What is ABM: the Ultimate Guide

Unless you’ve been planning your marketing strategy under a rock for the last couple of years, you’ve probably encountered the term “account-based marketing,” or ABM. But what is it really, and how can it work for your business?

We’ve put together a comprehensive ABM guide, to give you a solid foundation in understanding, using and succeeding with account-based marketing.

Included in the guide:

  1. What is ABM?
  2. How Account-based Marketing Can Shape Your Business
  3. Step-by-step: How Do You Actually Go About Doing ABM
  4. Ask Yourself These 4 Questions Before You Start
  5. Where To Start
  6. How To Build A Targeted ABM Campaign Using Data

1. What is ABM?

Account-based marketing is a direct marketing technique that focuses on marketing your products or services to certain identified clients using unique data to create targeted, tailored con tent to engage and nurture those clients.

That may seem like a mouthful, but let’s break it down:

Direct Marketing

Direct marketing allows you to communicate directly with your customers, or potential customers, rather than through generalized advertising. For example, instead of placing an advertisement in a banner, you send a group of people with similar demographics an informative email. In the case of ABM, you will be marketing directly to specific clients who you have identified as vital to your business’ growth and success.

Identified Clients

If your customer base consists out of several repeat customers, such as, say, ten or fifteen corporate companies, you would identify some or all of these clients as priority clients. If your customer base, on the other hand, is very generalized and consists of hundreds of thousands of people, you might need to look at different techniques. ABM really only works if you have a small, but lucrative, customer base that you can focus a lot of attention on, or if you select a few key clients to use the technique on.

Unique Data

ABM only works if you have clear information about your identified clients. You need to know as much as possible about them, such as financial information – what kind of turnover they have, how they bill their clients, etc; demographic information—who their customers are, where they are located, what kind of industry they are in, what’s happening in their specific industry; people information—how many staff they employ, what the occupational makeup of those staff is, what kinds of staffing issues they may have dealt with…the list goes on. Having a good DaaS platform will help you gather all this information, collate it and keep it up to date.

Targeted, Tailored Content

For effective ABM, you need to create content that speaks to that specific client. It’s not enough to create content that speaks to generalized pain points, market needs and so on – you need to address specific needs that each client has, and prove that the content you have generated is tailored for them. For example, you’ll need to speak about recent events that they have been involved in, discuss ways to solve specific problems they are experiencing, and also simply keep in touch on a personalized level.


Client engagement hinges on getting them interested in what you have to say. It isn’t all about the hard sell, either – ABM is a long-term, ongoing customer maintenance plan and trying the hard sell every time you communicate will only irritate them. Eighty to ninety percent of the content you generate needs to be interesting, informative, relevant and useful without pushing sales. That may seem like a lot, but trust us, the quick and easy hard sell is rapidly on its way out, while long-term nurturing is in.


Speaking of nurturing, gone are the days where every client communication had to end in a sale. Nowadays, sales and marketing are more about building solid, long-term customer relationships that lead to loyalty and ongoing business, than about selling fast and selling often. You are more likely to gain customer trust and loyalty if you spend time giving them what they need. This technique allows you to be at the forefront of their minds so that, when they need your services, they will automatically think of you and send the business your way.

2. How Account Based Marketing Can Shape Your Business

There’s no denying it, Account-based Marketing is one of the most powerful tools you can use to encourage engagement with your business, generate revenue and nurture long-term client relationships. But what else can ABM do for you? For starters, it can teach the rest of your business a thing or two about customer engagement.

B2B marketing is increasingly becoming about one-on-one, account-specific marketing, which creates a unique opportunity for your business to get to know every client—or at least those who have been targeted for ABM—on a micro-level. The beauty of understanding your clients so intimately is that it opens up opportunities to create additional account-based engagement in different areas of the business. This is the world of Account-based Everything.

Account-Based Sales

Your company’s sales team will probably argue that their sales have always been customer-centric, but if there’s one thing ABM shows, it’s that there’s always an opportunity to delve deeper into client specifics.

While ABM targets the company as a whole, addressing certain issues, needs and content supply, Account-based Sales allows for wider penetration, especially in larger companies with several departments. By focusing on developing relationships and getting to know individual departments and responsible parties, you can fine-tune your sales strategies and tailor them to an individual level.

Account-Based Outcomes

Selling your product or service is the ultimate goal, right? Well, yes and no. Of course you want to make sales, but ideally, you want to build long-term relationships that lead to ongoing and repeat business. In Account-based Outcomes terms, that means monitoring the results of any sale you’ve made and gauging whether there’s more you can do for this client.

That boils down to knowing how your product or service has positively (or negatively) impacted the client’s business, what issues it has solved or caused, and how to correct any problems or build on any successes. Once again, this involves relationship-building – usually with a whole different set of people. By zooming in on the outcomes of any services provided, you will be better positioned to provide unique after-sales service.

Account-Based Customer Service

Ongoing customer service is absolutely vital to any organization—this is not news. However, most customer service tends towards generic, company policy-based servicing, with a wide range of customers getting similar answers to queries. But if they’re getting such unique marketing, sales and cross-selling, why are they getting the same customer service?

By tailoring your customer service to every targeted client, you demonstrate an understanding of their unique needs. This not only gives you a positive reputation as a company that cares for its clients but also helps you ensure you have a constant, steady stream of up-to-date information that you can rely on to feed back to the other links in your chain.

Which brings us to the importance of:

Cross-Departmental Organizing

Traditionally, your marketing, sales, after-sales, technical, billing and customer-service teams operate independently, with only essential information passing between them. When you adopt an account-based approach to your business, you realize there’s a different way to do things that proves more efficient and effective—Account-based Organizing.

Rather than creating divisions that focus on single tasks, consider the benefit of creating units that focus on accounts—a team comprising marketing, sales, customer service, accounts and other members of staff, who focus on getting to know certain groups of clients and servicing them from end to end.

The benefits of adopting an Account-based Everything approach are astonishing Better sales figures, improved customer engagement, longer-term relationships and repeat business become the norm, rather than the exception, for businesses adopting this approach.

3. Step-by-step: How Do You Actually Go About Doing ABM?

Now you know what ABM is and how it can help your company. But how do you actually go about doing it? What are the most important steps to take to get your ABM going and making it work for you?

Step 1: Client Identification

Unless you only have a small number of clients and want to apply ABM to all of them, it’s wise to choose the clients who you want to focus on. Generally, these will be the clients from which you can expect to generate the most income, goodwill and market exposure. Get your sales and marketing research teams together to identify the right companies to target. A good DaaS system will be of incredible help in this step, as it will include significant information about the company’s size, annual turnover and specific people to target.

Step 2: Do Your Research

Once you’ve identified the clients, it’s time to get to know them, inside and out. You’re going to need everything from company stats and figures to softer information like their brand identity. Make sure your research is thorough at this stage, as ABM relies on direct, personalized, targeted marketing that takes their personality as well as their financial well-being into account. Understand the company’s culture, values and market presence. This is also a good time to identify any specific issues they have that you can help with.

Step 3: Plan Your Strategy

Now that you have a thorough understanding of your client, it is time to plan the campaign strategy. When you start this, it is vital to remember that you need to plan a separate, discrete campaign for each client in your ABM list, otherwise you’re not doing ABM, but general marketing. Identify which marketing channels will work best, the frequency of contact and how the campaign will develop. Be very clear on what you want to achieve with the campaign, whether it’s sales generation, brand awareness or introducing a new product or service, or anything else.

Step 4: Start Generating Content

Whether you’re creating emails, handwritten letters brochures, social media, blogs, whatever, now is the time to create it. Keep it as focused as possible on the targets you’re trying to achieve with each client company. Make sure each piece of content links to their identified demographics, brand personality or whatever else you uncovered during your research. Don’t skimp on content, either. The most important word to remember while creating the content is “consistency.” Make sure the campaign carries a consistent, strong message and that there are no conflicting messages in different elements.

Step 5: Coordinate the Campaign

Once your content is ready and you have a distribution channel plan in place, it’s time to get the content sent out. Spend some time making sure you are sending the right content to the right people within an organization and again, that the messaging is consistent. As tempting as it may be, don’t bombard anyone with information overload; take our time and make the campaign interesting, engaging and timely.

Step 6: Measuring Results

Naturally, you want to be sure the time, money and effort put into a campaign is worth it, so make sure you have adequate systems in place to measure your results. Results will differ based on your campaign goals, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. If your aim was to generate sales, then you need to see a percentage increase, whereas brand awareness is a little more tricky to measure, but is measurable nonetheless.

Step 7: Ongoing Nurturing

Account-based Marketing is a long-term commitment and will require ongoing customer nurturing. While you can certainly do periodic campaign bursts with ABM, you need to maintain the relationship in-between those campaigns, otherwise, you run the risk of coming across as flighty or uninterested in customer welfare. Nurturing doesn’t need to be nearly as intensive as campaigns, but it does need to be just as targeted and carefully considered, using the research you gathered back in step 2. Sales generation should also never be the focus of nurturing; rather, this phase must be about relationship building and continued brand awareness—you can always save the sales generating for the periodic campaigns.

4. Ask Yourself These 4 Questions Before You Start

When it comes to most of the marketing trends, there are some instances in which it will work for you, and some where it won’t. Nowhere is this more true at the moment than account-based marketing. It’s the hottest new trend, even though it’s really a revitalization of one of the oldest marketing techniques in the book, but does it make sense for your business? Ask yourself these questions to establish whether you need to start upping your ABM game.

Question 1: How Many Clients Do You Have?

Broadly speaking, if your company has hundreds, or even thousands of customers, it’s pretty safe to say ABM is not your best option. Account-based marketing is at its best when you can dedicate the time and energy to it, and once you move beyond a few tens of clients, it can easily become unmanageable. Yes, there are exceptions, but we’ll come to that.

Account-based marketing requires a significant amount of personalized, one-on-one, focused attention and content generation. Every individual client needs to be marketed to uniquely, based on their specific industry, personality, culture, needs, location… you get the idea. Therefore if, for example, you are a nationwide supermarket chain, there is simply no way you can individually tailor your marketing to every single potential customer who may come and shop at your store. However, if you only have five or ten major corporations as customers, you can much more easily and effectively tailor your marketing.

Exceptions: If you have several hundreds or thousands of clients, you could apply ABM to a select few, and general marketing to the rest.

Question 2: Do You Have Enough Client Information or the Resources to Get It?

This is a tricky one. Account-based marketing is useless without up-to-date, accurate and usable data and if you don’t have any means of getting this information and keeping it updated, your marketing plans will fall short. If you’re considering venturing into ABM, you will need a good data servicing platform at a minimum, as well as dedicated staff that can perform the necessary research to provide the information needed to fine-tune your individualized marketing strategies.

Question 3: Do You Have the Content-Generating Power?

Account-based marketing hinges on generating fantastic content. You will need to send out regular emails, write or contribute to articles of interest and create various marketing materials that apply to your clients. Beyond creating content, you will also need to respond to their social media appropriately or link them to external content that may be relevant to them. Just remember one thing – you will need to generate all this content for each client. Even if there is some overlap, each email, post, message or even birthday greeting will need to be uniquely generated for each client. ABM is labor-intensive and there are no shortcuts to creating content.

To do this, you will either need dedicated in-house personnel to manage this, or you will need to engage an agency, or hire freelance content specialists to handle the work on your behalf. Any of those three options is completely viable and it’s up to you to choose which works best for you. If, however, you cannot manage any of those options, then ABM may not be the best choice for you.

Question 4: Are You Willing to Invest in Nurturing?

Account-based marketing is, at its heart, not about making hard sales. It is about customer nurturing, about creating, building and sustaining relationships that last and about encouraging customer loyalty. If your only interest is hard sales, then ABM is not for you. On this point, however, I would caution you to think long and hard about your priorities. While going in for the hard sell has traditionally been a method that’s worked, things are changing. Customers simply aren’t content any longer with seeing a sales rep once a month, placing an order and never hearing from you outside of this sale.

Gone are the days where a customer will keep coming back to you because you’re the only option. Global access to products and services has become so easy that you can’t rely purely on geography and exclusivity to keep your customers coming back for more. The primary differentiator for any business needs must be the kind of client service it offers, and spending the time, money and effort involved in nurturing client relationships often makes the difference when it comes to attracting and retaining clients.

Account-based marketing is not a quick fix, is not a simple application of scheduling software—although that does help—and is not something you do intermittently. ABM requires constant, attentive relationship building and should only be entered into if you are willing and able to dedicate the necessary resources to it. If you do go ahead and take the plunge into ABM, though, you will find that it’s one of the best moves you can make to build strong foundations for sustainable, ongoing business for your company.

5. Where To Start

OK, we’ve been chatting about what account-based marketing is, how to use ABM and when to use it to maximize your marketing to a select client base. The beauty of ABM is that you can use it to cross-sell, upsell, and promote add-on services and products to customers who are already using your primary products or services.

Whatever your ABM strategy turns out to be, all account-based marketing starts with having an accurate database that has details of who the clients are you want to target, and what products and services they are currently using. This is all pretty straightforward stuff, and a dataset that includes this information is what’s generally known as your installed base – in other words, who is actively using your products and services right now?

What are the benefits of marketing to an installed base?

Making More Sales

The first, quite obvious, benefit of engaging in targeted marketing to your installed base is, as mentioned above, the ability to sell additional, complementary and upgraded products or services that enhance their user experience or provide them with solutions to immediate, medium-term and long-term needs.

A Better View of Your Market Presence

Your financial director will tell you it’s all about owning a maximum market share, and yes, in some ways, that is important. However, market share isn’t the only metric by which you should measure your success. Owning the majority of the market, but having customers who are not happy, doesn’t help much, as these can easily be poached. Having access to your installed base’s data will give you a good idea of where you are succeeding, and where competitors are making inroads.

And that brings us to another, very important aspect of installed base datasets. With the right information, you will also know who is using which of your competitors’ products and services, allowing you to plan targeted, account-based marketing campaigns to convince them why your product or service is better, or at the very least complementary to theirs.

Sound a bit sneaky? Here are the simple facts: Knowing what your competitors are doing is absolutely vital to the survival and success of any business. Ever since humans started trading in even the most basic forms, we have needed to know who is offering a better, cheaper or more easily accessible product or service than we are and, for the last couple of centuries, we’ve done this by hiring people to do our investigations for us.

6. How To Build A Targeted ABM Campaign Using Data

Once you have active access to our data, you can search for and specify install base information for companies you are interested in targeting. Starting there, you can find out what products and services they currently use that are similar to yours – or if, in fact, they already have some of your products and services in use.

From there, you can begin to create a solid, workable ABM campaign that targets their specific needs, offer to upsell or cross-sell opportunities and begin nurturing a relationship with them to help you generate future business.

The most important thing to remember about account-based marketing campaigns is that they need to specifically address the company’s needs, any shortcomings in their existing product or service suite, and also focus on relationship-building.

Ready to Get Started?

Try DemandScience today or request a demo to find out how our ABM functionality can help your business. You will get immediate access to millions of complete business contacts with validated email addresses to build your next account-based marketing campaign.‍