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What “Mad Men” and ABM have to do with B2B Sales?

Account Based Marketing has been around for many years. It required cultivating the contacts and having relationships with the customer. Very much like the way it was done in the world of “Mad Men”. Few accounts, personalized treatment, big rewards. Everything was done to please and keep the client happy.

And for some years, ABM was known for being used by big companies to target only a few big and profitable accounts. Back in 2007, for example, Northrop Grumman announced they have closed a $2 billion deal, by using this technic.

It was all done on hunch, on feel. Back then there was no sophistication, no way to quantify the elements. Just sweat and tears and a lot of alcohol.

Thankfully we have come a long way since the days of “Mad Men”. Advertising, or marketing as some insist on calling it today, has changed drastically. But how does the French saying goes? “The more it changes, the more it stays the same”? The basics remain the same and ABM is building upon them.

In the past few years, there is a growing interest, particularly among companies that have grown to approximately $100 million in revenue by using inbound and demand generation tactics, in applying ABM when talking about B2B sales.

Adobe, for example, not only uses ABM but is a class leader for the ABM model and a capital investor in the ABM technology industry. Xerox, Medidata, Marketo and other big companies are using this approach as well.

Account Based Strategies work, experts say, because they incorporate everything B2B marketing and sales do to target, close, and grow the best possible account.

ABM is similar to what is traditionally called enterprise sales. The biggest difference is that ABM can be used to target a company of any size. Instead of contacting only the decision makers inside the company, sales and marketing work together to target multiple decision makers that have different roles and responsibilities.

This concept involves using a group dynamics and psychology to close a deal. And by the time a decision maker asks for a demo, there will be other people in the company who have knowledge of what is offered. When the next meeting happens, the seller’s company is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

For those principles to be effective, ABM strategies must be applied through the marketing and sales process. The sale development representative (SDR) plays an important role in bridging the gap between these 2 departments.

The costliest expense for marketing teams is time, and the biggest time spender is the lead generation. With the birth of the SDR, sales teams have gone from buying leads to bringing the work in house. Investing in tools – technology – that will help automate parts of their jobs, making the team better and faster.

Once a business understands the key fundamentals of ABM across the funnel – from getting started, making progress, and measuring results it becomes a gateway to a broader, more successful programs.

The usage of ABM has grown in the last few years because technology and data-driven tools have evolved, and are now enabling marketers to gain insight into how individual prospect are behaving, both online and offline.


Yet a survey of B2B companies showed that over half the companies polled had ABM pilots in place, but only 20% had a full ABM program in place. 47% expressed concern about lacking the know-how to execute a full-scale ABM program.

The Difference Between ABM and Outbound Sales

In outbound sales reps execute their scheme using a mix of contact points such as phone, email, and social media until they generate an opportunity with a certain client. Marketing may, or may not, be involved, and if they are involved, they usually send a onetime message not specific to that client. With ABM, sales and marketing work together to create a continues series of touches and relationships aimed at this buyer.

The Elements of Account Based Marketing

The first step is the same as outbound marketing; determining who the company wants to target. Ideally, these companies match the seller’s ideal customer profile. Then the company develops a list of people in the organization it wants to approach. Once the list is made, that’s where the different becomes clearer.

  1. A coordinated effort between sales, sales development, marketing and executives.

The assigned sales person will own the account, but other groups and stakeholders will play significant roles in driving engagement. As an example; a technology company that focuses on the Fortune 50, will set up account team with the executive owning the account. Each team includes a dedicated sales development rep, an account manager, a marketing manager, and an executive sponsor. The executive sponsor sends a series of personalized messages to target executives, marketing devices account-specific campaigns that will be sent throughout the program, and the sales development rep arranges meetings with manager-level contacts.

  1. Deep Account Profiling. This is the main reason why more companies are now implementing ABM. With technology development this information is now more available than ever before. One critical element of ABM is the ability to identify key business initiatives and challenges and customize products to deal with these issues. Here is how one sale executive for a large enterprise software company puts it: “It’s pretty simple: we identified that the company’s key growth strategy for the year was to drive significant expansion internationally. I spent a month identifying the key executives in charge of the expansion. We then set up campaigns focusing every message, every conversation, every presentation to them around this strategy. We spent months working different angles and eventually turned that into a big deal.”
  2. Marketing runs a steady mix of campaigns. One of the key differences between outbound sales and ABM is in the marketing. They deliver an ‘always on’ campaigns to multiple stakeholders in the company. It runs offline events such as dinners, sporting events, and executive events. It sends direct mail and makes calls. Marketing is tracked by the number of leads, meetings, and opportunities it managed to generate.
  3. Customized, account specific programs – ABM customization takes it to a new level. For example, a company runs an account based marketing strategy by running account specific events, renting a space or a restaurant near the target account’s headquarters and inviting the stakeholders from the buyer’s company. Another example of customization is creating and sending customized, account specific, reports to multiple stakeholders in the company, then holding a conversation or a webinar about the report findings.

As we see from all that, the most important element is the relationship between the sale and marketing teams. Yet a survey done by CallidusCloud about Sales and Marketing found that 84% of sales and marketing teams are misaligned. This means the greater share of B2B companies do not have a symbiotic relationship. While those teams have the same goal – generating revenue, they are often misaligned in how they perform analysis and measure success. This misalignment can create a divide between the teams and a work environment in which each team blames the other when goals are not met.

Currently, sales team are responsible for 75% of demand creation, while marketing generates the remaining 25% of leads. When a lead moves through the sales funnel from SAL to SQL, a handoff occurs between marketing and sales that is responsible for closing the deal.

How can marketers develop key ABM strategies to help the sale team populate the funnel?

It seems all those buyer’s personas marketing was so busy building, becomes irrelevant. Now they have a name, a title, and a face. And the sales department needs to know them too. Sales and marketing need to assess and reassess their target list on a quarterly basis and audit the amount of knowledge they have on each account.

ABM is a team effort, not a marketing project. “The thing about ABM is that it gets marketers thinking about accounts, which they traditionally have not done. They were traditionally all about leads. If you asked any B2B marketer was their job was, it was to generate leads. And with ABM, their job is not to generate leads, it’s to grow accounts and grow account relationships. That’s a very different perspective, and it’s the way that salespeople have always thought,” Says David Raab, Marketing Technology and Analytics expert.

Any marketing and sales individual is a member of the marketing team which focuses on a single, or a small number of accounts. The team develops a marketing plan and creates marketing content specifically for those accounts. The unification starts right at the beginning, bringing sales and marketing closer together.

These days with predictive analytics, lead scoring, CRMs and account targeting tools, any size company can make the delivery of relevant content possible.

Doesn’t it sound familiar? That’s how they did business at Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce, the advertising agency on Madison Avenue that is at the center of “Mad Men”.



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