Why an ABM foundation makes your whole marketing strategy work harder


Most ABM campaigns are too narrow. Not in their focus, but in their ambition. 

Let me explain.

If you have an ABM strategy, I’d bet my last stinkin’ dollar you made it in one of two ways. You either:

  • Adapted your core story, messaging and tactics for a narrower Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).

Or you:

  • Made up new messaging and tactics for a narrower ICP – totally distinct from your core story.

Both approaches make the same mistake – they treat ABM as a second-class citizen – either as an entirely separate discipline or as an isolated offshoot from your everyday marketing activities.

The trouble is, when you treat ABM like an add-on to your existing marketing, you tacitly base your entire marketing strategy around people less likely to buy from you.

Conversely, when you flip the script and treat ABM as your foundation, your best-fit customers become your baseline, instead of the exception. Every decision you make (about focus, budget, campaigns, metrics etc.) is optimized for the people defined in your Ideal Customer Profile.

You can obviously adapt your approach for segments outside of that group – but this perspective makes your best prospects your default focus. (It seems crazy most companies do things the other way around, doesn’t it?) 

This approach yields better engagement for less spend, with more sustainable results. Let’s explore it up close to see how you can put ABM-thinking at the heart of all your marketing.

Stop wasting your marketing budget

When ABM is an add-on instead of your baseline, your everyday marketing activity — i.e. the stuff you spend most of your money on — isn’t built for your best prospects. 

Think about what a crazy double whammy that results in. 

Not only are you plowing serious bucks into crafting content and ads to woo people who — for the most part — don’t give a shit about you. You’re also strangling funding to your best prospects. 

We get it, you have to build demand. But budgets aren’t getting bigger. And when both ABM and everyday marketing activities demand time and funding, isn’t it better to prioritize your best-fitting personas first? To spend those precious Benjamins reaching out to the people most ready to buy your stuff, rather than convincing a less interested group?

Obviously, yes. The only caveat is that your ABM machine has to be working effectively.

Why most ABM campaigns fail

The truth is, typical ABM campaigns fail more than they succeed. And that failure almost always boils down to a lack of research about what the right accounts should look like. 

The Cs in most default ICPs aren’t well defined enough, so accounts deemed ‘best fits’ aren’t that at all. And that happens because of the following prejudices:

  • Existing commercial relationships
    Long-standing client relationships aren’t a bad thing. But using them as the muse for qualifying your ICP, just because you’ve done business with them previously, or go for coffee with their CMO, doesn’t mean they should be the centerpiece of your ABM strategy going forward. 
  • Hand-me-down-sales-lists
    This is especially relevant for marketing teams who’ve just started in a new organization. So-and-so-from-sales was working on your now mothballed list of prospects before they left (two years ago). It went to their sales partner, who forwarded it to your marketing team, who now use it as a ready-made list of ABM targets without having scrutinized who’s on it, or why.
  • The brand is famous 
    Marketers use ABM campaigns to hunt down brands they like the look of, simply because they’re famous (‘but it’s so-and-so!’), despite the fact they might have only a tangential connection with their market (a project management SaaS tool going after a Fintech provider, say).

When you default to qualifying your ICP based on any of these examples, you miss out on the true substance that makes an organization a good fit for your business. Which brings us to…

Sharpening your ICP

Effective ABM campaigns start with you figuring out who your real VIP accounts are. That means getting your hands dirty with some research about what truly connects your greatest opportunities. 

Choose attributes carefully here – it’s no good creating an ICP that’s perfect on paper but doesn’t exist in the real world. 

Don’t just think about the customers that’ve spent the most money with you in the last few years. Think about the mix of hard and soft factors that lead to your best relationships:

Firmographics

Think carefully about the characteristics of the companies most likely to benefit from your services. Nailing down things like size, industry, revenue and location will help you trim a lot of fat.

Growth potential

You can view this in two dimensions: their growth, and yours. For instance, are they likely to spend more with you as they grow? Are they in a booming industry? Or conversely, will they use key features that support your product strategy? Do they have complementary elements in their tech stack that tend to unlock more value from your solution?

Decision makers and gatekeepers

Who holds the purse strings? Who wields indirect buying influence? Account for everyone and treat them accordingly. 

Once you’ve thrashed out your thinking on each of the above, your ICP will be a much better reflection of the companies you do your best business with. Maybe you’re a startup providing SaaS-based B2B cloud data security. In which case your ICP might include something like:

  • A B2B SaaS buyer in Western Europe with a DevOps team of 8+ people led by one, clear decision maker; with an ARR of $25M – $30M, and a customer base of SMBs.

Or maybe you’re an enterprise-sized specialist widget manufacturer. In which case your ICP might include something like: 

  • An enterprise-size player in the automotive industry with a budget of $500M and an insatiable hunger for specialist widget design, led by a buying committee of executive sponsor, department head and procurement team.

Psychographics

Relatedly, are your best buyers confident and growth-focused? Are they early adopters with a challenger mindset? Are they proof-oriented and risk averse? What do they believe? How much value do they place in your solution? 

You won’t always have the answers to these questions when assessing new business – but if you know that, say, a new opportunity views your solution as transactional rather than strategic, you shouldn’t waste time treating them like an ideal customer. 

Behavioral data

A good way to know whether customers might like the cut of your jib is to see how they engage with brands similar to yours. Are they looking for solutions like yours? Are they showing up on adjacent webinars?

Pain points and challenges

An obvious one, but often the victim of assumptions. If you’ve established they’re a growing business that’s looking to scale — think about all the reasons why it might be hard to scale with existing systems: 

  • Are they using a competitor with a known deficiency? 
  • Are they struggling against an industry-wide skills shortage?
  • Are they juggling too many software applications and struggling to integrate them as a result?

Reverse engineer your ICP for broader success

Now here’s the juice…

Once you’ve whipped your ICP into the shape of its life, the story you build around it should become the North Star for everything else your marketing team puts out.

This approach puts an ABM lens at the core of your marketing decisions. The further you are from that core, the colder your prospects become – so you’ll need to figure out how your story adapts to more generalized audiences.

This isn’t a silver bullet. But it’s a neat way to get the most bang from your marketing bucks. So, to recap:

  1. Quit isolating your ABM efforts
  2. Spend time checking that they’re based on the right ICPs for your business
  3. Use that ICP to inform your entire marketing strategy
  4. Achieve better, more sustainable results, for less effort



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