ABM Essentials: The Three Keys of a Successful ABM Strategy

Marketo Employee

ABM Essentials: The Three Keys of a Successful ABM Strategy

The implementation of any new business strategy often seems overwhelming. Getting from A to B can involve hundreds of steps, over a period of months or years, that impact nearly every department in a company. In all the details, it can be difficult to discern what’s critical and what’s not. What elements of the strategy, if not done right, can unravel the entire initiative?

While many details need attention during the implementation process of an ABM strategy, in the bigger picture, companies need to get three things right for ABM success, says experienced sales leader and senior vice president and general manager of the commercial business at Marketo, Ted Purcell.

Purcell knows what he is talking about. Marketo doesn’t just sell its ABM solution; it uses the technology to do exactly what it promises to do for its customers—target specific accounts to close more business, faster, leading to higher revenues. In other words, Marketo doesn’t just talk the talk; it walks the walk. It has ‘been there, done that’ when it comes to ABM strategy implementation and is in a unique position to understand the essentials of ABM success both firsthand and as a vendor who has helped many customers implement the strategy.

Here, says Purcell, are the three essentials for making an ABM strategy successful. These essentials apply to both enterprise and small/mid-sized businesses.

Essential #1: Align sales and marketing. There’s a reason you keep hearing this message. It is so fundamental to ABM success that it deserves repeating. ABM cannot succeed without tight integration and ongoing cooperation of sales and marketing. That’s why sales and marketing alignment was Job 1 for Marketo when it came to rolling out its ABM strategy—and Purcell urges other companies to make it Job 1 as well.

Pre-ABM, Marketo’s sales and marketing teams worked closely, but with the launch of Marketo ABM, they identified areas to partner even more intimately to generate even greater results.

In order to have a successful ABM strategy in place,  Marketo understood that  strengthening the relationship between sales and marketing teams was the first step. By taking that action, sales and marketing were able to align on the accounts they would target and devise a strategy for going after the right people within those accounts. They worked together to create content that communicated Marketo’s value. It wasn’t about occasional formal meetings; this was about the two teams always walking back and forth, interacting, asking questions, checking data, and bouncing ideas. The teams became integrated, each relying on the other to create the most effective strategy for finding and reaching its target prospects.

Marketo created this alignment in late 2016. The results has been so positive that Marketo plans to reduce its reliance on traditional marketing and demand generation.

The sales conversation has completely changed. “Traditionally, when you are generating demand and reacting to it, you are reacting to what the customer wants to find out from you,” explains Purcell. As a result, “you largely have feature/function/cost discussions, not value discussions around business optimization. Once you take a targeted, account-based approach, your conversations are around value.” This increases win rates and shortens the sales cycle—and it all starts with getting sales and marketing in alignment and collaborating.

Essential #2: Identify the right accounts. It is critical that companies take time at the outset of implementing an ABM strategy to determine which are the right accounts to pursue. It is not just about identifying prospects most likely to close or listing out those big, “wishful” accounts a company would love to add to its logo collection. It’s about figuring out the best fit with respect to size, potential revenue, cost of service, longevity, and many other factors.

Working together, Marketo’s sales and marketing teams came up with 100-200 attributes that contributed to an account’s appeal. “You can make your scoring as complicated or as easy as you want it and segment as broadly or narrowly as you want,” says Purcell. For Marketo, its list of attributes includes not only the more obvious markers such as industry, geography, and size but also likelihood of churn, likelihood of renewal, and dollar amount, etc. Marketo ABM evaluates those attributes to produce an account score—the higher the score, the better the possible fit between Marketo and the prospect. This scientific approach means Marketo is not pursuing what Purcell calls “idealistic, pie-in-the-sky” accounts, but customers that are truly the best fit for Marketo.

Based on the attributes, Marketo ABM scores accounts on a scale to 100. Last year, in its early days of ABM, Marketo went after any company with a score above 60. Today, the company limits its sales and marketing efforts to accounts with scores above 80, with most attention given to companies scoring 90 and above. “We know that companies with scores in this range have a three-times higher likelihood to close and at a  2.5 times greater selling price than those with scores under 80,” says Purcell.

Purcell likens the identification of the right target accounts to spear fishing. Let’s say a Marketo solution is a perfect fit for sharks, he says. By casting out a fishing net and dragging it through the sea—as its traditional lead generation approach used to do—sales had to spend a lot of time sifting out minnows and bass and other species that weren’t a good fit. This consumed significant resources and reduced the amount of effort that could be directed toward the sharks.

By identifying the best-fitting accounts—the 90+ scores—as part of its ABM strategy, Purcell says Marketo was able to shift “from fishing by net to fishing by spear. We can see into the water and bring only the sharks into the boat. We are much more efficient and effective as we are going after the right customers that have a higher likelihood to renew.”

Essential #3: Take a holistic approach. Purcell is a firm believer that ABM isn’t just a sales and/or a marketing strategy; it’s an approach that touches every department in every stage of the customer lifecycle. “It’s account-based selling, account-based supporting, account-based marketing,” says Purcell.  This holistic approach must necessarily start with marketing because that’s where the data resides that enables the forensic work done by sales and marketing to identify the ideal customer profile. From there, however, everything must loop out to include other customer-facing roles, so there is a constant cycle of cooperation, application, communication, and feedback. For instance, marketing builds an arsenal of tools to help anyone reaching out to interface with customers—but it can only do so with input from sales, and it must be ready to adjust those tools based on what the sales team is hearing in the market. Or customer support gets information from a customer which tweaks their account score, which changes how Marketo reaches out to interface with that customer.

As customer stories come in, as the market changes, as customer scores change—all this impacts how Marketo goes after customers, so all its departments must be in complete harmony and work from the same page, all the time. It enables the sales process to be repeatable and scalable so that as the company goes after new markets, it can roll out to scale on the customer-facing side of the business, in a coordinated and precisely targeted way, making it much more effective at communicating with its customers.

“With an ‘account-based marketing’ approach,” says Purcell, “everyone is rowing together in the same direction.” Companies implementing an ABM strategy must take this holistic view from the start, otherwise critical information won’t make it into the loop, causing an organization to miss the mark when targeting customers.


In addition to getting the three essentials right, Purcell says companies will radically boost their chances of ABM success by asking themselves—and answering—these five critical questions:

  1. What is our go-to-market strategy? Are we trying to capture more new business? Are we aiming to penetrate more deeply into our current accounts? Are we looking to expand into new channels or geographies? Gaining a clear understanding of the GTM strategy is imperative for sales and marketing.
  2. Who are your targeted accounts? Once you define how you are going to market, identify which accounts you want to win. These should include only those accounts that fit your ideal customer profile.
  3. What are we going to do once we engage those accounts? There are many sub-questions around this one. Some of the most important: What type of content are we going to provide to the account so they are most likely to convert? What is the number of touches we think will be needed to convert to revenue? Build the engagement process into playbooks, so it is repeatable and scalable.
  4. How will we roll out the target account list? As with any new approach, the roll-out plan for ABM as a whole and the list of target accounts must be prepared well in advance, so everyone is on board with the new strategy, understands its impact on their role, and is properly equipped to execute it.
  5. What is the cadence for inspection? Success in any new strategy depends on the examaniation of that strategy. Make sure you put in place a management cadence for inspecting revenue, pipeline and other critical measures of success to figure out what is working, what isn’t working and how to adjust accordingly.


From Selling Power Solutions For Sales Management, Special Edition 2017