You’re Doing ABM Backwards. Here’s Why & How to Fix It.

ABM has been flipped, and I’m not talking about the funnel.

Companies looking to execute an ABM campaign have their priorities upside down. The promise of ABM has always been better sales alignment and innovation to drive insights about who marketers should target, in turn arming sales teams with the information they need to close deals.

Instead, we got a lot of display targeting technology that goes after accounts and not even the right people in those accounts. Around 70% of companies I meet with to discuss ABM start their process backwards. It usually goes something like this: They gather a list of target accounts from their sales team, buy an ABM software platform, and target those accounts and then high-five themselves any time an account that’s seen an impression ends up converting.

But here’s where these companies have gone wrong. They’re starting with sales NOT marketing. Marketing has the data and insights to know which accounts ABM should be targeting – not sales. Sales might know who they’d like to convert, but marketing has the data to best understand which accounts will actually convert and how quickly as they make their way through the funnel.

Sales & Marketing Integration

Given the nature of ABM and its focus on driving high ACV accounts, marketing’s role shifts from being a sales support team that just provides enablement material to a strategic partner that is accountable for pipeline creation. Marketing is now focused on informing sales about what accounts they should be going after as well as providing intelligence on those accounts to enable better conversations.

Marketing has the technical skills to assess the ICP, define the digital profile of that ICP, and build a model to identify target accounts. In other words, marketing is best qualified to lead this effort.

Still, most companies end up missing their ABM-related goals because:

  • Their ICP is too broad. Instead, companies should focus on slimming this down as much as possible. In ABM focus wins.
  • They lack a repeatable model for identifying target accounts.

Marketing and operations teams should work together to analyze the data and identify the proper accounts. The goal here is to take emotion out of it. A good ABM program relies on objectivity. In other words, focus on demographic, firmographic, and technographic data and then events that signal different levels of intent, and not on who you “think” might convert.

Demand Creation

It’s marketing’s job to drive interest in what you’re selling by driving engagement on your site. Actions like a demo request or free trial start may signal high intent while events including a visit to the pricing page or product pages may signal interest. In ABM, marketers want to create a better pathway for these potential buyers to talk to sales. The ultimate goal shouldn’t be ad impressions, it should be hand-raisers. When the goal is to generate hand-raisers, it’s likely that marketing will create programs that generate higher rates of recall. Smarter goals mean better outcomes.

But marketers shouldn’t just stop at a hand raise. While many companies think driving demo requests is an inbound motion, we reject this notion. Marketers should look to drive the accounts as far down the funnel as possible.

Once target accounts have been identified and your CRM is set up to inform sales, it’s time to measure the impact of your work. You’ll need to report on engagement, qualified accounts, pipeline generated and revenue driven.

Marketing also needs to pass along relevant account information to sales including company size, company revenue, as well as characteristics that will help set your reps up for a good first call – that’s how you’ll identify the proverbial low hanging fruit. It’s here that many companies skip to display ads. Direct outreach is going to drive more meetings and is a better bang for your buck in the beginning.

Also keep these lower cost options in mind:

  • Co-marketing: Co-marketing with complementary companies – does their customer page feature logos that would be a good fit for your product? I like co-marketing because it’s a high engagement channel, but also, it’s an opportunity to align your brand with another strong, potentially more established business.
  • Network: Leverage your company’s network – it’s likely your sales team has sold to similar audiences, and it’s also likely people at your company know people in your ICP. This includes leveraging organic LinkedIn engagement.
  • Leverage your database: Many companies overlook the already existing accounts in their database in favor of bringing in new accounts. Identify ways to move existing accounts through the funnel while also bringing in new accounts.
  • Drive accounts to high engagement content from paid social: Don’t advertise to a new audience with a demo offer. Instead, introduce yourself first. Start to build demand by presenting the problem and how you solve it.


The cautionary tale here is about targeting. Yes, it’s easy to find programmatic display options that are great at targeting accounts with impressions, but are they targeting the right people? Focusing on impressions to drive “awareness” won’t create the desired effect. Someone who clicks on your ad, or views your content over and over is much more likely to remember you than if they’ve simply seen your ads.

Also, you need to ensure display impressions are targeting the right audience. Just because an “account” gets an impression doesn’t mean that those impressions are getting in front of the right buyer. This is the challenge with many display vendors.

Getting Started with ABM

Marketing’s job in an ABM GTM strategy is to surface the accounts that are most worthy of investment based on real data and intent signals. Let’s apply it now to your own business:

1. Narrow Your Target: Identify the characteristics of accounts that are most likely to produce by analyzing your company’s sales data. We use a number of metrics to build a model including:

  • Customer lifetime value
  • Average deal size
  • Conversion rates
  • Deal velocity

2. Define Your Digital ICP: Next, enrich and prospect data against these predetermined criteria to build a list of named accounts to deploy your programmatic ABM efforts against.

3. Streamline the Buying Process: Each programmatic campaign is then segmented by persona and buyer journey stage – nurturing the entire buying committee at enterprise-level accounts toward purchase.

4. Drive Engagement: Account engagement with programmatic efforts serves as a barometer for intent – they’re a great fit AND show readiness to purchase. Surface these accounts from marketing to sales.

5. Drive Pipeline: Finally, sales and marketing bring it over the finish line together – increase your investment and switch to 1:1 and 1:few ABM tactics for the win.

Measuring Success

First, let’s be honest, marketing’s role is to build interest and demand in your product. So the easiest KPI is looking at hand-raisers. How many people are proactively coming to the site to say they would like to talk to the sales team or sign up for a trial within your target account list?

When you set this as the bar, the goal from marketing moves from impression to high-quality lead. Inevitably, you’ll build marketing campaigns that drive high recall even for the leads that don’t come in and fill out a demo form.

While we don’t believe an impression should constitute a KPI for ABM, we do think engagement matters to drive recall. Recall will make it that much more likely for target accounts to engage with outbound email, InMail, meeting requests and other outbound efforts. You should also take into account brand touchpoints along the way, with a focus on high intent engagement like case study engagement, pricing page visits, event attendance, and other similar actions.

ABM: Strategy Not Tactic

It’s not easy to know where to start with ABM, and maybe that’s because ABM itself is nebulous and going to look somewhat different at every company and for every product. But to make it work, teams need to look at it as a strategy, not just a tactic. Taking a holistic approach, with marketing leading and sales following, is the key to ABM success.

John Short
John Short

As the CEO of Compound Growth Marketing, John helps B2B technology companies drive predictable revenue through effective demand generation, go-to-market, and US expansion strategies. He has over 13 years of experience in online marketing, new media, and Google Analytics, working with various SaaS, B2B, and B2C companies.
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