The Ultimate ABM Pre-Launch Checklist for Manufacturers

10 Things You Need Before You Start ABM

Are you really ready for ABM?

An account-based approach to marketing is critical to maximizing your revenue potential within niche B2B markets. Most organizations already know this but may not yet have implemented an ABM program.

Even the most mature B2B marketing teams may be missing some of the foundational pieces required to successfully adopt ABM. In our work with manufacturers across North America who have engaged us to bring more account focus to their marketing and sales initiatives, these are the ten items we most commonly find are missing or overlooked before launching an ABM program.

If you’re planning to set your ABM strategy and start launching targeted campaigns, this checklist will help you ensure you’re in the best possible position to achieve ABM success.


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1 - An ABM-Ready Team

Organizations that have reached ABM maturity have broken down the barriers between marketing and sales to create a unified revenue optimization team. Sweeping organizational changes aren’t required at the outset of your ABM program, but your team should be on board to make incremental changes to the way they work.

At minimum, your marketing team should know which leads to focus on (i.e. leads that look like your ideal customers) and your salespeople should be prepared to increase their involvement in marketing activities.

This shift can be difficult for some salespeople; they may be on board with connecting with prospects in new ways via new channels, but they also need to be prepared to spend time and effort on prospect interactions that aren’t entirely focused on closing a deal.

On the other hand, some marketers have a hard time leaving inbound metrics (site visits and total views of a content asset, for example) behind and focusing on quality over quantity.

Both salespeople and marketers need to be prepared to abandon traditional funnel thinking and refocus on shared KPIs that can accurately measure the team’s success in building relationships with target accounts. There should be no more lead handoff between marketing and sales — building a prospect relationship that can survive the buying journey is a single-team effort.

Building a prospect relationship that can survive the buying journey is a single-team effort.

2 - A Target Account List

A target account list (TAL) is the single most important piece of information to your ABM program. Salespeople are often used to working from a target account list, but marketers are often still stuck on personas. Both are useful (and personas will be addressed in the next checklist item), but the TAL is fundamental.

To develop your TAL, start with your existing customers: pull a list of the organizations that already buy from you, and start to identify common denominators. Where are they located? What industries do they represent? How big are they? What’s their annual revenue? What challenges do we help them overcome?

Answering these questions about your existing customers will result in a firmographic profile, or Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) that you can use as the blueprint for your TAL. You may want to create multiple ICPs to represent different key verticals or other segments of the accounts you serve today. Once your ICPs are established, you can use a tool like Zoominfo or LinkedIn Sales Navigator to build a list of accounts that look like your ideal customers.

There is often a delta between the list of accounts you could target — given infinite time and resources — and the list of accounts that you should target with your almost-certainly-finite ABM resources. Experienced ABM practitioners will tier their TAL and allocate more resources to the biggest potential opportunities (aka Tier 1). How you tier your list is somewhat dependent on what and how you sell, but total revenue potential should always be your top consideration. For example, you could choose to tier according to the size of the target organization or whether they fall within your most profitable target vertical(s).

There is often a delta between the list of accounts you could target — given infinite time and resources — and the list of accounts that you should target with your almost-certainly-finite ABM resources.

3 - An Understanding of How Prospects Buy

Most marketers — especially those coming from an inbound marketing background — understand the concept of Buyer Personas and how to apply them to developing effective marketing content. Personas are an excellent start in trying to gain a deeper understanding of the buying committee and how it works.

According to CEB/Gartner, the typical B2B buying committee has seven members, all with unique roles, goals, and requirements. Different members of the buying committee may be involved in different parts of the buying journey — some may be tasked primarily with requirements gathering, others may conduct initial research, and still others may only show up near the decision point as blockers.

The key to understanding how prospects buy is knowing how to identify active buyers and figuring out what information they need at each stage of the buying journey. The problem many ABM practitioners face is that they’ve never had any visibility into the earliest stages of the buying journey before. B2B buyers tend to only show up and identify themselves when they’re ready to make contact with sales, and by that point, the buying journey could be nearly over.

Experienced members of your sales team will have a wealth of information about what different types of buyers need to know at later stages of the journey. To shed light on earlier stages, you can interview current customers about their buying process.

An important note on this point: ABM will expose you to parts of the buying journey you simply can’t see with a traditional inbound marketing approach. Gaining visibility into these early buying stages is incredibly useful, if you know how to use this information. Too many marketers coming from an inbound background will try to drive conversions at these early stages and then wonder why their ABM programs are failing to generate leads. The point of ABM is not to generate conversions earlier on in the buying process. You already know who your buyers are, so convincing them to fill out a form confirming that information isn’t a good use of your ABM efforts. Focus instead on getting the right information in front of them at the right time without trying to make them jump through a conversion hoop when they’re still in anonymous research mode.

The point of ABM is not to generate conversions earlier on in the buying process. 

4 - Strategic Messaging

An ultra-targeted marketing strategy needs to be supported with ultra-targeted messaging. Once you’ve sliced and diced your TAL down into smaller, more actionable segments, work on developing a greater understanding of how your competitive differentiators and value propositions should be conveyed to each segment.

Every milestone in the buying journey is marked by the buying committee reaching some kind of new understanding — what their problem is, what the requirements are for a potential solution, what kinds of potential solutions are out there, and the relative pros and cons of each solution provider. Your messaging at each stage should focus on helping buyers reach that understanding. What do your prospects believe now, and what do you need them to know to see the value of your solution?

This is often a difficult exercise for B2B marketers who are used to prospects only showing up when they’re close to a buying decision. The impulse to immediately start talking about your own brand or solution tends to be strong, but when given the opportunity to get in front of prospects earlier in the journey, aligning your messaging with their current level of problem awareness is critical.

All members of your ABM team (that means marketing and sales) should be involved in messaging development. Beyond the exercise benefiting from the collective knowledge of the team, each ABM practitioner should ensure that any messaging they use—from a display ad to a sales call—aligns with the overarching messaging strategy. It’s jarring for a prospect to interact with a number of digital assets that have a consistent look and feel, and then wind up in a completely different kind of sales presentation.

Every milestone in the buying journey is marked by the buying committee reaching some kind of new understanding

5 - Effective Content

Content is the vehicle that delivers your messaging to prospects. We’ve encountered many manufacturers that have invested in content creation with little payoff — they developed a whitepaper or two, put them up behind a form, and didn’t get the steady stream of qualified leads they hoped for. Generally speaking, the problem here is twofold: poor distribution and a lead gen strategy that is at odds with a strong B2B buyer preference for anonymous research. If content is a vehicle, it needs to be steered in the right direction and left unlocked.

Once you’ve developed your messaging for various segments of your TAL and all steps of the buying journey, you need to determine what types of content your prospects are likely to engage with at each point. The content you develop should also help buying committee members complete tasks associated with the purchase decision: problem identification, solutions exploration, requirements-gathering, research, and vendor comparison.

Your content could (and should) take many forms: blog posts, checklists, videos, webinars, spec sheets, interactive demos, and so on. Organizations that are willing to invest in premium content often see better results: interactive assets like ROI calculators or solution finders typically see twice as much engagement as non-interactive content.

Many marketers will cringe at the idea of developing a piece of content and then giving it away for free, i.e. not requiring prospects to trade their contact information for access to the content. Successful ABM practitioners have been disabused of this notion. High-value content (think: industry-specific webinars) should still be gated, but content that is trying to be helpful or informational (think: product brochures and whitepapers) should not be hidden behind a form.

You can still gate these assets on your website to generate leads from visitors from non-ABM channels, but if you’re serving content to specific target accounts using ABM technology, you may be setting yourself up for failure by hitting prospects over the head with a form. You already know who they are, so make their buying process easier by getting the right information in front of them without asking for anything in exchange. There are still ways to measure whether your target prospects are engaging with the content you’ve developed for them — see the next checklist item for more.

Sales enablement collateral should be part of your overarching ABM content development plan. Ensure that the collateral your salespeople are using — presentation decks, spec sheets, proposals — are consistent with upfunnel content in terms of design and tone.

If content is a vehicle, it needs to be steered in the right direction and left unlocked

6 - The Right Tech Stack

Your approach to ABM can be as low- or high-tech as you like (or as your budget allows). The level of effort you need to expend to orchestrate campaigns does tend to be inversely proportional to the sophistication of your ABM tech stack, especially if you’re targeting more than a dozen or so accounts.

At minimum, you need a way to host digital content and a way to keep track of contacts and accounts. This could simply be a function of your website and CRM. Many organizations also use a marketing automation platform such as HubSpot, which has a built-in CRM and offers additional ABM tools.

The rest of your tech requirements are dependent on the content of your strategy. To deliver account-based advertising (ABA) — digital ads that are only shown to members of your target accounts — you can use LinkedIn, but keep in mind that there is a minimum audience size of 300 on that platform. This isn’t a problem if you’re planning to run one-to-many or one-to-few campaigns, but one-to-one campaigns could be difficult to orchestrate if you’re advertising to organizations with fewer than 300 employees on LinkedIn.

For ultra-targeted ABA campaigns, including ad campaigns with no minimum audience sizes or campaigns on premium channels like connected TVs and streaming audio, you will need to invest in an ABM platform with advanced ad serving capabilities.

Many ABM practitioners make use of intent data to help decipher where target accounts are in their buying journeys and what kinds of messaging might best resonate with prospects. For example, you could use an intent data platform to find out whether a specific target account is searching for information that correlates with the awareness stage of the journey, e.g. “(industry you serve) solution for (problem you solve)” or if they’ve advanced to the consideration stage of the journey and are investigating your direct competitors. Intent data can be purchased as a standalone service or integrated into a larger ABM platform.

Depending on the ABM platform you select, you can get access to other ABM capabilities like:

  • Account-based live website chat
  • Technographic information
  • Automated campaign orchestration
  • Predictive analytics
  • Dynamic ad, email, and website personalization
  • Automated sales alerts, e.g. alerts when a prospect is visiting your website or has reached a minimum threshold of engagement with campaign assets
  • Revenue attribution and/or multi-touch attribution reporting
  • One- or two-way integration with your marketing automation and CRM platforms

The costs of an ABM platform can vary depending on how much functionality you need, but expect to pay $30k/year (USD) on the low end. Full-featured ABM platforms with all of the above functionality can cost $70k-$100k or more per year. Your media spend is on top of platform costs, but you’ll get far more bang for your advertising buck if you’re not wasting budget on irrelevant accounts or out-of-sync messaging.

One of the most valuable features of an ABM platform is the ability to measure how target accounts are engaging with your campaign assets, even if they are conducting anonymous research.

Consider this example: you launch a display ad campaign pointing to a gated whitepaper and within the first week, your ad has 60 clicks but zero conversions. Without the insight provided by ABM technology, your team may start to suspect that the whitepaper isn’t resonating with your target audience, but you have no way of knowing for sure whether the clicks are even coming from relevant accounts.

With the right ABM technology, however, you could deploy the same campaign pointing to the same whitepaper, targeting only 15 high-priority accounts and removing the conversion requirement. A week later you see the same 60 clicks and zero conversions, but you can tell that two of your target accounts have interacted with the whitepaper a dozen times each and then visited several high-value pages on your website. With that information, you could then activate your sales team to begin targeted outreach to those accounts with messaging directly related to the content of the whitepaper and the site pages they viewed.

The level of effort you need to expend to orchestrate campaigns does tend to be inversely proportional to the sophistication of your ABM tech stack

7 - Well-Managed Data

Accurate, actionable data is the key to a successful ABM program, and a successful ABM program tends to generate a lot more data to manage. Keeping all of this information organized and readily available to the right members of your ABM team is critical. It’s also very difficult to do if you don’t have the right data management infrastructure in place upfront.

Before adopting ABM, your team should ensure that the information in your CRM is clean and current — for example, that all current customers and opportunities are identified as such, and that any prospect interactions with your sales team are being documented. If your marketing and sales teams are using different platforms (e.g. HubSpot and another CRM), they should be integrated as much as possible before introducing an ABM platform. If you’re not planning to use a new platform for ABM, you need to decide where ABM program information will be stored and how it will be used.

Many leading ABM platforms offer native integration with popular CRMs, but in our experience working with manufacturers adopting ABM, at least part of your data management process will have to be custom to your organization. Most often, that involves syncing data between platforms using spreadsheets or third-party apps. This doesn’t always have an associated cost (we’ve managed data flow between three platforms using nothing but CSVs), but the less automated your integration, the more person-hours will be required to manage your data architecture. Sorting out how this will all work before you launch could save you hundreds (or more) of frustrating hours trying to rework your data management strategy.

When your data management strategy works, all members of your ABM team will have immediate visibility into which accounts are actively engaging with campaigns, which have initiated conversations with sales, where they are in the buying journey/pipeline, which individuals within the account are known, and what the next planned steps are to continue nurturing the account toward a purchase decision.

We’ve seen some fundamentally broken data management systems, too — situations in which different platforms and departments weren’t sharing information, so marketers were running Opportunity campaigns to closed-lost accounts and salespeople were reaching out with top-of-funnel content to accounts that had already demonstrated significant levels of midfunnel engagement. This problem is often emblematic of an organization that has skipped over the first item in this checklist and failed to integrate their marketing and sales departments to create a focused revenue optimization team.

Exactly what a well-managed data architecture looks like is 100% dependent on what kind of information you need to fuel your ABM program, what the inputs are, how much automation you desire, and what kinds of actions you want to trigger based on the data you collect. Mapping all of this out in advance will save you time and money and will help you reach positive ROI faster.

When your data management strategy works, all members of your ABM team will have immediate visibility into accounts

8 - Consideration of Intersections With Your Demand Gen Program

ABM may be the best approach to maximizing your revenue potential in niche B2B markets, but it isn’t the only approach. Most of the manufacturers we work with supplement their ABM efforts with elements of traditional and inbound marketing, including paid search, organic search optimization, print ads, trade shows, and more. 

ABM efforts and other marketing efforts shouldn’t be siloed — this only hurts the performance of each campaign. For example, if you’re running an awareness-level paid search program that feeds into an email nurture sequence, what will you do if a lead comes in from a highly engaged target account that is enrolled in an active opportunity campaign? Leaving that prospect in a marketing campaign that is out-of-sync with the larger planned digital experience for that account will result in a disjointed, ineffective customer journey.

Getting this right is contingent on checking off items 1 and 7 on this list. If your teams are unified and your data management system is on point, you’ll be able to catch situations like the example above right away and ensure a consistent experience for all members of your target accounts. 

On the other hand, your more traditional marketing efforts may bring in leads from accounts that aren’t currently on your TAL but fit your ICP. These accounts shouldn’t be left to languish outside the borders of your ABM program. Your team will also need a plan for identifying new target accounts and placing them in the appropriate stages of your ABM campaign(s).

ABM efforts and other marketing efforts shouldn’t be siloed — this only hurts the performance of each campaign.

9 - A Measurement Plan

One of the main challenges we see manufacturers struggle with as they adopt ABM is figuring out how to measure success with all of the new data at their disposal. Many struggle to shift out of an inbound mindset and stop counting conversions as a sign they’re doing well (or, more typically, a lack of conversions as a sign they’re not doing well). Others get overwhelmed by the volume of account-level data and don’t know where to direct their focus, leaving sales-ready accounts and revenue on the table.

It’s important to decide what you’re going to measure in general terms before you get started. It’s also important to be flexible with your KPIs. Each campaign you launch — especially ultra-targeted campaigns that may be delivered to just one account — is going to need its own set of metrics to determine success. For example, setting and then meeting a goal of increasing your number of engaged accounts by 50% is great if you’re advertising to a list of 100 accounts; a lot less so if you’re only advertising to one.

At a high level, we recommend measuring:

  • Total match/reach, i.e. are we able to get in front of our target accounts?
  • Account engagement; ad clicks, site visits, and asset interactions per target account
  • Conversions/connect rate (note: “conversions” doesn’t just mean leads generated by form fills — it includes all successful connections with sales that were influenced by ABM)
  • Opportunities created
  • Deals closed/revenue generated
  • Pipeline velocity

What you can measure and how easily you can measure it will be dependent on the tech stack you’ve chosen. Some ABM platforms offer integrated and automated reporting that will make your job a lot easier.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that success is going to look different from other marketing programs you may have implemented in the past. If your paid search program drove 50 leads/month but only one or two were from relevant accounts, then you can’t directly compare those results to an ABM program that increases engagement — even “anonymous” engagement — among real target accounts.

The ultimate indicator of success should always be revenue that has been directly influenced by your ABM program. Ensure you have a way to measure this key metric, or the actual impact of your ABM efforts will be impossible to prove.

The ultimate indicator of success should always be revenue that has been directly influenced by your ABM program.

10 - An ABM Roadmap

If you didn’t already have a sense of it before reading this checklist, you know now — getting an ABM program off the ground is a lot of work. Going through all of the checklist items in order will give you a solid start, but trying to do it all before you launch your first campaign will leave you in ABM limbo for months...or even years.

An organization that has reached full ABM maturity may have journey maps built out for multiple products and services aimed at multiple industries, with messaging and content streams fully developed for each individual member of the buying committee and aligned with different intent categories. These requirements add up fast. Realistically, it can take years to get to this point, especially if you sell into many different verticals.

Perfect is the enemy of done. Specifically for new ABM practitioners, comprehensive is the enemy of launched. Define your ideal state, then work backwards to determine which key campaigns you want to have up and running before you start working on different parts of the buying journey or more granular campaigns. Ideally you’ll start fairly broad (although still only focused on named target accounts), targeting narrower slices of your TAL over time.

Exactly what this looks like depends on the key areas of revenue opportunity for your business and where you want to focus your efforts to drive maximum value. We often recommend starting with a campaign directed at current opportunities — you can develop validation content and ads that align with your sales team’s current process to act as support for the deals they’re already working. If you start as close to the money as possible, you can have the most direct impact on revenue right out of the gate.

After that, you can choose to work backward throughout the buying journey, rolling out campaigns aimed at earlier and earlier stages of the purchase process. Some organizations choose one key vertical and develop a full-journey campaign for them first, then leverage assets and learnings from this first project to stand up campaigns for additional verticals. Others choose to start with a customer expansion/upsell campaign, taking advantage of the depth of knowledge they already have about existing accounts. Still others kick off their ABM program with a pilot one-to-one campaign focusing on a single high-value target account.

Defining your ABM roadmap at the outset — and being realistic about how much campaign development you can accomplish in a given period of time — will help you get key campaigns out into the wild faster than holding off on launch until you have something ready for every decision-maker within every industry vertical for every product you sell. Have a plan, but be flexible enough to accommodate new opportunities as they arise and set aside time to dedicate to analysis of your existing program and optimization of your already-launched campaigns.

For new ABM practitioners, comprehensive is the enemy of launched

Define Your ABM Next Steps: Listen to The Kula Ring

The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online. Browse our collection of ABM-specific podcasts here to find deeper insights into specific facets of ABM. For manufacturers looking to get started with ABM right away, we recommend these two in particular:

Getting Started With ABM: Gain Early Wins and Avoid Missteps

Floyd Blaikie, Senior Strategist at Kula Partners, explains how manufacturing marketers can benefit from developing a strategy with multi-year goals before getting started with ABM. Then with this roadmap, they can better align with sales to gain early wins. Floyd also provides tips on avoiding common ABM missteps.

Listen to Getting Started With ABM: Gain Early Wins and Avoid Missteps now

ABM Lessons from The Kula Ring’s First 100 Episodes

To celebrate The Kula Ring’s 100th episode, co-hosts Jeff White and Carman Pirie reflect on account-based marketing insights from exceptional guests. They share lessons from Sangram Vajre, Co-Founder of Terminus, on the strategic nature of ABM; Daniel Englebretson’s 100% win rate using ABM with Phononic; and Fabio Luz’s pilot ABM campaign success at Schneider Electric.

Listen to ABM Lessons from The Kula Ring’s First 100 Episodes now