Managing Scalable ABM Campaigns

Heidi Vandermeer has led account-based marketing at Security Compass and Uberflip, and has won an ABMie award for best ABM campaign at scale. In this guide, she shares how to select an ABM account list, and how marketing and sales should work together to execute ABM campaigns.

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Questions covered in this guide

How do you define Account Based Marketing?

A targeted approach to go-to-market – ABM is a very coordinated approach between sales and marketing that centers on creating a targeted account list to drive growth in specific new or existing accounts.

What are the different types of ABM (high vs. low personalization)?

One-to-one – targeting 5-30 accounts. This is the traditional idea of account based marketing, where you’re targeting all of your efforts in a very customized and personalized way to the account level. This is typically a resource-intensive way to go-to-market and you get high engagement with it, but accounts need to have a large enough revenue opportunity in order for it to make sense (think 7-figure deals).

One-to-few – targeting 30 to a few hundred accounts. You’re focusing on different clusters or similar groupings of accounts that have some kind of commonality, characteristics or pain points that align with each other. I’ve targeted clusters by industry, need, firmographics, and more – there are many ways you can slice and dice your list to scale a relevant approach beyond what is possible with “one-to-one” ABM.

Programmatic or one-to-many – targeting hundreds or thousands of accounts. This approach can resemble demand generation, but the key differentiator is that you’re starting and measuring all of your success based on an account list. This is more generalized targeting than one-to-few, and can be scaled to a larger account list. It often relies on look-alike accounts and intent data.

At what ASP is the deal big enough to invest in ABM?

One-to-one – the account’s revenue opportunity should be worth at least $500k, ideally $1M+.

One-to-many/programmatic – a much broader range. For ABM in general with one-to-few or one-to-many approach, you typically want a minimum of $15k in ARR.

What variables do you use to set an ABM list definition?

Common variables – some of the most common variables include:
  • Firmographics (e.g. Industry, Company size)
  • Geography
  • Previous Success / Look-alike companies
  • Intent / Predictive Analytics
Custom ones – I’ve seen, and often used, custom data or insights that you can scrape or hire researchers to uncover, including:
  • Technology the company is using
  • Customer org make-up, e.g. Looking at the number of developers that a company has.

What other factors (e.g. buyer type) make ABM a stronger or weaker tactic for a company?

If your sales process is more transactional, it makes less sense – ABM is for B2B companies, so if your sales process is more B2C-like (something that someone could sign up for online), it might not make as much sense. And if your price point is low, it’s harder to see a strong ROI on an ABM strategy. 

At what company stage does it make sense to invest in formalizing ABM?

Once you have marketing fundamentals set up – a marketing team of about five people will be better able to support ABM. Once you have your strategy, then you can get really targeted and invest resources into it.

How do marketing and sales work together for an “Account-based everything” (ABX/ABE) approach?

The strategy isn’t marketing led, it’s an equal effort the whole motion is account-based, and marketing needs to be in alignment with sales. ABX is a very collaborative and holistic approach across leadership, marketing, sales, and often customer teams. Some companies also will switch to the term ABX instead of using ABM, because the term “ABM” itself can come across as just a marketing initiative, which may disengage sales reps from the start. 

Sales development is strongly aligned, and focused on the same target list – strong alignment is important between what accounts sales and marketing targets. In some cases where sales development reports directly to marketing, this alignment is easier to achieve, but it’s not necessary. The key focus (and often only accounts) that your sales team pursues should be directly related to your target account list. Keeping both teams on the same page by collaborating on account lists & campaigns can help. 

What are a few flavors of ABM? 

New accounts in a proven market – this is where you’ve identified an ideal target market based on past wins, and there’s a big opportunity to build momentum and expand your customer base in that market with a targeted approach. With existing reference customers, insights, and learnings, you can use some of what you’ve learned to create a strategic ABM program more easily.

New accounts in a net new market – ABM can be used to strategically enter a new market. With this approach, the classic B2B book Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore is often referenced because a highly targeted, strategic approach into a new market can help make an important leap in the “technology adoption lifecycle” curve: moving from innovators to early adopters as customers. ABM can bring the highly-targeted approach needed to bridge success in this new market.

Customer account expansion or retention – when good customers who’re already defined have sizable upsell opportunities, ABM can be used as a strategic approach to customer expansion and retention. Some people recommend focusing on customers as your first step into ABM, but it requires having a solid defined base with a defined goal or upsell opportunity. With customers, the existing relationship can lead to an easier entry point into initial traction, as you’re more likely to have fast engagement compared to cold calling net-new accounts.

What are the steps to setting up an ABM campaign (especially a more programmatic or one-to-few campaign)?

Step 1: Define the goal – define what you’re looking to do with your ABM campaign. Choosing one key goal is important when you’re getting started, because multiple goals across the buying cycle can split your focus and make the program less effective overall. Your goal can be as simple as net new meetings for the sales team, but it has to be clear, specific, and aligned to a metric that has a clear business impact. 

Step 2: Build your account list creating a quality account list is important, and good research and insights are important in this stage to make sure your time, resources, and money are well spent. Define key criteria, and the target account list size. For small lists, accounts can be hand-selected, but for larger lists, using data enrichment tools, vendors, and intent data can help. From my experience, data enrichment tools are rarely 100% accurate, and if your list isn’t too large (e.g. below 100 per sales rep) don’t rely on this alone – validation from the sales reps is important. Ensure there’s agreement between marketing, sales, and leadership on the accounts being targeted. 

Step 3: Develop your insights & plan – based on the accounts chosen, start aggregating the insights that will allow you to personalize and target your account list. This phase is important, and the insights can be used for both marketing and sales efforts in your ABM programs. If this is your first ABM campaign, plan to start with a core focus of up to 2-5 marketing and sales channels, and layer on a more integrated, omnichannel approach as your program matures.

Step 4: Launch your marketing and sales programs coordinate campaign and outreach timing between departments. Depending on the maturity of the program, often the territory will be “warmed up” by marketing for 90 days before sales starts their outreach, but this is often not possible (or proven yet) with newer programs. Communication between the departments involved is key! If there’s a net-new logo goal with the program, I’m often meeting with the SDR team weekly at this point to measure, collect feedback, and make small iterations as needed.

How long do you run a campaign?

If it’s your first time, plan to have it run for a quarter and with intermittent reviews – depending on your sales cycle length and channels used it could be shorter or longer, but in my experience a quarter has been good to give the program a good run, start to see success, learn, iterate. You’ll of course want to have regular feedback with the sales team and evaluate results as you go as well.

What tools make running effective ABM easier?

A CRM – helps track the people and accounts you’re going after while having marketing and sales activities centralized in the same place. 

A marketing automation tool – an email automation system like Pardot, Marketo, or Hubspot provides an easy way to segment, target, and engage with your target audience through emails and nurtures.

An ABM platform – the bigger names in ABM are Demandbase, Terminus, 6sense, MRP, Metadata, (and growing!), which often provide holistic reporting, advertising capabilities, intent data, company traffic de-anonymization, lead-to-account matching, and more. However, these platforms require a significant up-front investment. For an early-stage program, you can use smaller “pay as you go” platforms (e.g. for ads: LinkedIn or ListenLoop) depending on what stage you’re at. 

How do you approach metrics and measuring?

Focus on the metrics that matter – the key areas of measurement for ABM are awareness, engagement, opportunities, and revenue, which are all helpful to measure. However, for the “main goal” of an ABM program, I typically recommend that it directly aligns with a goal that matters to sales. This goal could be meetings booked, qualified opportunities, pipeline created, or revenue. There are also custom metrics you can create as you mature your ABM programs, such as “marketing qualified account”. 

Avoid vanity metrics – while some traditional marketing measurements can be helpful indicators, when it comes to ABM it may be a vanity metric. Impressions, traffic, clicks, and even MQLs (depending on how they’re defined) may be indicators on the marketing side for how a program is doing, but from a business standpoint between different departments, they are unlikely to demonstrate the impact of your ABM program.

Evangelize your success – ABM is still new in many organizations, and needs continued confidence-building & validation: don’t be afraid to flaunt small successes! Mention early success metrics, tell your “win” stories, and share client responses & reactions.

Can ABM and product-led marketing coexist?

Product-led ABM exists; it can give you a strategic, insight-led approach – it gives you a different approach than a more traditional, demand-gen approach. ABM is by no means incompatible with product-led marketing; it can have its own strengths. 

What are the most important pieces to get right?

Get aligned with the sales team – this is my number one recommendation, because it leads into succeeding in many other areas. It requires work, communication, and empathy for both sides. 

Start with a solid account list – invest up front in the research and validation to have a strong account list. Otherwise, poor quality going in leads to poor quality out. 

Do things in the right order – start with the right people, then the right process, and then technology. Often people will look to start an ABM program with technology first, but it’s important to have the right foundation that will lead to success later on. 

Don’t be afraid to do things that don’t scale – this advice sounds counterintuitive in the technology and startup world, but the reason why ABM works is because it’s relevant, targeted and personalized. Sometimes people get so caught up with scaling ABM 10x to have a big reach that they lose sight of why they started ABM in the first place – to be more strategic and personalized. Scaling too broadly can have diminishing returns, getting lost in the noise and providing less results than a scaled back approach. 

What are common pitfalls to avoid?

Don’t take on too much at once – trying to use all possible channels at once in your first ABM program can prevent you from mastering each channel for an ABM purpose, and split resources too far to be effective. 

Don’t let it be just a marketing initiative – don’t let marketing lead ABM alone from the beginning. Your programs won’t be great if you’re not involving sales and getting buy-in from other departments and leadership. 

Don’t focus exclusively on your usual marketing metrics – as mentioned previously, if you’re used to measuring your success based on leads or MQLs, you might need to readjust to align with account-based success. If your key metrics don’t matter to sales, you’ll lose the alignment you need for ABM success.

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