Blind Date: Picking the right type of ABM

By Ricky Abbott - 23rd October 2017

Much like dating shows of old, picking the right type of ABM can end up being a bit like a blind date. Sometimes you strike lucky and it all works out, but more often than not, you part as ‘friends’ without knowing exactly what went wrong.

So why DOES it go wrong? Well, for ABM I can help…for your dating life, you’re on your own.

Many people position ABM as having five distinct layers as shown below:

From running lots of ABM programs, I have seen several variations of this pyramid and experience tells me there can be as many as six layers. This complication can confuse matters when deciding which approach to take – and be the difference between finding your ABM soulmate, or getting kicked to the curb.

Before I continue, let’s get one thing straight – ABM is the way we will all do marketing in the future. And the 1:many layer will end up merging with demand generation. I understand a lot of marketers still need to have budget against demand generation and are therefore concerned about duplication with a 1:many effort. But they can be the same thing people!

Let’s get back on track. If we boil it down, there are usually several factors that direct you to pick one type of ABM over another:

Sales input

This could also be referred to as sales alignment, and can affect your approach in two main ways. Either:

Sales already know what they believe ABM to be and they want 1:1 programs


Sales already have an account list and the size or make up of that list defines the type of ABM you pick.

Suggestion: Always query whether Sales are suggesting the right approach to take and see if they’re wedded to their accounts. In our experience, Sales teams are very rarely married to a specific list – what they care about is hitting their number. So if you can show them accounts that are a better match, you should get very little pushback.


We all know how budget constraints can hamper your chances of success on a date. Limited budget for an ABM program can easily do the same by encouraging a broader, less risky ABM strategy. However, that is definitely not setting you up for a happy ending.

I’m not saying you need loads of budget to run ABM programs, because that depends largely on what resources you have internally. But what you don’t want to do is try to run an ABM program on a shoestring as a way of proving success and in turn scaling. If you go down this path, it rarely achieves good results and could lead to ABM getting a bad reputation. Meaning a complete move away from the concept.

Suggestion: Depending on resource level, try to ABM-ify your existing programs. In the short-term, this will start moving your organisation to understand what ABM could deliver and get the sales team used to ingesting account level insights.


As to my above point, some forms of ABM are quite time and resource heavy. Depending on your day to day role, this may mean asking for help either from corporate or agency, tech partners. Either way, the skill sets of the people you ask will push you towards a certain type of ABM.

For example, if the people you ask are very digitally and technically savvy, but lack the ability to do detailed account mapping, research and insight, it may lend to a more 1:many approach. If you have great sales people, with really detailed account plans and research around accounts, industries, markets and competitors, this may be an easy step to 1:few or 1:1.

Suggestion: Build out your account list, try to look at what success will look like for you and map out the best ABM approach – it may be a mix of different layers. Then look at the skill sets you will need in order to build that program. If in doubt, ask an expert that has run these types of programs, chances are they’ll be able to give you some direction.

Expected Outcomes

On a blind date, you usually go in with some ideas of what you expect to happen. With any marketing engagement, it is no different. Sometimes these expectations are unrealistic and sometimes they are well founded. In either case, don’t oversell the benefits, any ABM engagement is a journey and it is key to understand what your short term and long term outcomes are for the program.

Suggestion: Try to understand what different stakeholders (e.g. marketing, sales, finance) expect to see from an ABM program and then try to map out short term outcomes that are very achievable vs. longer term outcomes as a stretch goal. Work with existing internal data to try and build these benchmarks – whilst you may not have account level benchmarks (if you’ve never done ABM before), you will have lead level data and that can be a great starting point.

When we strip everything down, it really comes down to one thing: RISK. Now I know that a lot of people out there are going to be saying, ‘Well, it’s not my aversion to risk, it’s how the business is set up and I need to market within my structures’. I totally understand and in certain organisations that might be the case but there is still an element of risk management there. As an example, we are working with an organisation where we are building their key account strategy including; sales department restructuring, organisational change and then the marketing program is built afterwards. It takes a brave marketing lead to recognise there is a much bigger issue, try and position recommendations to the board and be seen as a business leader, as well as a marketing leader. That is a risky move and so back to my point of managing risk.

We’ve also had clients approach us to help them with ABM after they had a failed attempt, blaming the type of ABM they chose (1:many or 1:1) when in fact it was their organisational structure, the way the sales team were incentivised that actually caused the issues. Which you could argue is out of the marketing department’s control, but in fact is a fundamental principle of ABM.

In summary: Whether you’re getting ready for a blind date, or getting ready to start an ABM program you want the same thing – success! And success takes planning. An ABM program needn’t focus on just one layer, but should be built out as a reaction to the resources and results specific to your organisation. Just ensure you understand the risks associated both on a personal level and for the business. It will hold you in good stead further down the line.

Ricky Abbott

President, Americas, Transmission

Category: Insight

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