Podcast: What is account-based marketing?

By Alexander Evjenth

Podcast: What is account-based marketing?

Account-based marketing, or ABM, is a fairly hot term in B2B marketing at the moment. In this episode, I find out why.

You've probably seen plenty of articles about it, or people discussing it on LinkedIn - but if you haven't tried to implement it for yourself, now could be a good time to start.

An ABM approach definitely won't work for every company, but for B2B companies that sell capital-intensive products and solutions with long sales cycles, it could be a good way to win high-value customers and build close and profitable relationships with them. 

To find out more about account-based marketing, the difficulties and possibilities it creates and how you should go about implementing it in your business, I spoke to Zooma's chief analyst and online strategist, Martin Ray. 

I hope you enjoy this episode - if you want to hear more, you can subscribe on Spotify, Soundcloud or here on the blog. That way you'll get an email when we release a new episode. 

If you want to learn more about ABM, make sure to take a look at our ABM guide - there's plenty of information and links to relevant articles that can help you on your journey.


Alexander Evjenth: [00:00:00] So, hi Martin!

Martin Ray: [00:00:02] Hi, Alexander.

AE: [00:00:04] How are you today?

MR: [00:00:06] Pretty good, thanks. How are you?

AE: [00:00:08] Yeah, I'm good. As Stellan would say if he was in the meeting, the sun is shining and I'm good. That's a recurring theme in the introduction of the podcast, we always talk about the weather. So for the listeners who don't know who you are Martin, could you quickly introduce yourself and what you do at Zooma?

MR: [00:00:33] Sure. I'm Martin Ray, I work as a digital strategist and chief analyst at Zooma, which means that I'm kind of trying to predict a little bit what's happening in the world and advising our customers how to adapt to that and also helping them to kind of set the foundation for becoming more onlinified and digitalising the way they do business.

AE: [00:00:56] Yeah, great. And in today's episode, I want to talk more about ABM, account-based marketing, which I know that you are helping companies to achieve and get started with. So first of all, could you could you describe what account-based marketing is?

MR: [00:01:19] Sure, on the highest level account-based marketing is that you are targeting specific companies with your marketing efforts. The biggest foundational thing with account-bsaed marketing is that it should be cross-functional, in the meaning that it should be a joint effort between sales, marketing and customer success teams. So compared to traditional marketing where you kind of, it's a little bit more generic in terms of you just trying to approach your customer at large, account-based marketing is much more targeted. You have a targeted list of companies that you are trying to turn into customers. So you become very much personalised in your marketing efforts towards those specific companies on that list.

AE: [00:02:03] Yeah. And have you noticed that there's an increasing interest in this area right now, or is this something that's been around for a long time?

MR: [00:02:14] Well, I mean, the concept of account-based marketing has been around since since the 90s. And if you look at it even longer than that, from a sales perspective, the idea that you have, you know, VIP customers that you treat differently or that you have A, B, C level customers from a sales perspective, that's been around for many decades. The term account-based marketing, I think, was first used in 2004 from the IT Services Marketing Association that coined the term account-based marketing. But it has been going on for a long time before that. However, to your original question, I think it's become more focused on on ABM in the last, say, five years, it's become more mainstream to a large extent. That has to do with digitalisation that as most companies in most industries become more digital in their marketing and sales efforts, they realise that they can't work really in that siloed environment anymore. Marketing is doing one thing and sales is doing something else, and it's not really connected. And that's that's why I think account-based marketing has become more of a focus and more of an interest for many companies now as sales and marketing teams started working closer together.

AE: [00:03:36] So I know that aligning marketing and sales, that that can be a challenge and a difficulty. But what are what are the common struggles that companies that want to start to try ABM face?

MR: [00:03:54] Well, I think, first of all, it's quite common that it's the siloed environment in many companies right, that marketing and sales historically haven't really interacted that much. So the first thing is just to kind of create those connections, as it were. And also there's this one of the kind of fundamental things that need to be in place is what we call a service level agreement between marketing and sales, meaning that it's clear to sales what marketing should do and it's clear to marketing what sales should do. So if if sales, for example, requires that marketing should qualify X amount of leads every week, that's what what they should be working towards. And likewise, if marketing does all the things and they provide those leads, sales needs to take care of that and nurture those leads into customers and follow up and report back to marketing. And so you need to kind of be clear on what's expected of both sides of the equation. And obviously that starts with having close connections and working as a team rather than isolated silos.

AE: [00:05:06] And sometimes it sounds a lot like, I know that our listeners know or work with inbound often and inbound marketing, what differs and does it differ anything between account-based marketing and inbound marketing, or do they match perfectly together?

MR: [00:05:33] Yes, they do match perfectly together. But if you think about inbound as the larger core marketing effort, meaning that that you are trying to get a lot of people interested in your in your offer, and typically for most companies, it means that you might be doing business both with smaller and larger companies and smaller and bigger deals. But when it comes to, let's say you have a list of 100, 200, 300 companies that are potential big customers doing big deals, it means that you can target those a little bit more. You can put more effort into trying to get those companies to become customers, because if they do, the size of those deals are worth it, basically, whereas the bread and butter might be smaller companies, you can't treat every company like that because it will cost you too much and you become too scattered all over the place. So therefore, it goes really hand-in-hand with doing both inbound and account-based marketing companies. Account-based marketing is for the big whales that you're trying, the big deals you are trying to make, whereas as inbound is really the core of everything else. So it should be utilised in both account-based marketing and inbound, the content you create, the journeys you create and so on. It's just you put a little bit more effort into those identified target accounts and it becomes a little bit more of a white-glove treatment or a VIP treatment of those types of potential customers and existing customers, where both sales and marketing put in a little bit of an extra effort, which is more targeted and personalised.

AE: [00:07:21] So it sounds a bit like if you work with inbound marketing today, the next level is to add like an ABM approach?

MR: [00:07:32] Yes. I mean, assuming that you're in a position and you're in a business where you have those types of deals, I mean, there's obviously companies and industries, that it doesn't warrant a ABM approach because the deal is never more than say, you know, a thousand euros or something per deal, it's more of a volume game, and then I would argue that that ABM doesn't fit as well. But as soon as you have some sort of business where some deals are, you know, in the hundred thousands of euros or more, if you have those type of deals then ABM certainly could be a very good tactic.

AE: [00:08:10] Yeah. So if our listeners feel like their organisation are perfectly matched to actually get started with ABM and and are interested in knowing how to do it, what would you recommend that you first start with when you want to try ABM?

MR: [00:08:31] Well, the first thing is really to have a frank and open discussion between marketing and sales, because it never works, I mean, marketing can't do ABM themselves, sales typically can't do it themselves either. So you need to have that first dialogue and discussion if it makes sense. I mean, if sales work like that today, if they have those target lists, if they don't, you need to start kind of defining your ICP or ideal customer profile. What is it? What type of companies are we looking for? Do they lend themselves that type of profile to actually do those deals? It makse sense that we identify X number of companies that we try to approach with this concept. And that should be really the starting point, because if you don't, then it doesn't make sense to just focus on inbound and other efforts.

AE: [00:09:33] And who is the, is there any specific person that should lead an ABM initiative, is it marketing, is it sales?

MR: [00:09:42] I mean, it differs a little bit between different companies. Both sides and both examples exist, and sometimes it's led by marketing and sometimes by sales. But the point is that you really need to have it as a joint effort. And the starting point, obviously, is I don't think that marketing should ever do something that sales isn't interested in. So, again, you need to have it that sales say, "yes, this is something that would help us do business." And once you've done that, I mean, you can have it led from sales or marketing, really. It's just different sides of the equation.

AE: [00:10:19] So how do you select what accounts to start targeting in your approach?

MR: [00:10:27] Yeah, yeah, a good question. I mean, it's back to this what I talked about, the ICP, the ideal customer that you need to be having a good idea of what type of accounts or companies fit your organization, fit your offer, what it is you are offering through the market. So once you have that, you start looking at it from a different perspective. I mean, you can do it geographically, you can do it by size of companies, you can do it, you know, they need to be within this industry or be of this size, have this turnover, have these number of employees. It kind of depends on what it is you're selling. But again, typically it's a little bit the size of the company, it's that a very small company can make those big deals that warrant a pure kind of like white-glove, fully fledged ABM approach, because it does require more investment from your company, both time and resources and money, basically. So it needs to at the end of that process, needs to be a little bit bigger deals, otherwise you won't get a return on investment.

AE: [00:11:39] So as a content creator I often create content based on personas, when we do inbound marketing, you create content based on the personas' needs. Now if I were about to create content based on ABM, how detailed are the personas? Can I generalise, for example, that a role is equal to a general need, like the CFO is always interested in the return on investment and so on? Or do you need to create content that targets a specific person's individual needs at the account?

MR: [00:12:28] I mean, to some degree it's depending on the on the level of effort. I mean, you can go all the way to be extremely personalised and identify the exact person and treat them with their interests and so on. And obviously that requires much more effort, and that might be warranted in some cases where, again, it's such a potential big deal that that's what you should be doing. Now, somewhere a bit lower than that, I mean, you can do what you suggest that you look at it more from a, I'm trying to identify the decision-making unit within these companies and that typically entails different roles, so there might be a CEO perspective, which is more maybe about customer experience and customer success, there might be a CFO, as you suggest, is more interested in return on investment and the financial aspects and so on, so you can to some degree generalise that. But it really depends on the effort you're putting in. I mean, how personalised you get is is down to what is the potential investment? I mean, if you're talking about a billion euro deal, obviously you can put in very much more effort in trying to be extremely personalised. Whereas if you somewhere more in between, where it's still big deals, but you try to get scalability, it's more about do we come from all these different points of view that typically exist in most companies? Maybe the financial view, you have the organisational view, you have the how to do things more, the doer side of things, you have the customer experience and so on, and trying to do more, think about evolving your inbound content to fit all those different perspectives.

AE: [00:14:15] Yeah. So I know that you recently took part in webinars about ABM and so on. Do you have any learnings or anything you want to share about ABM?

MR: [00:14:29] Well, there is, I mean, it's we talked about a little bit in the beginning, but it's been around for a long time, it increased notability in the last four or five years. But it's still, you look at some of the research, something came out from Forrester quite recently, it's only about 15 percent of companies that really feel they're on top of this whole account-based marketing thing. So it's really now where companies start doing it. So it's certainly not too late to get into that game. Most companies are still kind of playing around and developing it. The other thing I would say is that it is still very different for different companies, how they approach it, where they find the problems are, companies see the biggest problem to get this alignment between sales and marketing, other companies that start doing it is more focused on trying to get their target list or the ideal customer profile strikes and so on. So it depends a little bit on your background and how you work the story. But it's never too late to get going, as it were. And it's still early days and it's still developing. And I think for companies that are considering this that now it's the time to start doing it.

AE: [00:15:47] Great. Thank you very much for taking part and sharing your knowledge about ABM today.

MR: [00:15:53] Thank you very much.

Alexander Evjenth
Alexander is a content creator who has a great interest in learning new things. What he enjoys even more is creating knowledge content.
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