Account-Based Marketing Refines Its Focus
In the 1990s, B2B companies began to shift their marketing strategies away from a mass marketing approach to a more targeted approach, recognizing that the more specifically they could understand individual prospects’ needs and requirements, the more successful they could be at meeting them. Instead of creating and sending marketing messages en masse, they began to understand that they could be far more effective if they were more personalized in their approach.
In the early 2000s, the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) coined the term “account-based marketing” (ABM) to refer to this more targeted approach. Of course, many B2B marketers had already been using a targeted approach to help them better connect with and convert prospects. What changed, though, was the ability to use rapidly advancing technology as an aid in this process. Marketing automation platforms not only allowed companies to create personalized campaigns at scale but also to measure, monitor, and track engagement.
“Strategic account-based marketing is really a strategic effort between marketing, sales, and sales operations where we’re going direct to our ideal customer having first identified their pains and desires,” says Christian Piuma, CEO and cofounder of SalesLeap, a B2B sales growth company. Most companies, though, he says, don’t integrate sales and marketing.
A good way to understand how ABM differs from traditional marketing approaches is in terms of the marketing funnel, explains Michael Skladony, general manager of consumer services at Semcasting, a provider of data and audience targeting solutions. ABM, Skladony says, “sits rather low on the marketing funnel and is hyper-focused on reaching decision makers or B2B influencers within an organization with a definitive goal of demand generation.”
Olga Noha, chief marketing officer of SplitMetrics.com, a provider of mobile app growth solutions, says ABM “can be seen as a beautiful evolution of the warm, personal touch in marketing, amplified and refined by the power of technology.”
ABM, she says further, “is the enchanting fusion of old-world charm and futuristic tech, where marketers become matchmakers and technology serves as Cupid’s arrow. It brings back the golden days of personalized marketing, where businesses knew their customers on a first-name basis and catered to their specific needs while leveraging cutting-edge technologies to scale up.”
Clearly, the larger the organization, the more complex and time-consuming this process can be. Fortunately, while ABM has generally required more time and focus than mass marketing, technology now offers B2B marketers the opportunity to streamline their ABM efforts.
Over the years, ABM has come to be increasingly focused not on large accounts as targets, but on individual buyers, Noha says. “The focus has shifted from merely targeting large accounts to also considering the individual buyers within those accounts.”
This doesn’t mean, she clarifies, that larger accounts have been replaced. What it does mean is that “marketers are now empowered to engage buyers on a more granular level.”
Many experts would argue that ABM’s focus is on quality over quantity.
The approach to ABM is relatively straightforward and takes in the following steps:
- Identify target accounts that represent the best fit for your product or service based on such criteria as company size, industry, revenue, etc.
- Create a personalized marketing communications strategy for each account. This might include creating customized content, email campaigns, or events designed to meet the specific needs and interests of each account.
- Engage with key decision makers with the focus on building relationships through personalized emails, social media interactions, or one-on-one meetings.
- Measure and optimize results.
ABM is focused on targeting high-value accounts, focusing on the individuals most likely to be buyers. The idea is that despite the greater time and effort that might be involved in finding the needle within the haystack, taking that time and effort can pay off because of the higher close rates that can be achieved.
Data can help. Continued proliferation and advancement in technology to harness that data is having a major impact on the adoption of ABM.
“Data is the backbone of an ABM strategy that actually works, and getting more actionable data now is easier than it was five years ago,” says Talar Malakian, chief marketing officer of Phonexa, a marketing automation solutions provider.
But B2B marketers need to fully understand how that data can be used, Malakian points out. It’s not just about capturing data; it’s also about sharing and using that data effectively to fully understand the audience.
“There is a growing emphasis on cross-functional collaboration between marketing, sales, and customer success teams to ensure a shared view and single source of truth for each account,” Malakian adds. “By unifying account data, these teams can better align and deliver long-term outcomes per client, thereby improving the overall customer experience.”
In addition, Malakian says, “intent data is playing an increasingly important role in ABM, allowing marketing and sales teams to gain deeper insights into the buying journey of each account and deliver more targeted and effective outreach.”
Finally, she notes, “there is a greater focus on refreshing and enriching account data to ensure that it remains accurate, relevant, and actionable. This includes regularly updating customer data and leveraging third-party data sources to gain a more complete picture of each account.”
FROM LARGE ACCOUNT TO INDIVIDUAL BUYER
ABM has evolved in tandem with the evolution of the buyer or prospect journey, Skladony says, noting that this means that “the marketing approach needs to evolve to be where the buyers are, not where you believe them to be.”
Sales reps, Skladony adds, have historically been a key point of contact, but more sophisticated buyers are doing extensive research prior to talking to a sales rep. Consequently, he says, ABM becomes a matter of not simply pinpointing one decision-maker but including a focus on the sales or finance team along with the management team.
“Building awareness with both the decision makers and B2B influencers and converting them to endorse your offering to the decision makers within the organization can help move the needle,” Skladony says. “Unless you’re targeting a solopreneur, there are likely multiple people within an organization who are going to influence a purchasing decision. Reaching each of these people is key to ensure messaging lands in front of the appropriate targets.”
A big reason for the change in marketing approach has been the fact that the B2B market is so complex. Unlike B2C targets, who tend to be individuals, B2B targets have historically been companies—often very large companies. Within those companies, a myriad of individual decision makers creates a complex labyrinth of potential prospects in many cases.
“While individual buyers have become increasingly important in the B2B buying process, larger accounts still play a significant role in marketing targets,” says Robin Dimond, founder and CEO of Fifth & Cor, a marketing company. “However, the focus has shifted to targeting key decision makers within those accounts rather than just the account as a whole,” she adds.
“We define ABM as being precise about who you are going to market to, understanding their specific needs, then selling and marketing to them in personalized ways,” says Adam Turinas, CEO and founder of healthlaunchpad, a firm focused on helping technology firms use ABM to sell and market to healthcare organizations. Unlike traditional B2B marketing, ABM is focused on “not selling to the wrong accounts,” he says. “Newer technologies, like third-party intent data that shows who is in-market, and ABM platforms like Terminus enable you to pinpoint accounts that appear to be in-market and target them precisely with marketing messages and content.”
This also means, Turinas says, that B2B marketers shift their focus “away from B2B lead generation programs to more awareness-building, demand-generation programs and demand-capture activities.” That, he says, requires tighter coordination between sales and marketing.
It also requires a shift in focus from large accounts to individual buyers.
Historically ABM has been about focusing on buyer collectives rather than individuals, says Turinas—targeting titles and roles at key accounts. “The latest shift is that now the ABM platforms and data providers like Zoominfo allow you to quickly determine who the individuals are in these buyer collectives,” he says.
“With ABM, you’re looking at [marketing-qualified accounts] as opposed to [marketing-qualified leads],” Malakian says. “Your buyer is an account, but the account has a human decision maker with real pain points. Even though it’s called account-based marketing, at the end of the day, you’re marketing to human decision makers.”
The ability to do this well can pay off in measurable and meaningful ways. MarketingProfs research, for instance, found that companies using ABM strategies saw revenue increases that were 208 percent higher than those that don’t. In addition, 97 percent of respondents said that ABM helps them achieve a higher ROI than other marketing strategies.
Doing so, though, requires a focus on best practices to maximize effectiveness and results.
BEST PRACTICES IN TARGETED ABM
“In terms of effective strategies for ABM, account research and personalization are crucial,” Dimond says. “Using tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator, marketing and sales teams can identify key decision makers within target accounts and develop messaging and content that speaks directly to their pain points and challenges. Follow-up strategies should also be personalized and strategic, such as using retargeting ads or social media outreach to stay top of mind with decision makers.”
Malakian points to a couple of specific ways that ABM can be used to target individuals effectively. They include the following:
- Automating lead generation through de-anonymizing website traffic. For instance, identifying anonymous website visitors and automatically sending them personalized outbound emails.
- Personalized email campaigns. Enriching CRM company and contact records with highly detailed company firmographics to run analysis and create personalized email and SMS campaigns at scale.
While Salesforce remains a major player in the ABM technology space, “other technologies, like Terminus and Demandbase, are proving to be more effective for some businesses,” Dimond says. “Generative AI is also becoming more important in ABM, as it can help identify patterns and insights from large datasets to inform campaign strategies.”
Others agree that generative AI is likely to play an important role in ABM moving forward.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS FOR ABM
As technology continues to advance, B2B marketers will likely gain access to even more sophisticated tools to help them finely target and effectively engage and move prospects to action.
Generative AI, Noha states, “has immense potential to revolutionize ABM.” By leveraging AI-generated content, she says, “marketers can create highly personalized and dynamic messaging, tailored not only to individual accounts but also to individual buyers within those accounts.” That higher level of customization, she says, “can lead to higher engagement and conversion rates.”
ChatGPT and generative AI can be used to drive ABM results in several ways, including these:
- Creating personalized content and messaging for specific accounts. Generative AI models can craft tailored content based on the specific needs and preferences of each account moving from generalized content to more individualized appeals.
- Generating customer insights. Generative AI models can be used to analyze large amounts of data to generate insights about target accounts, helping to improve future marketing outreach efforts.
- Lead scoring. By analyzing customer data and behavior, generative AI can help identify the most promising leads.
- Enabling chatbots. Chatbots and conversational AI can guide personalized and interactive experiences for target accounts.
The future of ABM is exciting, Turinas says. “We expect more companies to adopt ABM technologies and for ABM to become the way companies market.”
Still, despite the important role that technology will continue to play in supporting ABM, the human factor shouldn’t be overlooked, Dimond says. “The importance of human relationships and personalization will remain a key aspect of successful ABM strategies.”
Linda Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer who writes for various business and trade publications. Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends, and more.