Account-based marketing, or ABM, is more often used as targeted demand generation—not one-to-one marketing. In a 2020 study of more than 300 organizations worldwide, Forrester found that “a significant number of respondents claimed they were using an ABM approach but weren’t doing what we would consider the basics of ABM, such as working with sales.”1

ABM isn’t just about assigning one siloed team the responsibility of targeting and revealing high-potential prospects. It requires aligning all of your customer acquisition teams and resources in Marketing and Sales. These teams need to actively collaborate on everything from identifying accounts to launching tactics and messaging. 

But in order to get a tangible return on investment, ABM also requires alignment of the Three P’s: purpose, programs, and people. For example, aligning these programs with sales execution in the field is crucial.

At Snowflake, it was easier to do this in the early stages of the company, when we had a smaller organization and fewer target accounts. We launched our ABM program as soon as our sales team had a named account strategy. Today, as the head of a marketing organization with hundreds of people and nearly 5,000 customers (as of July 31, 2021), much of my time is spent doing alignment at scale. 

One way to accomplish this is with a tiered ABM strategy that prescribes a personalized approach for different accounts based on their potential. 

The Three Tiers of ABM

Here’s how Sales and Marketing should align purpose, programs, and people to deliver results in each of the three tiers: highly strategic, strategic, and buyer-led. 

Tier #1: Highly Strategic One-to-One ABM

Purpose: Your regional sales vice presidents should nominate three to five accounts with massive deal-size potential. The purpose is to generate awareness with a concentrated message across mediums, connect with the line of businesses identified, and build a sphere of influence in the customer buying center around your value proposition. 

Programs: At the highest level of ABM, these accounts are eligible for 1:1 events, custom direct mail, 1:1 advertising, microsites, and other forms of custom content based on the account’s pain points, topics of interest shared with sales reps, and challenges common to account verticals. You should also leverage intent data to identify the topics the company is actively researching. This helps determine which buying center to target, and when to pivot if needed. 

People: Assemble cross-functional teams consisting of ABM, field marketing, partner marketing, sales development, and field sales people. Launch coordinated tactics, based on messaging and timing, at targeted personas within the identified buying center at the account. 

Tier #2: Strategic One-to-Few ABM

Purpose: Account Executives (AEs) nominate 5-7 accounts they identify as important to their current or future pipeline. Goals in this tier vary by account type. In most cases, the goal is to increase the effectiveness of your sales development representative (SDR), AE, and field marketer in their pipeline generation efforts by generating awareness around the specific benefit your company can offer the target account. 

Programs: Tier 2 offers a boutique approach with custom ads built for the target account, a microsite featuring hand-curated content and events, a personal note from the rep, and tailored SDR outreach. You can invite accounts to targeted regional field marketing events and provide custom content tailored to how you can provide value to their business. 

People: Align cross-functional teams of field marketing, sales development, field sales, and demand generation folks to create account experiences that funnel the most relevant marketing offerings to the account in a meaningful way. 

Tier #3: Buyer-Led One-to-Few ABM

Purpose: ABM managers, sales district managers, and SDRs work together to identify priority themes within their region, create a list of named accounts showing active research on the related theme, and target 3-5 chosen accounts. Your purpose is to create engagement, first meetings, and new opportunities in accounts that are showing interest in topics related to your offerings.

Programs: This tier is really where your alignment-at-scale efforts kick in. Leverage intent data to understand timing and topics that are most pertinent to target accounts, and follow that up with highly coordinated cross-functional marketing efforts. ABM launches targeted ads that point to a microsite, using a one-to-many approach by region/theme. The personalized microsite is built to turn visitor insights into page customizations upon page load. This allows you to deliver a one-to-one ABM experience at scale. (Unfortunately, most companies use a one-to-many approach in which they offer the same experience to all accounts within one segment or theme.)

People: Cross-functional teams include people from ABM, sales development, and field sales. Together, they deliver messaging into targeted personas within the identified buying center at the account. 

Whatever the tier, ABM doesn’t end when you land a customer4. It can also be used to expand existing accounts into new departments, and geographies. Leverage intent data to determine a customer’s digital behavior, and consult with SDRs and AEs about how they’re engaging with Marketing, to examine trends and explore opportunities. ABM, SDRs and AEs then act on this information with targeted content and programs.

Don’t Forget the Tools!

The right tools are crucial to achieving alignment of purpose, programs, and people in your ABM campaigns. Here are a few critical tools to consider for ABM:

  • A modern cloud data platform can centralize your organization’s data and give you access to internal and third-party data and analysis that will help you better target accounts. This includes buying trends based on digital behavior, and pain points for accounts based on industry and geography. 
  • Bombora allows B2B marketers to understand what companies are searching for in order to reveal when their next business purchase might be. By gathering this information at the company level, B2B marketers can deliver targeted messaging and campaigns to those prospects, learn who the individual decision-makers are, and position their offerings for a prospects’ next potential purchase.
  • Rollworks and LinkedIn enable 1:1 display marketing, giving your team a simple way to reach individual companies with highly tailored calls to action. Rollworks can also help with targeting specific groups within companies as well, such as a prospect’s IT operations team or data analysts. 
  • Uberflip takes every single piece of customer-facing marketing content your team has ever created and makes it accessible to everyone across your Marketing and Sales teams. This tool can also live natively within your sales platform, which helps you personalize every motion in the sales cycle.
  • 6sense is a predictive modeling and intelligence application that can help you understand which companies are best fit for your business. The solution’s orchestration offering can enable you to segment accounts on firmographic and behavioral data. From there, you can enable cross-functional teams to action on those segments as well as personalize your ABM pages from those segments.

It Begins and Ends with the Customer

ABM can definitely deliver results: In a 2020 ITSMA report, 76% of companies saw higher ROI with ABM than with other types of marketing.2 But demand generation continues to play an important role in developing awareness and interest among targeted audiences. Both teams are crucial to your brand’s success. They work in tandem to target industries and large accounts. 

Although ABM and demand generation teams have different functions, the one thing they’re in lock-step alignment on is a focus on the customer. Whether it’s fully understanding the needs of a sub-industry, or researching the specific requirements of a prospective buyer, everything you do should revolve around personalizing your marketing and sales tactics and messaging for your customers. Your ultimate objective with ABM is to solve your customers’ problems and foster better business outcomes. With a laser focus on alignment across purpose, programs, and people, that goal can become reality.