An Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Guide for B2B Marketers

ABM for pharma

"Account-based marketing" has recently increased in popularity within the B2B marketing world. But it is far from a new concept.

It’s possibly one of the oldest forms of B2B marketing, if not the oldest and there’s a good reason that it’s still around, gaining more and more momentum.


Account-based marketing (ABM), commonly referred to as relationship marketing and key account marketing, is a strategic approach to identifying, marketing to and building relationships with a target prospect or organisation.

It flips the common marketing and sales approach from attracting prospects and qualifying the most suited, to actively targeting the most suited prospects from the outset. Using common sales approaches for perusing target customers, via non-sales methods.

An account-based marketing strategy will treat a target organisation as a market, with the stakeholders (staff) within that organisation as its potential clients, whom marketers will seek to befriend.

It is present and highly relevant for B2B pharmaceutical, life sciences and technology marketers, business development and commercial professionals at enterprise level where often the only differentiator between suppliers are relationships. It also works within our industries as there are often multiple decision-makers during any purchasing process.


Account-based marketing brings with it a number of complexities simply because it is a process that can take time to see results, involving a number of people and channels. But the benefits far outweigh these concerns:

  • Ability to build relationships with target audiences before they enter a sales cycle, improving the probability of a sale.

  • Marketing activities are focused on specific prospects that eliminate waste and improves overall ROI.

  • Content is highly targeted and relevant.

  • Closer alignment between marketing, sales, accounts and service teams for frictionless processes.

  • Accounts usually last for the long-term and repeat purchasing is common.

  • A universal goal is developed for all commercial efforts as a whole.


Here is the most common approach to developing and launching an ABM programme, taking into account a number of variables and simplifying them into a linear process.


The first step with any ABM strategy is to identify the prospects which are your ideal clients. This is a collaborative effort between your client-facing teams, and you are looking to identify suitable clients based on size, revenue, needs, amongst other factors which are determined by your target audience. Organisations similar to your current clients are a good start, along with those who are most likely to convert based on their suitability to your product.


Once the suitable organisation has been identified – that should now be treated as individual markets in their own right – its important to dig deeper into that organisation with the aim of understanding its internal components, where there might be a gap for your products and services and how that organisation goes about its procurement. Just like any market you strive to access, you need to fully understand it and the factors at play within to be able to influence those within it.


Next, is to develop a list of people you want to speak to. Within a traditional sense, look at these people as the target companies within the market (that is the organisation). Team structure, and specifically, who operates within each job title and what are their roles and responsibilities are and what channels they use. These are the recipients of your marketing efforts and will need to be segmented for marketing communications to be relevant.


As with any marketing campaign, establishing objectives early is critical to the performance of the ABM programme. Marketing and sales KPIs will need to be set to measure progress on engagement, opportunities and meetings etc. This focus is important so that the ABM programme (or any marketing campaign) can prioritise its activities, aligning them with the business objectives. Ensure that the objectives you set follow the SMART methodology.


Once the objectives are set, a strategy to ensure those objectives are achieved is required – this is usually in the form of an overview of the approach to the ABM programme. Again, this will involve all client-facing teams as you develop a plan of how to get where you want to go. The Ansoff Matrix might be a good place to start when defining an ABM strategy, keeping in mind that the market is the organisation which you are targeting.


Similarly, once the strategic elements are decided upon, a number of tactics need to be developed that will make the strategy happen. Implications concerning content, channels and communication touch points will need to be developed in detail. Many marketers will jump to this first as it is deemed the most important aspect where prospects will see your messages, but without doing the initial planning, it’s likely that the marketing tactics will not resonate with the target audience or achieve the desired outcomes. To keep things simple, The Marketing Mix and the Communication Mix might be worth revisiting to asses the tactical options available.


As with any marketing campaign or program, a calendar or schedule is required so that team members are made aware of the actions required of them and at what intervals. An ABM program will usually involve sales and marketing teams, and therefore, a central document or project management tool is required where individuals can stay on top of tasks, monitor progress and keep communications consistent with one and other. Again, an ABM programme is an approach that takes marketing and sales approaches and combines them into one effort, meaning that the risk of cross-over is high if a schedule of actions isn't created.


Once the necessary planning is complete and management processes in place, the programme can begin. It’s important to note that monitoring the progress of an ABM programme is also vital to its success, as much of the communication touchpoints will occur across various offline and online channels. A multi-channel approach as such needs to be aligned and coordinated, so that all communications happen at the right time. If the programme isn’t working, where perhaps the tactics are not achieving the strategy, or a prospect isn't engaging or even seeing your marketing messages, then this can be identified early on and acted upon.


Marketing managers, campaigns and programmes often fail without explanation. Similarly, marketing efforts are not always quantifiable and have difficulty demonstrating ROI. KPIs, relative to the objectives, are required to ensure that the programme is performing as expected. Ongoing monitoring can help steer in the right direction if the programme is going off track, but after a prolonged period, perhaps when the programme ends, the outcomes might not demonstrate ROI and future ABM programmes will need to be altered – usually at the Strategy and Tactics stages – to be effective.


You are now ready to begin your ABM programme following the steps above. To support this new plan, here are some overarching tips to keep in mind when conducting your ABM programme.

  • Become a LinkedIn expert and understand its targeting features - you will use the platform regularly.

  • Keep your colleagues close - you will need to work with them often so meet regularly to update on progress and next steps.

  • A one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Everything needs to be personalised and prospect-specific.

  • Progress should be measured in terms of individual relationships. For example, the number of meetings/interactions gained is a stronger metric than "number of leads" developed.

  • Setting objectives is important (but also difficult, especially if the programme is new) as an ABM programme can sometimes go off-track.

  • Use all the data you have on a prospect/organisation to inform your approach.

  • Be ready to write content. Like most marketing campaigns, content production will feature heavily within an ABM programme.

  • Do not be afraid of rejection (a tip mostly for the marketers).

  • If you are not entirely convinced by an ABM approach, trial it first to gauge suitability.


New marketing technologies, tactics and strategies come and go. ABM is a little different because it has been around since the dawn of business – that is, focusing marketing efforts on prospects that are likely to buy, and then buy again. But the formalisation of a strategic programme, uniting both sales and marketing departments with a universal goal, is a significant development in a world where marketing and sales teams have commonly clashed.

Brafton state that even though 20% of sales and marketing professionals have a dedicated ABM programme, 60% of B2B marketers are said to move towards an ABM model in the near future. Account-based marketing, like B2B sales which has a long and methodical process, will take time to develop ROI. That said, this is the case for most sustainable marketing programs and anyone that operates within a B2B landscape will identify ABM as a sustainable option to focus upon.

For more, see part two of this ABM series: ABM: The Tactics.