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What is Account-Based Marketing (ABM)? Definition and Guide

No matter how great your ad campaigns are, the reality is that most of the eyeballs they capture and leads they generate will not convert. For small to midsize businesses looking to see the greatest possible return on investment (ROI) on their digital marketing efforts, account-based marketing offers a way to bypass all those less valuable leads by focusing sales and marketing efforts on best-fit accounts from the very beginning of the sales cycle.

What is account-based marketing?

Account-based marketing (ABM) uses research and data to identify high-value accounts and then aligns sales and marketing efforts to convert them to customers. 


For example: Imagine that a boutique skin care brand has been selling directly to consumers but wants to scale by getting their products on the shelves at Sephora. To accomplish this, it would tap both its sales and marketing teams to jointly create a strategy to reach out to the right people at Sephora, educate them about their brand, and ultimately close a deal. This ABM strategy might involve looking at what kinds of skin care products Sephora already sells and position themselves as filling a need that isn’t being met for Sephora’s customers. The brand would then look up Sephora buyers on LinkedIn so that they could target multiple stakeholders with product samples and communication. 

Account-based marketing vs. lead-based marketing

Account-based marketing and lead-based (also known as “inbound”) marketing are fundamentally different approaches to marketing. Lead-based marketing is an inbound strategy that seeks to generate general interest and then converts that inbound interest into sales. Think of it like casting a wide net in the hopes of capturing a few good customers. 


ABM, by contrast, is an outbound strategy in which a company targets specific businesses that it wants to turn into accounts. Think of it like seeking a prize fish and using a specific bait to catch it. You will probably catch a fish either way, but if you have limited time or resources, or just want a really specific type of fish, then a different approach might be more successful.

Benefits of account-based marketing 

Certain leads are more likely to convert than others, and an ABM program allows you to account for those differences. Rather than pouring money into outbound efforts to reach customers who aren’t in your target market, you can focus on selling to those who have the highest likelihood of converting, or who might have the most long-term value. There are several benefits to account-based marketing strategies:

    • Align sales and marketing. If you have sales and marketing teams, account-based marketing ensures they’re on the same page, working together to nurture a set of mutually agreed upon, high-value accounts. For smaller businesses without dedicated sales and marketing teams, sales and marketing efforts are more streamlined and cohesive.
    • Deliver consistent customer experiences. Because sales and marketing teams are working in tandem, customer experiences will be consistent and smooth across multiple touchpoints.
  • Measure ROI. Alignment between sales and marketing teams also means that businesses know exactly how much they’re spending on each account, providing the most accurate measure of ROI.
  • Streamline sales cycle. The sales cycle in B2B transactions can be long and complicated thanks to the multiple decision-makers involved. Account-based marketing, however, can help buyers reach a purchase decision more quickly by streamlining the sales cycle, targeting all stakeholders from the beginning of the buyer’s journey rather than working upward, one by one, to the final decision-maker
  • How to implement an account-based marketing strategy

    1. Identify high-value accounts

    Any ABM strategy begins with identifying the accounts that represent the greatest potential ROI. What constitutes a high-value account for your business, however, will depend on your product or service. If you have data from existing customers, then you might look at your most valuable transactions—highest yield, greatest strategic importance—and work backward based on that account’s specific characteristics in order to identify similar untapped opportunities. For example, a business that specializes in locally roasted, ethically grown coffee and organic coffee creamer might identify stores that specialize in local or natural products, like Whole Foods or Sprouts, as a high-value account.

    2. Research key internal players

    Figure out who’s who at your target accounts: determine who makes the purchase decision and identify anyone else who might be a stakeholder in the buying process, including who will actually be using your product or service, if applicable. For example, in addition to grocery stores, the above-mentioned coffee company might also sell directly to businesses for use in their break rooms. In that case, they would be selling not only to the person who buys the coffee but also to the people who will be drinking it every day. 

    3. Define content and personalize messaging

    Content and personalized messaging will help both marketing and sales speak directly to high-value accounts. For our coffee company, this would involve creating distinct buyer profiles and then designing sales and marketing content for them. 


    They might have a buyer profile for Whole Foods that includes contact information for multiple buyers and insight into what other coffee brands they work with. Knowing that Whole Foods prioritizes local products, they would focus first on the stores within a 50- to 100-mile radius of their roastery. 


    A second buyer profile for corporate offices in the area might include contact information for office managers, and their marketing might tout how popular they’re becoming with millennial coffee drinkers. 

    4. Execute targeted campaigns

    Once you know what you want to communicate to your target accounts, you have to figure out how to reach them. Examples of targeted campaigns include:

    • Paid advertisements. Platforms that sell digital ads, like Facebook and LinkedIn, allow for fairly granular targeting. These platforms can help you reach your target customers (e.g., office managers in your city) with tailored ad creative.  
    • Custom landing pages. You don’t have to send people who click your ads to your homepage—in fact, you probably shouldn’t. Instead, consider designing custom landing pages that speak directly to the customers who see and engage with your ads. 
    • Webinars. Webinars can nurture relationships by speaking directly to high-quality buyers’ specific needs and concerns. For buyers early in the sales cycle, a webinar can help show how your product or service can solve a problem or meet a need. You can also use webinars to nurture relationships with existing customers by showing them how to make the most of their purchases. 
    • Events. In-person events like sponsored booths at conferences or festivals and VIP dinners can be great opportunities for your sales team to meet face-to-face with stakeholders from high-value accounts
    • Email campaigns. ABM email campaigns should feel more personal than traditional lead-based drip campaigns. Toward the end of the sales cycle, touching base with decision-makers via email can be an effective way to reinforce your messaging from other areas (like webinars and events) and close deals. For example, after sending a basket of coffee and creamer to a local office manager, our coffee company might follow up the next week to ask if they enjoyed the coffee and offer to answer any questions they have about the bulk discount or ordering process. 

    5. Track campaign performance

    Identify which of these marketing strategies is most effective by looking at the close rate and sales cycle length. Then you can use that data in planning future ABM efforts that close deals with high-quality leads in even less time.

    Final thoughts

    Though it may seem like a strategy for businesses with sizeable sales and marketing teams, ABM can be a great option for small to midsize businesses with limited marketing resources. You might consider these questions when determining if ABM could be right for you:


    • Are you pouring significant resources into inbound marketing and lead generation but getting few high-quality leads?
    • Is it more effective for you to sell directly to individual customers or focus on accounts? 
    • Is your buyer’s journey unnecessarily long and complicated because it involves multiple stakeholders? 
    Do you feel like your sales and digital marketing efforts are sometimes disconnected or working at cross-purposes?
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