Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you’ve heard about account-based marketing (ABM). Analysts are talking about it, executives are taking note of its advantages, and many companies have already launched their own initiatives. A recent SiriusDecisions report found that 52 percent of B2B companies already have a pilot program for ABM.

But an adoption trend and a bunch of analyst hype doesn’t constitute necessity. The real question is whether or not your business would benefit from ABM, and how it fits in with your current programs. What problems or challenges do you face? Could ABM be a solution?

A New Sheriff in Town

Historically, lead generation has been the engine that drives B2B profits. Some companies are really good at it, others not so much. But in either case, traditional lead generation has also been plagued by a small handful of recurring problems — most revolving around lead quantity, lead quality, or return on investment (ROI). That’s because lead gen is all about the funnel: pour a high volume of leads in, and try to keep as few as possible from slipping out before the opportunity stage.

You probably know by now that ABM takes the opposite approach. Instead of starting with a lot and ending up with a few, ABM focuses on building and expanding relationships with high-value, named accounts — starting with a few, and ending up with higher profits and (hopefully) customer advocacy.

This approach is in no way meant to replace your current programs, but it does compensate for some of traditional lead generation’s biggest problems . . .  such as the three below.

The Problem of Poor MQLs

You can generate thousands of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) every week, but it won’t matter if they don’t convert or if your sales team rejects them. This can happen for a number of reasons:

  • Marketing and sales aren’t on the same page about what defines a qualified lead.
  • MQLs don’t fit your customer profile or don’t have enough purchase intent.
  • Your lead scoring system is miscalibrated.
  • Your nurturing process isn’t strong enough.

When bad MQLs become a systemic problem, they lead to pipeline leakage and a lot of wasted resources, even if you do convert a few. But where traditional lead gen casts a wide net, the account-based approach is a harpoon aimed straight at the accounts you want to pursue. Since sales will inevitably need to help you vet those accounts, none of your efforts will be wasted.

Instead of saying, “Here are a bunch of leads we think are qualified,” you can tell sales, “Show us the accounts you actually want, and we’ll market to them.”

The Challenge of Group Consensus

Traditional B2B marketing has been very focused on individual leads. If we can just get a hold of CSOs at mid-size companies in our target industry, we can sell to them. The right decision-maker can certainly pull a lot of strings, but limiting your efforts to this narrow approach is a misstep.

B2B purchase decisions aren’t usually made by one person, but rather by a group of people with divergent interests and priorities. Most B2B purchases now require approval from more than five stakeholders, according to CEB. And as you can imagine, the larger the group, the harder it is for the group to achieve consensus.


As you can see from this CEB chart, purchase intent is inversely proportional to the number of decision-makers on a buying team.

When marketing to an account in aggregate — instead of to individual leads — you can more clearly identify points of hesitation and focus on accelerating consensus. CEB global says the most challenging stage for a buying group is identifying a solution. In their words: “agreeing on the best course regardless of supplier.”

That means the ABM process starts even before you tout your product as superior. It starts with educating accounts on how to identify needs and create executive buy-in for an appropriate solution.

The Problem of Low ROI

Finally, many marketers struggle to prove ROI for their lead generation campaigns. In part, that’s because ROI is difficult to measure, but it also stems from a larger problem with the way leads are handled. A traditional lead funnel can, at some point, distinguish between leads of lower and higher value, but that distinction takes time, and the lead itself remains the active agent (you only know what they reveal).

In many cases, you won’t know the scope of a potential deal until the lead has actually spoken to a sales development rep. Say they turn out to be a big opportunity. Great. But by then, you’ve spent a lot of marketing dollars on countless other leads that turned into small opportunities or no opportunities at all.

Think of ABM as a shortcut for maximizing profits. You can target an account for any number of reasons:

  • High-yield
  • Good fit with your product
  • Strategic importance
  • Competitor’s customer

But all these reasons are designed to connect your marketing efforts directly with sales goals and sales targets. That’s a pretty good place to be as a marketer. It’s no wonder that 97 percent of ABM users say it brings higher ROI than other initiatives.

ABM helps fill in gaps and increase effectiveness where other campaigns may fail. It shouldn’t (and couldn’t) replace traditional lead generation, but it should be implemented as a parallel initiative. With the right tools and approach, ABM can strengthen your relationships with target accounts and drive profits through customer advocacy.   

Aleksandr Peterson