The Marketing Strategist:

The Rise and Rise of Account Based Marketing: Three Approaches to Scaling ABM

March 16, 2016

  • Commentary


Account Based Marketing (ABM) is hot. It’s everywhere in B2B marketing these days. Rarely have we seen this much hype since the early days of e-business around the turn of the millennium.

This is a great thing. Developed in the early 2000s as a way to build in-depth marketing plans and programs for individual strategic accounts (“markets of one”), ABM has helped many leading technology companies get over themselves and their offerings and focus instead on meeting the specific business needs of their most important clients and prospects.

This outside-in approach starts with understanding clients in enough depth to create propositions that help them achieve their specific objectives and build relationships with them through integrated sales and marketing activities that resonate and are therefore welcome. Done right (using ITSMA’s step-by-step approach, for example), ABM leads to significantly higher ROI than any other marketing approach.

In this context, it’s not surprising that marketers want to achieve these results with more than a handful or two of key accounts and apply the ABM approach across dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of named accounts.

The reality, though, is that scaling the approach that ABM pioneers have taken with their key accounts is extremely resource intensive. As such, marketers are now considering three different types of ABM in their quest to scale:

  • Strategic ABM: As described above, this original ABM approach is usually reserved for strategic accounts and executed on a one- to- one basis. A dedicated, often senior- level marketer works directly with one or a few strategic or key account teams on the sales side and crafts fully customized marketing plans and programs as an integral part of the overall account plan. Technology can help with account insight, targeted communications, and tracking progress, but the approach requires a significant amount of art as well, including the creation of innovative value propositions, thought leadership, and relationship development initiatives. Key metrics often go well beyond revenue to include new solution development, business collaboration, and strategic references and advocacy.

Which type of ABM is right for you?

  • ABM Lite: This is a one-to-few model, often focused on a wider group of strategic accounts or the next tier down of accounts. It follows similar ABM approaches but focuses more on small groups of accounts that share similar business attributes, challenges, and initiatives. In this model, one marketer might develop ABM Lite programs for several groups of accounts, working with sales at key decision points, such as which accounts to target, which business issues to highlight, which propositions to promote, and how to tailor existing content for the marketing and sales for these one-to-few campaigns. Technology becomes more important here, helping automate the account insight process, campaign execution, and measurement. The ABM Lite approach is less resource intensive per account than strategic ABM but the returns for any individual account will likely be “lite” as well.
  • Programmatic ABM: The new kid on the ABM block, this approach emphasizes new technologies that automate ABM-inspired tactics across hundreds or even thousands of identified accounts. This software-centric approach is generating most of the new ABM hype today because it enables marketers to automate some of the traditional ABM steps, such as collecting customer insight through social listening technologies, delivering targeted advertising through reverse-IP recognition, and tying individual lead nurturing to overall account progress through the buy cycle.

    With just one marketer working across hundreds of accounts, Programmatic ABM is much less resource intensive for the marketing organization and can provide coverage far beyond Strategic ABM or ABM Lite. The approach is less likely to drive the kinds of strategic returns than its more strategic cousins. For companies already engaged in one or both of the first two types, however, or that don’t really focus on strategic relationships with key accounts, Programmatic ABM is a great option for improving sales alignment throughout the demand-generation process.

For companies interested in ABM, the emergence of three complementary approaches provides multiple opportunities to get started or to expand existing initiatives. Companies reliant on strategic accounts to help drive overall business growth and innovation should continue to explore Strategic ABM and ABM Lite, but Programmatic ABM can also help marketers shift generally toward a more account-focused approach. The future is hard to predict but perhaps one day all B2B marketing will be ABM just as all business has now become e-business.

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