A 7-Step Framework for Launching Your Account-Based Marketing Program

Whether you’re in sales, marketing, management or product, at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is revenue. A business can’t survive without consistent growth in revenue.

The key to improving top-line growth is to develop and implement a strategy that aligns and optimizes marketing and sales. The latest (and greatest) method that turns marketing and sales into a harmonic, top-line revenue-generating machine is Account-Based Marketing (ABM).

ABM is a B2B, quality-over-quantity, targeted marketing strategy designed to drive awareness and intent with specific high-value accounts. It’s so effective that 87% of B2B marketers have reported that ABM delivers a higher ROI than other types of marketing activities.

The best way of thinking about ABM is to flip the B2B sales and marketing funnel. ABM is all about talking to the right people at the right companies — those accounts that will reap the highest revenue who are more likely to close, and who are least likely to churn.

Whereas inbound marketing focuses on driving traffic and leads from marketing channels, Account-based marketing involves Marketing and Sales working hand-in-hand to identify key accounts and decision-makers to target. Marketing then creates and deploys personalized messaging and marketing strategies while sales provides personalized, one-to-one sales outreach. Your sales and marketing organizations become hyper-targeted and hyper-aligned. A sales and marketing match made in heaven!

David Ogilvy, the renowned “Father of Advertising” once said, “Don’t count the people you reach; reach the people that count.” ABM is designed to do exactly that.

But what does a manageable ABM program look like? Where should you start and what kind of investment is required?

Let’s dive in and take a look.

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Where Did ABM Come From?

ABM was first visualized back in 1993 when Don Peppers and Martha Rogers published “The One-to-One Future”, which forecasted the movement from mass marketing to the targeted, 1:1 marketing we have today. Since then we’ve seen an evolutionary rollout of various tools and methods as an attempt to deliver on the promise of 1:1 marketing.

In 2004 ITSMA coined the name “Account-Based Marketing”, further moving the market toward formalization. It wasn’t however until 2015 that ABM finally burst onto the scene. Only two years later (2017) did ABM start to reach widespread acceptance by marketing practitioners.

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When to NOT Implement ABM

You’ve probably seen it everywhere by now. “Everybody should use an ABM strategy!” It’s true, there are great benefits to adopting an ABM strategy, but not all ABM strategies are created equal, and not all companies can benefit from Account-Based Marketing.

Here are some of those scenarios:

You don’t yet have product-market fit: If you haven’t yet successfully locked into a market, how can you possibly sell to the high-end of a market you’re unsure of? ABM, in this case, would be like gambling— it’s expensive and you’re playing the odds.

You’re not ready to move up-market. If your organization isn’t big enough or mature enough to handle the whales, it makes no sense to go after them. Even if you land one, you won’t be able to properly service and retain them. The best way to mitigate this is to select high-value accounts at the tier-level your company can effectively handle— at the higher end of your ‘effective’ market. Just know your limits for the stage your company is currently at. Keep in mind that ABM is expensive. Developing the campaigns and content required to effectively go after your top accounts is something that involves resources and focus, and commitment.

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The ABM Platform Question

One of the first questions we hear when talking with clients about ABM is, “Do we need to buy an ABM platform?” The answer is… it depends. You have to begin by sizing everything. Look at:

  • Your objectives
  • The size of your market (TAM)
  • Your Minimum Viable Accounts (MVA)
  • The number of market segments you’re targeting the size of your budget and your staff
  • The amount of time you have available.

Also, it’s important to know if you’re selling to a single contact in the organization or to multiple people. It is estimated that there is an average of 6.8 decision-makers in every B2B purchase decision, which definitely warrants taking a strong look at moving to a dedicated ABM platform (Source: Forbes, 2018).

We believe it’s important to first understand the benefits of an account-based approach, plan your ABM program, the objectives, and the elements involved, and then you can decide if you need an ABM platform.

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Vital Elements of an ABM Program

The alignment of sales & marketing

ABM programs can’t be successful without sales and marketing alignment. The great news is that sales and marketing already share one important goal– to bring in more revenue. ABM helps take this to the next level by bringing sales and marketing closer together around a highly targeted, coordinated, and collective effort.

Getting executive buy-in and budget

Without executive buy-in, you won’t have an ABM program, period. The one thing executives care about most is the bottom-line and hard numbers. Because ABM is focused on concise, vetted targets and delivers higher ROI than any other form of B2B marketing (ITSMA 2017), It shouldn’t be hard to put together a compelling case for your executives.

Keep in mind that you won’t see results immediately, however, by monitoring the numbers you will be able to see things moving in the right direction.

Determining buyer intent

Buyer intent is a collection of information about a company and their online activity, used to position buyers are in the buyer journey and determine what needs to be done to convert them into paying customers.

Buyer intent data is vital for getting in front of buyers earlier in the buying process. This helps identify which companies are showing interest in your products and services— before they even fill out a form on your site or engage with anyone on your sales and marketing teams. Key accounts can then be effectively identified and prioritized by using intent data (E.g. companies looking at various platforms on G2Crowd, etc.) to add weight to the lead scoring model.

Moving to an account-based focus

Moving from being lead-based to account-based moves marketing from focusing on leads to focusing on sales pipeline— hence in concert with sales. That being said, you’re still engaging with leads within those key accounts, and you have to map those leads back to those key accounts. All of the marketing automation platforms can do this. You will, however, have to customize your lead scoring, email nurturing, reports, etc.

Knowing what content to deliver
Targeted content is one of the most vital (and most expensive) components of any ABM program. Create targeted content for a specific vertical and persona, and have content suitable for various stages as the account and key decision-makers progress in their journey and in your funnel.

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The 7 Steps to Developing and Launching an ABM Framework

Every ABM program has its own unique style, process, and mix of components. A lot of the same rules and processes that apply to demand generation apply to ABM, but now we’re moving to be hyper-focused on key accounts. The following represents a basic framework for orchestrating sales and marketing for Account-Based Marketing.

Step 1 — Think Sales and Marketing Orchestration

To achieve the best results with ABM, it’s important to develop coordinated ‘plays’, programs, and campaigns that span marketing, sales development, sales and customer success. Well-structured and coordinated orchestration provides higher and more effective levels of engagement with key stakeholders in target accounts, increasing the likelihood of conversion.

Your Sales Development Reps (SDRs) are on the front-line, and your key partner for ABM success. Give SDRs ownership. Make the SDRs part of the entire process, from planning through execution. SDRs can provide customer-facing insight and will be an invaluable resource to help construct the framework. While marketing is providing ‘air-cover’ with various targeted campaigns, your SDRs will continue to provide customer insight and coordinated outbound follow-up.

Step 2 — Develop Your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

The ICP is an impersonation of your key customers. You’ll make a list of your existing top customer accounts and buyer personas (people involved in the buying decision) and find common attributes like:

  • industry
  • job titles
  • size of the organization
  • reasons they bought your solution
  • primary pain points that drove them to your solution
  • most important features of your product they wanted
  • the buyer journey they went through
  • customer insights
  • etc.

Be sure to create a separate ICP for each market segment.

Ultimately the goal is to build a profile or profiles of your most valuable customers, in each market segment, such that you can use it as a template to identify ‘look-alike’ accounts that are most likely to become high-value customers and identify all of your stakeholders in a target account.


Step 3 — Select Your Ideal Target Accounts

Using your ICP, now you’ll go select your target accounts. Find the right opportunities. Develop lists of named accounts and lookalikes. Begin by looking in your own prospect database for any matches. ABM is only effective if you focus on the right opportunities – so, you need to develop a manageable, scalable process that identifies the right fit accounts for your efforts to succeed.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Leverage the rich data you already have, given you want to use your existing marketing efforts and customers to inform your ABM program launch. Look at existing historical information — any contact information, site visits, content downloads, webinar participation, etc.

Develop segments looking at things like firmographics (total revenue, company size, etc.), technographics (tech stack), funding (rounds, the amount raised, etc.), products, services, success potential, readiness, and ability.

Predictive analytics software such as Everstring, Infer, Radius, Datanyze, or Linkedin Sales Navigator can be used to reveal additional attributes that correlate to high-value accounts. And you’ll also find info on the number of contacts you have at top target accounts using your CRM or marketing automation platform.

Look at buyer intent — a collection of information about a company and their online activity (keyword searches, email open rates, engagement rates, landing page visits, behavioral data, demographic information, etc.). Understanding buyer intent is important because it tells you which stage of the buyer journey they’re in so you can direct the right content to them to move them closer to a purchasing decision.

A couple of excellent sources for buyer intent include G2Crowd Intent Lists and Bombora Surge Data.

Step 4 — Determine Key Personas and Stakeholders

Develop your ideal personas by looking at contacts and advocates in your ICP. Look at any insights from your advocates and contacts. Profile key account contacts to identify their buying stages, roles, and preferences to inform messaging.

Research key decision-makers in these accounts and primary marketing channels. Collect any insight on key decision-makers. Research the types of challenges your target accounts are currently dealing with.

If you’re selling to a single contact in the organization you probably only need Sales Navigator. If you’re selling to multiple people inside a company (8-10 decision-makers) it’s probably time to consider investing in an ABM platform soon such as DemandBase, Metadata, or Terminus.

Step 5 — Build & Execute the Marketing & Sales Plan & Strategy

Now that you have a list of key accounts you’d like to target, and the personas from buyer to users to influencers that are involved in the purchase, you want to group your accounts by vertical or along common attributes that make the most sense. By doing this, your messaging will resonate and be impactful even if you’re not doing 1:1 personalized campaigns, which are time-intensive and not scalable.

Plan out marketing and sales strategy, campaigns and sales activities. Create and execute marketing campaigns and direct touch sales. Build offers, email nurtures, landing pages, ads, direct mail, etc. Build-in full attribution and tracking. Use insights gathered, create personalized messaging for target accounts and contacts. We’re big fans of building high-quality templates, and then changing them as needed for your various segments.

  • Consider the following as you build your programs:
  • What type of website traffic are you driving, what stage are these targets in the buying journey, and what content are you offering at each step?
  • What landing pages and messaging are you creating and testing?
  • How will you retarget people after they visit your website?
  • What sales alerts are needed along the way?
  • How will you incorporate personalized video and content in your efforts, either on the Marketing or Sales side?
  • How will you incorporate direct mail into your ABM programs?
  • Remember to track your various efforts from the top-of-funnel on so that you can have closed-loop reporting and proper attribution of your ABM programs and marketing efforts.
  • Internally, what are the SLAs between Sales and Marketing and what will happen if stakeholders get sidetracked by other projects?

Step 6 — Measure What Matters

Track all results, fold in learning and refine everything— ICP, personas, campaigns, channels, tracking, messaging, etc. Focus on pipeline metrics over MQLs.

At the account level, measurement Is a bit different. Rather than measuring campaigns, insights will be collected on what resonates with key decision-makers. All of this information will feedback into the ABM engine for better-informed decisions and improved engagement.

Here are some of the key metrics you’ll want to measure:

  • List of engaged accounts (visiting your website, reading your content, etc.)=
  • List of sales appointments generated and lead source
  • List of new leads gained in your top target accounts
  • List of Opportunities created from your target accounts
  • Pipeline lift from top target accounts
  • Influenced Opportunities
  • Average deal size increase of top target accounts
  • Win-loss rates
  • Funnel velocity
  • Retention and upsell (e.g. if you’re running ABM to current customers and trying to decrease churn)

Step 7 — Improve and Expand

As you build out and launch your first ABM program, you’ll see some wins along with some areas for improvement. Monitor your results and document your findings. Try to optimize your campaigns before you kill them if they underperformed.

Remember that ABM is a long game. You will not see results in one month. This is a sustained effort. Even though you can’t measure pipeline growth immediately, you can look for the right signs — new leads from target accounts, and other items we mentioned in Step 5.

When you’re ready to expand your ABM program, consider the next round of advertising creative, messaging, and CTAs. Update your market segments and personas as needed. You should be refreshing your ads every 4-6 weeks in order to prevent ad fatigue and declining click-thru rates (CTRs).

Make sure your team is able to handle the additional workload, and that responsibilities are understood.

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To begin, pick your top 100 accounts, or whatever you deem appropriate. Run through the 7 steps outlined above. Regardless of everything else, the exercise will be well worth it. You’ll have reflected on your existing customers and personas like never before.

And you will have taken the time to get closer to sales and look at the entire sales and marketing process through a different lens. Your Sales team will have a new appreciation for all of the elements involved in launching multichannel marketing campaigns and post-campaign measurement and will be thrilled to have marketing serve as a partner in driving revenue from their dream accounts they’d love to land.

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About Clutchgrowth

We’re a B2B SaaS marketing consultancy specializing in demand generation, Account-Based Marketing, and HubSpot revenue operations to help SaaS companies grow and scale. Clutchgrowth is located in Silicon Valley.

Need help with developing, strategizing, or executing on your Account-Based Marketing initiatives? Schedule a free consultation.