The idea of account-based marketing (ABM) isn't new. The practice of identifying specific accounts to target and using insight gathered around those accounts to target decision-makers and buyers within an organization has existed as a marketing focus for years.

More recently, though, we've moved beyond simple tools of the trade, shifting over into full-on strategies, software platforms, and (not least) mindsets around how marketing needs to get done.

And speaking of mindsets, when you think about it, B2B marketing is a lot like dating: We're trying to find meaningful, lasting relationships that benefit both parties involved in new and engaging ways.

Let's keep going with this: When a relationship is new, everything feels exciting; there's the promise of new possibilities and a positive future for the couple. As with all good relationships, though, longevity requires attention, support, and commitment.

In B2B marketing, ABM is the vehicle that drives attention, support, and commitment to make long-term relationships a reality for brands.

With that in mind, I posed a question via LinkedIn to my colleagues and professional network around ABM and asked them to tell me what it is.

After I read through 400+ comments, a few things stood out, with long-term relationship-building making its way to the top just about every time.

So, what is ABM?

1. ABM is... Collaboration

There's persistent talk around how sales and marketing teams need to be aligned for any business to achieve long-term success. When siloes go up around those two departments, customer retention and acquisition suffer.

It's the same in a relationship: Stop communicating, stop working together... and the partnership deteriorates.

Real collaboration across a business means understanding what the sales team needs if it's going to convert leads and drive long-term revenue—which, based on data from the State of ABM report, is what marketers are angling for the most. That survey uncovered that new business/acquisition is a mission-critical goal: Most respondents said it is the top priority in their ABM strategies.

ABM, as a mindset, business practice, and tool doesn't merely bring Sales and Marketing closer together but also unifies these two groups with the customer success team, creating a more well-rounded experience across the board. The internal relationships grow, making the business-customer relationships expand as well.

When collaboration occurs across the organization, marketing teams can be more intentional about the leads they generate, and sales teams can be more intentional around the deals they close. In the long term, we become more intentional about the relationships we get into with each customer.

2. ABM is... Human

Corporate sales can feel like a stiff, old-guard process, but there is demand from B2B customers to have a seamless, easy, personalized shopping experience: If they can buy B2C products in that manner, why isn't B2B up to snuff?

Digital channels and the number of businesses switching to digital methods for making B2B purchases also push companies to get outside the box with how they present themselves to—and connect with—the customers they want most.

A shift in focus and mindset is needed—one that goes from upselling, to up-serving. A company focused solely on pulling in leads from anywhere and everywhere is nothing more than a machine churning out hit-or-miss prospects. There's no human touch, no personalization, nothing to show someone what the value is in becoming your customer and getting into this relationship with your business.

Bottom line: if a company's customer base is "everyone," then really its customer base is no one. It's impossible to humanize and personalize experiences for each customer you want to have without first paring down who those specific customers are. Just as in dating, you won't find what you're looking for without first defining who you're looking for.

With an ABM approach to gathering data and learning about customer pain points, businesses have the chance to understand where customers are facing challenges that a current tool or technology doesn't address. Then they can better serve a customer by using that insight to guide them to something that can resolve those issues.

3. ABM is... B2B

B2B marketing is designed to increase revenue. ABM is designed to increase revenue. There's no success for a B2B organization that isn't going after the right customers and turning them into brand advocates—that's the ethos for B2B marketing and ABM.

As I note in my book ABM Is B2B, "ABM is transformative—the kind of change we haven't experienced in more than a decade—because it's about much more than the strategies and tactics within it. ABM is B2B. There's no separating the two."

ABM is a mindset, a tailored approach to targeting the right customers, and so much more than that, too. It's about diving deep into the data and resources across an organization to pinpoint what works—and what doesn't—with customers, so everyone feels heard and supported (yes, the way you'd want with someone you're dating).

This is how you build sturdy relationships—in life and in business. So challenge the marketing status quo and create something that lasts.

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ABM Is… These Three Things (And Why B2B Marketing Should Look a Lot Like Dating)

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image of Sangram Vajre

Sangram Vajre is a co-founder of Terminus and a book author. His latest book is is MOVE: The 4-Question Go-to-Market Framework. He is the founder of the FlipMyFunnel community, where B2B marketing and sales innovators foster the account-based mindset and learn from each other.

LinkedIn: Sangram Vajre

Twitter: @sangramvajre