Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Account-Based Marketing

Justin Daab


It seems like every other large marketing conference has a speaker or a full track about Account-Based Marketing (ABM). If you are a CPG company selling to broad consumer target markets, you probably shouldn’t care. But if you’re a B2B marketer with a line of products or services that potentially sells to various departments within your customers’ businesses, you probably should care. Or, at least, care enough to know what it is. So, let’s dive in.


It used to be the widget guy sold the widgets …to everyone he could

When you walk into traditional marketing and sales departments of a large B2B business, you’ll find people and resources divided up against certain practical segments, e.g.: industries, products, and channels. That’s how we end up with job titles like the one famously presented in the film, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, when John Candy introduces himself as “Del Griffith, American Light and Fixture, Director of Sales, Shower Curtain Ring Division”.

Now, we are not faulting Del. He’s likely the best shower curtain ring man in the business. However, when you consider that American Light and Fixture (AL&F) surely sells more than shower curtain rings, and surely they sell those other things to other people in the same companies that Del visits to sell shower curtain rings, we quickly see inefficiencies in the AL&F sales and marketing approach for larger accounts that need a multitude of solutions from our fixture selling friends.


ABM is about maximizing key relationships

With a shift to an ABM approach, B2B marketers identify high value accounts—those customers in enterprises that have multiple products and services needs across multiple divisions and/or departments—and create dedicated teams and personalized campaigns to support and maximize revenue from them. But as simple as it sounds, it represents a fairly dramatic organizational shift for most B2B sales and marketing organizations.


ABM is about breaking down barriers between sales and marketing

In many B2B organizations we’ve worked with, the Sales and Marketing departments have been, at best, agreeable neighboring tribes. But frequently their incentives lack alignment and their measures of success are disconnected or mutually exclusive. For an ABM approach to work, Sales and Marketing need to be following the same plan, tracking the same KPIs and ultimately coming to consensus on how best to approach any strategic shifts or opportunities.

From an org-chart view, that means having a single Account Director at the top of the account team that is responsible for the efforts and performance of the sales and marketing specialists dedicated to the account. They are responsible for the growth and profitability of their accounts and the success of the teams they manage. This combination has a number of distinct advantages for the enterprise:


Increased clarity of success measures and ROI

Done properly, ABM should allocate specific budget dollars in support of sales and marketing for each key account. Theoretically, creating a dedicated P&L for that account should be fairly cut and dried. Support staff, overhead and campaigns paid for out of that budget cost the company X dollars, delivered Y dollars of incremental revenue, and Z proposals or pending contracts to the pipeline. The efforts are either working to grow the specific account or they’re not, and it should be clear by how much for every dollar spent.


Optimization of efforts and resources

From the account side, where once a company would have countless Del Griffiths with single-product expertise reaching out to the account, sometimes overlapping the efforts of competing Dels, now they would optimally have a single point of contact managing multiple relationships within the account. 


Transformation from vendor to partner

ABM, by its nature, elevates the marketers knowledge of its clients’ businesses and, more importantly, improves understanding of how the business really operates, day to day. The account support team may actually gain greater visibility to its clients’ enterprise-wide issues than those working within respective silos at the client. This can create opportunities to be involved in larger purchasing processes earlier, with a greater chance to influence the scope and scale of the purchase in the marketer’s favor.


What’s the process look like?

Account Based Marketing thrives on clear prioritization—knowing that levels of effort and opportunity are clearly aligned. What makes it succeed, ultimately is measurement. Step by step, it looks like this:

  1. Measure the whales—prioritize your high-value accounts: Gain a clear view of the numbers and potential around each existing account. How much revenue does each generate? How much revenue could each potentially generate if you had 100% of their business? What would closing that gap look like in real dollars? What are the odds you can win, and what are the barriers that would prevent you from winning, 100% of that business? What is the short-term and long-term prognosis for the industries in which those accounts exist? Ultimately, you want to get to an assumption or index rating of potential revenue you can use to choose which accounts represent the greatest incremental growth opportunity and merit dedicated teams. This evaluation should continue, year to year.
  2. Feed the baby whales: Scour your markets for the up and coming challengers—those smaller companies that exhibit the same traits as your whales and pre-positioned to be the next whales. Choose which, if any, merit dedicated effort—only if you assume they represent greater long-term revenue potential than an already established company.

  3. Identify the key players: Just as you have key accounts, each account has key players. Knowing whom to target within an account can enhance your ability to personalize marketing and sales tactics and increase your relevance.

  4. Create personalized messaging: Once you know exactly to whom you need to speak, infuse your campaigns, content, messaging and presentations with the voice of your client. Speak to their pain points and opportunities first and your features and benefits last. Create proactive recommendations for how you can strengthen their existing business or help them uncover new opportunities.

  5. Measure and optimize: Increased personalization and customization should mean increased opportunity evaluation and adjustment. It’s no longer about knowing what media mix or messaging works generally to sell your offering, but what specifically moves the KPI needle within a specific account or even down to a specific buyer.

  6. Continue to build relationships post-sale: Once your account becomes a client, Account Based Marketing isn’t over. Continue to follow-up post-sale to make sure your product has been adapted and delivers on all previous conversations. This is your opportunity to address any questions and to ensure that buyer’s remorse doesn’t set in. Hopefully at this point you’ll have a brand advocate, someone who will continue to purchase your product. 


Is ABM right for your business?

Account Based Marketing is not a universal approach for all businesses. It makes sense for companies with multiple services or products that could sell into a variety of departments or business units within a single account. It makes sense for businesses that may be able to provide a more competitive offering through bundling. And most importantly, it only makes sense when the company’s clients are structured in a way that makes it more efficient and advantageous for them to deal with a unified account team on the vendor side. Sometimes, there is a shower curtain ring buyer, who only needs to get the best price from guys like Del. 


If you’re looking for intelligent ways to enhance your marketing strategy, integrate new technologies, or improve your customer experience, contact us. Or, click around our site to see all of the other ways we help we help our clients outsmart, outmessage and outmarket larger competitors, to steal their most profitable customers.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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