2021 saw a significant shift to Account-Based Marketing or ABM, with 70% of marketers reporting that they use ABM, up from 15% from 2020. Jon Clarke, Founder & CPO, Cyance, shares an overview of what ABM entails, how it works and why so many marketers have taken the leap.

What is ABM?

Simply put, ABM is a B2B customer lifecycle strategy in which all customer centric teams such as sales, marketing and customer success can work much more collaboratively to engage and nurture a specific set of target accounts, and the decision unit makers within those accounts.

ABM may be focused on the objective of protecting and growing existing accounts, or on winning new business from specific target accounts – or on a combination of both. This often differs across different audience groups, for example 1-2-1 ABM is normally reserved for large customer groups with the aim to retain and expand, whereas 1-2-few or 1-2-many ABM can involve a mix of acquisition, retention and expansion goals.

The B2B buying process, compared with B2C is typically executed over a longer period of time, compared to typical shorter demand generation campaigns and involves targeting a group of key decision makers rather than one individual. Therefore this group, or account-level is crucial.

How does ABM work?

There are many tactical variations to ABM but typically all programmes will follow these four implementation stages; sales and marketing alignment, account selection, data and insights and programme delivery.

Firstly, sales and marketing teams should be closely and continuously aligned around the exact same business goals and outcomes (revenue), Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and how target accounts are aligned to different ABM programmes (1-2-1,1-2-Many), audience selection and prioritisation logic (when to target and why), how to align account knowledge, behaviour and insights into your outreach and engagement tactics, and how to measure outcomes.

Account selection and definition is the process by which marketing and sales come together to define ‘the ideal account’ and select the target accounts. This includes finding agreement on the number, size and type of accounts that you will be targeted, also referred to as building an ICP.

First- and third-party data sources drive successful account targeting and sales decisions.

Understanding the intent of your buyers means you can identify what stage of the buying process they are in – research, consideration, decision making or any other stage. You can refine and expand your list of accounts based on actionable information. ICPs can be as simple or as complex, as is necessary, so the more data you can use to make your decisions, the better they will be.

Both firmographic and technographic data should be harnessed to power the account selection process. CRM data is an effective way to add insight to this process. It’s possible to identify patterns from minimal data points, especially with the help of specialist insight and buy-in from strategic leaders in your organisation. Take this up a notch and predictive analytics can be used, whereby this data can be analysed via machine learning to predict trends.

On the other hand, with the right technology, first- and third-party intent data can be synthesised via your ABM platform, alongside firmographic and technographic data. With the curated data, you can build an accurate profile of buyer behaviour – as well as using intent signals to create the best strategy for nurturing and closing the account.

Finally, at the heart of ABM lies the creation and delivery of highly personalised value propositions, value-add content and messaging. All of which is targeted specifically for each ABM account, and the relevant people within those accounts – through timing, context and relevance:

  • Timing – your intent keywords are mapped to buying stage; early, mid or late, so you can personalise account-based experiences and specifically prioritise early-mid behaviour for demand generation.
  • Context – intent keywords are mapped to topics, which are aligned to your products and value propositions, so your outreach can relate the needs and interests of your audiences specifically to your business capabilities.
  • Relevance – you can build multi-channel, multilingual campaigns that leverage intelligently targeted, highly relevant content driven by timing and context.

It’s difficult to accurately predict the answers to these questions. However, if you were able to see intent changes in real-time, then you would be able to act at the right moment. With the right data, it’s possible to view changes in account behaviour in relation to previous activity or a benchmark, and this information can be used to prioritise accounts that are preparing to buy.

The reason ABM has grown significantly in 2021 and will continue into 2022 is the availability of technology that can provide accurate data insights and a much clearer understanding of B2B buyers’ intentions at various stages in the buying journey. It also allows you to be much more efficient with your available resources, by focussing on a small number of accounts that are most likely to convert.

Benefits of ABM

ABM provides a much more personalised marketing approach, encourages both marketing and sales teams to align, and as a result 91% of companies using ABM have reported an increase in  their average deal size, with 25% reporting an increase of +50%. In addition, 60% of companies report at least a 10% increase in revenue in the first year of a new ABM program, with a 208% increase in marketing revenue witnessed by some companies.

Due to the technology available, ABM can also be more precise and measurable than traditional approaches, providing clearer ROI and more efficiency in marketing and sales teams. 

In fact, according to the Alterra Group, 97% of marketers achieved higher ROI with ABM than with any other marketing initiatives. ABM also leads to greater revenue; marketing generates 208% more revenue in companies that have aligned their sales and marketing teams.

ABM is also a tempting solution for marketers as marketing expenditure, as a percentage of revenue, is at its lowest point in over a decade. Marketers are looking for solutions that do more with less. ABM does just that, its efficient and targeted form of outreach results in less wastage than traditional mass advertising and less targeted digital strategies.