Learn how TOPO helps sales and marketing grow faster at www.topohq.com

The Difference Between Account Based Marketing (ABM) and Outbound Sales

At a recent TOPO Demand Generation Council event, Marketo co-founder Jon Miller gave a provocative presentation on account based marketing (ABM). Although ABM has been around for some time, we’ve seen growing interest on the topic the last few years. In fact, there’s been a major uptick in ABM interest in recent months, particularly among companies that have grown to approximately $100 million in revenue using inbound, demand generation tactics.

Over the last ten years, modern marketers have become very good at using mass marketing techniques to generate demand.  These techniques have proven to be very effective at filling the funnel in the SMB and mid markets. However, enterprise sales teams have not been supported with the same consistency. As Jon Miller pointed out in his presentation, the difference is “fishing with a net versus fishing with a spear”. Rather than catch 10,000 or more SMB and  mid-market “fish” using mass marketing, with ABM, you can catch just a few hundred enterprise fish. It’s about quality over quantity and it requires a completely different mindset.

Isn’t this just outbound sales?

While Jon was speaking at the event, some interesting conversations started taking place on Twitter. This one from Manuel Medina, CEO of Outreach.io caught our eye:

Manny’s question is a good one. Numerous organizations have attacked the “spear-fishing” issue using outbound prospecting programs and, for the most part, have been successful doing so. Manny and Outreach.io have seen a lot of these successful programs firsthand. In fact, outbound prospecting is a critical part of account based marketing. But it is only part of a comprehensive ABM program.

What is account based marketing?

Account based marketing is a strategic process for driving interest and engagement in target accounts. Here’s how Jon Miller defines it: “Intentional go-to-market activities that coordinate personalized marketing and sales efforts to open doors and deepen engagement at a specific account.” In truly advanced ABM programs, the plays, messaging, and go-to-market plan are based on a specific account and that company’s key goals and initiatives.

Jeff Sands from ITSMA, describes ABM as, “A strategic relationship-building program comprised of a group of highly targeted tactics based on a set of agreed-to strategies. It is always based on outside-in thinking that decides what programs get planned and implemented as well as identifying the target audiences for the specific tactic/program. It is not really just an outbound set of marketing tactics, although they are a component of the program.”

The difference between outbound sales and account based marketing

In outbound sales, sales and/or sales development reps execute their own outbound patterns using a mix of touches such as phone, email, and social until they generate an opportunity with a particular account. Marketing may or may not run outbound marketing programs against this target list of accounts. If it does run an outbound campaign, it is often a one-off and not specifically customized to a specific account.

In account-based marketing, sales and marketing work together to create an always-on series of touches and relationship building aimed at these accounts. One meeting with an account is just the beginning – not the end – of an account-based marketing program.

The elements of account based marketing

The first step in an ABM program is similar to one for outbound sales: the organization first determines companies it wants to target; ideally these companies match the organization’s ideal customer profile (ICP). From there, the organization develops a list of contacts within these accounts or enables sales reps to identify their relevant contacts within these accounts themselves. Once the ICP and list building efforts are complete, an ABM program differs from an outbound sales program. Here are four examples from an ABM process the help illustrate the point:

1. ABM requires a truly coordinated effort between sales, sales development, marketing, and executive staff  — An account based marketing program does not rely on one tactic or one resource to engage and build relationships at a particular account. The assigned sales person will own the account, but other groups and stakeholders will play significant roles in driving engagement. For example, I spoke with the sales enablement team from a large technology company focused on the Fortune 50. They set up account teams with the account executives owning the account. Each team included a dedicated sales development rep, an account manager, a marketing manager, and an executive sponsor. These teams were accountable for driving business at this specific account and we are assigned various activities against specific prospects within the account. For example, the executive sponsor sent a series of personalized messages to target executives, marketing devised account-specific campaigns that were sent throughout the program, and the sales development rep drove meetings with manager-level contacts.

2. ABM requires deep account profiling shared between internal account stakeholders — All great sales teams leverage account profiling to be effective. However, one critical element to account based marketing success is to identify key business initiatives and challenges and customize programs to focus on these issues. As Jeff Sands described in his earlier quote, ABM is “always based on outside-in thinking”.

Here is an easy-to-understand example: I asked a sales executive from one of the large enterprise software companies how he closed an 8-figure deal: “It’s pretty simple: we identified that the company’s key growth strategy for the year was to drive significant expansion internationally. I spent a month identifying the key executives in charge of the expansion. We then set up campaigns focusing every message, every conversation, every presentation to them around this strategy. We spent months working different angles and eventually turned that into a big deal.”

3. Marketing runs a steady mix of campaigns into ABM accounts — One of the key differences between ABM and outbound sales is that marketing is signed up to deliver “always-on” campaigns to multiple stakeholders in the account. It runs offline campaigns such as events (e.g., dinners, sporting events, executive events), sends high-end direct mail, and calls upon digital marketing such as retargeting and web personalization. Marketing is tracked by the the number of leads, meetings, and opportunities it generated for these specific accounts.

4. Marketing creates customized, account-specific programs — Relevance is critical to conversion in all marketing programs, but ABM programs take customization to a new level. For example, Maria Pergolino from Apptus is spearheading an account-based marketing strategy. To that end, she runs account-specific events, renting space at a hotel or restaurant near a target account’s headquarters and inviting only stakeholders from that account. Another example of customization is a social analytics company that created and sent customized, account-specific reports to multiple stakeholders. It then sent invitations to contacts within that account to attend a webinar covering the report findings.

When it comes to ABM, outbound sales is still critical to success. Sales and sales development should coordinate their outbound prospecting efforts around ABM marketing campaigns to ensure a cohesive and united effort. With the social analytics company mentioned earlier, sales development would leverage the account-specific reports as content in their outreach, invite their prospects to the webinar, and schedule meetings with webinar participants.

The analyst team at TOPO is spending more time than ever researching account based marketing and responding to client inquiries on the subject. In the next three years, we expect ABM to become a critical sales and marketing capability at companies that target enterprise accounts.

About the author: Craig Rosenberg is a co-founder and Chief Analyst at TOPO and blogger on the Funnelholic sales and marketing blog. Follow him on Twitter.

  • Love that you’re talking about this topic Craig. Internally for our own growth in 2014, we bundled our aggressive outbound sales development cadence with an account based advertising approach using terminus.com. The SDRs get their accounts and build their lists, then while they are calling and emailing using SalesLoft, those emails are converting to ad cookies and Terminus is running ads to the right people at those companies. If anyone wants to know more, I’m happy to make an intro to their CEO and VP Marketing. Just LMK.

    • This comment is inline with Krista Caldwell’s as well. Retargeting provides a scalable, cost-effective way to continue to develop relationships. It is a key piece of ABM.

  • Manuel Medina

    Craig – awesome piece! What would you say the min ACV would be for an account to be part of ABM program?
    Intuitively one would think only large enterprise would get this, however as the prospecting, marketing, and communication tools become smarter, cheaper, and easier to use, I would wager that the natural transition is for ABM to move downstream, starting with the large SMB and migrating down.

  • Krista Caldwell

    This is great Craig – thanks! In my previous role our marketing team ran LinkedIn ads targeted only to specific roles at the ADR’s target accounts. Using LinkedIn account-targeted CPC, I think ABM could scale and be cost-effective for some large SMB’s in addition to Enterprise accounts (I think they were around $15/click for the VP’s at the software companies we were targeting and we were running lists of ~100 accounts at a time)?

    • Re-targeting is absolutely a key digital piece to the ABM puzzle. I agree, it is an economical tactic for targeting large SMBs and mid-market accounts.

  • Thanks Craig. I would add that smaller vendors have an opportunity to do a more effective job of targeting for a total universe of accounts that guides marketing to deliver more relevant leads while outbound sales development works within a very defined set of core vertical industries that fit best
    for the business.

  • Very interesting and it is what we did in the 1990s with a very large customer. Marketing and sales worked together and created content in customer terminology. It worked and the customer grew 284% in one year. Didn’t call it ABM back then, but that is what it was. Do it in customer terminology and target executives, not what our product was categorized.

  • Pablo Goulart

    Exciting article, Craig. Could you provide me a case of SaaS company’s strategy transition from mainly Inbound Marketing & Inside Sales tacticts to ABM and Outbound Sales outreach?

Your Free Membership

Join the 100s of high growth sales and marketing teams that depend on TOPO. Your free membership includes:

  • 1Free research and data
  • 2A 30+ point assessment
  • 3Access to TOPO Councils