ABM with tech vs historic ABM: Is newer better?

ABM with tech vs historic ABM: Is newer better?

Account Based Marketing (ABM) used to be about one account. Loads of money ploughed in by big organisations to snare ‘a whale’. All that has changed though recently due to technological innovations offered by platform providers like Kickfire, Demandbase and Terminus.

We’ve produced a quick comparison table to help understand the difference between the old-school, historic ABM approach and the new ABM with tech approach (sometimes called ABM at scale). We then go a little bit deeper underneath to explain some of the thinking behind the one liners in the table.
Granted, there are some generalisations. This comes with the territory when trying to compress a vast amount of history and two varying approaches into a single three columned comparison table. Hopefully it will help some of you get your head around these two very different ABM methods.

Elements Historic ABM ABM with tech (at scale)
Number of companies targeted 1-5 50-250
Cost £££ ££
Identifying accounts to target Manual Blend of AI, predictive analytics and manual
Researching organisations Desk-based research AI and predictive analytics
Researching contacts Telemarketing Account based social/social selling
Campaign execution Blend of offline and online Blend of offline and online
Reporting Manual Automatic through Analytics
Ad campaigns Using standard targeting and segmentation Account based using patented tech
Website personalisation/ integration Possible with custom development Off the shelf plugin for WordPress and common platforms

Let’s get into the detail a little bit on each of these to see what’s going on.


Number of companies targeted

With historic ABM, campaigns are focused on a very small number of accounts. In the most extreme cases, this is 1 account. For a very small amount of large organisations, this remains an approach that is definitely worth considering and probably worth pursuing.

ABM powered by technology has a sweet spot between 50 and 250. Anything under 50 and it’s unlikely you’ll get the scale. Anything over 250 and pursuing the personalisation so it keeps it all on track becomes quite challenging. Anything north of 250 also makes it difficult to plug sales in too, which is a deal-breaker.



If you’re looking for cheap, look elsewhere in general. However if you’re looking for return on investment, then ABM will likely give you back a better multiplier on each pound, euro or dollar spent – regardless of whether it’s new or old methods – when compared to other biz dev strategies.
Historic ABM is a little more challenged in this area for a few reasons

  1. Due to the nature of the beast, all your eggs are in one basket. So you could spend tens of thousands of pounds on a campaign that doesn’t convert and be left with nothing but the hole in the budget.
  2. Secondly, because ABM powered by technology costs a very similar amount to historic ABM, but gives account reach of anything up to 250x the number of companies, then the returns can scale just as fast as the amount of specific accounts that you target.

Identifying accounts to target

Both historic ABM and the more recent ABM at scale use an element of manual account targeting. What does this mean in practice? It means getting people together to talk! A collection of sales and marketing experts, a blend of sponsors and strategy setters, but most importantly – the actual practitioners. The target-carrying, fee-earning sales team and the doers within the marketing team. This is because you can’t rely on just the business intelligence and data within CRM, either because of lack of process internally or reflecting the individual nature of how each sales person goes about their business. The best account targeting sessions we’ve seen are when everyone throws opinions around like they’re going out of fashion, shares war stories on their wins and losses and passion drives the discussion. All of this generates energy for the project that a good facilitator will expertly nurture and carry through for the rest of the project.

ABM with technology has a secret weapon in this domain too. You can augment those amazingly insightful human experiences with things that the likes of you or your team have never seen. Platform providers like Kickfire have firmographic databases that allow you to identify accounts based on a whole host of different characteristics. It takes a lot of the donkey work out of this part of the process.


Researching contacts

Historic ABM has its contact identification bedrock based in telemarketing. Since the advent of LinkedIn and Google, the barriers to contact research have come down significantly. A lot of ground can be made using online methods when compared to telemarketing – and even when telemarketing is used – it can just be used to fill in the gaps rather than the tactical be all and end all of your contact research.

Kickfire has some great technology that is making this process easier. Their LIVE Leads platform comes complete with a contact database. This means, once you’ve used firmographic data to identity the right account, you can supplement this with information of relevant contacts. This can be an absolutely vital step in ABM execution – this enables you to go to market with a strong land-and-expand strategy (engaging with a single person within the organisation, then using a blend of marketing tactics to broaden that relationship to other decision making unit members.


Campaign execution

This is an area where at face value there’s not much to choose from between historic ABM and ABM powered by technology. Those running ABM campaigns for many years have been used to bringing the usual blended online and offline model to their campaigns to execute across all the different available tactics.

Where ABM powered by tech has the upper hand though is that it’s able to bring together many of this different tactics that were historically very manual processes and neatly automate them in a single suite of applications. From powering display ads or search engine marketing, through to content personalisation on your website – Kickfire has a powerful set of tools designed to make your life easier. It means more time for busy marketers, more time spent on creative and less time on admin. Absolutely vital for organisations where resource is always stretched.



One of the biggest efficiency gains ABM with technology has over historic ABM is in the reporting. It may be seemingly a simple and straightforward task, report on the success of a marketing campaign to a single account. If it was a single channel campaign on a single media source, to an individual contact at a business or organisation that was located in a single geography. – then yes. We’d give you that. That is never the case though, ABM as a phenomenon emerged out of complex, multinational organisations where more traditional industry/vertical based marketing campaigns are generally ineffective.

In reality even a single account, where there are large number of offices, with different contacts and decision making units across boundaries, and where messages are being put out across different channels, the manual reporting overhead can get out of control. If the service is provided through an agency obviously this cost is all being passed to you as the customer to swallow.

Kickfire, as an ABM technology, offers out of the box integration with Google Analytics. This means that the same reports you’re used to building on your own website can be built for your ABM campaigns. Whether it’s visits from your ABM list, conversions or some other metric – you can see on an individual company level what’s working and what isn’t. Custom reports can be built on the fly within seconds and automated emails set to automatically send at a frequency of your choice at a simple press of the button.

Ad campaigns

As marketers, we’ve never had it so good when it comes to ad targeting. Google, Facebook and display ad networks have made it more powerful than ever in our ability to target based on demographics. Between historic ABM and ABM with tech, there’s only one method that can give hyper targeted ads – that is ads that are bespoke and served only to the accounts that you identify. The newer ABM approach wins hands down. It’s very difficult to think how you can go back to the other way of doing it when you’ve run online ad campaigns that not only targeted the industry, the age group or the interest – but the company itself. It’s what B2B web advertising should always have been(and probably explains a little bit why people have binned off online ad spend in favour of content marketing in the last couple of years).


Website personalisation

Website personalisation is a tricky one to achieve without ABM technology like Kickfire at your disposal. It definitely is possible, using clunky scripts. The idea of an enterprise marketing team doing that seems quite rare and similarly, reverse IP lookup in itself is not a perfect technology – especially when working with multi site, multi location businesses operating a global approach to data centres and firewall technology.

Tech vendors just have this nailed from the get go. Whatever web CMS you’re using, whether it’s WordPress, Joomla or something different, there are a range of tried and tested and fully supported APIs that can be integrated into your environment. This makes personalising the content your accounts see when they come to your website as easy tas creating a blog post or updating a page. No need for hacks or unsupported dev, just enterprise functionality based on great technology.


Return (multipliers)

It’s difficult to measure the return differences between historic ABM and ABM with tech. If a historic ABM campaign lands and the biggest of all big fish is in the net, those returns can be big in order of magnitude that ABM from tech might not be able to touch. All that depends on the business. What I would say is both approaches offer the opportunity to get big bucks for your business. There is potentially more reward from a historic ABM campaign, although there is more risk that you’ll return nothing with all your eggs in fewer baskets. As we covered earlier, the historic ABM campaigns will comparatively cost more, so this does bite into the return multiplier. But for this one, I think there are too many variables to be able to draw any meaningful comparison.



That ended up longer than we might have anticipated, but there’s a lot to cover across the two approaches. Reach out if you have any feedback.