Account-based marketing (ABM) is a buzzword. Admit it. But are real companies thinking as much about their ABM strategy as the thought leaders, social influencers and vendors who are making all the noise?


ABM provides a strategy for B2B companies who want to grow revenue by focusing on the best-fit prospects. The key metric shifts from the traditional lead generation to real revenue. And, it takes into account that most B2B buying decisions aren’t made by a single person, but rather a collective group within a company. If you’re only looking at one person, you’re totally missing half the picture.

Not to mention, ABM helps get your sales and marketing on the same page, which staves off lost productivity and lost opportunities, according to MarketingProfs. They found organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing functions experience 36% higher customer retention rates and 38% higher sales win rates.

Around 90% of marketers see the value in ABM, according to a study from Sirius Decisions, but only 20% of companies have a full ABM program in place. The gap is mostly due to a lack of knowledge and total misunderstandings.

Here are seven misunderstandings and total myths about your ABM strategy blown out of the water:

Myth one: Account-based marketing is totally new

Actually, it’s not.

In its purest form, ABM has been around forever. History’s most predominate agencies, like Ogilvy & Mather, Leo Burnett and Young & Rubicam, have depended on an ABM strategy to close their whales for decades.

In the 60s, courting and keeping big accounts was a delicate affair. Copywriters, art directors, designers and account executives huddled to map out key stakeholders for each account. Personalized proposals were painstakingly crafted over several days—or even weeks. Then campaigns were run against targeted lists for each account.

There was no sophistication. Everything was done by feel, without any guarantee that accounts would stay loyal. Everything depended on keeping the accounts extremely happy.

Today, advertising has given way to marketing, but it’s the same old game. While it’s easier than ever to attract and close one-off clients, our whale accounts are still our lifeblood. And so we make sure they feel special using targeted content, tailored campaigns and focused outreach.

To paraphrase our friend Matt Heinz, ABM is shifting from fishing with nets to fishing with spears. We’re doing what we’re already doing, but more efficiently. ABM is tagging the prospects you want to do business with and marketing very precisely and narrowly to them, directly.

“I think we have a renewed interest in ABM now, because there’s an advancement in tools and technology that make it a little easier to execute,” Matt said. “But the idea of doing target account selling and target account marketing is not new.”

Myth two: I can’t focus on an inbound and ABM strategy

The modern B2B marketing-sphere makes it almost impossible to not take an account-based mindset. But what hurts marketers most is this antiquated philosophy of inbound versus outbound and the idea that somehow ABM is only an outbound strategy to go “fishing with spears.”

And yeah, the outbound piece is a huge aspect of ABM, but if we ignore inbound marketing, we’re missing at least half the value of our ABM strategy.

It’s not an “either/or” situation.

Most inbound marketing tactics will likewise apply to your ABM strategy. That means they can run in tandem (and they should). While ABM tends to be highly personalized and targeted several of the same content or offers will also attract potential customers to come to you.

Try reverse-engineering your content. Create pieces based on what your accounts are saying to your sales team on the phone. What you hear in the ABM strategy guides your content and inbound strategy. And then, that will reinforce and tighten the circle for reps to pursue their targeted accounts. The two strategies tend to work together holistically.

Myth three: ABM is too hard

Any effective lead generation strategy faces challenges when a company grows. ABM is no different. It’s hard! But marketing is hard.

ABM focuses company efforts but, even so, we’re still struggling with the challenge of gaining—and maintaining—insight on their buyers at scale. The more contacts you accrue, the harder it becomes to focus on targeting the right leads or even figuring out who they are to begin with.

At first, it’s completely realistic to manually keep tabs on a small pool of contacts. And the information you don’t know about them can, in large part, be gleaned by scouring the web.

But have you ever tried Facebook stalking a mid-market business’ entire database?

In the past, there have been two things that have kept ABM from catching on. First, the widely-accepted notion that ABM is only something you do for really big accounts, where you have plenty of resources to work with. Treating each account as a completely custom go-to-market activity is expensive and it’s hard to scale.

The second thing that makes people think ABM is too hard is that the technologies and systems marketers are using haven’t supported it. Marketers have been dealing with this infrastructure problem that made it too hard to align platforms.

But over the last few years, technology has improved to the point where some of those limitations have been eliminated. People are realizing there are different approaches to ABM that apply more broadly and can serve several companies and use cases.

Myth 4: ABM is the end-all be-all and it’ll solve all our marketing woes

It’s marketing, not magic.

ABM does have the potential to magnify pretty much any strategic issues your company faces. And 97% of marketers say ABM proves a higher ROI than any other marketing activity, according to the Alterra Group. But it’s not the only solution.

Let your ABM strategy work as a bridge with your inbound and outbound tactics. ABM is not interruption marketing. It uses the principles of inbound—offering something of value and creating an incentive to buy—but focuses them through outbound methods tailored to individual accounts.

Your success in ABM is more controlled than inbound marketing, because it’s so highly targeted. Because of the intense focus, you’re not going to see the “out-of-the-blue” wins that you’d get with inbound. Instead, your success is entirely dependent on how well you researched, tracked, connected and engaged with a very specific target.

Myth 5: ABM only applies to your marketing department

ABM is so smart, but the thing I hate about it is that it’s account-based marketing. It gives off the illusion that it’s for marketing, when, in reality, it requires the alignment of marketing and sales. By excluding sales, there’s a danger that they, and other departments, may be out of sight, out of mind.

Interdepartmental alignment is crucial to the success of an account-based strategy. The term “account-based everything” has gained some traction to stifle the one-sided marketing vantage. But not enough to surpass the buzzworthy status of ABM (ABE just doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it, does it?). Even still, the idea of account-based everything—marketing, sales, customer success, product and the like—offers a practical lens on the needs for an effective ABM strategy

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. The goal is to establish priorities for leaders who are allocating resources and designing account-based workflows.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.


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