The Definition of Account Based Marketing

As Account Based Marketing gains traction, a lot of definitions are starting to emerge. Here’s a quick recap of some of the definitions out there.

“Treating individual accounts as a market in their own right. A structured approach to developing and implementing highly customized marketing campaigns to markets of one. This approach involves marketing and sales taking a close look at key business issues facing the target account, mapping those issues to individuals, and tailoring campaigns to address those issues.”
ITSMA (who coined the term)

“The strategic approach marketers use to support a defined universe of accounts, including strategic accounts and named accounts.”

“The coordination of personalized marketing and sales efforts to drive engagement at a targeted set of accounts.”

“Focusing sales & marketing resources on the greatest revenue potential to guide the deal through the complex B2B sales cycle.”

“Account-based marketing is, in many ways, the exact opposite of the traditional demand generation approach. Rather than reaching broadly across a large number of organizations, companies that employ an account-based marketing strategy focus their marketing and sales resources on a targeted set of accounts and look to deliver strategic, orchestrated campaigns personalized to those accounts. The accounts that you target with ABM are high-yield, and are often considered a better fit for your products or solutions. These accounts are likely to generate more revenue, and often have other strategic significance, like helping to penetrate new territories or influence a market.”

“ABM is simply a shift in B2B marketing strategy, from the focus of acquiring and nurturing individual leads to building relationships with specific businesses.”

Our Definition

At Engagio, we looked at all these definitions, found what was common, and came up with our own:

Account Based Marketing is a strategic approach that coordinates personalized marketing and sales efforts to open doors and deepen engagement at specific accounts. 

Here’s what we like about this definition:

  • ABM is strategic: ABM is not a simple campaign or tactic for the quarter; it’s fundamentally different way of thinking about running your marketing department (or at least part of it); ABM is not ‘one and done’; it’s “always on” for an account.
  • ABM is personalized to specific accounts: The most fundamental concept of Account Based Marketing is that you focus on fewer accounts, and by doing so you can be more specific and therefore more relevant and more effective.
  • ABM is for marketing and sales: Calling the strategy Account Based Marketing is a misnomer (in much the same way that marketing automation was a misnomer, since you have to put work into a marketing automation platform to make it succeed).  ABM may have marketing in the name, but in reality it’s a close collaboration between sales and marketing – and without that alignment ABM will fail.
  • ABM helps you open doors and deepen engagement: Marketing departments today are often overly focused on top of the funnel activities. In Account Based Marketing, the focus is not only on landing new accounts, but also on expanding existing relationships – both during the initial sales cycle, and throughout the customer journey.

How would you modify or expand this definition? Let us know in the comments!

Jon Miller
Jon Miller
Jon Miller is CEO and founder of Engagio. Previously, Jon was the VP Marketing and Co-Founder of Marketo. He is a speaker and writer about marketing best practices, and is the author of multiple Definitive Guides including Marketing Automation, Engaging Email Marketing, and Marketing Metrics & Analytics. Jon has a passion for helping marketers everywhere, and is on the Board of Scripted and is an advisor to Optimizely and Newscred. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

6 Responses to “The Definition of Account Based Marketing”

September 15, 2016 at 4:38 pm, Norman Bowe said:

What is missing from all these definitions is that ABM represents at the core an exchange of value between buyer (customer/prospect) and seller (vendor). Customers don’t buy products, services or solutions, they buy value, thus the exchange of value should be at the core of any definition. ABM also represents a balance between achieving short-term transactional tactical goals as well as delivering long-term strategic relationships based on an exchange of value. Enjoy!


September 15, 2016 at 4:59 pm, Jon Miller said:

Thanks Norman. I totally agree that a relevant value exchange is at the core of all 1:1 marketing.


September 15, 2016 at 7:10 pm, Adrian O'Gara said:

Hi Norman, I agree that value exchange is essential. ABM, at it’s core, is about understanding what value you can bring to specific accounts, based on your understanding of what they need. This means marketing has to offer targeted messaging that is relevant and sales need to communicate this value until the deal is closed. Then the customer success team needs to delivery the promised value. Marketing needs to be the constant messenger throughout this process so the customer receives a joined up customer experience. Not easy to achieve but something we should all strive for.


September 15, 2016 at 6:50 pm, Adrian O'Gara said:

It’s also important to understand the sub-catagories of ABM strategies:

1. Large Account (1:1)
2. Named Accounts (1:few)
3. Customer Lifecycle (advocacy)
4. Industry/Segment (1:few)
5. Broad Based (transactional)

The first three have been around for a long time. The last two strategies are being enabled by new technologies: IP tracking, retargeting, mass-personalisation and programmatic account-based advertising. Some would argue that strategies 4 & 5 aren’t ABM. Either way, they are very effective. Do you classify all 5 strategies as ABM? Do you think they are all covered in your definition?


September 15, 2016 at 7:29 pm, Jon Miller said:

Good question, Adrian. I think ideally you include some element of account-specific research and personalization in all your ABM initiatives regardless of the five styles you list. So depending on how you do it, strategies 4 and 5 may or may not count as ABM…


September 16, 2016 at 4:45 pm, Adrian O'Gara said:

Good point, Jon. I see too many companies say they have an ABM strategy but they have simply chosen target accounts based on the company size or brand name (going after the largest accounts). Not on their need or intent to buy. It’s excitting to see semantic search, predictive analytics and machine leaning helping people research the right accounts to target. As well as having automated workflows that help people action personalised conversations.


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