3 Different Types of ABM: Which Is Right for You?

By Steve Robinson
Founder & CEO Brilliant Metrics

May 6, 2023

Account-based marketing (ABM) can help you close deals on select accounts that can drive a lot of revenue. But what is ABM, how does it work, and why should your business consider adopting it?

I'm often asked to define account-based marketing (ABM) and, I'll be honest, that's actually a challenging thing to do. Bev Burgess of ITSMA (now Momentum ITSMA) first coined the phrase, defining it as, “strategic approach that treats individual accounts as markets in their own right.”

Later definitions mostly came from thought leaders in the space, led by Sangram Vajre of Terminus. Sangram's framing for ABM starts with the difference between it and more traditional inbound marketing, focusing on how it essentially flips the traditional marketing funnel on its head.

Here at Brilliant Metrics, we like that definition and often lead with that, focusing on how the first step in an ABM strategy is account identification or qualification.

Flip the Funnel

Flip the funnel! The first step in an ABM strategy is account identification or qualification.

However, there are a few other things that make ABM different from other marketing:
  • In ABM, sales and marketing focus their efforts on the same targets in a coordinated way

  • Tactics and collateral are personalized, often down to an individual account level

  • Success is measured in the conversion of target accounts into revenue, and the glory is shared by marketing and sales

But thats where the tight definition ends. See, ABM isn't one thing. There are actually three different types of ABM and they can look radically different.

Strategic ABM

Also called, One-to-One ABM, this approach focuses on building a personalized and highly targeted marketing strategy for individual accounts.

Strategic ABM is really only appropriate for targeting high-value accounts with significant revenue potential or strategic importance. Each account is treated as a separate market to penetrate, and a dedicated team creates unique marketing campaigns tailored to the needs, goals, and pain points of that specific account.

This level of personalization is incredibly effective, but also resource intensive. For example, we are working with a client right now on an ABM program targeting prime contractors on military projects. Each piece of creative is customized to match each unique account, down to the level of using the target account's colors and look and feel alongside our client's.

You'll typically only run at handful of these strategic ABM accounts at a time, and a salesperson is often dedicated to that single account.

When to use strategic ABM:
  • When targeting high-value or strategically important accounts, with deal sizes typically 6 figures or more

  • When you have the resources to devote to personalized marketing strategies

  • When a deep understanding of the account's needs and objectives is available

ABM Lite

Often referred to as One-to-Few ABM or Cluster ABM, in this approach, you target a small group of accounts with similar characteristics, such as industry, size, or location. By focusing on a cluster of accounts, you can create semi-personalized marketing campaigns that address the shared needs and challenges of the group. 

This allows for greater efficiency than one-to-one ABM, while still maintaining a targeted and tailored approach. 

For example, we are working with a client targeting private schools and we identified different needs based on the student population of the area, so after narrowing the total addressable market to prequalified, best-fit accounts, we broke those up into cohorts based on size.

We ended up with:

  • 5 cohorts of many small schools in rural or small communities
  • 2 cohorts of a few medium-sized schools in smaller metropolitan areas
  • 5 cohorts of just a couple large schools in large metropolitan areas
When to use ABM Lite:
  • When deal sizes are large enough to warrant some personalization, but not one-to-one personalization, generally in the 5-figure range

  • When targeting a group of accounts with similar characteristics

  • When resources are limited, making one-to-one ABM impractical

  • When you can identify shared pain points and objectives within the account cluster

Programmatic ABM

Also called One-to-Many ABM, this is the most scalable form of ABM, targeting a larger number of accounts with broadly similar characteristics. One-to-many ABM leverages technology and automation to create personalized marketing experiences at scale.

Though barely qualifying as ABM at all due to the lack of personalization and a greater separation of duties between sales and marketing, advocates say it still qualifies because the focus is on a targeted, prequalified list of accounts.

We generally guide clients away from this form of ABM and instead focus efforts on hybrid programs that still prequalify target accounts, but broaden reach beyond that limited set and share some characteristics of more traditional or inbound marketing.

When to use one-to-many ABM:
  • When targeting a larger number of accounts (deal sizes in the 4-figure range) with similar characteristics

  • When you have access to technology and automation tools that enable personalization at scale

  • When you also have large outbound sales teams (i.e. call centers) or a means of prioritizing accounts for sales outreach

So you can see, ABM isn't really just one thing. It can take three distinct shapes and then from there the individual forms can vary widely by industry, resources and focus.

If you are thinking that account-based marketing might be for you or your organization, but need help with a vision of exactly how, please feel free to reach out to me at steve.robinson@brilliantmetrics.com. Also, we regularly run ABM workshops in the Milwaukee area, helping marketers build or rethink their ABM programs, end-to-end. 

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