What Is Account-Based Marketing?

8 min read
May 14, 2020
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Marketing is an ever-evolving discipline. Tactics come and go. Some of them disappear completely, while others adjust to the changes caused by emerging technologies and tools. One of the trends that have been gaining traction in the last couple of years is personalization.

When you shop online in the same store repeatedly, you expect the store to tailor their offer to your needs after a while. While it’s more common in B2C marketing and sales, account-based marketing, which is the equivalent of personalization in B2B, has been rising to prominence in the recent past. 

What is account-based marketing and why you should care

The exact phrase, “account-based marketing,” was coined in 2004 by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA). The concept itself dates back to the ‘90s, when businesses figured customized marketing could be a good idea. 

As far as the definition goes, ITSMA describes account-based marketing as “a strategic approach that combines targeted, insight-led marketing with sales to increase mindshare, strengthen relationships, and drive growth in specific new and existing accounts.” Simply speaking, this is a marketing strategy that involves close cooperation between marketing and sales teams, and “treating individual accounts as markets in their own right.” Since they work together, their main goal is to target the most valuable accounts with bespoke content and turn them into customers. 

We could break this down further into differences in targeting, for instance. Compared to, let’s say, inbound marketing, account-based marketing focuses on specific accounts rather than buyer personas. 

Why bother with creating separate marketing campaigns for specific customers instead of trying to reach as many prospects with the same message? It turns out that only 0.75% of B2B leads convert to paying customers, according to Forrester. On the flip side, 85% of marketers claim that account-based marketing provides the highest ROI among all B2B marketing tactics. Not too shabby.

The three types of account-based marketing

Before you dive into planning your first account-based marketing campaign, you should know that ITSMA distinguishes three types of ABM:

The three types of account-based marketing.

Strategic ABM is the most granular, and it involves creating highly-specific marketing campaigns for individual accounts. While it requires the highest investment, it also yields the highest ROI. The biggest differentiator here is that you don’t market to clients, but with them, to bring value to both companies. A marketer taking care of a campaign like this works in close collaboration with the sales team to provide a fully customized plan to a specific account. 

As expected, Lite stands for lightly-customized. This type of ABM focuses on crafting campaigns that target a few accounts facing similar problems. Also known as a one-to-few model, it’s usually aimed at the second tier accounts in groups of five to 10.

Programmatic ABM is the furthest away from what most people have in mind when thinking about account-based marketing. It moves toward a one-to-many model that can reach hundreds of customers that share similar challenges. This, in turn, sounds oddly familiar to what we know as inbound marketing. 

How account-based marketing is different from inbound marketing

Hubspot introduced the notion of inbound marketing in 2005, and it has been getting more and more popular ever since. It focuses on pulling and engaging an audience with relevant content rather than pushing prospective customers with cold calls and emails. 

Inbound marketing isn’t as targeted as ABM and focuses on a larger scale. On top of that, their marketing funnels are inverted. While identifying target companies is at the top of the ABM funnel, it’s on the opposite end of the inbound marketing funnel. 

The problem with the bottom of the inbound marketing funnel is that it often generates low-quality leads. Still, sales teams need to take care of them. This connects us to an even bigger problem. More than 99% of B2B leads never convert to sales. The good thing, though, is that the best inbound marketing leads can form a base for your account-based marketing.

We already know that account-based marketing is highly targeted and focuses on accounts instead of markets or industries. The main difference compared to inbound marketing is that, apart from targeting prospects, ABM is also about marketing to existing customers and upselling.

Another thing to keep in mind is the number of decision-makers you have to get in touch with before closing a deal. According to Gartner, “The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers.” Account-based marketing requires building meaningful relationships with all of the people involved in the process. They spend only 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers when they are considering a purchase. That’s why it’s crucial to provide a top-notch marketing experience that is valued by high-value prospects. 

Benefits of account-based marketing

I’ve already touched on some of the benefits, like higher ROI and a more personalized approach. Still, it’s vital to describe those benefits, along with a few others, in more detail.

Sales and marketing alignment

Account-based marketing requires both the marketing and sales reps to change their mindset a little. They have to learn how to look at the campaign ideas from their own perspectives. Only then will they be able to work seamlessly together. The cooperation between those two teams is crucial for the success of any business, but it’s even more critical when it comes to creating ABM campaigns. 

Customized communication

Once you identify the target accounts, it’s time to research them thoroughly. This will help you shape your message and adjust it to the preferred channels of communication. When the decision-makers responsible for your key accounts come across highly-engaging and personalized content, they’ll be a lot more likely to convert. They should also appreciate the time and effort put into the communication with them. Personalized messages go a long way in building relationships that eventually lead to a sale.

Higher ROI 

According to the 2014 ITSMA Account-Based Marketing Survey, account-based marketing delivers the highest ROI out of all B2B marketing strategies. On top of that, it’s easier to measure. This means a lot, considering how difficult it is sometimes to justify the marketing spend.


ABM requires the marketing and sales teams to do a thorough analysis of their key accounts so that they can tailor their communication later on. This leads to focused work on a limited number of key accounts. Your ABM team focuses its resources on those who are most likely to buy and avoids spending their time marketing to people who would never buy from you anyway. 

How to launch your account-based marketing campaign

You’ve just closed a deal you had been working on for months, and the champagne corks start popping. But what are the steps that you took to get there?

Find your key accounts

A good start to your ABM campaign would be to determine what organizations are contributing the most to your bottom line. Pay attention to the details like the industry, company size, location, upsell opportunity, etc. They will give you an idea of which prospective customers to target in the first place.

Learn how your target consumers operate

Now that you’ve nailed down the key opportunities, this is the time to learn more about the decision-makers and their way of thinking. Find out as much as you can about the stakeholders and ways to influence their purchasing decisions.

Create compelling content

This one is self-explanatory. I already emphasized how important it is for your content to be as personalized as possible. But, it’s even better when it solves a problem for a key account you’re marketing to. Keep in mind that, in most cases, there are at least a few stakeholders you’ll have to convince to make a purchase. They might need different types of content to get on board with you. 

Distribute your content in the right places

Once your content is polished and ready to go, you have to do your best to reach your key consumers. I’m not only talking about online distribution channels. Direct mail or events can also serve as the perfect opportunities for reaching the stakeholders, as long as that’s what your research tells you. Coming back to the online presence, make the most of the targeting options available on the advertising platforms of major social media channels. You can be very specific with your targeting and reach precisely the people you want.

Make the most of your campaign

We’re at the stage where you’re 100% ready to execute and coordinate your campaign. Stay away from blasting out your content with the same messages across several different channels. Remember all the hard work you have put into your campaign. Don’t let it go to waste by spamming your audience. 

Terminus, one of the pioneering account-based marketing platforms, share their “style of cooking,” dubbed the TEAM framework:

Is account-based marketing the way to go?

ABM is here to stay, and it’s going to expand. The fact that HubSpot invested $10.3 million in Terminus in 2017 speaks volumes. While it’s geared towards enterprise-level businesses at the moment, it’s going to be interesting to watch small and medium businesses embrace the concept. They might not have the time and budget for account-based marketing just yet, but, as the trend continues, I’m sure they’ll give it a go.

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