Account-Based Marketing vs. Customer-Centric Marketing: What is the Difference? [2020 Update]

We all know things have changed in 2020 (and we all know why). Many businesses and marketers had to rethink their marketing strategies, especially those that relied on in-person events for networking, marketing, and fostering relationships. As a result, we saw a surge in clients who needed help with strategizing, planning, and managing account-based marketing (ABM) initiatives.

In this article, we will explain what ABM is, some common ABM strategies, and how to build an ABM marketing plan that drives results for your business.

What is Account-Based Marketing (ABM)?

Account-based marketing is just what it sounds like: marketing to accounts rather than individuals. In fact, B2Bs and agencies are probably already doing some form of ABM. Additionally, B2Bs and agencies that are following inbound marketing methodologies, then you’ll be thrilled to know that inbound and ABM work together. However, ABM isn’t only about inbound or outbound, it’s about scalability and efficiency.

Is ABM Right for My Business?

Like the majority of marketing strategies, ABM certainly isn’t without its myths. Here are the most common:
– You need to be a huge enterprise.
– You need to have a huge budget.
– You need a giant sales and marketing team.
The truth is any business that does B2B marketing can build an ABM program. It can be applied to upsell or cross-sell to existing customers. 

How can agencies reach account decision-makers, build and foster relationships with them, and all at scale? This is the question that marketing and sales teams have to work together to build an effective ABM program.

How to Build an ABM Program

1. Define ABM

Before discussing different ABM strategies, the first step is to define ABM for every team and project. This is crucial in order to differentiate broader marketing campaigns and sales efforts, and pinpointing where ABM sits among those efforts. The truth is, not every company is set up for it! By pinpointing where ABM fits into existing sales processes and strategies, businesses can figure out how to build an ABM program that works for them.

2. Leverage “Smarketing”

The concept of “smarketing” (the alignment of sales and marketing) is incredibly important for businesses, and ABM is instilled in this alignment. However, this is also where a gap typically occurs. Sales and marketing have different goals and have different ideas of what constitutes a qualified lead.

For example, any prospect, contact, or account that expresses any type of interest, such as a form fill-out or an email reply might be considered a marketing qualified lead (MQL). However, a scheduled meeting, demo, or a phone call might be a sales qualified lead (SQL). Therefore, sales and marketing teams need to prequalify and agree on what constitutes a qualified lead before building an ABM program.

3. Determine Key Targets

Next, once sales and marketing teams are aligned on how to prequalify leads and how ABM fits into existing sales strategies, the next step is to determine the best account targets to include in ABM. Depending on the business, industry, or vertical, this could be retargeting past clients or customers, or reaching out to new prospects. This could also include a blend of account types, job titles, and industries. All in all, most sales teams have an excellent understanding of which accounts would be a good fit for an ABM strategy.

4. Personalize Content

Now it’s time to think about personalizing content to begin nurturing target accounts. This could mean developing a messaging matrix that outlines and maps messages to the right target audiences.

5. Identify KPIs

It’s true that marketing automation and monitoring and tracking marketing performance and KPIs are all crucial for helping businesses make more informed decisions and even save money by streamlining many ABM tasks.

Don’t Forget About Customer-Centricity…

So now that you know and understand a little bit more about ABM, how is this different from a customer-centric marketing strategy? Although ABM targets larger businesses and multiple stakeholders, is there room for customer intimacy? Is customer intimacy even appropriate in an ABM strategy?

Targeting consumers is a huge challenge for businesses. Customers’ needs and priorities are constantly shifting and changing, which makes it incredibly difficult for businesses to keep up and cope with growing marketing demands, shifting strategies, and even media trends.

As difficult as it may be, optimizing the customer experience – from lead generation to completing the buying cycle – is the best way to appeal to a customer’s needs and also the best way to gain insight and understanding of your customers’ buying behaviors.

As a business owner, entrepreneur or manager, you are aware of the importance of customer service and support. Even if your business has high customer service and customer retention levels, would you say that you also have trusted, personal relationships with customers that give your business a real competitive advantage? The point is your business might be offering good customer service but customer intimacy is on another level…

Customer intimacy can be thought of as another level to a customer-centric business. It involves learning about your individual customers and meeting their specific needs. By doing this, you can customize and personalize products and/ or services as well as other innovative solutions that exceed their expectations.

As you can see, adopting customer intimacy can take a great deal of thought and effort, and it can also be a costly endeavor. However, building personal, trustworthy, and long-term relationships with your customers will also pay off in the long run.

Which Marketing Strategy is Best for YOUR Business?

So how do you know which type of marketing strategy is right for your business? Does it have to be that complicated? Maybe not. Learning about who your customers are is a great place to start. This information will be able to help you determine which marketing strategy would work best for your business, and that will also work for your customers.

For example, as we mentioned at the beginning of this blog, if your customer base is large enough or if you are a B2B, then customers who are comprised of “accounts” or a number of stakeholders will likely benefit more from an account-based approach. This is likely the best option for large businesses and enterprises.

On the other hand, retailers, smaller service providers, and nonprofits who target the consumer—an individual person—will likely benefit more by focusing their efforts on perfecting customer intimacy, and customer satisfaction and retention levels.

During Q4 of 2020, we worked with three different agency clients to help build ABM marketing plans. These are often long-term projects that require a lot of deep conversations, strategizing, mapping, and planning. ABM can certainly get complicated, but it has also proven to be extremely effective. For example, many elements of ABM can help you build stronger relationships with your customers and within all of your key accounts with just a little personalization.

Much of ABM relies on personalization to create deeper connections with customers. This kind of personalization goes further than just knowing their names, but knowing their challenges and how your business can provide unique solutions through each stage in the buying process and at key growth points in your relationships with your customers.