The One-Size-Fits-All ABM Conundrum

May 30, 2022 Jackie Sutherland

In recent years, ABM has often been presented as the future of B2B marketing, sometimes not even as the best but the only way forward.  LeadFabric recently attended Forrester’s B2B Summit 2022, and while we were there, we realized that ABM means something different to just about everyone. The same ABM buzzwords were being used in completely different ways by different organizations. Certain SaaS and Data vendors who are the true change agents making ABM possible, like intent data providers, have even abolished the term altogether, which only adds to the confusion.

If even the vendors designing ABM solutions can’t agree on what it really is, then it’s only natural that the marketing organizations they are trying to sell to feel confused and hesitant when it comes to adopting ABM.

But in our experience, ABM doesn’t have to be so complicated. ABM is also not right for everyone. There are three primary categories, each of which has its own advantages depending on the application:  



-Traditional demand generation:

The person-based marketing strategy that is most commonly practiced by B2B marketers today.

This is the most appropriate strategy when the buying group is one and the same person and the goods or services that are being sold and bought are commodities. While this philosophy may be the most widely used, there is almost always room for improvement in its execution, especially when it comes to the alignment of Marketing and Sales. We often see that the teams have conflicting opinions on the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), target industries, lead attributes and other key pieces of strategy. This tends to result in a lack of real agreement regarding timing, let alone SLAs.

If you were to rank your ICPs in terms of size (size of target, deal size, buyers), person-based marketing is the method to apply to the accounts sitting at the bottom of that pyramid. And when transactional buyers are involved, the strategy is sound.

However, when person-based marketing is used to target accounts, there is high potential for misalignment and one of the subsequent categories may prove to be a more effective strategy. But a change in approach requires the necessary organizational discipline as well as a re-configuration of systems, especially when it comes to CRM. It doesn’t make sense to rush things, either – if your organization is not ready to change approach, then stick with what works and don’t abandon the MQL just yet.

It is worth keeping in mind, though, that the approach is likely suboptimal and should be seen as an intermediate step. While the necessary steps are being taken to prepare the organization for a shift toward account- or opportunity-based marketing, you can also lay further groundwork by fostering Sales and Marketing alignment and starting to shift the mindset of both teams. Creating timelines with dates and milestones that are agreed upon by management are beneficial here to keep the process moving along and to ensure you don’t get stuck in purgatory.


-Marketing to accounts, or account-based targeting:

The approach used for targeting the middle section of the account pyramid.

This is becoming the new center of gravity for many B2B organizations. Key components of this method include defining ICPs, using intent data to uncover in-market accounts that fit those ICPs, and tailoring campaigns to those specific accounts. Marketing then hands over their efforts to Sales once those accounts engage.

When applied to buying groups, this approach should see a significant improvement in results compared to person-based marketing. Marketing spend is optimized because budget is only used on targets that have real interest in purchasing, and Sales is more likely to follow up because the accounts they’re being handed by Marketing are further along in the pipeline.


-True ABM:

When ABM first entered the marketing lexicon, this method is what people had in mind. This approach fully embraces ‘flipping the funnel’ or “fishing with harpoons rather than nets", and it takes place at the very top of the target account pyramid. Inbound marketing is all but eliminated and outreach is focused exclusively on a pre-defined list of accounts. That account list can be either dynamic (based on intent) or static (based on fixed parameters like industry, ranking, etc.).

What distinguishes True ABM from other methods is that there is no handover between marketing and sales - the teams are fully aligned and working from the same objects. Therefore, this method does require significant organizational change and a certain level of maturity.

In a way, many enterprise organizations have attempted to adopt True ABM over the last few decades, but in reality the execution has been less tactical and results in Marketing being subservient to Sales. However, thanks to research, technology, and experience, two key changes have developed over time:

  1. Recent ABM technology allows us today to run marketing support at scale, while in the past Marketing’s (manual) capacity to support Sales during the sales and buying cycle was limited to the size of the marketing department.
  2. In the old model, Marketing was supporting Sales only during the execution stage. In a True ABM set up, Marketing plays a more strategic role in defining the ICP and the outreach approach. Alignment between the teams must exist at every step of the process. This is especially true when intent data is leveraged to dynamically monitor targets and determine when they are ‘in market’.

To explore this topic in further depth, and learn about the various ABM technologies that are currently available, check out our guide, “The Fundamentals of Account-Based Marketing”.


In reality, very few organizations have the strategy and systems in place to support True ABM. This may make organizations who have yet to get started with ABM hesitant because it feels like an impossible goal. However, True ABM is not always the goal to aspire to - in many cases it’s not compatible with the needs of the business. Marketing to Accounts is often a much more appropriate and achievable strategy, and aspiring to this approach can make a shift away from lead-based marketing significantly less daunting because it applies key pieces of ABM (and OBM) theory to existing processes to improve them.

For example, leveraging intent data (signals) for targeting can significantly improve campaign effectiveness even in traditional lead generation. Similarly, account-based programmatic advertisement platforms could also be used for person-based advertising. Another interesting innovation might be to automate the marketing-to-sales handover by adding in B2B e-commerce capabilities, which also reduces the cost of sales.

Moving away from traditional lead-based marketing and embracing ABM in any of its forms may seem intimidating and complex, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re interested in exploring the application of ABM concepts at any level to increase conversion rates, accelerate deal velocity and optimize spend, LeadFabric can help put together a phased transition that optimizes existing systems and processes without having to start completely from scratch.

Contact us for more information today!

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