Your Guide to Account-Based Marketing
If you’re considering an account-based marketing plan but not sure where to start, this guide is intended to help you get the basics.
You can learn:
- What account-based marketing is and how it differs from the usual inbound marketing you may be already be doing
- Reasons why you should implement an ABM strategy and how your marketing and sales teams can gain from it
- The kinds of tactics you can use to be successful with account-based marketing
- Steps to follow when you’re setting up your ABM program
- Some key use cases for account-based marketing
Quickly navigate to key topics in this guide.
What is Account-Based Marketing?
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a go-to-market strategy that brings sales and marketing teams together with a single purpose – to target and convert high-value leads. Successful ABM strategies are driven by personalized experiences built on a strong foundation of customer and account data and deep understanding of personas and buyer journeys.
Account-based marketing (ABM) is a B2B go-to-market strategy that involves identifying, marketing and selling directly to high-value prospects. It’s a sales and marketing strategy that is driven by personas, buyer journeys, and, critically, data.
It’s also an approach that unifies marketing and sales teams in a single mission – to target and convert those high-value leads.
The purpose of account-based marketing is basically to cut through the noise and identify the prospects most likely to convert. You do this by using data to identify the buyers who:
- have the best fit for your business
- at the time they have intent to buy, and
- who don’t present a high degree of risk for your business.
That means you can spend less time on prospects with less value and less likelihood of converting. You can also spend more time aligning your sales and marketing teams’ time and effort on engaging with prospects and accounts more likely to yield ROI.
Once those buyers are identified, sales and marketing teams collaborate on strategies, experiences, and content targeted at those buyers, and designed to capture their attention and move them through their buyer journeys, from awareness to decision.
Because the ABM marketing definition is centered on targeted personas and moving your buyers through their journeys, it’s a departure from more traditional inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is a strategy that aims to market from one (your business) to the many.
But account-based marketing is a strategy that shifts you toward more focused marketing and selling one-on-one. This helps you to improve your ROI from your marketing efforts and capture the right buyers – and let your sales team have conversations with buyers who are more likely to convert.
Although ABM drills down to a one-on-one sales approach, as a B2B marketing strategy, it does share some similarities with inbound marketing. Both are driven by value-added content and attention to customer experience. Inbound marketing can actually be the central pillar for a strong ABM program by enticing customers to your business, while ABM then accelerates your marketing to targeted high-value accounts.
Account-based marketing is also a strategy that has measurement as its beating heart. Marketing and sales teams collaborate to track what works and what doesn’t, so they can maximize operational efficiency and ROI when reaching their buyers.
Benefits of Account-Based Marketing
6 Benefits of ABM
- Engage your buyers with more personalized experiences
- Consistent measurement of campaigns proves your marketing ROI
- More targeted marketing accelerates your sales cycle
- Getting sales & marketing teams aligned improves efficiency
- Personalized, targeted approach can enhance your business relationships
- ABM complements and strengthens inbound marketing
ABM is more than just a sales and marketing fad for a reason. Companies that implement strong ABM strategies see and report real benefits and are more likely to stay ahead of their competitors.
More Engaging Customer Experiences
Because of its one-to-one approach, account-based marketing uses personalization to target customers and accelerate their buying journeys. Digital experiences, and the content served up at each stage of their journey, are tailored to their needs, their desires, and the problems they need to solve – all backed by data.
This kind of personalization is one of the key benefits of ABM.
Show Your ROI
An important part of account-based marketing is iteration, driven by metrics. You have to track the performance of campaigns and buyers’ engagement with content and your channels to know what works – and what doesn’t.
Having a consistent set of metrics that you track offers the opportunity to show the value that your marketing brings to your organization. And because of the alignment between marketing and sales with an ABM strategy, you can show that value in terms of revenue.
Accelerate Your Sales
In a broader-based sales cycle, you might expend a lot of time and effort just on prospecting. If you have to cast a wide net, such as with outbound sales, your resources are spent trying to find and qualify a large pool of leads, hoping that as you fish, you catch something worth keeping.
When you dive into the waters of ABM, your whole purpose is to narrow your scope. You know that you’re fishing for rainbow trout, just what kind of bait and tackle to use, and the right cool, clear stream to cast your line.
The right company, contact, and intent data can help predict for you when the fish is ready to bite. Dun & Bradstreet, for example, leverages AI and proprietary analytical modelling to help you prioritize your target accounts based on fit, intent, and risk. With these insights, you can know that a potential customer is the right kind of account you want to target, that they’re likely to convert, and that they’re in the right financial position to follow through with a purchase.
When you have this kind of data at your fingertips, as well as the other benefits of a solid ABM program, you can be more efficient with your prospecting because your sales are lower risk.
Improve Operational Efficiency by Aligning Your Teams
When your teams work in silos from each other, that undoubtedly results in inefficiency. At best, when teams aren’t communicating and collaborating, work may be duplicated. At worst, they may be working at cross-purposes and conflicting goals.
With a strong ABM strategy, your marketing and sales teams will be working collaboratively to achieve shared organizational goals. They’ll be speaking the same language and using the same metrics to optimize campaigns and track performance through the funnel.
They’ll work together to understand your buyers, their journeys, their touchpoints with your business, and the best ways to reach them throughout their buying cycle to achieve meaningful conversions. When marketing and sales teams are unified, buyers get a frictionless customer experience that is more engaging and more likely to inspire positive reactions.
Improve and Expand Your Business Relationships
By taking a personalized approach to high-value accounts with account-based marketing, your important accounts will get consistent and engaging customer experiences, from their digital touchpoints to their in-person sales interactions. A benefit of the one-to-one approach is that each account should feel they’re getting a personalized and specialized experience – an enhanced relationship with your business that can spark brand loyalty.
Brand loyalty can be especially difficult to achieve in a rapidly evolving digital landscape when customers are more likely than ever to make changes in their buying choices. A strong ABM program can help not only attract new accounts but retain the important accounts you already have.
Strengthen Your Inbound Marketing
With its one-to-many approach, inbound marketing uses relevant content, SEO, and engaging customer experiences to draw in a broad audience of potential buyers for your products or services. When paired with a thoughtful ABM strategy, that same content and customer experience can be personalized to accelerate the journey of your targeted accounts in your one-to-one approach.
ABM is like the next layer up in your marketing and sales pyramid, using the same architecture and resources and maximizing your organizational efficiency.
Account-Based Marketing Tactics
ABM tactics are designed to appeal to specific target personas and to engage them at all stages in their buyer journeys to generate quality leads and then move them further down the funnel, where sales teams can convert. It’s an efficient partnership that can result in highly effective ROI when done well.
The most effective tactics to drive a successful ABM strategy are those focused on identifying the right buyers and moving them through their journey. The key is to gain a deep understanding of your buyers and to be able to answer these questions, backed by data.
- Who are your buyers?
- What experiences or content will best resonate with them?
- When should you engage them in their journeys?
- What channels should you use to engage them?
- How will you know what success looks like?
Every marketer knows that segmentation is an important tactic to leverage in a campaign to get in front of the right buyers. But there are more dimensions to segmentation than demographics. Of course, knowing who your buyers are at a demographic or firmographic level is the foundation. But with the highly targeted approach of ABM, you want to take your segmentation even further and understand some additional dimensions about your buyers: intent, fit, and risk.
- Intent data tells you when your buyers are in the market for what you’re selling
- Fit data tells you that your buyer is the right kind of buyer for you, so you’re not just taking a shotgun approach
- Risk data tells you that your buyer is a prospect who’s not just likely, but able, to follow through on the purchase
The combination of these three dimensions is powerful and puts you in the position of targeting prospects with precision. You can then maximize efficiency and ROI by selling to the high-value accounts most likely to buy.
The power of the Dun & Bradstreet Data Cloud enables businesses to segment using all three of these dimensions, leveraging machine learning and predictive analytical modelling to deliver actionable account insights.
Once your target accounts are identified, you have to entice them into your funnel. If you’ve done your research – and you have – then you know that many buyers have already done heavy research into a product or service before they ever have contact with a company.
Much of that research will be done through sources like Google searching, reading third-party or peer reviews, external thought leadership to see whether you know your stuff, or even social media. That means if you want to attract buyers from the outset of their journeys, you need to consider every channel and deliver content through always-on campaigns.
Through omnichannel, always-on campaigns, you can reach your buyers and build brand awareness before they ever visit your website or interact with a sales rep. Again, armed with data, you can know where to serve up programmatic, social, mobile, and media ads to reach your buyers, as well as other types of content to move them from awareness to consideration.
Some tactics you may use to attract your buyers include:
- Collaborating on podcasts, webinars, or other thought leadership content with experts from your target accounts as guests
- Creating landing pages on your website that address your target account’s needs and offer relevant solutions
- Relevant content such as blogs, articles, videos, or infographics distributed in the channels your target accounts are likely to engage with, e.g., your website, LinkedIn, guest posts on industry websites
- Paid ad campaigns
- Having a presence at events where your target accounts are likely to be (or that they are hosting): booths, speaking engagements, or sponsorships
- Hosting events of your own, such as conferences or webinars, and inviting your target accounts
- Social media engagement through the platforms your buyers are most likely to use
- Direct contacts through email or social media messaging
- Promotions such as giveaways or free trials
Dun & Bradstreet has the intent data on in-market buyers that helps companies reach them when they are most likely to convert, which in turn helps accelerate their buying journeys.
Because account-based marketing is so persona-driven, personalization to drive engagement is a key tactic of a strong ABM strategy. Once your buyer has done their research and is ready for a touchpoint with your company’s digital channels, you should be ready to deliver delightful and personalized digital experiences to capture and keep their attention.
Once again, the foundation of a great user experience is understanding your buyer, and that requires a global view of your buyer built on a foundation of high-quality data. When you have that, you can engage them by:
- Greeting them by name to create a welcoming and pleasing entry point
- Personalizing content based on their preferences and interests
- Pre-filling web forms to increase conversions
However, it’s important that personalization doesn’t tip over into creepiness or that can drive buyers away. A good practice is to make buyers aware of how you’re collecting data, how you’re using it, and let them opt in to first-party data collection.
Dun & Bradstreet is conscious of security and compliance concerns. Our data is SOC-2 Type II compliant and CCPA and GDPR ready.
The whole purpose of ABM is to align marketing and sales teams toward the unified goal of conversion. As a tactic, conversion means having marketing teams feed leads to sales teams with the relevant information to complete the buyer’s journey.
By this point in the buyer’s journey, the marketing team will have used tactics like segmentation with predictive analytics, attraction with always-on campaigns, and engagement with personalization to move the buyer through their journey from awareness to consideration to the point that the buyer is ready for a touchpoint with sales.
The sales rep can then move them into the decision stage and conversion, again, using data and understanding of the buyer and continuing to deliver personalized experiences. These may now come through emails, phone calls, sales presentations, product demos, or other one-on-one touchpoints.
Sales teams often work within a CRM, so data integration with their platform will be pivotal to success. Dun & Bradstreet’s ABM platform integrates with top CRM platforms to enable sales teams to have key insights at their fingertips when they’re needed.
The worlds of marketers and sellers are fast-paced and competitive. You’ll likely need to be able to demonstrate ROI for your program in revenue terms – and do it fast. That means you have to define realistic and measurable goals so that you can quickly see what’s working and what isn’t and adjust your tactics as needed.
The metrics you may use to track the success of your ABM program likely aren’t that different from ones you’re already using as KPIs for your marketing and sales teams. Some useful account-based marketing KPIs include:
- Leads generated
- Deals created
- Deals closed
- Time to close deals
- Revenue generated
- Web traffic such as unique visitors, page views, bounce rate, and demographic data to see who’s visiting your site
- Content engagement such as time on page or scroll depth
- Social media engagement such as follows, likes, and shares
- Email engagement such as opens, click-throughs, and subscribe/unsubscribe
Not all of these ABM KPIs will be directly tied to revenue, but remember that ABM is about moving your buyer through their journey, from awareness to decision. Some of these metrics will help you see whether your top-of-funnel and mid-funnel tactics are working – before your buyer reaches the decision phase and becomes an opportunity or deal.
More Account-Based Marketing Best Practices
Additional best practices for implementing an account-based marketing strategy relate to preparing your organization and team.
Get Alignment Across Your Organization
Your account-based marketing program will be most successful if you get buy-in from key stakeholders across your organization. Getting this alignment will result in a more effective ABM strategy and reduce friction as you get it up and running. It’ll also mean your buyers get a more consistent experience because everyone will agree on what you’re trying to accomplish and how.
You’ll need to agree on some fundamental pieces:
- Goals of your ABM strategy: how does it support the goals of your business?
- Who has ownership of your account-based marketing strategy? Who will be involved in executing it?
- Budget and other resources for your program: how much is your business willing to invest? What technology and tools are available or need to be acquired?
- How you’ll measure success: what’s the expected ROI for your program? How will you document and report your KPIs?
- How ready is your organization to implement account-based marketing? A self-assessment may be useful.
Secure Marketing & Sales Collaboration on ABM Plans
Since it encompasses the end-to-end buyer’s journey, account-based marketing works best when marketing and sales teams agree on ABM strategy and how to implement it. Working together, you’ll need to create a realistic account plan that supports your business goals.
As you plan your ABM strategy, you should ask and answer some key questions:
- Who are your relevant stakeholders at your target accounts? Who makes the buying decisions?
- What are your account stakeholders’ needs or challenges? How does your solution offer value? How does it do that differently from or better than your competitors?
- What experiences and content do you need to offer to engage those stakeholders? In what channels?
- How will your sales and marketing teams work together cross-functionally at different stages of the buyer journey?
Form Your ABM Dream Team
Successful account-based marketing is a collaborative effort. You’ll need to identify up front all of the people you need to contribute to your program and get them in place. That may include a team made up of at least one representative from each of these groups:
- Marketing and sales strategists who can look at the big picture and how all of your tactics will work together to move your buyers through their journeys
- Sales reps who interact with your buyers regularly and can provide insight into their needs and wants
- Marketing analytics expert who can help you get the best use from your customer data, as well as defining KPIs and how to measure them
- Content marketers & copywriters who can plan and execute your content strategy
- UX designers who can create frictionless and engaging digital experiences with your buyers’ needs in mind
- SEO strategists or specialists with a deep understanding of search intent and search optimization so your buyers can find you organically
- Paid media strategists or specialists who can plan and implement audience-targeted ad campaigns through search engines, social media, and other ad channels
- Email marketers who can help you reach your target audiences with direct email contacts
- Social media strategists or specialists who know how your buyers are using social media and the best ways to reach them through this channel
If you’re in a small organization, you may have single individuals filling more than one of these roles. You may also see the need for additional roles on your team, like a representative from your customer success program. But generally speaking, these are the skill sets that will combine into an effective and engaging ABM program.
Get the Right Technology and ABM Tools
Once you’ve identified your goals and how to measure them, and gotten your team in place, consider the technology that can help you implement your program. A benefit of today’s martech stacks, driven by machine learning and AI, is that you can automate much of your program once you’ve designed your strategy.
One tool that can be immensely helpful is a good customer data platform. A CDP can help you manage and glean insights from your account and customer data. Dun & Bradstreet offers the Lattice CDP, that can help you:
- Connect your data across the different parts of your organization and gain a single view of your accounts;
- Segment your accounts to identify the right buyers to target; and
- Activate your omnichannel digital campaigns.
How to Implement Account-Based Marketing
Steps to Implement Account-Based Marketing
- Set your goals
- Define your target accounts
- Get to know your accounts
- Build your personas
- Create personalized content & experiences
- Promote your content in the right channels
- Turn on your campaigns
- Measure & report your KPIs
If ABM is new to your organization, you may be wondering how to implement your account-based marketing strategy. It can be a significant undertaking, but one with significant rewards.
These steps can help you get your program up and running.
1. Set Your Goals
The first step in your ABM implementation is to know what you want out of it. What goals do you want to accomplish?
Some questions you might ask during this step:
- Do I want to acquire new customers? How many?
- Do I want to upsell or cross-sell to existing customers? What product(s)?
- Do I want to increase revenue? By how much?
When you know what outcomes you want to achieve, you should have a clear idea of what success means for your campaign. You can then define your KPIs to measure success.
2. Define Your Target Accounts
First, determine which companies are in the market for what you’re selling, and are a good fit with your account strategy. You can do this through a combination of data and the knowledge of your sales and customer teams.
Some questions you can ask as you go through this process include:
- Do I want to target an industry or industries?
- Do I want to target companies of a particular size?
- Do I want to target companies in a geographic region?
- What are my target accounts’ annual revenue? Profit margin?
- Will there be long-term opportunities with these accounts? Can I cross-sell or upsell?
Having robust firmographic data at your fingertips will be beneficial to answering these questions. Dun & Bradstreet offers extensive global coverage of company and contact data, including 400M+ business records, 152M+ contacts including 54M+ at the C-level, and customizable data on digital payments, company attribute and hierarchies, and more to aid in your research.
3. Get to Know Your Accounts
Once you’ve identified the companies you want to target, the next step is to drill down and learn who makes and influences buying decisions, as well as what the company’s process is for making those decisions. This will arm your marketing team with the information to build relevant personas, and your sales teams to prepare for their touchpoints with the account.
A CRM is a good tool to help you with this step. Dun & Bradstreet’s ABM solutions offer connectors to widely used CRMs such as Salesforce so that you can then implement your ABM strategy inside your CRM.
4. Build Your Personas
Once you know who your decision-makers are, you can build marketing personas that will be the basis for your content strategy. Personas incorporate research and data that reflects:
- What your buyers think, feel, and do at each stage of their journey
- What questions they ask or problems they’re trying to solve at each journey stage
- What will help move them to the next stage of their journey
- What types and formats of content are most likely to resonate with your buyers at each journey stage
5. Create Your Content & Experiences
Armed with your data and personas, you can then create messaging and a content strategy that speaks to your buyers in the right way, at the right times, and in the right channels. Robust account and intent data can inform how to personalize content and digital experiences for the buyers you want to reach, so that you can maximize engagement.
In this step, you’ll want to engage with a content marketing strategist, copywriter, and designer to collaborate on your digital experiences. The content strategist and copywriter can plan and execute your content, working with the designer to ensure that your content gets a spotlight that is visually engaging and provides frictionless user interactions.
6. Promote Your Content in the Right Channels
The well-written and visually engaging content you produce needs to be promoted in channels where your buyers will see it, or your ABM program will fall flat. Again, data can guide you to understand where and how your buyers use different channels so that you can take an omnichannel approach.
A few questions to ask here:
- Where do my stakeholders spend their time online?
- What is their mindset when using different channels?
- Where are you likely to reach them when they’re in-market?
A good best practice is to be thoughtful about how you use each channel and consider quality over quantity when engaging your buyers. Too many messages, whether it’s emails that are too frequent or bombarding your target with ads on LinkedIn, can backfire and turn your buyer away.
7. Turn on Your Campaigns
Once you know what companies you’re targeting, who you want to influence at those companies, have identified your channels, and designed and built your content, it’s time to activate your campaigns. This is a step where a good tool or tools can be highly useful to automate your activations, so you don’t have to spend unneeded time performing tasks manually.
Dun & Bradstreet’s ABM solutions can help you turn-on and run your always-on multichannel campaigns, including paid ads and social media.
8. Measure & Report Your KPIs
Once your campaigns are activated, it’s time to measure results using the KPIs you set. Decide on how often you want to measure and report your results.
In this step, and depending on how you defined success, you should be able to answer questions such as:
- Did my campaign achieve the results I wanted?
- Did my buyers engage with the content and move down the funnel?
- Were opportunities generated?
- Did I get the right deals into my pipeline?
- Did my campaign generate revenue?
With these answers, backed by data, you can make informed decisions about how to optimize your campaigns to improve reach or address any changing priorities.
Account-Based Marketing Examples
As you’re crafting your strategy, you may want examples of how B2B account-based marketing can work in the real world. You know you need personalized content, but what does that really mean for a marketer?
These examples can be a guide to implementing your account-based marketing strategy:
Educational and Thought Leadership Content
Content at the top of your funnel, or in your buyer’s awareness stage of their journey, should be aimed at helping to educate your buyer rather than selling to them. Educational and thought leadership content can catch your buyer’s attention and show them that you understand their needs and problems. You can also start to layer in solutions you offer to whet your buyer’s appetite, but a good rule of thumb for this type of content marketing is to stay away from overt sales pitches and instead provide them with enough to move them to the next stage. The idea here is to start the conversation, not close the deal.
Types of educational or thought leadership content can include:
- Interactive assessments or calculators
The formats you deploy will depend on what your buyer research and data tell you about the best ways to reach your buyers. If your buyer prefers short-form content, then giving them a whitepaper is unlikely to be effective, for example. Instead, you could focus on infographics and short informational videos.
Thought leadership content can be used as a way to start to engage with your buyers. You can actually invite some of your target stakeholders to participate so that you can initiate or strengthen a relationship. For example, invite a key stakeholder to join you as a speaker in a webinar or to submit a guest blog post for your website about challenges in their industry.
Social Media Marketing
Social media posts and advertising can be an effective way to reach buyers. Most people have some kind of social media account, and likely multiples. Your B2B buyer likely uses LinkedIn and may also follow brands on Twitter or Facebook.
Your buyer may also be posting about the actual challenges they face in their day-to-day work and the problems they’re trying to solve. This kind of information can be invaluable in aiding your understanding of what your buyer is thinking, feeling, and doing in their journey.
You can like or follow your buyer’s accounts, like and comment on posts, and message them directly to engage with them. However, be thoughtful in how you use social media channels to contact your buyer. Relationships are a key part of social media, and trying to sell to someone through social media before you develop a relationship can feel “spammy” and turn your buyer off.
Email remains one of the most effective tools at a marketer’s fingertips. The number of email accounts globally continues to rise, and email presents an opportunity to speak directly and personally to your buyer. A concise email that is relevant to your buyer’s needs can be attention-grabbing and provide excellent ROI.
However, as with social media, it’s important to strike the right balance. Too many email touches can drive a buyer to unsubscribe. Too much personalization too early, like using someone’s first name in a first touch, can feel creepy and intrusive.
Events offer you the chance to get face-to-face with your buyer, whether physically or virtually. A booth at a trade show lets you literally open a conversation, probe your buyer about their needs and goals, and talk about how your solution brings value. Events also are a chance to show your thought leadership and understanding of the buyer’s space.
Some types of in-person events you could consider as part of your ABM program may include:
- An open house where you can showcase your company and its work
- A networking event to bring together relevant stakeholders
- A conference or workshop that highlights solutions that are relevant to your buyer
In addition to hosting events, you can attend, sponsor, or participate in events hosted by your target accounts. For example, if your buyer is hosting a conference, offer a subject matter expert from your company as a speaker.
In-person events aren’t always feasible, but virtual events also can be effective and can connect you to buyers in diverse geographies. You could consider offering online events such as:
- Virtual conferences or webinars
- Virtual tours of your company
- Virtual product demos with a Q&A or other interactive activity
- Virtual social events
Direct Mail Marketing
Direct mail is a less popular tactic in the digital era but can be effective when done thoughtfully and using well-designed content. You can use direct mail as a follow-up to an introduction at a conference, for example, to send the contact a personalized letter that illustrates how your product or service solves their problems and including an offer or swag.