There’s something kind of cool happening in the world of marketing.

Actually, there’s always something cool going on here. But as you may have recently heard, people are paying a lot of attention to something called account-based marketing (ABM). After all, over the past year, there’s been a 21% increase in the number of companies that have a full account-based marketing program in place.

And yet, it seems like account-based marketing is a fairly new concept to many people. A big part of that has to do with a lagging alignment between marketing and sales within many organizations - while this number is almost double what it was last year, only 60% of businesses say they're “somewhat” or “tightly” aligned with sales.

But account-based marketing - and its success - is somewhat rooted in that very alignment between marketing and sales. And as you'll see, it's highly useable, if you know where to begin. That's why we're here to help.

But What Is Account-Based Marketing?

ABM is essentially a form of strategic business marketing. An organization takes an individual prospect or customer account - these are companies, not individual people - and treats it like its very own market, or a market of one.

So, in that context, it’s really just what it sounds like - marketing that’s based on a given account, existing or prospective. It’s typically done by enterprise-level sales organizations, and is mostly relevant to B2B efforts.

Why is that? Well, ABM is a particularly useful for organizations with multiple buyers or stakeholders. Part of its goal, says HubSpot's Corporate Marketing Manager Sam Balter, "is to address the needs of organization by connecting with all of the stakeholders within it. That's one reason why it works so well in B2B - oftentimes you have to work with five or more stakeholders in a given sale."

That might seem a little tricky - especially, says HubSpot’s Senior Product Marketing Team Manager Jeff Russo, “from an execution standpoint.”

But it really boils down to six essential steps, which we’ll flesh out and tie back to inbound marketing - because while they’re two different concepts, they can truly complement each other.

Where ABM + Inbound Marketing Meet

Inbound marketing and ABM are, on the surface, a bit different in theory:

  • Inbound marketing primarily focuses on creating great content to bring prospects to you.
  • ABM puts the emphasis on individual prospects or existing accounts.

But they absolutely complement each other - in fact, we use them in tandem here at HubSpot. “Our sales team uses ABM and inbound marketing,” Balter explains. “They have a set list of target accounts, and use inbound marketing leads to supplement those accounts.”

You might notice that many of the above-outlined steps incorporate pieces of inbound marketing principles. And really, says Balter, that’s how ABM can be used “to build better relationships with target accounts.”

These days, customers really don't enjoy feeling like they're being sold to. That’s why it’s crucial that your marketing - even when account-based - provides value, and doesn’t push products. Emails, websites, and calls-to-action all have to be personalized for each target, especially when you’re trying to aid their discovery of your brand.

So let’s break it down. With a little help from HubSpot's team of ABM experts - Sam Balter from above, Product Marketing Manager Ari Plaut, and Head of Corporate Sales Ryan Spillane - we’ll illustrate the steps you can take to implement and execute ABM.

The Ultimate Guide to Account-Based Marketing: 6 Key Steps

1) Identify your target.

Finding your target audience is a fundamental piece of successful marketing. Remember, we’re dealing with organizations here, not people - so don’t get this step confused with developing personas.

Rather, identifying your target accounts should be a collaborative effort between marketing and sales, since it’ll require data from both areas - firmographic data, which consists of things like industry, company size, location, and annual revenue, as well as strategic factors, like market influence, likelihood of repeat purchase, and expected profit margin.

While market research is a very valuable tool in determining this list, some of it is qualitative - that is the kind of information you’re able to contribute using intuition and experience.

2) Research your accounts.

Once you determine who your targets are, they goal is to treat those companies like big, organization-level personas. Remember - we’re not trying to develop personas for individual people here. However, it can help to have that detailed information and representation of your ideal business customers.

Being familiar with elements like the company structure and who the critical players are can, in turn, dictate how you convey your product or service to those targets, especially if you know who the decision-makers and influencers are. Sometimes, this information might already exist in-house; perhaps someone on your team previously researched this target, but didn’t complete the ABM process of reaching it the right way.

3) Create your content.

Now that you’ve got the names of the key players within each account, you’ll want to create new content for them. That content should speak not only to the pain points of those specific employees, but more to those specific businesses.

Remember - at risk of sounding like a broken record - the ABM strategy is less focused on individual personas, and more on casting a wide net for new business. For that reason, this content should be focused on the single deals you’d like to make with each specific organization.

With this step, you might start to see how ABM and inbound marketing are able to work together, as it's clear that quality, compelling content plays a role in reaching your account-based targets.

4) Choose your channels.

Even with the best content to reach your accounts, it won’t be very effective if you don’t use the right channels to promote it. It’s important to choose the right channels to deliver it, based on what’s most effective for a given organization or role.

Here’s where it might be helpful to know where the specific people within each target “live” online. The Pew Research Center Demographics of Social Media Users does an excellent job of profiling the users of five major social media platforms - Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. That should shed some light on which channels the people within each account are mostly likely using, and how they consume the content you’re custom-creating for each of them.

5) Run your campaign.

At this point, you’ve selected your targets, built out the specifics of their respective compositions, created content, and selected the channels you’ll use to promote it. Time to execute! Right? Well, kind of.

Running your campaign will require some care. You’ll have to coordinate your messaging across the various channels - you don’t want to send different signals to the same person within a target account.

That’s a big problem for many B2B marketers, according to Demandbase: “Unlike consumer marketers who have millions of potential customers,” reads its Account-Based Marketing: Fundamentals Every B2B Marketer Must Know report, “B2B marketers have a limited number of potential buyers.”

Perhaps that’s why, according to the same report, 82% of visitors to B2B sites aren’t even actual prospects. So choose and leverage the right channels properly - to target the right accounts, and to make sure the messaging isn’t repetitive or conflicting.

6) Measure your results.

A surprising number of CMOs out there have trouble proving the ROI of their marketing efforts - 67% of them, in fact. Every campaign needs to have its results measured properly, especially with methodologies that are somewhat new.

Ready to Get Account-Based?

When it's broken down into a few steps, account-based marketing seems a bit less overwhelming. In fact, as we covered, it's not so different from inbound marketing, and works quite well with some of the inbound principles that we hold so near and dear.

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