Account-based marketing (ABM), or key account marketing is the hot thing in B2B marketing right now. When you see stats that state things like 87% of marketers who have implemented ABM report higher ROI than any other type of marketing, maybe you’re thinking “I should give this ABM thing a go.”

But what is ABM, and what do you need to do to implement it?

In this article, we’re going to define ABM and its benefits, and give a quick overview of what you need to have in place to hit the ground running.

What is ABM?

ABM is a strategy built around identifying key customers or accounts and marketing directly to them, treating each one as a “market of one”. It’s all about devoting your time and resources strictly to prospects that are likely to be of high value to your organization. Your marketing towards them should be done on a one-to-one basis, rather than a one-to-many approach which could see your marketing investments wasted on low-value leads, or even on organizations that would never become your customers.

Think of it like this: if traditional marketing is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, ABM is all about using a magnet to pull those needles out so they aren’t mixed up with the hay anymore.

A big goal for many B2B marketers is personalization: 77% of marketers state that it builds better customer relationships. So imagine having the opportunity to personalize entire campaigns and strategies directly towards a single prospect. That’s what ABM allows you to do.

You’ll identify high-value prospects and develop content that’s specific to their needs to be distributed on channels you know they’ll be using. The results can be massive: a potential increase of average contract value of a whopping 171%.

ABM is an effective way to work towards that Holy Grail of B2B marketing: marketing and sales alignment, as it requires those two departments to work pretty much alongside each other, with clear goals shared between the departments and consistent communications across the board.

Effective ABM practices go beyond just the sale. You’ll be maintaining a continuous level of customer experience with each account for their entire relationship with your brand, to maximize their long-term benefits to you by delivering consistent excellence. While this can take a lot of work, the results can be well worth it in terms of customer loyalty and continued revenue streams.

Sounds good, right? So what do you need to do to get started?

Is account-based marketing right for your business?

Despite those fancy stats and benefits we’ve thrown around, let’s get this out of the way: not every B2B company will benefit from ABM to the same degree. ABM works best for marketing high-cost products and services with lengthy buying cycles, targeting prospects with high customer lifetime value.

If you’re selling low-cost products with short buying cycles, you’d be better off sticking to mass marketing. ABM just isn’t worth the time and effort.

You’ll also need pretty sizeable marketing and sales departments. You’ll need to be able to devote adequate resources to each account, and you’ll need a reasonable number of accounts to keep your business secure (relying on just one or two huge accounts could lead to disaster if something goes wrong).

Once you’ve established your company is ready for ABM, what do you need to do to get started?

Align your organization

In order to ABM, you need your organization to be structured in a way that allows for it. This means you’ll need to make sure all the relevant internal stakeholders are aligned and working together in the various functions of your ABM processes.

Probably the most important are the sales and marketing departments, as they’ll be working most closely together. The heads of these departments will need to be aligned and have a clear understanding of how the inter-departmental teams are structured, how each account is to be managed, the budget and resources for each account, and what you’re trying to achieve (along with the KPIs you’ll be using to judge success).

Identify your accounts

The purpose of ABM is to focus on high-level targets, but who are those high-level targets?

You’ll want to develop an ideal customer profile, which you can then use to identify the right organizations using LinkedIn.

If you’re struggling to develop that kind of profile, you should probably take a look at your existing customers or previous deals. Which ones are the most valuable to you? Once you’ve picked them out, look at what’s similar between them and develop your ideal customer profile around that.

Build your teams

Ideally, you’ll want a team dedicated to each account with at least one representative from marketing and one from sales, with clear management and hierarchical structures (anyone who is familiar with the structures of most advertising agencies might notice some similarities).

While the core team of Marketing and Sales will be tasked with producing and distributing content and marketing materials specific to their assigned account, you’ll also want to make sure there are clear lines of communication to other internal stakeholders.

Develop account plans

Each account will need a plan of action tailored specifically towards them, developed as a collaboration between the Sales and Marketing members of each team. They’ll need to get to know their accounts in great detail, identify the key players with whom they need to build connections within the organization, the content, and distribution channels, and an overall perspective of the shared and individual responsibilities of both Sales and Marketing in regards to communicating with and supporting their account.

This will be where you develop how you’re going to personalize your content toward each account, allocate budget and resources, and establish the KPIs you’re going to be using to track success.

Build contacts and relationships

ABM is all about building long-term relationships with high-value customers. Once you’ve identified the accounts, you’ll need to find ways to connect with the right individuals within the organizations.

You’ll need to identify the decision-makers within the departments your products or services are intended for, as well as members of the C-suite and buying committee. These days, it’s fairly easy to identify these people in most organizations from their websites or LinkedIn pages.

You’ll then need to connect with them. The simplest method is via social media. Distribute your content on channels they frequent or in groups they’re members of. Set up highly focused, targeted ad campaigns. You could even just pull the trigger and connect with them directly. Just try not to come across as “too salesy” and find ways to build the connection naturally.

You can also look into events, both digital and physical (once physical events are back in full swing), that they’re attending or running. You can make plans to attend yourself, especially if the event is being pitched as a networking opportunity, or sponsor some aspect of it yourself, whether it’s a booth, talk, or any other aspect that’s relevant to your offering.

You could also host your own events and invite the relevant people. This will potentially give you more control over the content they access and your ability to funnel them into the relationships you need to build with them.

Referrals can be an important part of building these connections: 84% of B2B buying decisions start with a referral. Depending on your industry and geographical location, it’s pretty likely you’ll know someone you can lean on to put in a good word for you.

Once you’ve built those initial connections with the right accounts, it’s time to strengthen those relationships. You’ll be producing and sharing with them bespoke, personalized content that responds directly to their needs. Your marketing materials will focus on how your products and services will enhance their businesses.

You can even look into building more direct, personal relationships with the relevant people in the account. Host events tailored towards them, whether it’s a formal business event or something slightly more casual like meals.

Your communications with your accounts should be on a one-to-one basis as much as possible. Treat every point of contact as a conversation where you’re catering as much to their needs as you can (without bending over backwards too much, you’re looking to be in business together, not their servants). You can use automation to fill in any gaps when you can’t be on hand to respond to them.

Final thoughts

ABM is a long-term strategy, so you’ll want to be continuously measuring your performance with established KPIs so you can make the required adjustments.

It can be a long-winded process getting ABM up and running, with a lot of moving parts to fit together, but once it clicks you’ll be flying.

Have you had success with ABM? Or maybe you need some tips on how to get it going. Share with us and other B2B marketers in our community.