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In early 2020, the B2B marketing world was trucking along as usual‌—marketing teams designing booths and goodie bags for corporate events, trying to convince any random buyer or executive to give their product a chance.

But when business events and conferences more or less disappeared for a year and a half, smart companies quickly realized something needed to change. Already in 2021, 81% of large enterprises decided to increase their investment in account-based marketing. And even after the world mostly reopened in September 2022, 90% of surveyed B2B marketers said they planned to increase ABM investment in the next 12 months.

But what sets ABM apart from regular B2B marketing? Instead of going for a high volume of potential clients‌—‌through, for example, cold email, telemarketing, or event participation‌—marketers figure out exactly who their ideal clients are, and reach them effectively through their preferred channels.

In this article, I’ll explain exactly how to transform your B2B campaigns and results with a great account-based marketing strategy.

What's Wrong With “Regular” B2B Marketing?

A vaguely targeted approach where you hope to attract good clients almost accidentally through broad campaigns is a great way to waste your marketing budget. It’s just not an efficient way to grow as a B2B company in 2023.

The thing is, this isn’t news. Experienced B2B marketers Sangram Vajre (co-founder of Terminus) and Eric Spett (former Terminus CEO) literally wrote the book on the subject in 2019. And the title didn’t exactly hold back: ABM is B2B: Why B2B Marketing and Sales is Broken and How to Fix it.

Now, given that they’re working for an ABM platform, they’re not completely unbiased, but they pointed out legitimate issues like:

  • Marketers are too often disconnected from the end goal (sales).
  • Jaded B2B marketers often create uninteresting content for vague profiles.
  • Silos between sales, marketing, and customer success lead to tons of lost revenue.
  • Vanity metrics like hits and followers are leading your campaigns astray.

So where are we a few years later? All B2B marketers have made the transition and are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams, right?

The short answer is no.

The long answer is: most B2B marketing teams are still facing exactly the issues that ABM evangelists have been pointing out for years.

Struggling to target the right accounts? Check.

Struggling with issues between departments and teams? Check.

Not having actionable data and metrics? Check again.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Check out what B2B marketers highlighted as their most critical challenges in a recent survey:

Graph that shows the most critical challenges B2B marketing teams face with their digital marketing strategies.

Does any of this sound familiar? Since you’re still reading, I’m going to assume it does.

Now that we’ve established the problem, it’s time to introduce the solution. But how does ABM solve the issues highlighted?

What is Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Why is it the Solution For B2B Marketers?

Account-based marketing represents a flipping of the funnel, starting by figuring out which companies you want as your customers, and then strategizing how to reach them.

2022 survey by ITSMA showed that a proper ABM strategy can help you solve most of the B2B marketing issues we covered above:

Graph showcasing the business impact of ABM in 2022.

First of all, 66% of B2B marketers reported that adopting ABM led to significant improvements in sales and marketing alignment.

That happens because instead of coming up with separate strategies, the marketing team works closely with the sales team to identify key accounts and key people within those companies.

So when a marketing person identifies a new contact from one of these accounts, it’s a lot more natural for them to give a sales rep a heads up. With most ABM software, you can even automate these notifications.

90% of B2B marketers also reported that they saw more active engagement with target accounts after switching to ABM.

Seems like a natural consequence of focusing on specific target accounts, rather than hoping to attract the right kind of company, if you ask me.

These factors (and more) come together and help ABM-focused B2B marketing teams drive more revenue, pipeline growth, and ultimately, see better ROI than with other approaches.

The Main Principles of Account-Based Marketing

To help you understand the core of what sets ABM apart, let’s take a look at the three key principles of ABM marketing:

  • Data First
  • Active Sales and Marketing Collaboration
  • One-to-One Personalization
Simple diagram that shows the three key principles of ABM.

Here’s what the principles actually help you with:

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Stop wasting ad spend on campaigns that don’t convert‌—start with data

You don’t use guesswork to settle on target accounts or ideal channels. You use research and data collection to decide your path forward.

  • Instead of guessing what types of companies will be good clients, analyze the data you have on your customers. Look for patterns like which industry and how large your most loyal or profitable clients are.
  • Then you can use sales intelligence solutions to find data points like number of employees, revenue, and even whether they already use one of your competitors’ products.

And these are just the first two steps in a longer process to leverage data to more effectively reach the people you need to reach in companies that are the perfect potential client for your product or service.

Prioritize active collaboration between sales and marketing

Sales and marketing alignment isn’t just a buzzword. It’s the cornerstone of an effective B2B campaign.

The more involved your sales team is in marketing, the more the campaigns get steered in the right direction. The more marketing is involved in sales, the easier it is for your reps to figure out which prospects to focus on, and close more (and more valuable) deals.

ABM makes this not just a core principle, but the very first step in any ABM initiative requires active participation from both sales reps and marketers.

B2B buyers expect to be treated like people in 2023, so personalization is key

It doesn’t matter if you have a carefully vetted list of target accounts that meet your ideal customer profile if you have no reliable way of reaching them.

At the same time, you can’t call your approach ABM if you’re just spamming the same email or LinkedIn ad to every single company and decision-maker on your list.

B2B buyers have much higher expectations of personalization in 2023 than B2C consumers, and you have to use just the right ABM tactics.

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

If you want to nurture important B2B leads, you can no longer get away with sending bland mass emails. Instead, you need to find the right mix of personalization through B2B marketing automation (like relevant follow-up emails after they view a case study) and hands-on contact by sales reps. 

You might ask: “That sounds great in theory, but how do I make it work for my company?” Lucky for you, I’m just getting to that.

How To Run A B2B Account-Based Marketing Campaign

Principles are all well and good, but how do you do ABM in the real world? In this section, I’ll break down the process of creating a new ABM campaign from scratch (and highlight relevant account-based marketing examples to give you an idea of what the process should look like in action).

1. Start by outlining your ABM strategy

First things first, you need to settle on the bare bones of your ABM strategy. It will (and should) continue to evolve as you continue the process and dive deeper into the data and your goals.

This process should happen in close collaboration with your sales and marketing teams. Why? Because purely top-down organizational changes are much less likely to stick—72% of companies after failed change initiatives identify “employee resistance” as the main issue.

So meet with team managers and select staff (to become change makers) from sales and marketing teams and follow this process:

  1. Decide the scale of your approach. Are you going to directly contact key people in a few target accounts? That’s suitable for B2B companies with large deal sizes. If not, consider a broader approach relying on digital media and automated personalization and intent data. That’s better for SMB-focused companies with lower average deal sizes.
  2. Create a dedicated ABM team. Pull key members from sales, marketing, and customer success.
  3. Specify which companies to target. What do your best clients look like? How can you find more of them? (I cover this in depth in the section below.)
  4. Figure out how to best reach those target accounts. It’s a constant work in progress, but you should start with a few channels and ideas based on the experience of your sales team and any data you have access to.

I know that this is a bare-bones overview, so if you need more details, please refer to our dedicated account-based marketing strategy guide. (We’re even giving away a step-by-step ABM strategy template you can follow along with).

2. Specify your target accounts

It’s time to figure out who you’re actually going to be marketing to. How do you figure out the right target accounts for your business?

Typically, this process starts by developing an “ideal customer profile,” based on existing customer data. Basically, you want to answer the questions below:

  • Which companies are the most valuable to your business?
  • What industry are those companies in?
  • Where are they located?
  • How large are they?
  • What are their goals?

Then figure out patterns and similarities that can help you narrow things down to a specific Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) or even multiple different profiles.

Here’s an example from B2B sales intelligence platform Cognism:

This ICP example from Cognism covers basics like geography, industry, and budget, but also the goals, technologies, and pain points of Cognism’s ideal customers. (Source)

As you can see, you need to go beyond surface-level company info and also include their pain points, business goals, preferred channels, and more.

Experienced ABM teams use a mix of sales team insights and objective data to specify the ideal target accounts for your campaign:

Graph of popular data types used to choose ABM target accounts. (Data source)
  • Firmographic data is information that describes a company’s size, location, industry, and other relevant details.
  • Technographic data is information about the technology stack a company is currently using‌—like if they’re using an adjacent product, a direct competitor, or a CRM that integrates with your solution. You can use a tool like BuiltWith to see their website software, and a sales intelligence platform like 6sense for overall tech stack data.
  • Behavioral/intent signals involve things like a company’s employee signing up for a demo, or visiting a case study page (you can track this with an IP enrichment service).

The most advanced ABM teams already use predictive models (powered by machine learning) to pinpoint key accounts that are the most likely to become high-value clients. If you pick the right platform, this functionality is likely already built-in, although you need sufficient data for it to be of any use.

But it’s not enough to just figure out what companies you want to target. You also need to figure out where and how you’re going to reach decision-makers within those companies.

If you have a very narrow list of target accounts, you can quickly do research such as figuring out which social platforms they’re active on or trying to find their company email.

But for larger campaigns, you’re going to want to rely on a sales intelligence platform that gives you this sort of information.

3. Get the right ABM software in place

By now, you should have a general understanding of:

  1. The overall approach you’re going to take (at what scale)
  2. What companies you’re going to target (and where)

You need to understand these two things before you can pick the right account-based marketing software for your campaign.

It’ll help you find the right tool for the job, with features (and company data points) that help you execute and track the campaign you plan to do.

For example, with 6sense, you can explore the technology stack of a potential target company to see if they use solutions from your competitors, or use compatible software.

Leverage the technology stack breakdown to explore software a company uses (Slack here) in 6sense (Source).

If these data points are completely irrelevant to your company, you might want to look into a company that has a database with a focus on other things like revenue and specific departments.

Most ABM platforms also offer tools to help you track interactions with employees from different companies (for example, through tracking the location by IP).

Use the insights tab in 6sense to figure out exactly what pages a target account has visited.

You can then use these data points to personalize your outreach campaigns or help your sales reps pitch with the right context.

4. Set and measure your KPIs

Another thing that sets ABM teams apart from a typical B2B marketer is a disregard for all vanity metrics.

68% of surveyed B2B marketers didn’t even have a handle on basics like customer acquisition cost (CAC) in November 2022‌—‌although they wanted to start tracking it.

Graph showing metrics B2B marketers surveyed in November 2022 said they’d like to start using.

When you start your campaigns, you don’t want to be limited to measuring page views, email open rates, or click-through rates. You want to track revenue from the first marketing interaction down to the last sales call‌—without having to email or call up the customer and bombard them with questions.

In 2023, most modern ABM platforms will give you this ability. Just make sure you pick ones that painlessly integrate with your existing CRM and other data sources.

If the right integrations are in place, you should be able to break down not just leads but actual revenue by source, helping you track CAC and ROI by channel.

Here’s what this looks like in the Salesforce Einstein dashboard:

Break down revenue by source with Salesforce Einstein’s multi-touch attribution dashboard. (Source)

But revenue and ROI aren’t the only sales-focused metrics you should measure and use.

Five more unique ABM metrics are:

  • Sales velocity: how fast leads are progressing through a sales pipeline to generate sales. To find it, multiply your sales opportunities by average deal size or CLTV, multiply again by your win rate, and then divide that result by the length of your sales cycle
  • Win rate: divide the number of sales by the number of sales opportunities.
  • Account engagement rate: the % of your target accounts that are actively engaged at any stage of the funnel.
  • Customer acquisition cost: the average cost of converting a single new customer. (Most useful when separated by channel using smart multi-touch attribution.)
  • Customer lifetime value: the average expected lifetime value of a new customer.

To accurately track these metrics, integrate all your various data sources (like your website analytics, CRM, and email marketing platform) into a “single source of truth.”

5. Deliver personalized content that grabs the attention of decision makers

Being a B2B marketer isn’t an excuse to not be creative, to not create unique and interesting content for your target audience.

When you’re dealing with important decision-makers, a little extra creativity is often what it takes to get them to take 5 minutes out of your day to give your company 5 minutes of consideration.

Case in point, BillingTree (now REPAY) worked with UviaUs to design a unique deliverable to grab C-level executives’ attention.

They came up with a locking case containing a gift card (where the executive had to crack the combination), with an automated video player that played a pitch upon opening.

The UviaUs and BillingTree approach in this case study included creative locked cases.

If all you’re currently doing is writing dry white papers and trying to “prove your expertise,” this might seem like a crazy approach. But the results speak for themselves‌—the campaign had an unheard-of 60% response rate (these are executives), a ridiculous 15% conversion rate, and $350,000 of new revenue added.

The results from the ABM campaign speak for themselves.

Of course, shipping or hand-delivering expensive physical gimmicks to the offices of high-value accounts isn’t the only way forward.

Cloud security company Lacework used Demandbase’s advertising personalization tools to achieve an 85% lift in target account engagement, across channels. How'd they achieve this? Personalized one-to-one ad campaigns calling out the target name in the actual ads, rather than generic programmatic advertising.

The question you need to answer when starting an ABM campaign isn’t: “How do we reach our target accounts.” It’s: “How can we build relationships with our key accounts?”

In B2B marketing, relationships are what get your foot in the right door. That’s why you highlight potential decision-makers in the first place: not to spam their email and LinkedIn with mass-produced promos, but so that you can make a connection.

So how do you build relationships with key accounts at scale?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size fits all answer here. But if you show your marketing and sales teams these examples (and more like them), together, they should be able to come up with ideas that’ll get through to your target accounts.

The best approach is to brainstorm ideas for different channels, vote on which to pursue, and test them out. With proper attribution and KPIs in place, you should quickly notice which are worth pursuing, and which aren’t.

Say Hello to Bigger, Better Deals

Hopefully, I’ve not just convinced you that ABM is a must in today’s B2B environment, but also given you the keys to getting that process started in your own company. Remember to lay the right foundation by doing your research and getting your tech stack ready to track results.

Overcome silos by baking collaboration into the process (with a combined ABM team), and deliver the personalized experience that B2B buyers now expect at every step of the customer journey. Even better, look into ABX as the next step in your evolving account based marketing strategy.

If you can do even half of these things right, you’re going to see serious results in your pipeline growth and bottom line.

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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.