account-based marketing

Account-based marketing (ABM) isn’t new, but it’s gaining traction around the digital marketing watercoolers (online and in-person). So what is ABM? The definition we like best comes from the ABM Leadership Alliance:

“Account-based marketing (ABM) is a strategic approach to designing and executing highly targeted and personalized marketing programs to drive business growth and impact with specific, named accounts. Account-based marketing directly connects your business solutions to your target’s specific needs.”

It boils down to “treating individual accounts as markets in their own right.” 

This focused strategy relies on a collaboration between sales and marketing to create personalized buying experiences for high-value accounts. By taking a targeted and individualized approach, companies using ABM have boosted revenue and grown their businesses. 

In this post, we’ll explore the basics of ABM, how it differs from funnel-based marketing and whether this strategy is a fit for your business. We’ll also offer a few tips on getting started. 

What Is ABM?

ABM can take on many different forms (we’ll offer some examples below). But at its core, it is about creating customized campaigns and messaging that address the specific needs of each target account. It can be a powerful tool when B2B organizations go after specific prospects, as it employs highly targeted content. 

How Is ABM Different from Funnel-Based Marketing? 

The marketing funnel is a way to illustrate the journey from lead to customers. The widest part of the funnel aims to attract as many prospects as possible. As leads move closer to becoming customers, the funnel guides marketers in addressing their needs and qualifying the most likely to convert. 

The ABM approach takes the funnel and flips it. To better understand how this flip works in practice, think of it in terms of the following nouns: person, place and thing. 

Funnel marketing focuses on: 

  1. The THING (what you want to say)
  2. The PLACE (where to say it)
  3. The PERSON (who to say it to)

ABM does a little scramble and instead focuses on: 

  1. The PERSON (who you are trying to reach)
  2. The THING (what you want to say to them specifically)
  3. The PLACE (the best outlet to reach them)

Let’s use the noun principle and some sweet graphics to demonstrate how flipping your funnel (does that make it more of a pyramid? A cone?) is the first step to creating an ABM strategy. 

The THING 

Attract potential leads and gather their info via newsletters, downloadable content, etc. 

The PLACE

Send automated emails to reach leads where they are and answer consideration-stage questions. 

The PERSON

Home in on leads who have considered your MoFu offers and pass the warmest on to sales. 

marketing funnels

The PERSON

Using your data-driven ideal customer profile, identify target audiences. 

The THING

Personalize your message based on pain points, values and questions you know they have. Then, tailor that message to decision-makers within target organizations. 

The PLACE

Determine the channels you’ll use to reach out based on your target organization. 

You can also use the flipped funnel approach to understand how to attract and guide leads along the buyer’s journey — both in classic inbound marketing and in ABM. 

First, the classic funnel approach.

  • Awareness. The top of the funnel (ToFu) is where the awareness-stage buyer lives. Marketers cast a wide net focused on answering questions potential leads might be asking. 
  • Consideration. Middle-of-the-funnel (MoFu) content is all about engaging that next level of questioning. Buyers in this stage are aware they have a problem and are actively looking for a solution. MoFu content comes in the form of how-to articles, free guides, webinars and videos designed to respond to MoFu buyers’ questions and position you as the expert. 
  • Decision. Finally, bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu) buyers are warm leads. They know what they need and are ready to pay for it. In this stage, all content (from email newsletters to product guides) should answer oft-asked buyer questions like, “What does your service cost? How is what you do better than your competitors? How can I benefit from your product or service?” The BoFu stage is also where you hand off a lead to the sales team to close the deal.  

In the ABM approach, we’re again going to work the funnel backward. 

  • Identify. The first step is to identify your ideal customer. The good news is you’ve got a jump on that if you’re the type of savvy digital marketer with a binder full of buyer personas. But don’t stop at fictional personas. ABM requires a deeper dive in the form of an ideal customer profile (ICP). Marketing and sales should collaborate to develop ICPs that include industry, region, size, fit and any other factors that would make them an ideal customer for you. 

Pro Tip: You don’t always have to start from scratch. You can mine your current customers and those hanging out in the sales funnel. Are there high-value leads you’d like to target with extra attention and effort? 

  • Personalize. After you’ve identified your ICP (the type of company you want to hook as a client), you need to expand that profile to include the actual people (job titles, profiles) who make decisions within those organizations. Determine where they spend time online, what messages resonate with them and how best to address their questions.  
  • Engage. Now it’s time to reach out to prospects using the knowledge you’ve gained. You can reach out in any number of ways — emails, webinars, video content, events, e-books, white papers — but ensure all content is tailored to address the prospect’s values, needs and pain points.  

Fast Fact: ABM expert and author Sangram Vajre came up with the concept of the funnel flip on a plane home from a conference in 2015. He drew a sales funnel on a napkin and literally flipped it. Vajre also coined #FlipTheFunnel.

Who Should Use ABM?

ABM is a growth strategy that’s ideal for companies that want to create personalized buying experiences for their most high-value prospects. 

We asked our in-house ABM expert and Director of Digital Strategy Anthony Vera Cruz how to know if ABM is a fit for your organization. Here’s what he had to say: 

anthony vera cruz pull quote

Anthony notes that when prospects feel uniquely understood, the likelihood of a conversion increases exponentially. 

“It’s simple human psychology. We all want to feel understood and valued as the most important person in the world. ABM, when done correctly, plays directly to that desire.”

While ABM can work for everyone, Anthony points out a few situations where ABM is a natural (even necessary) fit:

  • If you find yourself struggling to craft marketing or sales messages that apply broadly to the product you offer, ABM is a great way to kickstart your momentum by focusing on a handful of prospects rather than a wider pool.
  • If your products or services represent a significant investment for the company or customer you’re selling to, getting to know them before reaching out with personalized messaging (the core of ABM) could make the deal. If they’re impressed by the fact that you have taken time to really get to know them and create a custom offering that addresses a key pain point or need, they may be more likely to trust you with a high-value purchase. 
  • Finally, if your product or service is niche and your audience is limited, casting a wide marketing net can be a waste of time and money. ABM offers more precision from the jump, allowing you to put resources toward your narrower target audience. 

Pro Tip: To implement a successful ABM strategy, sales and marketing teams must work together to create ICPs and tailor campaigns specifically for them. 

Why You Should Give ABM a Try

One of the most compelling reasons to incorporate ABM into your digital marketing strategy is because it works — not only in generating business but also in aligning companies across verticals. 

According to an ABM Leadership Alliance survey of more than 300 ABM leaders and practitioners: 

  • 72% of companies say ABM delivers a higher ROI than other types of marketing.
  • 49% say ABM plays a major role in making their entire company more customer-centric.
  • 61% say ABM is responsible for significantly improving marketing and sales alignment at their company. 

How to Kick Off Your ABM Strategy

Start small, and ask yourself two simple questions: 

  1. Who are we targeting? 
  2. What will we deliver when we get there? 

This is the ABM strategy in a nutshell. From there, you can work your reverse funnel by defining your target accounts, personalizing experiences just for them and engaging them in ways that meet their needs. 

Simple? Sure. Easy? Not so much. But don’t worry. If you need a hand, we’re here to guide you through the ABM process from the top of the flipped funnel to the bottom.