ABM Platforms Best Practice Guide
An introduction to ABM
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a growth strategy in which marketing and sales collaborate to create personalised buying experience to an agreed target of high-value accounts.
ABM is a strategy that has existed for some years, providing a focused alternative to
traditional marketing approaches.
Rather than casting a super-wide net to an unlimited target-audience, ABM is a form of
marketing that uses highly-targeted, personalised campaigns to win over particular accounts.
While the strategy is closely linked to B2B activity, some B2C sectors, such as ultra-high net worth markets, can also see benefit in the approach.
In this guide we’ll outline what ABM is. We’ll discuss how ABM platforms can help marketers to run campaigns at scale. We’ll also help you to identify the key features to analyse and we’ll describe the process for evaluating ABM platforms based on your requirements.
We’ll also examine ABM trends and tactics that marketers need to be aware of in 2023.
What is ABM?
ABM is a marketing approach which targets key customers and accounts for maximum
return and most efficient use of marketing resources.
Instead of more generic marketing approaches which target hundreds or thousands of potential leads, ABM is about focusing on just a few, sometimes just a single target customer.
These may be the most valuable leads, or those most likely to turn into customers.
ABM involves the coordination of resources to create highly-personalised campaigns
focused on a targeted set of accounts that matter most for the business.
Thereby, increasing the likelihood of converting prospects to sales when compared to using lead focused models alone.
To use a fishing analogy, while many marketing tactics are casting as wide a net as possible, ABM is more like spear fishing - it may mean you’ll catch fewer fish, but you’ll be focusing on the ones you really want.
- Potential high value clients are identified and directly targeted as units of one.
- Tailored marketing tactics are deployed through appropriate channels to reach
the target and/or target personas.
- Key business accounts are also directly targeted as units of one to increase chances
of retention and upsell
- There’s a forced alignment between sales and marketing. Personalisation at the account level requires the two departments to synchronise tactics for account specific messaging.
ABM essentially flips the traditional marketing funnel. Traditionally, marketing looks at the total addressable market and starts segmenting audiences and targets from there. Rather than casting a wide net before filtering out the less promising leads and ending with a smaller selection of target clients, ABM starts by identifying the biggest opportunities, before tailoring the approach towards these (potential) clients.
A simplified ABM process looks something like this:
- Identify the most important leads and accounts and the influencers and decision makers (VIPs) within those accounts.
- Learn who these VIPs are, what they like, and gather as much insight as possible.
- Use this insight to craft your pitch and proposition to their interests and pain points.
- Create content that addresses these pain points.
- Work closely with sales colleagues to align tactics and convert accounts.
- Nurture customer relationships post transaction to facilitate retention and account growth.
It’s an approach which can demand more time and resources than standard marketing methods, so it’s often best used for marketing high value products and targeting leads which can deliver higher customer lifetime value.
ABM and 80/20 thinking
ABM works along the lines of the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule. In the case of ABM, you’re looking for the 20% of accounts that can drive 80% of revenues. With limited time and budgets, it’s about spending as much effort as possible chasing that 20% of high value leads.
Different types of ABM
Typically, there are three separate approaches to ABM:
Many companies also use a blended approach, combining two or three of these approaches, depending on the target accounts.
Indeed, ITSMA’s 2020 ABM Benchmark Study found that 24% of firms were using two of the three approaches, while 12% employed all three.(1)
Key trends in ABM
ABM is not a new approach, but it has grown in usage over recent years.
Digital technologies – such as marketing automation, analytics and programmatic
marketing – have made ABM more scalable.
With traditional lead generation approaches delivering diminishing returns for some businesses, ABM is an alternative which can deliver results more efficiently.
The importance of a multichannel approach to ABM
ABM marketers have been forced to adapt to new digital approaches, as the buyer journey changes. Indeed, Gartner found that B2B buyers spend just 17% of the buying process talking to suppliers, with lots of time spent on independent research(2)
This buying journey is by no means linear, and buyers switch between devices and channels, viewing vendor websites, social media posts, review sites across different devices. This means a multichannel approach to ABM is now required.
It is important to map customer journeys. This is useful to identify and rank the most
appropriate channels to communicate with potential clients. It can also expose gaps
between customer experience and brand promise.
Journey mapping is also useful for seeing how internal resources are aligned to support acquisition and retention. So you can engage with them where they are, rather than expecting them to come to you.
Analysing and mapping customer journeys across channels can involve input from multiple stakeholders. More importantly, it requires access to data, and insight from marketing technology tools, which can track and segment data in real-time to identify and address issues as they arise.
ABM and digital transformation
We’ve been moving towards a digital-first future for some time, and the Covid-19 pandemic helped to accelerate this trend. ABM strategy had to adapt to the challenges presented, which included the lack of physical events and face-to-face meetings.
This meant ABM marketers were forced to focus on purely digital channels, which in practice often meant more webinars and other virtual events, paid social ads, and personalised content.
When customer journeys are mapped, it can often expose workflow gaps which are
the manifestations of siloed departments. A successful ABM is closely linked with the
organisational change which comes with digital transformation. ABM is likely to be more effective when departments aren’t siloed.
ABM is a comprehensive strategy that is only effective if all stakeholders work together toward an agreed goal. This includes aligning the activities of sales, marketing and client servicing.
ABM accounts for significant marketing budget
ABM now plays a key role in B2B marketing strategy. This is reflected in marketing budgets.
Indeed, ITSMA’s 2020 ABM Benchmark Study found that ABM now accounts for 27% of marketing budgets.
The ITSMA study also found that smaller businesses dedicate a greater proportion of
budgets to ABM than larger companies - 32% for those with less then $100m in annual revenue, compared with 21% for companies with more than $1 bn annual revenue.(1)
There is often a link between the size of the ABM budget and the relative maturity of
companies. It also implies that ABM programs have been successful in proving ROI and gaining greater investment internally.
One emerging trend is the requirement to produce content tailored towards prospects or target groups.
ABM requires collaboration between campaign managers and content colleagues to produce customised or personalised content to support ABM campaigns. This approach can achieve stronger engagement and potential to convert, but it also requires appropriate resource allocation.
ABM and access to quality data
Insight is a core tenet of ABM. Some of the most effective programmes invest more in all types of insight, including direct account insight, intent, predictive data, engagement data, and management of data.
While accounts are standard entities within CRM systems, this doesn’t mean they
are ready to support account-based marketing. Marketers must ensure that their CRM and automation tools contain the right fields to enable segmentation and target efforts accordingly. In addition, marketers will need to make sure the right rules and flows are in place so that there are smooth handovers between marketing, sales and customer success.
The importance of customer experience in ABM
It’s easy to think about ABM simply in terms of marketing, but it’s important to think about the whole experience for the target account - from marketing, through sales, and all the way to customer success teams.
This is often referred to as ABX (account-based experience) or ABE (account-based
everything), and recognises the importance of that end-to-end experience. In essence,
it’s an evolution from ‘traditional’ ABM.
The key point here is that ABM shouldn’t just be about marketing, but it requires greater coordination within the business to achieve the best results in terms of targeting accounts, but also for improving the buying and post-sale experience for clients.
For a successful strategy, every department must work together, and this includes
marketing, sales, sales development and customer success teams.
Customer experience can be the factor that makes the difference, both in terms of
success in generating leads, but also in terms of continued relationships with accounts and retention rates.
Personalised experiences can make the difference, and this matters to customers. Indeed, a Salesforce study found that 85% of business buyers believe that the experience a company delivers is just as important as quality of product.(1)
ABX or ABE is the next level of ABM, an acknowledgement that it isn’t just marketing or sales that is important for the experience at account level, but the journey as a whole which also includes customer success teams and even customer services.
Key characteristics of an experience-based approach include:
- Buyer experience is a key driver of revenue and customer retention. ABX applies the principles of customer experience to account based marketing to achieve
- ABM sells to the account rather than the lead. It’s about targeting and engaging
the whole account, targeting different roles at key points of the buying process.
- It brings customer-focused teams together. All these teams - marketing, sales, customer success - work together to deliver a cohesive experience.
- Engaging with target accounts on their terms. It’s a recognition that much of the buying process is self-serve, and being ready to reach clients at the right time.
- Campaigns are driven by data and intelligence. Accurate insight into key target accounts allows for greater personalisation, and this account intelligence needs to be shared across departments for effective campaigns.
What does an ABM platform do?
An ABM platform is designed to help marketing, sales, and customer success teams work together. An effective platform can run everything from identifying, targeting and tracking accounts and prospects, to developing content and updating sales and marketing teams.
ABM solutions are designed to be integrated with existing CRM and/or Marketing Automation Platforms (MAP) for maximum effectiveness and efficiency. This integration helps you to identify the specific decision-makers within your key target accounts.
While marketers can plan and manage ABM campaigns without the help of a platform,
technology enables them to run and personalise campaigns at scale.
The 2020 ABM Benchmark Study from B2B research firm ITSMA asked respondents about the technology they were using to support ABM campaigns. Most were using a mixture of email, website, CRM and social media to run ABM, rather than a dedicated platform.(1)
Technology currently being used by B2B firms for ABM:(1)
Do I need an ABM platform?
To decide whether or not ABM software or a platform is the right solution for your business, first consider how it could enhance your organisation’s current competencies.
This means assessing your organisation’s business needs, capabilities in terms of staff
and financial resources, as well as management support.
Here are some questions to ask:
- Do you have the organisational structure and training in place? Successful ABM programs are built on a platform of organisational maturity and expertise. Close
collaboration between departments is needed, as well as the technology solutions to deliver ABM.
- Have you identified your ABM goals? The first step is to think about what you want to achieve through ABM. Companies that are targeting new accounts and doing so at scale may prioritise different platform capabilities than those looking
to retain or expand existing accounts.
- Do you have buy-in from key stakeholders? For the best chance of success, account based marketing should have support from management teams. A detailed forecast of costs and projected return on investment helps to win
backing from senior management. Delivering results through ABM will guarantee continued support.
- Are sales and marketing on the same page with target accounts? The processes must be in place for close cooperation between sales and marketing, which means
agreement on definitions of high priority targets, and choosing when to add and remove accounts from ABM programmes.
- How will existing technology work with an ABM platform? Perform an audit of current tech solutions to identify capability gaps and alignment with business
- Have you assessed total costs and resources required? The costs of the tech required needs to be considered alongside the staff cost and resources needed for ABM. Consider the cost of hiring new team members or retraining current staff.
- Have you agreed on metrics for success? Measurement and reporting
of results from ABM should be agreed in advance. Reporting needs to be consistent to inform and maintain backing from senior stakeholders.
How do I choose an ABM platform?
There are now many specialist all-in-one ABM platforms on the market, which are designed to handle all aspects of account based marketing.
While many features are common across different ABM platforms, some have specific specialisations. Examples include:
- Data: Platforms such as Bombora, 6Sense, LeanData are designed to provide insights into target accounts and use this to provide personalisation at scale.
- Media and Ads: Platforms including N.Rich, Terminus, Triblio have expertise in account based advertising alongside ABM capabilities.
- Engagement: Demandbase (Engagio), Marketo ABM, Drift, Outreach are all ABM platforms with conversational ABM capabilities.
- Content: Folloze, Uberflip, Turtl are some of the platforms specialising in content creation for the buyer journey.
What features and capabilities should you look for in an ABM platform?
- Integrations with current marketing and sales tech. Does your ABM platform integrate with the tech already in your stack, such as CRM systems and marketing
- Intent data. Intent data helps marketers to select, score and prioritise accounts.
It’s important that platforms support the keywords and topics that are relevant for your industry and target markets.
- Analytics. ABM platforms need to be able to gather engagement data from different channels, and provide key insights into campaign performance. Platforms should offer detailed account journey analytics and attribution.
- AI recommendations. AI can use intent and behavioural data to select accounts for marketers to target, as well as identifying opportunities for marketing and sales to interact with target accounts during the purchase journey.
- Ease of use. How long will your team need to get an ABM platform up and running? Do you have people in-house who will own the implementation and day-to-day management of the platform
- Multichannel campaign activation. ABM platforms add value to campaign management by enabling marketers to create cross-channel campaigns. This requires the ability to integrate with other tools such as marketing automation platforms.
- Lead matching. Can your platform link engagement from anonymous and known individuals to target companies in your database
- Partnership and support. Is the ABM vendor one who will provide support and help you towards key business goals? Look for real-time support and strategic consultation with a customer success manager.
- ROI. How does the ABM platform fit into your budget, and what kind of return on investment do you expect to see?
- Sales alerts. Can the platform provide alerts to inform sales teams about important account activity, delivering insights which can feed into further engagements.
These alerts may be email bases, or delivered through integrations with other
It’s important to ensure you adopt a methodical approach to any Martech selection and implementation. We would recommend the following sequence of events when looking to select an ABM solution:
- Internal requirement gathering & RFI (Request for Information)
- Project steering committee established
- Business use cases – User/business focussed
- Platform use cases – Features/functionality focussed
- Create a vendor scorecard (see below)
- RFP (Request for Proposal)
- Vendor selection – (Too often companies jump straight into their selection, and it all goes wrong. Often, they don’t spend enough time and money on what follows either)
- Proof of concept
- Implementation & configuration
- Stack integration
- Training & onboarding
- Support & upgrade
- Vendor management
- Audit & review
Create a vendor scorecard
Creating a vendor scorecard to evaluate each vendor is the next step. That way you can take a systematic approach to evaluating products.
Creating a scorecard involves being clear on your use cases so that you can evaluate
whether there is functional fit between your requirements and the vendor product. You might also need to evaluate architectural fit to understand what technical support is
required to manage integration with existing tools. Beyond business use cases and technical architecture, you also need to assess what kind of training and support the
vendor will provide.
We’ve created this basic scorecard with suggested weightings to get you started. It
doesn’t cover everything but our Essentials of Marketing Technology course contains a
comprehensive guide to support your vendor selection process.
Course participants will also receive a much more detailed worksheet to help you evaluate vendors.
With your use cases documented, vendor scorecard defined, and RFI/RFP created, it’s time to start connecting with vendors.
Creating a shortlist based on your company profile and preference is a good starting point; ABM capabilities and ratings, focus, functional specialism, industry and company size match.
As you progress to chatting with vendors, we would recommend you:
- Take your time & prepare. Don’t rush the process. Make sure you have done your research to better understand the space. Ensure you have details of your ABM
needs available and your vendor scorecard and questions.
- Run a custom demo. Make sure vendors have your business use cases and business background weeks before your demo so they can sufficiently prepare and tailor what they present so you can make a fair assessment.
- Get into the details of your expectations around the technology. Get into the nuts
and bolts of your needs/goals to really assess the ease, speed and cost of tech.
- Review vendor case studies. Ask for customer case studies showing key results of their platform.
- Get vendor customer references. Ideally, gain direct access to chat with some of
Making your ABM platform work for you
Researching and onboarding an ABM platform is only the start of the process. It’s important to assess and review performance of the platform on a regular basis to ensure you’re achieving the expected return on your investment.
ABM platforms also need to evolve with your business needs, and allow you to make the most of new tech capabilities and features introduced by the vendor.
So, to get the most of your ABM platform, you should add the following steps to the process:
- Update workflows and skills.
A common issue with the adoption of any new technology is that companies don’t update workflow and team structure to get the most out of the tools. Another common issue is that sometimes marketers need to be equipped with the skills
they need to make effective use of the tool.
- Carry out regular reviews.
Make sure you’re reviewing your tech quarterly to make sure it still fits within your tech stack and works within the context of ABM efforts. This can help outline whether it’s meeting its full potential.
- Explore wastage.
This might be a case of automating aspects of a process or keeping an eye out for overlapping technologies. Strip back to avoid complication and confusion.
- Engage with your vendor.
Vendors are available to demonstrate the full capabilities of their solution. Based on experience with other clients, they can advise on workflows, team structure and how the tech should be integrated into the context of your stack.
Part of the appeal of ABM is the efficiency and potential return on investment by focusing efforts on key target clients. With the help of technology, ABM programs can be scaled, and key accounts can be engaged throughout the buying journey across multiple channels.
ABM platforms can help to automate key processes, understand buyer intent, identify
opportunities for engagement, and gather and enable analysis of key data.
With the right ABM platform for your business, you can create better, more personalised experiences for buyers, and build stronger relationships with key accounts.