The Marketing Strategist:

So You Want to Do Account Based Marketing? Better Read This First

December 17, 2015

Target image for ABM

As a practice, Account Based Marketing (ABM) has mushroomed over the last 12 years, but we’ve only recently started seeing a lot of coverage in mainstream marketing media. With its popularity comes a lot of confusion on what exactly ABM is and what it takes to succeed. Bev Burgess, ITSMA’s senior vice president and ABM practice co-lead, describes the key differences and marketing skills that set ABM apart from other marketing programs.

ITSMA: Bev, a lot of companies market to their key accounts and call it ABM. How is that different from how we at ITSMA see ABM? What are the key differences between someone who is doing ABM and someone who is not?

Bev Burgess: The clue is in the name. It’s not “account-based” if you are doing nothing more than throwing a bunch of 100 or so named accounts into a marketing and advertising campaign. Marketers are suddenly realizing that they need to be more relevant to buyers, so they use technology that allows them to basically say “these are the 100 accounts we want to go after” and they target their marketing to those accounts. That’s good targeted marketing and they will see improved results, but we at ITSMA don’t see that as ABM. There are a couple of reasons why:

  • First, they’re not actually gathering any insight on those accounts that allows them to come up with very targeted propositions for each account. You’re not making any distinctions based on the business issues they are facing and how you can help that particular account.
  • The second difference is when you are doing ABM, you’re creating an account-specific marketing plan and integrating it with the sales plan. They’re aligned and integrated: the marketer becomes a part of the account team.

ITSMA: What skills or competencies are important for ABM marketers?

Burgess: They need the usual end-to-end marketing skills, such as research and intelligence to build marketing insights, creating value propositions to target buyers in the accounts, planning and driving integrated communications, and building relationships and directing relationship-type activities. But on top of that, because these people have to work really closely with senior account managers and meet with the clients themselves, they need to have business acumen and leadership capabilities. Their work style should be very flexible and collaborative; they’re often drawing from different parts of marketing. For example, they might be working with subject matter experts relevant to that account or putting in account direction (looking after similar accounts in different territories). You therefore need someone who is a gifted resource investigator.

These talented and experienced marketers are hard to come by, and there’s a risk of burnout in these roles. After a couple years of working on some really big accounts and then being asked to do more and more, ABM marketers unsurprisingly walk away from these coveted roles.

ITSMA’s ABM Marketer Competency Model

ITSMA: So what should organizations do to prevent burnout and keep their ABM programs delivering superior return on investment?

Burgess: Position ABM as a strategic business initiative. It’s about accelerating growth in your most important accounts, because then it gets the correct funding and the correct support and investment as a program. The program tends to fail or get underfunded if it’s just something you do in marketing and then try to take it to sales and say “Hey, can we help you with your accounts?” If it’s positioned as a strategic business initiative, then it’s often funded correctly, and people aren’t overladen with too many accounts without the resources they need. This is what we recommend across the board for ABM.

To learn more about ABM and how you can deliver a marketing ROI significantly greater than other marketing programs, see these additional ITSMA resources:

Interested in having the marketers in your organization take the ITSMA ABM Competency Assessment? Contact Donna Thach at


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