Secrets Of Account Based Marketing (ABM) Tactics w/Shari Johnston @Winning By Design

Learn the three elements you’ll need to succeed in account-based marketing tactics from Shari Johnston of Winning by Design. Read on to find out more.

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In this article:

  1. Why You Should Consider Implementing an Account-Based Marketing Strategy
  2. What Is Account-Based Strategy?
  3. Three Elements You Need to Succeed in Account-Based Marketing Tactics
    1. Target Account List Selection
      1. Who Spearheads the Target Account List Selection?
      2. How to Gather All the Data You Need to Create Your Target Account List Selection
    2. Operationalize Your Team to an Account-Based Structure
    3. Measure the Team by KPIs That Focus on an Account-Based Structure
  4. Where The Struggle Lies in Account-Based Marketing Tactics

What You Need to Know About Account-Based Marketing Tactics

Account-Based Marketing Definition: Also called ABM, it’s a strategic approach to marketing where you target specific business accounts instead of applying the one-to-many approach. This works by identifying accounts and prospects with high value and employing personalized marketing to the key decision-makers within those accounts.

Shari Johnston is a partner for account-based strategy practice lead at Winning by Design. She is also the founder and a board member of Women in Revenue, an organization that empowers young women through mentorship by industry leaders.

She joined Winning by Design after taking on marketing leadership roles in five B2B SaaS startups. Johnston described her previous experience as a passion, since she wanted to help scale startups using an account-based strategy.

Now, she is Winning by Design’s partner in scaling their account-based practice.

Why You Should Consider Implementing an Account-Based Marketing Strategy

Johnston revealed two major pain points that influence businesses to switch to an account-based marketing strategy.

  1. The age-old habit of wasting marketing budget on companies that never convert to customers.
  2. Marketing and sales speak different languages.

Johnston shared that she’s always been passionate about how she can drive revenue closer. She found that going account-based helped her do just that.

Implementing the ABM strategy aligns sales and marketing and helps them get accounts across the line together. It also helps build a good dynamic between these teams.

ABM strategy also allows companies to focus their resources on prospects who really have the potential to be their next best customer.

We asked Johnston if there are situations where account-based marketing tactics aren’t the best solution. According to her, this practice would most likely not fit in with a company that sells to the masses.

This is because with ABM, having a larger deal size and selling to a specific market are better.

What Is Account-Based Strategy?

Account-based marketing certainly goes by many names, but all of them pertain to the same practice. Johnston said that she personally refers to it as “account-based strategy.”

Yet what does it mean? Johnston shared Winning by Design’s definition:

“An account-based strategy aligns your entire go-to-market team around winning and growing accounts that will be your next best customer.”

Go-To-Market Definition: This refers to the organization’s plan to utilize their resources so they can deliver their value proposition to their customers. The end goal is to achieve an advantage over competitors.

Three Elements You Need to Succeed in Account-Based Marketing Tactics

Applying account-based marketing tactics entails a go-to-market transformation. Johnston shared with us the three elements that organizations need to put in place to succeed in this.

1. Target Account List Selection

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Optimizing your target list for account-based marketing

The first element is your target account list selection. Your whole go-to-market team must have a target list that’s operationalizing your organization.

Johnston said that in an ideal scenario, you should have the following qualifiers to identify a target account:

  • Fit
  • Intent
  • Engagement Data

In coming up with your target account list selection, you’d have to:

  • Analyze your current customer base data.
  • Examine where your organization lands and expands the most.
  • Figure out which customers currently have the best lifetime value for you.
  • Overlay intent data.
  • Figure out who’s in the market for your product.
  • Check prospect and customers’ recent engagements to see if they recently purchased a solution like yours.

Johnston also shared that a lot of her customers start off with baby steps by gathering firmographic data. They then build up their target account list as time goes on.

Firmographic Data Definition: This refers to the information you can use to segment organizations into categories. It includes data like industry, geographic area, number of clients, and technologies used by the organization.

Who Spearheads the Target Account List Selection?

Johnston admitted this is where a lot of companies get confused, as there isn’t clear ownership in the target account list selection.

She sees it as 50% owned by Sales Ops since historically, they own named account and territory lists. Yet much of the momentum to implement the account-based strategy is coming from marketing.

This is why Johnston sees marketing as an equal owner of the data set and insights that allow companies to roll out this approach.

She revealed, though, that the key is for sales and marketing leadership teams to both buy into this. You need to convince them that this is the right approach for the organization, as both teams add incredible value.

Street-smart sales leaders have great insights they can contribute to the process. Johnston refers to it as the “art and science of target account list selection,” because you should use data-driven insights but you can still apply some art into it.

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How to Gather All the Data You Need to Create Your Target Account List Selection

To gather all the data you need for the target account list qualifiers, you need several technology providers. Johnston admits it’s not an easy match.

Yet she assures that there are account-based marketing technology vendors who can help you operationalize this and make the process quicker. Picking the right provider may be a complex process, but there is a growing list of vendors to choose from.

One consideration Johnston shared is that certain industries and target types have better data sets than others. After all, each provider has nuances.

In terms of a platform providing the dashboard, insight, and overview all in one place, Johnston recommends Engagio and Demandbase. Each one has unique strengths.

Demandbase is strong on the data side — they can actually provide the account data to help feed your strategy, while Engagio excels on understanding engagement data so your team can see their performance across accounts early on.

2. Operationalize Your Team to an Account-Based Structure

Most of Johnston’s clients who shift into account team structure have the sales dev reps and marketers supporting the account executives. They all work as a team to get those accounts across the line.

In some cases, especially in larger organizations, the reporting structure of the marketer, business dev rep, SDR, and AE changes. Johnston shared that with her clients, she typically doesn’t recommend a full-reporting structure.

What she does is take her clients’ target account list and segment it through what they call “market maps.” Here, she determines the predominant segments within her client’s market map and target account list.

Johnston went on to share that there are account teams who have empathy for that market and help hone in on them. They really understand the customer stories that feed into that market, as well as where the feeding holes are at.

As Johnston said, riding that focus and the ability to align is so powerful. Often, it’s not around a reporting structure as much as the KPI.

That’s why you need to make sure you focus your team’s success metrics on engaging accounts, acquiring contacts, and generating opportunities. You should concentrate on these instead of the volume.

When it comes to contact coverage, you shouldn’t be single-threaded when selling into accounts, especially enterprise ones. Also, engagement may be something you need to define as an organization.

Johnston observed that, at the end of the day, sales reps would rather have their accounts engage and educate themselves on the solutions they offer. They would prefer this over having massive amounts of marketing qualified leads (MQLs), many of which aren’t the right fit for their organization.

Johnston also recommended aligning the marketing team because of its power.

3. Measure the Team by KPIs That Focus on an Account-Based Structure

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Measuring KPI’s to improve account-based marketing

Johnston suggests shifting the KPI focus away from the lead volume of MQLs. Instead, have an account-based marketing metrics.

Do this by building your KPIs around the partnership to get these accounts across the line.

Where The Struggle Lies in Account-Based Marketing Tactics

As Johnston said, marketing and sales alignment is the biggest challenge. Account-based marketing tactics don’t have a clear owner.

It requires a partnership between the go-to-market strategy team. Johnston sees success where that partnership is present, and when people buy into and agree that this strategy is the right fit for their organization.

On the other hand, the company faces challenges when there’s skepticism and when only one side is leading.

As Johnston said, applying account-based marketing tactics is an evolving process. She’s personally seen its impact in organizations, and that’s why she advocates it.

She also recommends that businesses try a 30-, 60-, and 90-day strategy so the process won’t become overwhelming.

If you want to get in touch with Shari Johnston, you can send her an email at

Implementing account-based marketing tactics in your business requires a go-to-market transformation. You need to make the necessary changes so you can succeed in this endeavor.

Start off by applying the three elements we discussed, and enjoy the benefits of account-based marketing.

How has account-based marketing helped your business grow? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

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Secrets Of Account Based Marketing (ABM) Tactics w/Shari Johnston @Winning By Design

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