What Account-Based Marketing Is and What It’s Not… And Why the Subtleties Matter

Andrew Moravick

Subtleties have a bit of a mischievous relationship with success. You can exhaust yourself covering every little detail to succeed, but have no clear evidence if the subtleties were necessary. You can overlook one, tiny, miniscule, insignificant, what-kind-of-person-would-even-get-this-granular kind of thing, and everything falls apart.

It’s a bit of “’meh,’ if you do, damned if you don’t.”

When it comes to success with account-based marketing (ABM), understanding ABM’s subtleties certainly has its “damned if you don’t” consequences. However, when marketers get ABM and its nuances right, “Hot Damn!” can emphatically take the place of “meh” in terms of results.

What is Account-Based Marketing? ABM is a Methodology:

The Wikipedia definition of ABM is “a strategic approach to business marketing based on account awareness in which an organization considers and communicates with individual prospect or customer accounts as markets of one.”

“A strategic approach” is emphasized because it’s a key subtlety that’s commonly voiced in most definitions of ABM. In other words, ABM is a methodology. It’s something marketers have to stick to, in full, in order to recognize its full benefits.

Segment out your top 100 accounts, fire up the old spam cannon (any typical unrefined one-to-many marketing blast), and you can call it “account-based marketing” all you want; it’s not going to produce comparable results to an actual “strategic approach.”

At HIMSS Media, we define account-based marketing as:

A  marketing methodology for identifying, understanding, and engaging accounts in order to cultivate awareness or further interest among the key stakeholders of an account’s buyer collective which is conducive to initial, retained, or even expanded business relationships.

Granted, with a heavy label like “methodology,” and the wordiness of our definition, the point that ABM is complex is hardly subtle. There’s a lot there because there’s a lot to ABM.

In its most simple terms, account-based marketing is a targeted approach to market to specific key accounts. It is about marketing to all decision makers within a target account at once in order to build and nurture the right customer relationships to grow sales.

The “why” for ABM is really clear in such simple terms: key accounts + reaching all decision makers = sales growth. Even in simple terms, though, there are subtle questions that need to be explored in order to use ABM effectively:

• How are your key accounts identified?
• Who are your relevant decision makers (who is in your buyer collective)?
• What (in terms of content) will work for you to build and nurture relationships?

These aren’t answers you find in quick, key-takeaway bullets. These are answers you have to find for yourself or with the help of trusted partners via careful data aggregation and analysis, as well as controlled experimentation.

Most importantly, though, by viewing ABM as a methodology, you find the answers that work for you.

Account-based marketing is a structured approach that gives you the flexibility to adapt and enhance your marketing efforts according to the winning formulas you find looking through an account-based lens.

What Account-Based Marketing Is Not:

Segmenting audiences by accounts is not account-based marketing. Personalization of ads or communications for specific accounts is not ABM. Measuring the level of penetration sales has at accounts is not ABM. 

Components of ABM are not ABM; they’re surface-level steps related to accounts in one way or another, but they’re ingredients, not the full enchilada.

Having a mind for the subtleties of what ABM is will take you far, but there are also bold-faced misconceptions around ABM whose only subtlety is in how quietly they’re undermining your ABM efforts.


  • ABM is not static. It’s not something you can “set and forget.” While ABM does deliver value in building direct pipeline and opportunities, it isn’t just a one-way flow. It’s a system that can and should be enhanced from the very insights it can help to generate. If you’re not dynamically improving your ABM efforts, you’re not doing full ABM.

    ABM not being static, it’s particularly important to note:

    • Key accounts are not static: What you learn about the key accounts you identify should allow you to identify more look-alike accounts, or refine what makes key accounts so “key.”
    • Account knowledge is not static: There’s always more to know about accounts and how to better serve them. If ABM isn’t fueling on-going account knowledge growth, it’s not being leveraged to its full extent.
    • Content and communications to accounts CAN’T be static: The more / better you can identify and understand accounts, the better your content and communications should be at appealing to those accounts. Your buyers will come to expect it, but your results will likely benefit from it too.
  • ABM is not a marketing lightbulb that comes on with the flick of a switch. ABM is the wiring, circuit board, and power grid that are all behind that appealing glow. ABM requires an engineered infrastructure and upkeep to keep the lights on. It’s something you build and enhance, and the subtleties of the craftsmanship contribute to the rewards.
  • ABM is not easy. It may seem like everyone is doing it, but many organizations end up only being able to execute a few account-related marketing tactics. Thus, the advantages of repeatable, predictable results from true ABM aren’t fully -- or even adequately -- recognized. ABM takes effort, commitment, and time to produce value.

Why the Subtleties Matter for Effective ABM:

Again, the simple concept of ABM is to reach key accounts, win over relevant buyers, and grow sales performance. It’s the subtleties specific to your target audience that help you identify your key accounts, relevant buyers, plans for engagement, and winning formulas.

For buyers, it’s the subtle elements of ABM programs that foster relationships. Personalized messages, contextually relevant recommendations, or other unique interactions via ABM programs show care and attention to what’s happening at – or what matters to – specific accounts.

Ultimately, the subtleties of ABM are all the little things, done at scale, that make a big difference to each account, and which yield big results for ABM practitioners.

Admittedly, at HIMSS Media, we’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to discerning the subtleties of healthcare information and technology in order to build ABM offerings that help marketers win in this space. 

If ABM seems like a fit for your marketing needs, please consider our not-so-subtle invitation to learn more here!

About the Author

As a Senior Marketing Manager for HIMSS Media, Andrew Moravick leverages extensive B2B & B2C marketing experience to oversee and optimize HIMSS Media's content marketing and demand generation efforts. In previous roles, Andrew has worked for Aberdeen Group, Snap App, PUMA, and Eloqua.

More Content by Andrew Moravick