Understanding and Operationalizing Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

Account Based Marketing

Introduction: The Rise of ABM

Account-based marketing (ABM) has become prominent in recent years as companies seek more effective and efficient ways to engage their most valuable prospects and customers. Unlike traditional marketing strategies that cast a wide net, ABM is a highly focused approach that aligns sales and marketing efforts to engage a select set of high-value accounts deeply. In the era of data-driven decision-making and increasingly personalized buyer expectations, ABM offers a scalable yet tailored model for business growth. Lead nurturing, traditionally a separate function, now becomes an integral aspect of an ABM strategy to build deeper relationships with key stakeholders within each targeted organization.

Transitioning from Sales-Centric to Automated Nurturing

Sales professionals have historically been the primary nurturers of relationships, focusing on one-to-one engagements with potential clients. This traditional approach has limitations, particularly in scalability. With the evolution of marketing automation technologies, the nurturing process can be systematically programmed to address the specific needs of high-value accounts at scale without losing the personal touch. In this way, ABM serves as an overarching framework within which automated nurturing can play a significant role, creating a harmonized sales and marketing cycle that’s highly efficient and tailored.

The Essence of Nurturing in ABM

Nurturing within ABM isn’t merely about turning leads into customers but cultivating advocates within targeted high-value accounts. Traditional lead nurturing is generally broad and aims to convert qualified leads into customers. In contrast, ABM-nurturing zeroes in on creating narratives that resonate with each account’s unique challenges, needs, and opportunities. This targeted engagement fosters a deeper connection, turning high-value target accounts not just into customers but also into enthusiastic advocates for your brand.

Building the Account Story and Leveraging Advocate Marketing

ABM necessitates a compelling narrative elucidating how your service or firm can benefit another company. An integral component of this process is advocate marketing – equipping key supporters within the target account with the necessary details to advocate for your service within their organization. While some organizations may even deploy evangelists for this purpose, the foundation is rooted in creating a persuasive story.

Aligning ABM and Nurturing

Basically, ABM isn’t different from standard lead nurturing. Both ABM and nurturing share a common thread: the art of storytelling. In nurturing, the focus is on crafting a narrative that resonates with potential clients, cultivating their interest over time. ABM takes this further by concentrating marketing efforts on a select group of target companies rather than broader industry or solution tracks. Therefore, if you’re effectively conveying your story throughout the nurturing process, your leads will possess the requisite information to present to their management well in advance of reaching out to sales. Sales can then engage at precisely the opportune moment as certain account leads prepare to make their case to higher-ups. 

However, the true divergence within ABM lies in building a campaign to aid the targets in constructing a compelling case for collaboration with your business. The automation of this process comes with its share of challenges, particularly in terms of database comprehensiveness. Companies might have as few as three individuals or as many as fifty in their databases. However, a study by Gartner suggests that the usual buying group for a complex B2B solution includes around six to ten decision-makers. Each of these decision-makers comes prepared with about four to five pieces of independent information they need to reconcile within the group. Given this, having the details of all ten key decision-makers included in your mailing list is quite a challenge.

Gartner’s data also indicates that buyers complete slightly over 60% of the buying process before actually involving a vendor. This is particularly true for SaaS purchases, where buyers often stick to just one trial. Due to the wealth of available information and the relatively lower risk associated with SaaS investments, many decision-makers are entrusting the buying process to others. While the decision-maker might initiate the buying process and make the final call, a different individual usually handles the majority of the groundwork.

A noteworthy point is that it’s often a surprise for both marketing and sales that a new decision-maker often comes into play during the final 5% to 10% of the buying journey. This late entrant typically requires engagement, education, and a fresh round of convincing.

This is where ABM plays a pivotal role, ensuring that a more extensive range of individuals within the Account becomes engaged with the narrative before sales become directly involved. Therefore, marketing and sales must collaborate on educating and coaching the entire account once leads qualify as marketing-qualified leads (MQLs).

Key Differences Between Traditional and ABM Nurturing

While both traditional nurturing and ABM nurturing aim to cultivate relationships, they differ significantly in scope, approach, and alignment.

  • Focus: Traditional lead nurturing casts a wider net, while ABM is laser-focused on high-value accounts.
  • Personalization: ABM goes above and beyond to create highly personalized experiences tailored to individual stakeholders within a target account, as opposed to generic, one-size-fits-all content.
  • Sales and Marketing Alignment: In ABM, sales and marketing teams aren’t just aligned; they’re virtually inseparable, operating as a unified front with shared intelligence, KPIs, and accountability.

ABM’s Role in Account Building

While ABM strategy covers a range of activities, the role of nurturing within ABM is to prime the target account, making it ripe for sales engagement. It’s not about replacing the sales process but about enriching it by engaging various decision-makers within the target accounts before the sales team steps in.

Is ABM Methodology Still Relevant?

Now, the question arises whether ABM, with its high degree of personalization and customization, is worth automating for a relatively small audience. How to find the right messaging as a marketer? Wouldn’t salespeople interacting directly with internal stakeholders be better positioned to craft messaging based on real-time conversations and keyword cues? The answer to all these questions is – Despite the influx of new marketing technologies and methodologies, ABM remains relevant primarily because of its targeted focus and alignment with sales. And within ABM, lead nurturing programs serve as the connective tissue that brings cohesion to your targeted efforts.

Building a Foundation: Nurturing Programs

Before delving into ABM, it’s prudent to establish robust lead nurturing programs. It is crucial to understand the narrative and its gradual delivery over time. Once this foundation is laid, the transition to tailoring the story for individual accounts becomes more feasible.

Operationalizing ABM: Key Requirements

For marketing operations professionals, building an effective ABM campaign requires careful consideration. The key components and criteria for successful ABM programs encompass:

  • Account Target List: Precise naming of accounts with company names and domain names.
  • Buyer Persona/Title List: Segmentation by persona or title, factoring in data accuracy.
  • Persona-Specific Story: Collecting content and developing a dynamic content matrix aligned with each persona.
  • Account Personas: Crafting account-specific stories for different industries and sizes.
  • Data Cleaning and Appending: Ensuring accurate and complete account and title information.
  • Territory Management: Setting up email delivery on behalf of the appropriate salesperson or team to avoid the risk of embarrassment and missed opportunities.

Nurturing Process Levels

The nurturing process evolves across multiple levels:

  • Generic Nurture: Initial data-gathering nurture to refine lead information.
  • Solution-oriented Nurturing: Tailored nurturing based on mutual understanding.
  • Targeted ABM Nurturing: Equipping buyers with the right advocacy tools.
  • Customer ABM Nurturing: Engaging general customer base.
  • Product-Centric Customer Nurturing: Fostering product engagement and use.

Measuring ABM Success: Reporting Metrics

There are some key metrics to gauge ABM success: Coverage, Awareness, Engagement, Program Impact, and Influence. Engagement is a pivotal indicator measured by time spent with your firm. Time spent with your firm can be in any form. It can be a 15-minute call with sales or can also include website time as well.  

Another important metric is Coverage, which is often overlooked. Coverage assesses data cleanliness and account contacts’ reach. You must look at the ‘Depth’ of your coverage for each type of account by number of staff or revenue: VSB, SMB, Enterprise, etc.

ABM Campaign Ideas

Various ABM campaign approaches can be explored:

  • Personalized Email Campaigns: Use Marketing Automation to pull in the territory manager’s (Lead Owner) name and contact info to make the email appear to come from a real person who would be that lead’s contact at your firm.
  • Online Ads and Retargeting: Initiating ABM with targeted online ads based on content engagement.
  • Website Personalization: Employing website personalization tools to align content with different personas.
  • Outbound Email Nurturing: Crafting tailored nurturing programs for specific personas and accounts.

Conclusion: The Careful Transition to ABM

Embracing ABM requires more than a new set of tools; it demands a shift in thinking where lead nurturing becomes an integrated component of your overall strategy. As you operationalize ABM, you’ll find that nurturing isn’t just an initial step; it’s a continuous process that enables more successful, more lucrative relationships with high-value accounts.

To know more about implementing a successful ABM strategy inclusive of robust nurturing programs, feel free to contact us at Smarketers. Our ABM experts can guide you through each step of this transformation. Download our free ABM toolkit to get started.

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The Ultimate Account-Based Marketing (ABM) tool kit for B2B Organizations executing or planning to implement ABM in 2024