5 steps to get account-based marketing right

20 May 2019
By: Robert Norum
Associate director
B2B Marketing trainer

Robert Norum, B2B Marketing trainer and associate director at McDonald Butler believes ABM is the hottest three-letter acronym in B2B marketing at the moment. During B2B Marketing’s InTech 2018 conference, he explained ABM’s popularity and how you can leverage it to make your business successful. Molly Raycraft reveals all.

In an ideal world, all companies would focus on the most valuable form of ABM which is 1:1 – individual one-to-one engagement to key customers or prospects – as this is likely to generate the best results. But at the same time Robert is a realist. “Unless you’re a very big organisation with significant resources and a very big budget, you’re probably not going to do more than 10 one-to-one accounts per year. You might want to focus on fewer, and you certainly might want to do some pilots before you scale,” he says.

Funnelling resources into one account over a lengthy period of time – usually anywhere from around 12-18 months – can be a challenge when the sales organisation is focussed on quarterly numbers. But Robert notes this can be resolved by adjusting KPIs as well as attitudes when starting out. “It’s not necessarily going to work in terms of hitting quarterly sales targets. It needs to be something that the sales team and the organisation sign up to and understand that this is probably going to be a 12 month programme,” he explains. “Set KPIs that everyone signs up to, starting with the business goals. For example, say what kind of revenue you’re expecting to see from an account or industry.”

The prospect of using ABM to increase share of wallet in both existing and new clients gives marketing a key role in the sales process. “ABM really does give marketing the opportunity to sit at the top table. You’re helping to shape the entire process from account selection to sales and marketing strategy,” Robert explains.

Here Robert gives his five key pieces of advice for those wanting to adopt ABM for the first time. To help you even further, we’ve paired Robert’s advice with B2B Marketing’s ABM Maturity Model, a key resource to help ABMers map their progress and determine their next steps.


  1. Plan for the long haul

“Don’t start ABM by accident,” Robert says. Of course account-based marketing is a long-term commitment, demonstrated in our model’s five key stages.  If you want to migrate from stage 1 (ABM aware) of B2B Marketing’s ABM Maturity Model to stage 5 (Advanced ABM) you need to allocate the right resource and plenty of dedication. Fail to plan for the long haul and you’ll begin to make it up as you go along. “Start by scoping out your ABM programme with all the key stakeholders that you want on board, that could be head of sales, head of marketing, anybody who’s going to help you get this thing off the ground in the first year,” Robert explains.  He believes the main programme objectives you should consider are:

  • Which ABM model you’re going to use (one to one, one to few or one to many).
  • How you’re going to choose the right accounts.
  • How you’re going to define the success criteria.
  1. Account insight is critical

As your programme edges towards stage 3 (early-stage ABM), you should be identifying and building a strong portfolio of key prospects, complete with contact details. “You need an in-depth account profile and to understand the organisation, its financial drivers, strategic drivers and  it’s IT landscape (if you’re an IT business) . You’ll need to look at all the key people in the organisation and find out what they’re saying,” says Robert. “You want to create opportunity analysis that says ‘based on this company and its needs, we have these products or services we’ll market to them.”

  1. Get to know relationship structures

The premise of ABM is that you’re creating a closer and more personal relationship between your business and the client you’re prospecting. But there’s no point funnelling all your resources into someone who has absolutely no influence in the decision-making process. It’s important to pinpoint your in-roads. This is an exercise you should perform with the sales team, Robert says. “You need to look at the stakeholders and work out who you know, who you don’t know, what kind of relationship you have, who you need to get in front of and why,” he explains.

  1. Decide where the lucrative opportunities lie

Communication is imperative and once you’ve accumulated your in-depth account research, you’ll need to discuss with the team and decipher where to target in order to strike gold. “You should map opportunities based on what they’re trying to achieve with their account client. From there you can create an EMEA marketing programme.” This phase of your efforts will take you to stage 4 of the ABM Maturity Model (Adept ABM) at which point you should begin to see the process in full swing.

  1. Create your messaging with sales

There’s sometimes a conflict between sales and marketing regarding which team know best when it comes to talking to the customer. Sales should be involved when determining content and messaging. “You need a sales leader in the room co-creating that messaging with you,” he says. “This isn’t marketing coming back to sales and saying look ‘what we’ve created’; this is actually sales and marketing co-creating a go-to market plan. You need to decide how the message should be based around the strategy (ABM),” Robert explains. There’s a huge reliance on content in account-based marketing, landing quality content from the start will help secure your trajectory towards stage 5 (advanced ABM) of The ABM Maturity Model.


But one-to-one requires too large a budget for some. What then?

Companies without a large budget may feel it’s just not feasible to invest in ABM on a single account for a year or more before seeing returns, but long sales cycles shouldn’t stop you taking an ABM approach. Blending ABM strategies to produce a uniquely fitted solution can solve your budget challenge.“A company may have 260 accounts,” Robert begins. “10 of those account might be one-to-one. You could take another 50 accounts across five verticals for a one-to-few programme. But the problem here is that you’ve still got another 200 accounts that need to have a relationship with.”

This is the opportunity to create a one to many programme with relevant content, but obviously less tailored content in one-to-one and one-to-few ABM. As Robert suggests this doesn’t have to be anything too intricate. “This could be a LinkedIn campaign, where you’re serving tailored content to a number of vertical markets across those 200 organisations.

Although a blended approach may seem to stray slightly from the original roots of ABM, Robert believes this Cinderella fit – a uniquely perfect size of ABM for your business – is the most sensible approach. “It allows you to have a structure for your ABM programme, where you can be inclusive rather than exclusive, and it means rather than starting with a pilot of half a dozen one-to-one accounts and keeping six sales people happy, it engages the whole organisation in a connected ABM strategy.”


How about trying to fund your ABM with someone else?

Conducting an account-based marketing programme in conjunction with another business may seem like an unusual idea but according to Robert the concept of ‘partner-based ABM’ is building real momentum and has significant potential. “It might be you’re a technology vendor and you know Accenture, KPMG and Capgemini have the keys to the castle, in terms of accounts,” he explained. “You may need to start by getting their attention by creating some bespoke messaging for them – so effectively doing ABM into the partner company.”

Assuming this first phase of partner ABM works, this could see you working in collaboration with a leading brand in your market to conduct co-branded ABM to target prospects and customers. “Now you’re not only benefitting from their brand, their relationships and their knowledge of the sector but you’re potentially co-funding the activity effectively  doubling your budget.”

Want to learn from Robert in person? Then you’re in luck as Robert will be taking a full day of ABM training on 8 July (the day before Ignite 2019). Turn the Ignite 2019 conference into two days of learning with a 2-day pass.