Account-based marketing

Account-based marketing (ABM), also known as key account marketing, is a strategic approach to business marketing in which an organization considers and communicates with individual prospect or customer accounts as markets of one. Account based marketing is typically employed in enterprise level sales organisations.[1]

Account based marketing can help companies to:

While business marketing is typically organized by industry, product/solution or channel (direct/social/PR), account-based marketing brings all of these together to focus on individual accounts. As markets become increasingly commoditized, customers see little or no difference between suppliers and their competitors, with price as the only obvious differentiators. ABM is increasingly adopted by companies in markets under pressure from commoditization.[1]

Background and differences with traditional business marketing

In the marketing of complex business propositions, account-based marketing plays a key role in expanding business within existing customer accounts (where, for example, wider industry marketing would not be targeted enough to appeal to an existing customer). In scenarios where the initial sale has taken several months, it is reported that account-based marketing delivers a dramatic increase in the long-term value of the customer.[2] ABM can also be applied to key prospect accounts in support of the first sale. For example, Northrop Grumman, in which it contributed to the completion of a successful $2 billion deal.[3] Account Based Marketing has been used at Shell to drive $13m deal [4]

Research demonstrates that buyers are looking for their existing suppliers to keep them updated with relevant propositions, but are often disappointed with this. In UK research, existing suppliers came top of all the different information channels that IT buyers use to look for new solutions – but more than 50% felt that marketing by their suppliers was poor.[5] The research also demonstrates how much easier it is for organizations to generate more sales from existing customers than from new customers - 77 per cent of decision-makers say that marketing from new suppliers is poorly targeted and makes it easy to justify staying with their current supplier. By treating each account individually, account-based marketing activity can be targeted more accurately to address the audience and is more likely to be considered relevant than untargeted direct marketing activity.

The roles of sales and marketing teams

ABM is an example of the alignment of sales and marketing teams.[6] In the aligned model, organizations able to unite tactical marketing efforts with defined sales goals and use feedback from sales to identify new potential markets. For ABM to succeed, joint working relationship with sales is essential and marketing needs to be measuring and optimizing based on accounts.[7] ABM is targeted at accounts (or companies as a whole) as opposed to traditional inbound marketing, which is targeted at leads (or people within these companies. The need for sales and marketing alignment also comes from the fact that there is an inherent disconnect between marketers, who market to people, and sales people, who sell to companies (or structured groups of people).

Marketing will also take an increased role in developing intelligence on key accounts – as proposed by Peppers and Rogers (1993): “When two marketers are competing for the same customer’s business, all other things being equal, the marketer with the greatest scope of information about that particular customer […] will be the more efficient competitor.[8]

Account-based marketing and the IT industry

Organizations which are seeing the greatest current benefit from account-based marketing are IT, Services and Consulting companies. With complex propositions, long sales cycles and large customers, these organizations are ideal candidates for the approach. It is, though, spreading into other sectors and a benefit can be seen to be an increased return on time (ROT).[9] Many suppliers have woken up to the fact that the revenues of some of their customers exceed the GDP of some nation states. They are changing the amount of their resourcing accordingly.

Organizations supporting sales and marketing efforts in the IT industry – including the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA),[10][11]The Marketing Practice,[12] IRSDirect Ltd, and VAZT Global, Inc.(VAZT) [13] have developed a great deal of the intellectual capital and practical tools shaping the direction of ABM.

The first to codify the trend was Bev Burgess when she was European MD of ITSMA. She co-created the approach with organizations like Fujitsu, BT, HP, and Accenture. Others have adapted it and modified it since.

Choosing the key account

Key accounts are accounts that are identified within organizations as being a focus for account-based marketing. Not all accounts meet the requirements to be designated as a strategic or key account and organizations need to be careful about which accounts to focus on for their account-based marketing efforts or risk losing a valuable client. When choosing, organisations should look at revenue history, account history, margins and profitability as well as the viability that the client in question would be interested in a long-term relationship. Lastly, asking what the client and the company have in common helps in solidifying the approach that the client cannot find this kind of service anywhere else.

There are also some red flags that help recognize that a relationship with a key account is about to change:.[14]

ABM programmes

Program frameworks

There are a number of different frameworks for account-based marketing campaigns but, in general, the following approach is used:

ABM framework Example Account selection: Opportunity sizing & Propensity Modelling Planning and insight: Account research and profiling Messaging and propositions: Account vision and Propositions Content and communication: Content, Digital Media and marcomms Execution and engagement: Campaigns, events and seminars



In terms of specific marketing activities that form part of account-based marketing programs, the following provides a basis for selecting the appropriate tactics for any specific account


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