Back to basics

Wednesday 21 January 2015 by Megan Kettle

Why do brands market themselves?

That might sound an obvious question, but it’s easy to lose sight of the true value in marketing: long term, two-way communication that nurtures a brand's relationships and grows them, whether they're with customers, partners or suppliers. That’s why the increasing use of account-based marketing (ABM) is so refreshing.

ABM isn’t a new concept. But it’s now playing a crucial role in the B2B marketing mix. It’s about recognising clients that hold real value and creating an ongoing dialogue, with the aim of providing tailored and relevant experiences. It also enables marketers to show clients how valuable their business is by ensuring they only receive relevant experiences. Clients are more likely to spend money if they trust that their business is appreciated and important.

The shift to more personalised marketing occurred in the B2C sphere long ago. B2B marketers have also been active in creating targeted messaging – and the continuing evolution of technology and availability of granular data has accelerated the move away from campaigns focused around a specific product, channel or industry and towards tailoring hyper-personalised holistic campaigns to key clients.

Now, more than 85% of B2B marketers are utilising ABM, according to recent research. More than half of businesses say that they are more focused on their ABM strategy than they were a year ago. The fact that 49% of respondents said they had less than two years' experience in ABM underlines its growing importance – but also suggests there’s still a way to go.

Building business

As well as the benefits for clients (regular, personalised communications that not only advertise a brand’s services, but provide tangible business value through a deep understanding of their industry), ABM enables marketers to view a key account inclusively and identify opportunities to create new business. There’s always a risk that clients can pigeonhole companies as providing just one product, service or solution, but by focusing fully on accounts and gaining that level of intelligence, marketers have the opportunity to promote new and relevant offerings to that client over time.

Sales teams and lead development reps can support marketers in identifying areas where a client is in the market for particular products and services but is currently unaware that they can be bought from the same supplier.

Planning ahead

By obtaining a more comprehensive understanding of a client’s business, marketers can become proactive rather than reactive. Usually businesses would identify a general challenge within a client’s industry and use a campaign to showcase what it can do to help that, but ABM enables marketers to pre-emptively focus on specific problems – or indeed opportunities – at precisely the point the client is identifying the need for help.

A great example of a business pinpointing specific client challenges is professional services firm Ernst & Young (EY). The company’s “5” series provides industry insights to key decision makers across a number of industries including finance, marketing, IT and security, identifying potential issues and how they can avoid any possible pitfalls. The corporation says that the series has boosted its pipeline and even took one key account that was displaying flat growth and drove it to 125% of its target.

Nurturing leads

Continuing collaboration between sales and marketing teams is a key feature of a successful ABM campaign. It also makes ABM equally valuable as a lead generation method as it is a long-term marketing tool. By working closely with the sales team, marketers can soak up the relevant skills they possess – like segmenting audiences. Marketers can divide prospects by accounts and by gathering information about that account they can make an immediate impact when approaching prospects for the first time.

All about the data

It’s the unprecedented amount of data now readily available to businesses that’s allowing ABM to really come into its own. By structuring and interpreting that data in the right way, companies can create highly effective ABM tools. For example, BT Global, a division of British Telecom, built a proprietary search platform designed to provide information on all its key accounts, their decision makers and their industries, giving BT a holistic view of its most important clients and enabling the company to market to them efficiently.


For all its positives, ABM does present challenges. Successful ABM campaigns require an extensive investment – of money and time. Creating dedicated teams to service accounts for prolonged periods of time means that typically only the highest value clients can be catered for in this way. Marketers must take the time to identify which accounts to focus on, while ensuring that other clients also receive due attention.

It’s not just sell, sell, sell. Yes, working closely with sales teams and identifying those in buying positions within accounts is important when marketing to prospects. But the real value in ABM is the continuing relationship between the marketing team and the client, which matures and continues to provide two-way value over time. I see it as less of an evolution in marketing and more of a way of refocusing on the fundamentals of the profession.

Megan has left The Frameworks.


  • Marketing
  • Strategy
  • Business
  • Analytics
  • Client relations
  • Account-based marketing