
So instead of casting out a lure and waiting for the customers to come to you (i.e. inbound marketing), you’re spear-fishing for specific high-value accounts.
ABM isn’t outbound marketing.
Unlike outbound marketing campaigns, in which you might promote content to a list of hundreds or thousands, ABM campaigns are specifically tailored to a small group of accounts.
In addition, unlike an outbound marketing campaign which might be one-and-done, ABM campaigns are generally executed over a long period of time (weeks, months...even years) using a variety of touchpoints and strategies.
ABM isn’t sales prospecting, either.
While an ABM campaign is targeted at specific individuals, it doesn’t use the same toolbox.
While phone calls, emails, and personal messages could all be part of an ABM campaign, it could also include touchpoints traditionally thought of as marketing, like paid advertisements, blog posts, downloadable content, video, etc.
Is ABM right for me?
Account-based marketing can be a very useful strategy, but it’s not right for every industry, competitive landscape, or budget.
ABM works best for B2B companies that:
- Have a small list of potential customers they want to target
- Have a large deal size
- Have a high barrier to entry and/or long sales cycle
- Require buy-in from multiple stakeholders
The 3 types of ABM
ABM can be difficult to describe because many marketers will lump it all together into one big, confusing mess. In reality, ABM is a broad strategy that covers several different kinds of campaigns.
Reaching out to a CEO with personalized messages? ABM. Targeting a list of 100 contacts with display advertising? Also ABM.
For any given account, you’ll probably be running two or three different kinds of ABM campaigns concurrently, each targeting different contacts.
Let’s break it down:
ABM: ONE-TO-ONE (SPEAR FISHING)
The most “salesy” kind of ABM, these campaigns are meant for the highest-value contacts at target accounts.
That typically means the decision-maker who can authorize the deal. For enterprise accounts, these are often C-suite contacts.
Spear fishing is the most expensive, difficult kind of ABM. Every step of the outreach sequence should be personalized based on comprehensive research of the contact.
You might guess that one-to-one campaigns contain mostly fodder from the sales team, like phone calls, emails, or LinkedIn messages.
In fact, successful one-to-one campaigns are just as likely to contain content you might typically think of as marketing-focused, like blog posts, videos, and ebooks, all designed specifically to address the needs, concerns, and tastes of these big fish contacts.
One extreme example that gets passed around the blogosphere is a computer vision company that made an entire comic book in order to pitch T-Mobile, because their CEO likes Batman.
You don’t have to be that extreme, but one-to-one campaigns are still labor-intensive and time-consuming. However, they’re generally the most effective way to reach time-strapped executives who are being bombarded by your competitors with lower-effort messaging.
Often, the best chance you have of grabbing their attention is to go that extra mile and connect with them on a personal level using all of the tools in both the marketing and sales arsenals.
ABM: ONE-TO-FEW (NET FISHING)
Of course, one-to-one campaigns are unrealistic for most companies to pursue at scale. So while you run a few of these campaigns for the most valuable contacts at the most valuable companies, you can supplement with one-to-few campaigns.
This approach is for contacts that don’t necessarily make final buying decisions, but could be a vital part of the conversation. These “sponsors” are often directors or VPs, and are a key voice in major purchasing decisions.
Like a spear fishing campaign, a net fishing campaign might make use of a variety of sales and marketing tools. The content should appeal to what all these contacts have in common, and what channels they use most (e.g. email, Twitter, industry publications, etc.).
One example of a one-to-few ABM campaign is creating a webinar specifically targeted at the needs of VPs and directors within a specific subset of the industry, then using email, LinkedIn messaging, and even targeted advertising to drive attendance to the webinar.
ABM: ONE-TO-MANY (TRAWLING)
The most “marketing-y” kind of ABM, one-to-many campaigns resemble traditional outbound marketing campaigns, except instead of using broad buyer personas or audiences, you’re using individuals to guide content creation and target your ad spend.
Contacts in one-to-many campaigns are what you might consider “influencers.” They don’t necessarily have a say in whether or not you land an account, but they could suggest your product or service to someone who does. These are often managers or coordinators.
Let’s say you sell a business intelligence software platform to the financial services industry. It might be up to the CTO to decide whether or not to make a purchase. But your end users might be analysts or mid-level managers, and they’re the ones most likely to be interested in your product.
By identifying specific influencers and targeting them with content and paid advertising, you can dramatically increase your ROI compared to traditional outbound marketing.
There are a bunch of ABM advertising platforms such as Kwanzoo, Terminus, Triblio, and others that specialize targeting display ads to specific job titles at specific companies. LinkedIn also offers this capability if the list size is large enough.
How much does ABM cost?
Unlike inbound marketing, in which one campaign has the potential to drive hundreds or thousands of leads, ABM campaigns are limited in scope. At the end of the day, either you land the account, or you don’t.
That means there’s a pretty linear relationship between the amount of ABM campaigns you run and how much it’s going to cost.
Because of the nature of ABM, that’s usually a risk worth taking. Landing one or two big accounts, depending on your deal size, could pay for the whole undertaking several times over.
But it also means that ABM should not be the sole focus of your marketing efforts. If you spend 100% of your marketing budget on ABM and none of your fish bite, you’re going to end up with empty funnels.
For this reason, ABM should always be combined with other marketing and sales initiatives.
Getting marketing and sales to work together
To make ABM work, it’s critical to clearly delineate the roles of marketing and sales and ensure total alignment.
Easier said than done, we know. But without cooperation between sales and marketing, you’re likely to end up with the wrong contacts, bad messaging, and a weak campaign.
In a successful ABM campaign, the sales team needs to…
- Provide a list of high-value accounts and contacts
- Contribute to campaign messaging development
- Align their prospecting efforts with the campaign
- Participate in research and reporting
And the marketing team needs to…
- Develop campaign messaging and content
- Align their marketing efforts with the campaign
- Map assets to specific contacts and accounts
- Participate in research and reporting
The best way to make this alignment happen is to have a dedicated ABM team, separate from the sales and marketing teams but with experience from both.
However, that’s just not in the budget for many organizations. The next-best option is to use a third-party resource, like a digital agency, to plan, coordinate, track, and optimize your ABM campaigns, and act as a quarterback for both your sales and marketing resources.
(We know, we went back to football metaphors).
How’s your data?
One more thing: you can’t run an effective ABM campaign without a solid data management system, with detailed information about both existing customers and prospects.
Make sure your CRM is up to date and that you’re collecting all the information you need to execute your ABM campaign.
Related: Are you making the most of your CRM?
There are a number of useful platforms and programs you can utilize to plan and execute an ABM campaign. We recommend HubSpot’s ABM software, which can help you:
- Create an ideal customer profile (ICP)
- Identify target accounts
- Build custom audiences
- Execute personalized ad campaigns and email workflows
- Measure your strategy with more than a dozen out-of-the-box ABM reports
"...at their very core, ABM and inbound are united by the same single, powerful premise: that marketing should be relevant, resonant, personalized, and buyer-centric." - HubSpot
ABM is a marketing strategy that targets high-value contacts at high-value companies. It’s different from traditional outbound marketing and sales prospecting, but uses elements of both.
There are three unique types of ABM, each of which uses different touchpoints and targets different kinds of contacts.
The key to making ABM work is getting marketing and sales 100% aligned, which gets a whole lot easier if you have help.
Working with an experienced digital agency can give you a significant advantage for creating and executing a successful ABM strategy. At Salted Stone, we’re pros at ABM, and we can help you build long-lasting relationships with the high-value accounts that matter most.