ABM Fundamentals

10 Min

The Three Types of Account Based Marketing (with Concrete Examples)

Tamás Bakos
January 27, 2024

In the highly competitive B2B market, establishing a strong and lasting relationship with customers and potential clients is crucial for success. However, the abundance of data available can be overwhelming, which is why companies need to filter through it and focus on the most relevant customers. One proven method for accomplishing this is through Account Based Marketing (ABM). In this article, we will explain the concept of ABM and its three distinct types, providing concrete examples of how they can be successfully implemented.

The Concept of Account Based Marketing

ABM is a set of focused marketing activities that target strategically important, so-called "high-value" accounts for the company. These accounts are identified in collaboration with the sales organisation. From this, it is evident that ABM is a customer-centric approach that requires a high level of collaboration between marketing and sales. The ABM strategy can typically be divided into two main pillars:

  1. The collection and delivery of account intelligence (to identify prospective clients).
  2. The creation of customized ABM Plays (campaigns) that drive broad account awareness and engagement.

ABM is based on the concept of relationship marketing, which is essentially an integrated effort to identify, retain, and build relationships with individual customers in a way that is profitable for both parties in the long term. The essence of relationship marketing is creating campaigns focused on unique customer needs, thus building a close relationship with the buyer, which is particularly important for companies operating in the B2B market. What truly sets the ABM strategy apart from traditional marketing and customer management strategies is the deep implementation of digital tools and the high-quality data created by this digitised ecosystem. By combining data points and respective analysis, specific profiles are created that help to establish the priorities of specific organizations as targets and ultimately the respective organizational individuals who are in decision-making positions.

Thanks to the spread of ABM, companies have started to develop various tactics to allocate resources more effectively among accounts. Accordingly, three different types of ABM can be distinguished:

  • Strategic ABM
  • ABM Lite
  • Programmatic ABM

Source: ITSMA, 2017

Strategic ABM

Strategic ABM is positioned at the top of the pyramid and is reserved for high-value customers. These customers have significant spending potential and strategically fit well with the selling company (ICP fit). In this category, dedicated marketing professionals typically work together with a few members of the sales organization to apply highly personalized marketing and sales tactics to strategically highlighted accounts. Typically, the investment cost per customer is high, but the return on investment (ROI) is also significant. The strategic ABM approach is most commonly applied to existing customers with whom the company already has a previous relationship, but there is an opportunity to increase and maximize revenue. The cost of a strategic ABM campaign depends on various factors, such as the extent of personalization of content or the number of communication channels used. Based on this, the annual cost of a campaign can range from $25,000 to $100,000 per customer.

Due to the high investment cost, the application of strategic ABM makes sense only for customers with high spending potential. Typically, the focus is divided among three to five customers. Creating a comprehensive understanding of the customer's key problems, active efforts to address these problems, identifying decision-makers, and understanding why they are responsible are crucial for a successful strategic ABM campaign.

The execution of a strategic ABM plan for a customer involves a seven-step process:

  1. Discovering the customer's motivations and needs
  2. Mapping and profiling the stakeholders (decision-makers)
  3. Developing a targeted value proposition
  4. Planning personalized ABM plays (campaigns)
  5. Executing personalized plays (campaigns)
  6. Evaluating the results
  7. Updating the plans

Marketing tactics used in this approach can include:

  • Organizing webinars and other virtual events
  • Live events
  • Customer-specific thought leadership
  • Specific tactics used to engage decision-makers
  • Innovation days
  • Face-to-face meetings and discussions

Strategic ABM requires not only the application of technology but also a high level of human involvement, in contrast to the implementation of ABM Lite and Programmatic ABM.

The example of T-Mobile and GumGum (T-MAN and GUMS)

We have seen that the essence of strategic ABM is customization. Everyone prefers to be addressed through their favourite topics and activities, right? The example of GumGum perfectly illustrates what we mean by customer-specific customization. It happened that GumGum, a company analyzing digital content with artificial intelligence, wanted to contract with T-Mobile. John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, was extremely active on social media. Taking advantage of this, GumGum found out that Legere was a fan of Batman. Starting from this point, they created a short comic depicting T-Mobile's CEO as T-MAN with his faithful companion GUMS (similar to Batman and Robin).

Source: John Legere, X (Twitter)

With this move, they managed to impress Legere to such an extent that he even shared the cover of the comic depicting T-Man and GUMS on his own X (Twitter) page.

What was the result?

GumGum successfully contracted with T-Mobile, gaining significant revenue growth, and thanks to Legere's X (Twitter) post, their brand awareness also greatly improved.

ABM Lite

ABM Lite is used for customers who are also strategically important, but applying the methods of strategic ABM would exceed the expected return on investment for each customer. The implementation of ABM Lite is very similar to the implementation of strategic ABM, with the difference being the lower level of personalization. This allows the selling company to create customer profiles (clusters) that target multiple accounts with similar business attributes and challenges. Personalization is done not on a per-customer basis but on a customer profile basis. The role of technology is more significant in ABM Lite, as more automated processes are crucial in this category. Marketing tactics typically used in ABM Lite are:

  • Email marketing
  • Organizing various events
  • Creating content specific to different customer profiles (clusters)
  • Tactics used to engage decision-makers
  • Advertisements

ABM Lite is a method developed to acquire customers with moderate spending potential, not only for existing customers but also for potential new customers. According to research by ITSMA, the number of customers managed under ABM Lite is 50 on average, and the average spending per customer is around $4,000.

The example of iRidium

In 2020, iRidium, a smart home and building automation platform, wanted to acquire larger customers and effectively introduce its new products. To achieve this, they organized a virtual summit in collaboration with Fullfunnel.io.

iRidium tailored the ICP (ideal customer profile) of the virtual summit to system integrators, excluding another customer segment: end-users.


System integrators were interested in quality and available profit, which was more profitable for iRidium than reaching end-users seeking the lowest-priced solution. This allowed them to focus on the specific needs of a single ICP.

Instead of individually contacting everyone after the virtual summit, they sent out a content hub to the participants, providing additional information about their products, answering potential questions, and assisting in identifying interested customers. Based on the data collected from the content hub, they sent out further, thoroughly personalized messages and content to the most actively interested customers.

What were the results?

  • 2320 subscriptions to the event
  • 34 new sales-qualified leads
  • 5 new customers

All this from a budget of $3,000.

Programmatic ABM

Programmatic ABM is the newest approach among the three types. It is characterized by low investment costs and returns per customer, aiming for scalability through technology. The key lies in finding a balance between scalability and personalization. Marketing aims to assist the sales organization through technology, mapping and attracting potential customers in large quantities through various campaigns. The list of potential accounts typically includes 100-250 potential customers. Here, marketing tactics can also be used, such as:

  • Email marketing
  • Blog and social media posts
  • Content creation
  • Advertisements
  • Online and offline events

The example of DocuSign

There are numerous excellent examples of implementing Programmatic ABM, but it's worth taking a closer look at the example of DocuSign, a cloud-based electronic signature platform.

Their goal was to increase website traffic, click-through rates, and the number of conversations with potential customers likely to make a purchase. The solution was a highly targeted display ad campaign, addressing more than 450 potential corporate customers from six different industries. The campaign's contents and messages were personalized according to industries and the buyer's journey.

Source: DocuSign

What were the results?

DocuSign increased its engagement rate by 59%, attracting 300% more visitors to its site. The bounce rate decreased from 39.25% to 13.5%, and the sales pipeline increased by 22% across the six different industries.

Which ABM Strategy to Choose?

Every company is unique, so the most suitable strategic implementation will differ for each. Before choosing ABM strategies, companies should consider the resources, knowledge, and technological tools available, and based on these, select the most appropriate ABM strategy or combinations of them.

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