Is Account-Based Marketing Right for Your Business?

One of the hot topics in B2B marketing circles today is account-based marketing (ABM). ITSMA (the Information Technology Services Marketing Association) led the development of account-based marketing about a decade ago. Although it started in the technology sector, ABM is now used by many kinds of B2B companies.

ITSMA defines account-based marketing as:  “A structured approach to developing and implementing highly customized marketing campaigns to markets of one, i.e. accounts, partners, or prospects.” (emphasis added) By this definition, the distinguishing characteristic of account-based marketing is that it entails the development of a unique marketing strategy and communications program for each target account.

Recently, some marketing consultants and software companies have been arguing for a broader view of account-based marketing. For example, SiriusDecisions has identified four varieties of ABM – large-account marketing, named-account marketing, industry-account marketing, and customer marketing. For a description of these four varieties of ABM, read this post at the SiriusDecisions blog.

Firms that advocate the broader view use the term account-based marketing to describe marketing programs that focus on a specific group of named accounts, but do not necessarily involve the implementation of a unique marketing program for each target account. While these programs are often based on solid marketing principles and can be very effective, they are not true account-based marketing, at least in the original sense of the concept. In this article, I’m using the term account-based marketing as it was defined by ITSMA.

It’s now clear that account-based marketing can be highly effective in the right circumstances, but is ABM right for your business? Your answer to this question largely depends on the attributes of your universe of existing and potential customers. True account-based marketing is typically used only for very high-value customers and prospects because it’s expensive to execute. For example:

  • ABM requires both marketing and sales personnel to be deeply involved in the development and execution of each account plan.
  • Many of the activities involved in ABM cannot be automated because they require the exercise of human judgment.
  • Account-based marketing will usually require the development of unique marketing and sales content resources for each target account.

Because of the costs associated with account-based marketing, most companies that use ABM do so selectively. The diagram below illustrates how account value and the diversity of account needs influence which approach to marketing is most appropriate.

Is Account Based Marketing Right for Your Business? image Account Based Marketing for Blog4Is Account Based Marketing Right for Your Business?

The lower left corner of the diagram represents accounts (existing customers and prospects) with relatively low value and relatively homogeneous needs. A mass marketing approach (i.e. “one size fits all”) is probably most appropriate for this group of accounts. Note, however, that this group represents a small part of the total universe of accounts.

The top portion of the diagram represents very high-value accounts. These are the types of accounts that are suitable for account based marketing, even when their needs are fairly homogeneous. In most companies, these accounts also represent a fairly small portion of the total account universe.

As the diagram illustrates, targeted marketing (which may, in fact, focus on a specific group or set of named accounts) is the most appropriate marketing approach to use for most accounts. As I’m using the term, targeted marketing refers to the use of customized marketing messages for market segments and buyer personas, but not for individual accounts. When targeted marketing is done correctly, it enables a company to obtain many of the benefits of account-based marketing at a significantly lower cost.

So what’s the bottom line? If you’re a B2B company with a few existing customers who are “too big to lose,” and/or if you can identify a small number of potential customers who would provide exceptionally high value to your company, then consider implementing account-based marketing for those selected accounts, and use targeted marketing programs for the rest.

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