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Account-based marketing (ABM) is the best thing to happen to B2B marketing in a long while. No more spray and pray. You aren't selling candy.

But what exactly is ABM, and how can you use it effectively in 2024?

In this article, I’ll explain all of this, plus the benefits of ABM, and the three different types. I’ll also look at what’s in store for ABM programs in 2024, why CMOs prioritize ABM, and offer some advice and best practices based on my experience.

What Is Account-Based Marketing (ABM)?

Account Based Marketing (ABM) is a business marketing strategy to identify high value target customers within a market, and focus resources with personalized campaigns to drive conversion.

One of the most significant marketing trends in recent times, ABM involves targeting specific businesses that match your ideal customer base rather than trying to attract a broader market (like you would with traditional marketing).

The goal is to build stronger, more personalized relationships with higher-value customers. You won’t target as many people, but you’ll generate more quality leads. This means you’re more likely to boost engagement, improve your customer loyalty, and (hopefully) achieve more sales.

Understandably, people often confuse account-based marketing (ABM) for account-based experience (ABX). The biggest difference between ABM and ABX is ABX's focus on aligning the marketing, sales, and customer success/support teams.

What is the ABM Framework?

The ABM framework involves the following steps:

  1. Account selection: First, you identify your high-value prospects to create a list of target accounts to sell to. To do this, your sales and marketing teams work together to define what your ideal customer looks like and how you’ll select the high-value customers.

    For example, your ideal customers might be small businesses in the marketing industry, but the high-value customers are companies that have seen at least 50% growth in the last six months. These are the companies that you’ll target with ABM. Selecting the right accounts enables you build a creative ABM campaign.
  2. Account research: After figuring out your selection criteria, you’ll gather insights and data about your target accounts. This includes researching things like their business goals, their pain points, and their decision-making processes. All of this information will help you deliver a personalized and targeted approach to your marketing activity.

    For example, if you understand the challenges your target audience faces, you can create marketing communications that position your product or service as the solution.
  3. Account planning: Now that you know who you’re trying to target and what they want, you can create a customized marketing plan for each account.

    This involves outlining all your messaging, content, and channels based on the specific needs of each prospect. You’ll also define your measures for success so you can review progress and track results.
  4. Execution: At this stage, you’re ready to roll out your marketing plan and start communicating with your high-value prospects. Exactly how you do this will vary depending on the account-based marketing tactics in your plan, and the process might look different for every account.

    You might send a personalized email to one of your prospects, you might reach out to them directly on the phone, or you might syndicate content across channels they frequent. Ultimately, you’ll decide which methods of communication are right for each high-value account.
  5. Measurement and optimization: Next, you’ll measure the effectiveness of your ABM activities. You set your metrics during the planning stage (which often includes engagement, pipeline acceleration, and revenue growth).

    You’ll review these metrics in line with performance to identify what went well and what can be improved in the future.

The Importance of Account-Based Marketing for B2B

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons ABM has become a priority for CMOs and marketing leaders in recent years.

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Offers a Personalized Approach

According to a report by McKinsey, 71% of consumers expect personalization and 76% get frustrated when they don’t get it. The evolution of B2B marketing means personalization is now front and center of most marketing campaigns.

One ABM mistake folks make is not personalizing their marketing activity, you risk damaging the customer experience.

Statistic from McKinsey showing how many consumers expect
Research from McKinsey shows how many consumers expect personalization, and how many are disappointed when they don’t get it.

Fortunately, its best practice in ABM to put personalization front and center of your marketing activities. This can be done a multitude of ways, from your ABM landing pages and email newsletters to ad targeting and direct mailouts.

Unlike traditional marketing, ABM involves creating highly-targeted campaigns for specific prospects. In other words, all of your communication and activity is tailored to the specific needs and interests of individual customers.

As a result, you can create a more personalized experience for your prospects—which also means they’re more likely to make a purchase and spend more money. It’s a win-win.

Boosts Customer Engagement

By focusing on individual accounts and delivering tailored messaging and content, ABM can increase your target audience engagement rates.

Think of it like this—you’re targeting customers that are more likely to fit your ideal customer profile, and you’re using personalized web content and messaging to reach them. Combine these two elements together, and you’re far more likely to encourage potential customers to engage and convert.

Put yourself in their shoes for a second. Imagine that you’re searching for a new marketing CRM system. After looking around, you don’t find anything that suits your needs. Next thing you know, you receive an email from a company that not only offers this product, but shows you exactly how it can solve your problem. Chances are, you’ll engage with that company—even just to learn more.

Aligns Marketing and Sales Teams

ABM involves sales and marketing teams working together to identify and attract high-value prospects. But what exactly is the benefit of aligning your sales and marketing teams? Well, there are quite a few.

When done well, aligning these teams can:

  • Shorten your sales cycle
  • Improve efficiency
  • Reduce costs
  • Increase your conversions

Consider this—when the two teams work together, they’re working towards the same goal. This means that they align their activities and processes to reach that goal, which helps them work more efficiently.

Improves Resource Allocation

When it comes to resource allocation, ABM gives you perspective. It helps you prioritize prospects that are more likely to generate revenue, and allocate your resources accordingly.

For example, instead of spreading your resources across a wide pool of prospects, you can focus on a smaller, high-quality group of prospects. As a result, you can spend more time and money focusing on the customers that are more likely to convert.

This means you’ll optimize your marketing spend, reduce waste, and dedicate more time to key accounts.

Increases Your Return-On-Investment (ROI)

When done well, like in these great ABM examples, the method can help you boost your return on investment (ROI).

Think about it. ABM relies on data-driven intelligence to identify the most promising accounts. Then, you tailor your messaging and approach to their specific needs and preferences.

You might spend more time and money on those prospects, but you’re targeting customers you know are right for your business. So, your targeting efforts become more refined and your chances of conversion are much higher.

In fact, this study from Bombero shows how a higher ABM budget can improve your targeting efforts.

Data of ABM Bbudget per account
study from Bombero found that a higher ABM budget provides businesses with a more targeted ABM approach.

ABM also means you’re targeting high-value accounts. Most businesses will even have a minimum deal-size before qualifying a prospect for an account-based marketing strategy.

By targeting prospects that are more likely to make a bigger purchase, your chance of getting a better ROI is undoubtedly higher.

Of course, this only applies if your ABM tactics are successful and you’re targeting the right prospects. I’ll talk you through my best practices for successful ABM later, so stick around.

What Are The Three Types of Account-Based Marketing?

There are three types of account-based marketing to consider:

  • Strategic ABM (one-to-one)
  • ABM lite (one-to-few)
  • Programmatic ABM (one-to-many)
Image outlining the three different types of ABM
The three different types of account-based marketing.

Let’s look at these in more detail.

Strategic Account-Based Marketing

Strategic ABM is what I’ve been describing so far. It’s the most detailed and personalized version of ABM and involves targeting a limited number of high-value accounts (often no more than 10 at a single time).

You’ll create a marketing plan for each prospect, tailoring your marketing activity , especially your content marketing strategy to their specific needs, interests, and preferences. The goal is to establish long-term relationships which encourages them to make a purchase.

Because of the hyper-targeted approach, strategic ABM is typically used by companies that have the time and money to invest in these relationships. Often, they will also put effort into ABX.

If you’re short on time and finances, strategic ABM may not be the best option—but there are other options available, which leads us nicely to ABM lite.

Account-Based Marketing Lite Activities

ABM lite is a simplified and scaled-down version of strategic ABM, making it an ideal choice if you don’t have the time to invest in a one-to-one approach. It targets a slightly broader group of key accounts (usually somewhere between 10 and 500), but still focuses on creating customized marketing campaigns.

Instead of customizing campaigns based on the needs of each prospect, ABM lite personalizes activity based on attributes that apply to multiple prospects.

For example, you group certain prospects based on their industry, company size, and business needs. Then, you use these attributes to personalize their experience.

In other words, it’s a little more generic than strategic ABM, but it still personalizes the customer experience.

Programmatic Account-Based Marketing

Programmatic ABM is known as the one-to-many approach. It uses data and technology to target a larger group of accounts (often in the thousands).

To target these accounts, you’ll use CRM or marketing automation software to categorize prospects with similar characteristics. These characteristics could be their:

  • Industry
  • Demographics
  • Areas of expertise
  • Company size

Then, you’ll create personalized, relevant content to target them based on these similarities.

Programmatic ABM is the most scalable and automated form of account-based marketing. It uses personalization, but doesn’t require as much time and financial investment as other types of ABM. For this reason, it’s a useful tactic for smaller companies with a limited budget.

In 2022, 90% of surveyed B2B marketers said they planned to increase ABM investment in the next 12 months. With this approach, instead of focusing on the pain point or desire of the end-user (as with B2C), marketers deliver personalized content that grabs the attention of multiple decision makers.

Account-based marketing is particularly helpful for B2B marketers as personalization and customer segmentation are some of the marketing are trending among B2B buyers. If you want to nurture B2B leads, you can't send bland mass emails.

Instead, you need to find the right mix of personalization by balancing marketing automation (like relevant follow-up emails after they view a case study) with hands-on contact by sales reps. 

Graph showing the personalization expectations of B2C and B2B buyers. (Data source)

What’s in Store for ABM?

I’ve been following industry trends and attending ABM events for the past few years. Here’s my take on what to look out for in 2024 and beyond.

Increased Adoption of ABM by B2B Marketers

According to Research and Markets, the global ABM market is predicted to reach $2.1 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 13%.

Image outlining the global market growth forecast for ABM between 2020 and 2027
The global market growth forecast for ABM between 2020 and 2027.

These sort of statistics for ABM show it is growing in popularity.

Coupled with the fact that businesses are focusing more on improving the customer experience, chances are we’ll see an increased adoption of ABM over the next few years. So what does this mean for you?

Well, it means that more of your competitors may start using ABM to attract and acquire large customers. This can influence the marketplace, which can have a knock-on effect on your business.

Let’s say that a new competitor enters your marketplace. Before long, they become the market leader by converting lots of high-value clients.

This means that your position in the marketplace changes. As a result, you might have to rethink your strategy to gain more of the market share and reposition yourself in the marketplace.

Increased Integration of Technology

There’s a constant development of tools for ABM activities. Platforms are helping you with account identification, customer targeting, segmentation, and personalization, so it’s likely that we’ll see more businesses using this technology to manage their ABM activity.

Plus, a study from Stirista found that 70% of B2B digital marketing leaders plan to invest in ABM technology in 2024.

But what sort of technology am I talking about here?

AI and machine learning tools.

AI is developing quickly (more on this later), so it’s hard to see a future for ABM where AI tools don’t play a part. Depending on the account-based marketing software you use, current AI platforms can help you gather marketing account intelligence, analyze customer data, streamline the sales process, and even deliver personalized content at scale.

As the developments keep on coming, I’m sure we’ll see more marketers adopt AI technology to improve their ABM activities. One good way to keep track of how marketers are using AI with ABM is listening to podcasts. And you don't need to go searching for a podcast list, we've curated a list of the 17 best ABM podcasts for you.

Increased Focus on the Customer Experience

ABM already puts a pretty big focus on improving the customer experience. You identify exactly what your high-value prospects want, and make sure that your marketing efforts reflect their needs. Because of this, you’re constantly thinking about their experience and how to improve it.

But studies are showing that 2023 and beyond will place even more focus on enhancing the customer experience.

According to Forrester’s Marketing Survey, 2022, B2B marketing decision-makers said that “addressing changing buying behaviors” and “understanding buyer preferences” are their top areas of focus in 2023.

When it comes to ABM, this likely means that there’ll be a greater emphasis on delivering a seamless and personalized experience at every stage of the customer journey.

As a result, marketers will need to work even closer with sales and customer success teams to ensure that their ABM efforts achieve the best possible results.

Increased Emphasis on Data Privacy And Security

There have been new privacy and data protection laws coming into force over the last few years, including the American Data and Privacy Protection Act (ADPPA).

Consumers are also showing that they care more about data privacy, too. More research from Forrester found people want to regulate the information they share with companies to protect their data.

With increased scrutiny on data privacy and security, you’ll need to ensure that their ABM efforts comply with relevant regulations and ethical standards. This means understanding which regulations apply to your business, and how to comply with them.

This means using more rigorous data governance policies, providing greater transparency around data usage, and increasing your cybersecurity measures.

How to Do Account Based Marketing Properly

Now that we have a better idea of what’s in store for 2024, I’m going to run you through some best practices for using account-based marketing campaigns in your own business.

Use the Right Tools for the ABM Process

To make the most out of your ABM efforts, you need the right marketing tools.

When I say ‘the right marketing tools,’ I mean platforms that have all the features you need to effectively manage the ABM process.

But advances in technology and AI mean that there are endless amounts of tools out there to choose from. So how do you know which platforms to use?

Think about building a martech stack with an ABM focus. To help you narrow down your search, here are the features I suggest looking out for in your ABM tools:

  • Automation: Automation is a key feature of an effective ABM tool. Why? Because it helps you personalize the customer experience, keeps you in regular contact with prospects, and saves you time.

    Let’s use email marketing as an example. You have an email list of high-value clients that you want to reach out to. With automation, you can send a series of ready-made, personalized emails to clients. This includes follow-up emails after the initial contact, which can help you boost engagement and nurture leads through the buying journey.

    Take a look at this roundup of the 10 Best Marketing Automation Software to see what automation platforms are out there, or find out more about where and how to use Digital Marketing Automation effectively.
  • Collaboration: With ABM, sales and marketing teams need to work together to identify and nurture high-value prospects. For this reason, it’s helpful to use tools that enable collaboration. That way, everyone can stay up to date with the latest updates and work together to build relationships with potential customers.

    Examples of collaborative features include being able to share updates, adding comments to tasks, and having a central location for all team members to see how relationships are progressing with each lead.
  • Data reporting and insights: To continually improve your ABM efforts, you need access to intent data. The right data is crucial to developing effective ABM programs. This is where features like reporting and insights can help. With easy access to this data, you can see what’s working, what isn’t, and inform your future decisions.

    So keep an eye out for tools that allow you to track key metrics and performance. It could be with dashboards, email marketing reports, software for marketing account intelligence, or live customer-engagement data. With these features, it will be easier to continually improve your ABM.

Keep Up to Date With AI Developments in Marketing

To make sure you’re using the most efficient tools and practices in your ABM strategy, be sure to keep up to date with the latest developments in marketing technology—particularly AI.

AI technology is improving rapidly (take a look at ChatGPT as an example), and you don’t want to miss any developments that could impact the success of your marketing activity.

Simply put, by keeping on top of developments and trends with AI technology, you’ll make sure you’re using the best possible tools for the job.

Here are some of the ways I keep up to date with AI developments in marketing:

  • Subscribe to industry publications: Subscribing to industry publications are a great way to keep yourself up to date with new advancements without spending hours trawling through articles and reports. There are also a ton of good blogs on marketing that share relevant insights on AI.

    Instead, you can simply sign up to a newsletter (such as the CMO newsletter) and read the key information when it hits your inbox. It saves you time and provides you with instant access to the latest trends and developments.
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  • Follow industry experts on social media: Thought leaders and experts in the marketing industry will often have something to say about new technologies and updates in the sector. To stay up to date with what they’re talking about, follow them on social platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

    Not only will following them notify you of any new software, but you also might get some insight into their thoughts on its usability, key features, and when to use it.
  • Experiment and learn about new platforms: There’s only so much you can learn from reading the latest B2B marketing books or scanning LinkedIn for the latest titbit on AI technology.

    In my experience, it also helps to experiment with different AI tools and technologies and gain firsthand experience. By doing this, you’ll learn more about the tools and how they can benefit your marketing efforts.

Elevate Your Personalization

I’ve already talked about personalization and ABM in 2023. Now, I’m going to show how to elevate your personalization to provide high-value prospects with the best possible experience.

Take a look at some of my tips for personalizing your ABM activity:

  • Research your high-value prospects in as much detail as possible. This is necessary to provide prospects with a good experience, such as through a unique and personalized marketing campaign that speaks to them directly. There are a lot of different ways you can research your prospects, and it helps to use different methods to get a well-rounded picture.

    You can use online resources (such as social media and company websites) to learn more about the companies. You can also research trends in their industry, updates to their products or services, and find any mentions of them in recent news.
  • Create content that speaks to every need. If you really want your prospects to feel understood, you need to know what they’re looking for and what challenges they face. This means understanding all their pain points in detail, and creating content that addresses those pain points.

    For example, let’s say that you’re running a marketing agency. One of your high-value prospects is struggling to attract the right customers. By knowing this information, you can create content that shows your prospect how your services can help them overcome this challenge. As a result, they’re more likely to engage with you and potentially use your services.
  • Be willing to change and adapt. Over time, customers need change. They want different things, and they expect you to keep up. This means that your personalization efforts require constant monitoring and updating.

    Exactly how you do this will vary depending on what type of content you’re personalizing and who you’re trying to target. However, some common ways to see if your personalization is effective involve tracking engagement rates, analyzing conversion rates, and gathering feedback from past customers.

Did I Answer All Your ABM Questions?

I’ve summed up the ins and outs of ABM and outlined my best practices for performing ABM in your own business. But the truth is, the process is unique for every business.

If you want more insights into ABM and other marketing tactics and strategies, subscribe to the CMO email newsletter. It’s free to sign up and you’ll get the latest insights from marketing’s top thought leaders directly into your inbox.

By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.