November 29, 2021

What is ABM?

ABM stands for “Account-based Marketing” and is a form of “marketing” developed in the 2000s which combines sales and marketing department activities together. It’s really a mix of both marketing and sales activities, as you’ll see, and aligns the two toward the common goal of more calls booked, more leads, more sales, and ultimately higher revenue for agencies and consultants. ABM also forces teams to shift the focus onto the needs of the client rather than on making the sales pitch.

What Are Some Differences between ABM and Traditional Marketing?

Account-based marketing aligns marketing and sales together in the B2B organization, which makes it fundamentally different from “traditional” marketing. Traditional marketing has often focused on branding and mostly inbound activities meant to drive “awareness”. In this method, sales and marketing work sometimes completely separately. This may work for a large, established technology agency but for one just starting out, waiting to be “seen” is a death sentence.

In account-based marketing, you’ll combine marketing and sales to create holistic buyer journeys which are driven by both inbound and outbound activities. Neither department creates content alone, because each informs the other and works together to execute on campaigns. Metrics are tracked across the entire buyer’s journey and success for everyone occurs when leads become clients.

In my mind, ABM is pretty similar to how I was taught direct response marketing, so it doesn’t feel all that weird. But for a brand marketer, ABM is a wild departure from the norm.

Some Benefits of ABM for Agencies

Agencies are often B2B companies, which means that your buyers aren’t likely looking for providers on Facebook, Instagram, Tok-tok, or other consumer-centric channels. . . effectively wiping many potential advertising channels off the map for you. You’re left with LinkedIn, Google PPC, Reddit, and Twitter for ads.

ABM helps you fill the gap through one-to-one outreach and complete marketing and sales alignment. Almost all marketing activities now serve to improve your sales funnel, and sales and marketing are now talking to each other and working together to move the revenue needle.

Tangible Benefits of ABM for Agencies includes:

  • Shorter sales cycle / faster pipeline velocity
  • Higher average deal value
  • Higher quality opportunities
  • More alignment between marketing and sales
  • Greater visibility into the full buyer’s journey and metrics
  • Higher ROI vs other marketing-sales activities (e.g., conference sponsorship)
  • Engagement of key “experts” within your company (resulting in lower turnover)

Activities in an ABM Campaign and How They’re Split Between Sales and Marketing Departments

Despite the word “marketing” in the name of this strategy, Account Based Marketing activities are spread across both sales and marketing departments. Remember, we’re going for ALIGNMENT.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Activities

As you can see, the goal is heavy alignment between sales and marketing. Both departments have a shared goal of attracting, nurturing, and converting contacts at target accounts to create more sales opportunities and of course, more won projects. All data, learnings, and results are shared between the teams.

The first step is to identify your company’s 11 Marketing Factors and your Value Proposition. The 11 Marketing Factors are 11 elements which should be in alignment with each other to create congruent marketing and positioning.

They are:

  1. The Personality Your Brand Adopts
  2. The Person You Serve
  3. The Problem You Solve
  4. The Pain Points You Address
  5. The Promise You Make
  6. The Product (/Package/Project) You Sell
  7. The Principles You Espouse
  8. The Proof you Exhibit
  9. The Prestige You Include (Unique Mechanisms)
  10. The Path You Took (Stories)
  11. The Price You Sell it at

Your value proposition will come out of identifying, clarifying, and optimizing each of these eleven marketing factors. The value proposition will be unique to the company and buying role you’re trying to reach and SHOULD change slightly when you perform ABM-based outreach.

Your value proposition can be built by combining learnings from each of the 11 marketing factors:

[Brand name] helps [Person] get [Promise] in [timeframe] without [Pain points] using the [Prestige] as found in [Process/Philosophy].

ABM Step 2: Create Your Ideal Customer Profile and Buyer Personas

Your value proposition will come out of identifying, clarifying, and optimizing each of these eleven marketing factors. The value proposition will be unique to the company and buying role you’re trying to reach and SHOULD change slightly when you perform ABM-based outreach.

Ideal Customer Profile

Consider this the “avatar worksheet” for your target accounts. This should include firmographics like location, annual revenue, number of employees, tech stack, industry, and whatever else is relevant for selling your products and services.

Your ICP will form the basis of your target account lists, which will be full of COMPANIES you want to close.

Buyer Personas

Once you know your ICPs, you need to consider the contacts at each of those companies. Buyer personas are individual profiles of potential decision-makers at your target accounts. These decision-makers often play specific roles such as champion, influencer, decision-maker, budget-holder, etc. These roles may or may not align with their titles; specific titles often have clear “jobs to be done”, and this should be taken into consideration in outreach and marketing.

Buyer personas can and should have any criteria normally found within an avatar write-up and should be tracked within your CRM, if possible, as a field.

With these two types of profiles in place, you should now know what kind of lists to generate in step 3.

ABM Step 3: Preparation to Launch

Compiling Your Target Account Lists

With these two types of profiles in place, you should now know what kind of lists to generate in step 3.

Lists can be compiled in a few ways. Most companies use a mix of all three to creat a final list of target accounts:

  1. Manual Compilation
  2. List rental (e.g., Discover Org)
  3. Sourcing from an existing list

Then, you’ll want to make sure you identify your account tiers (#1, #2, #3). There are three ways to “tier” accounts:

  • Heat levels: never interacted with your brand, has some interaction, very warm/hot account
  • Potential ROI: very high ROI potential, medium ROI potential, low ROI potential
  • Industry/Other Criteria: High Priority, Medium Priority, Low Priority

Obviously, you’ll want to make sure that everyone in marketing and sales understands what your chosen tier means, which accounts are in which tier, and how that affects the rollout of your ABM campaigns.

(P.S. Tiering target accounts is easily trackable using HubSpot’s ABM Dashboard.)

Once completely compiled and tiered, your target account lists should be stored in:

  • CRM (your source of truth!)
  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator (via lists)
  • Ad Management Platforms (e.g., LinkedIn company targeting)

You should end up with anywhere from 25-500 accounts total. Ideal is 100-250 to start with.

Creating Marketing & Sales Content

Next, you’ll want to identify the topics and targets for your initial campaign so you can create content in advance of launch.

Ideally, you’ll need the following content surrounding your ABM push:

  • 3-10 ad sets (depends on scope)
  • 1-2 lead magnets (opt in, ty page, asset, 3-5 nurture emails)
  • 3-7 sales emails (or InMail messages) for outreach campaigns
  • 5-10 fresh and topical blog posts, videos, or other long-form content
  • Links to service pages which are optimized for action
  • 1-3 case studies or white papers (ideal but not required)
  • Catalog, brochure, or info kit (ideal but not required)

Identify Key Players for ABM Outreach

Before you launch, know you need some key players on your side. Ideally, there should be 3-5 people who will help with content publication, contact connection, and outreach on LinkedIn and other channels.

For each of these individuals, you’ll need to:

  1. Optimize their LinkedIn profiles completely for visibility, trust, branding and keywords
  2. Update their LI description & experience section to have a core CTA that’s relevant and trackable (e.g., a specific landing page, sales email, etc)
  3. Identify who to align with each type of content / targets (this maximizes your efforts)
    • You could split a list by having one person target one service, one another, etc.
    • You could split a list by having one sales person target one industry, one another, etc.
  4. Set up social media publishing automation for each LI profile (for step #4)
  5. Set up LinkedIn Sales navigator for each of these accounts (if relevant)

ABM Step 4: Warming Up Your Target Accounts

With your lists in place and uploaded, your key players ready, and your sales enablement content created, now it’s time to “warm up” your accounts. How do you do this? By getting visible! In the first 2-4 weeks, you’ll want to spend time doing the following:

  1. Run a display ad campaign on LinkedIn to decision-makers at target accounts
  2. Have your key players begin to follow/like/comment (but NOT connect!) with contacts at target accounts on LinkedIn (and possibly Twitter)
    • These comments should promote real conversation based on expertise, and not merely be “I really like this post”. Ask questions, share, engage!
    • Likes are fine, but don’t be spammy. Make it feel more natural if possible
    • Visiting the profiles of contacts at target accounts is fine too, but again – you don’t want to automate this so much that you get banned
  3. Publish content on your social channels on 3-5 key employee profiles through automation, so they don’t have to think about what to publish
  4. Run Google search ads AND retargeting ads on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, etc.

Note here that if contacts at a company aren’t on social media, then there are two ways to go: a) ignore them in favor of those contacts who ARE on social media, or b) move on to more direct outreach. If many contacts are not on LinkedIn or Twitter, then that may indicate that it’s not a channel to pursue for warmup.

In that case, you may consider doing more “in person” visibility by sponsoring local meetups, attending local meetups, attending conferences, and sending direct mail.  

ABM Step 5: Direct Outreach Phase

After a few weeks, you’re ready to start direct outreach! Now is where your Key Players should begin sending connection requests. Make these requests real and human. Here is where InMail ads are fine to start.

Once they connect:

  1. Send a follow-up sales message giving them valuable information. The goal is to get them to opt in by providing value, not necessarily to push a sales call
  2. If they engage positively, keep the conversation going – human to human. Offer more value via blog posts, case studies, and other content
  3. If they continue to engage positively, invite them to a discovery call. Follow the steps for discovery calls based on your sales process.

If they respond negatively, keep them on the list for nurturing. Continue to engage via social media unless you strongly believe they are fully not qualified based on one factor or another.

Everything should be tracked within your CRM. The less manual, the better.

ABM Step 6: Ongoing Nurturing

Once a campaign “push” is complete, your sales team needs to continue activities in the warm-up phase. (Unless you move right into a second push with a different list, in which you’ll repeat the same warm up to direct outreach steps.)

With ongoing nurturing, you’ll want to continue to follow/like/comment/re-share posts from target account contacts. You’ll also want to continue some form of ads and maybe an InMail touchpoint every month or so.

(P.S. Tools exist (like HubSpot) to remind you to do this without you having to manually track each follow-up. Use them!)

ABM Step 7: Metrics to Track

In account-based marketing, we are concerned with a few key metrics to track how we’re doing overall. Of course, we want to drill down into specifics to perform activity-level optimizations, but from a high-level view we’re looking at:

Overall Number of Opportunities

How many potential deals are in the pipeline? 1, 5, 50, 120?

Activity-Based Metrics

Here, we’re tracking how active the sales team is. How many connections are we making, how many social posts, how many emails, how many discovery calls?

Outcome-Based Metrics

Here, we’re tracking the outcomes of our ABM campaigns, such as average deal size, deal close rate, return on investment.

Content Engagement Metrics

Here, the typical marketing metrics apply, such as document views, opt-in rate, email open rate, click through rate, and more across ads, blog posts, emails, and content.

Number of Contacts at Target Accounts (Account Coverage)

This is easier to track with a tool like HubSpot, but basically we’re tracking how many contacts we’re engaging with at each target account. Is it 0? 1? 5? The more engagement, the higher the likelihood of positive results. We can also track how complete our data is and the quality of our data.

Pipeline Velocity

How quickly are target accounts moving from marketing qualified to closed won? How long is it taking to close a deal, and how does this velocity compare to non-ABM accounts? And finally, how long are accounts taking in each stage?

Even if it takes two years to close, this timeframe still needs to be tracked because ABM is likely to shorten it, and it’s nice to be able to see this number improve over time.

Influenced Opportunities & Deals

How many opportunities/deals were influenced by the ABM outreach and activities?

Return on Investment (ROI)

All ABM campaigns require a budget, even if it’s just in human-power. What’s the ROI of your investment vs. LCV?

Account Lifecycle Stage

Just like contacts, accounts have a lifecycle you should be tracking, ideally in your CRM.

Target => Marketing Qualified Account => Sales Qualified Account => Client

ABM Step 8: Iterate & Optimize

Finally, it’s important to remember that account-based marketing is not “one and done”: it’s a marketing initiative that is ongoing. Over time, you’ll want to optimize your content, sales outreach, offers, and targeting to get better results, faster pipeline velocity, and higher ROI.

Want some help with your ABM Campaign?

I’ve implemented account-based marketing campaigns for a handful of enterprise-level technology companies, and I can help you do the same with HubSpot as your CRM. I was part of HubSpot’s ABM beta, so know the tool well and how to implement your LinkedIn Sales Navigator, ads, and social publishing for best results. Contact me to start the conversation.

About the Author of This Post

Lynn Swayze

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