How to Establish an Account-Based Marketing Strategy

March 30, 2021
Contributor: Samantha Bonanno

Account-based marketing (ABM) has arrived, and businesses of all sizes must start planning and executing ABM strategies or risk losing clients to savvier competitors.

By the end of 2020, more than 70% of B2B marketers at midsize to large organizations will either pilot or launch full-scale account-based marketing (ABM) programs to target and engage buyers, according to Gartner

What is account-based marketing? 

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a strategy in which a supplier targets a select group of accounts that represent significantly higher expansion or growth opportunities with tailored marketing and sales support.

Survey data confirms that strong account-based marketing strategies live up to the hype. Respondents to the 2020 Gartner Technology Marketing Benchmarks Survey observed increases in key marketing and sales areas after implementing ABM. Marketing saw improved conversion rates throughout the funnel, increased web traffic, and improved advertising and email performance. Sales saw higher win rates, faster sales cycles and increased deal sizes.

When ready to create and implement an ABM strategy, sales and marketing teams should follow these steps:

Step 1. Formalize your account selection process.

Step 2. Coordinate across your sales and marketing teams.

Step 3. Fortify your tech stack and enlist third-party targeting tools.

Step 1. Formalize your account selection process

Everything in an account-based marketing strategy depends on a deep and reliable understanding of the accounts and audiences you’re targeting. ABM requires marketing and sales teams to strategically select accounts to target and nurture through customized engagement and support. 

To formalize the account selection process, marketing teams should design target company personas based on the high-value clients most likely to convert and/or grow. Evaluate what business objectives and values these target accounts tend to share, as well as what major steps in their buying journey precede purchase.

Much like a buyer persona, target company personas should include data points from four primary attributes or categories:
  1. Demographics: Industry, HQ location, number of employees
  2. Psychographics: Motivations, values, purchase decision patterns
  3. Technographics: Technologies and resources utilized by the organization
  4. Life cycle: Development stage and maturity of target entities

The more robust your target company personas, the more reliably your marketing team will be able to identify high-quality target accounts. This information can be sourced from CRM software, as well as directly from existing customers through surveys.

Step 2. Coordinate across your sales and marketing teams

With strong, data-backed target company personas in place, the next step is planning a pipeline strategy. An ABM strategy looks very different from traditional lead generation. 

Traditionally, when sales accepts a lead from the marketing team, marketing-led outreach stops and the client engagement process is executed by the sales team. For ABM strategies, successful account engagement instead requires proactive, ongoing coordination between marketing and sales teams.

From the very first interaction, marketers and sales reps must work collaboratively to build a sophisticated, personalized campaign across multiple channels. Gartner recommends continuing this joint effort throughout the sales process, maintaining a strategic marketing presence within digital channels beyond the moment of the traditional sales team handoff. 

This prolonged communication gives your marketing team further opportunities to offer personalized content as your target customers continue to gather information and seek purchase help.

Marketing and sales teams should work together to evaluate existing marketing and communication channels, identifying those best suited for recurring personalized outreach, communication and retargeting.

ABM communication channels could include:
  • Product and brand websites or landing pages
  • Social media networks 
  • Paid media campaigns and content syndication
  • Segmented email campaigns
  • Events, partnerships or sponsorships
  • E-commerce

In collaboration with the sales team, marketing leaders should build a list of planned and executed engagement and nurture tactics over time, and use the list to tweak their ongoing ABM strategy's outreach and engagement activities.


Step 3. Fortify your tech stack and enlist third-party targeting tools

The right software stack and technology investments are vital for account-based marketing success. 

ABM software is designed to fortify each critical step of an ABM strategy from account selection through engagement and nurturing, with reporting and analysis capabilities to inform any necessary adjustments to the strategy as it evolves and matures. 

There are two ways to equip marketing and sales teams with the tools they need to run a successful ABM program: Adopt an end-to-end ABM platform that provides all necessary functions across each step of the process, or establish an ABM program using your existing martech stack, adding other tools as needed to scale.

End-to-end ABM software platforms often include some common, core features:
  • Analytics
  • Prospecting tools 
  • Engagement monitoring
  • Lead scoring 
  • Marketing automation 

Teams interested in supplementing their existing marketing technology with tools that address individual steps in the ABM process can identify solutions specializing in capabilities such as enhancing audience management, proprietary intent data, or even sophisticated reporting and data modeling.

Intent data, for example, can supplement existing customer data with a rich set of proprietary, third-party user data. Integrating this specific tool into existing sales and marketing tech stacks empowers teams to create buyer personas using a treasure trove of demographic and behavioral data. 

Accelerate efficient growth with ABM

Accelerate Efficient Growth With ABM

The ultimate guide to kickstart an ABM program with intent data.

As you plan your account-based marketing strategy, we recommend making both a short-term and long-term plan. Consider which technology strategy (end-to-end or supplementary) your team will need to run a pilot ABM program, as well as what it will take to run your program at full scale. 

When choosing between a full end-to-end ABM service or supplementary tools to bolster existing marketing technologies, remember there typically is no one right answer. The key to success is open collaboration with key stakeholders to determine the approach that makes the most sense — and offers the greatest ROI — for your business.

Samantha Bonanno

Samantha is a Senior Specialist Analyst for Gartner Digital Markets, where she offers insight and thought leadership on marketing trends and best practices for small and midsize businesses. An Upstate New York native, Sam spends her free time backpacking with her dogs and holding snobby opinions on craft beer and single-origin coffee. Connect with Samantha on LinkedIn.

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