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ABM Funnels in Account-Based Marketing

Last updated Nov 4, 2023

Understanding ABM Sales & Marketing Funnel Concepts

How ‘Flipping the Funnel’ Works in ABM

Account-based marketing, or ABM, has been part of the B2B marketing and sales landscape for a long time now. Even so, ABM concepts are still a bit novel for many B2B companies.

A good way to climb the ABM learning curve is to understand how the demand generation funnel (‘sales funnel’) works in ABM, especially in contrast to the more familiar traditional marketing and sales lead gen funnel.

This post provides an introduction to ABM funnels in B2B sales and marketing, comparisons vs traditional B2B sales funnels, advantages of ABM, and several additional resources and tools for those interested in account-based marketing.

Let’s get started…

Table of Contents (+/-)
    abm marketing funnel leadfeeder
    The ABM demand generation funnel. Image source: Leadfeeder

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    Quick Summary

    • The ABM sales and marketing funnel is ‘flipped’ or inverted compared to traditional sales funnels.
    • An ABM sales funnel starts with target accounts at the top and broadens downward into key account contacts and deal influencers.
    • Marketing and sales teams jointly work the ABM funnel at all stages, customizing tactics, messaging, and content as needed.

    What Is An ABM Marketing/Sales Funnel in B2B?

    A Different B2B Marketing and Sales Funnel Model

    For several decades at least, the business-to-business (B2B) marketing and sales funnel has been understood to be wide at the top and narrow at the bottom.

    Hence the term ‘funnel’, after all.

    Then along came account-based marketing, or just ABM for short.

    Let’s take a look at the differences between an ABM funnel and the traditional B2B sales and marketing funnel below.

    The ABM Funnel vs Traditional Marketing Funnels

    One of the first things we notice about ABM vs traditional marketing for B2B firms is that the funnel models are very different.

    Traditional Marketing and Sales Funnels

    The traditional marketing and sales funnel looks like the first two graphics below.

    The traditional B2B lead gen funnel is wide at the top and gets progressively narrower as the upper leads progress (or fall out) along the path to becoming a customer.

    b2b marketing funnel traditional
    The classic B2B demand generation funnel is wide at the top and gets progressively narrower as raw leads at the top convert to sales wins at the bottom.

    The second version directly below does a better job of showing the quantity of raw leads at the top (many) vs the much smaller number that actually converts to sales.

    This depiction also correctly shows how prospects can and do fall out of the funnel progression for various reasons. This is normal and expected, as all B2B sales lead funnels are ‘leaky’ to some extent. (Many are very leaky, especially if early qualification is poor.)

    b2b traditional sales funnel
    Another view of the traditional marketing/sales funnel. As expected, not all initial leads progress forward (downward in the funnel) to closed deals and revenue.

    From Many Raw Leads to A Smaller Number of Wins

    The traditional B2B marketing funnel relies on attracting lots of ‘unqualified’ prospects into the top of the funnel, then using various nurturing and qualifying methods to move them further along the buyer journey and sales cycle.

    Closer to the bottom, we have a much smaller set of ‘qualified leads’ that we work hard to convert to closed deals and new customers.

    The traditional marketing funnel is often also broken down from top to bottom into four AIDA stages: Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action.

    ABM Sales and Marketing Funnels

    The ABM sales/marketing funnel, on the other hand, is almost exactly inverted, or ‘flipped’. At least in terms of funnel shape.

    The thinking here is that for many B2B companies and industry segments, it’s far more effective to start with a much smaller and well-defined set of high-value target accounts, and then work your way forward to new closed deals from there.

    When it comes to lead flow and sales pipeline progression, ABM is all about quality over quantity.

    The overarching goal, as always, is new customers and revenue growth. It’s just a different way to reach the goal line.

    Here’s an ABM funnel diagram (courtesy of Leadfeeder), followed by more account based marketing funnel stage details below.

    leadfeeder abm sales funnel
    In ABM demand generation, the marketing funnel is flipped or inverted vs the traditional sales funnel concept. Source: Leadfeeder

    ABM Funnel Significance and Benefits

    The ABM funnel concept is important because it gives B2B marketing and sales teams an alternative way to implement demand generation strategies.

    This can be a breakthrough for B2B revenue teams that are currently struggling with the traditional lead gen funnel model.

    An ABM-based demand generation and sales approach can help you to:

    • Achieve faster and more predictable revenue growth
    • Increase win rates (which is also a team morale and confidence booster)
    • Align and rally your sales and marketing teams around a shared definition of the target market, and methods for reaching it
    • Reduce hand-offs of low-quality, very early-stage leads from marketing to sales (a common problem with traditional funnel-based lead gen)
    • Reduce wasted marketing spend on low-ROI marketing channels
    • Minimize any existing marketing/sales ‘silo mentality’ to create a more unified and integrated ‘revenue team’
    • Potentially create new earnings incentives or bonus structures for marketing team members (who typically are not commission-based)

    Learn more about ABM pros and cons in this post.

    According to B2B marketing consultancy SiriusDecisions (now part of Forrester), ABM benefits include much higher account engagement and win rates, higher deal size, and stronger ROI.

    Source: SiriusDecisions 2018 State of Account-Based Marketing Study

    See this post for more history and common questions & answers about ABM.

    Account-Based Marketing Funnel Stages Explained

    Referencing the ABM Demand Generation funnel model from Leadfeeder above, these are the four main funnel stages.

    ABM Funnel Stage 1 — Identify

    At the top of the typical ABM marketing and sales funnel is the ‘Identify’ stage. This is where your marketing and sales teams work together to identify specific target accounts based on a carefully developed Ideal Customer Profile, or ICP.

    Some of this definition work can leverage the sales intelligence insights gained from B2B website visitor tracking tools. Target customer variables may include things like:

    • Company firmographic and technographic data, such as company size, industry, location, growth stage, technology base, partner ecosystem, etc.
    • Visitor acquisition and intent data, such as marketing channels used to reach your website, interest areas revealed, content engagement, etc.

    Through effective collaboration and communication, the integrated marketing and sales ABM team can define a finite set of target accounts that forms the basis of their initial ABM campaign strategy.

    ABM Funnel Stage 2 — Expand

    The ‘Expand’ stage is next. This is where the ABM team identifies specific roles, titles, and buyer personas to focus on within the defined set of specific target accounts.

    In B2B selling situations, there’s usually more than one ‘buyer’ within each target account. The actual number (N > 1) will vary based on company, industry, and complexity of the solution sale. This group is often referred to as a ‘buying committee’.

    Buyer factors to consider here include:

    • Roles and responsibilities of individual target buyers
    • Buyer goals (both explicit and implicit, stated or unstated)
    • Buyer pain points (which can easily vary by individual)
    • Who has the most to gain or lose from a proposed solution’s success or failure
    • Other internal and external influencers (e.g., off-committee influencers)

    Other related terms sometimes come into play here. These include concepts like the ‘economic buyer’, ‘technical buyer’, and ‘end user’. Members of the buying committee will usually fall into one or more of these groups.

    Tools like B2B contact databases and LinkedIn can play important roles here. B2B website visitor identification and tracking tools usually provide integrated access to these prospect contact details on either a free or paid basis.

    ABM Funnel Stage 3 — Engage

    At the 3rd layer down, the ‘Engage’ stage is all about using the right methods, channels, and content to engage target buyers at target accounts.

    This is usually a combined inbound plus outbound activity, leveraging the skills and tools of the marketing and sales team(s).

    Outbound direct sales activities can include everything from classic 1:1 cold-calling and personalized emails, to targeted (and personalized) social media profile outreach.

    Marketing activities may include content-fueled SEO and social media postings, digital and traditional advertising, focused 1:N email campaigns, live and virtual events, and remarketing campaigns.

    Some of these tactics fall into an ‘inbound marketing’ approach that works to attract prospects much more organically, vs trying to interrupt them to gain attention.

    Related: Learn more here about how ABM compares to inbound marketing, and more specifically how SEO and ABM can work well together.

    More advanced tactics include B2B ABM retargeting and account-based advertising. These approaches leverage Google Analytics, Google Ads, LinkedIn Campaigns and Matched Audiences, and proprietary advertising platforms to deliver ad impressions only to a defined set of target accounts or buyer personas.

    ABM Funnel Stage 4 — Advocate

    Finally, at the bottom of the ABM funnel or pyramid, we have the ‘Advocate’ stage. This is where we turn loyal customers into proactive fans that help us amplify success into even more target accounts that fit the ICP.

    After your first phase of ‘ABM-driven account wins’, continue to take action on:

    • Opportunities for new up-sell and cross-sell revenue within existing accounts
    • Problem resolution opportunities (‘customer success management’)
    • Customer success story/case study opportunities (great for new content, too!)
    • Social media amplification of key wins
    • Identifying other ‘ICP lookalike’ accounts who are now visiting your website

    ABM Funnels and B2B Website Visitor Tracking

    As you can imagine, gaining marketing and sales intelligence about the actual companies visiting your corporate B2B website plays a key role in modern account-based marketing.

    All good B2B website visitor tracking software tools can help in this area, but some are much further down the ABM path already.

    For example, see how B2B website visitor tracking works with ABM, using Leadfeeder as a prime example. This post includes a slide presentation that goes into good practical detail about how to use Leadfeeder in ABM situations.

    Also, learn how Leadfeeder supports ABM retargeting and account-based advertising.

    leadfeeder abm free trial promotion
    Leadfeeder is a good example of an ABM-savvy website visitor tracking tool.

    Visit Leadfeeder to learn how their platform supports ABM.

    B2B website visitor tracking tools also offer a cost-effective way to get started with account-based marketing. They can be especially affordable when compared to ‘Enterprise ABM’ platforms, which tend to be too expensive for smaller SMBs.

    ABM Sales Funnels — Other Insights

    More Resources for Account-Based Marketing Education

    Account-based marketing has been around for several years now, with many notable vendors and consulting/services firms promoting and implementing it.

    Here are 7 good additional resources on ABM topics. Master the concepts within these and you’ll have a mini-MBA in ABM! 🙂

    ABM Funnels in Account-Based Marketing — Final Thoughts

    Is Account-Based Marketing Right for You?

    If you’re already actively involved in ABM-based marketing and sales, then you’ve obviously already answered that question.

    For some B2B companies, ABM is still a relatively new and untested concept. While ABM has been around for quite a while now, it still seems like it’s early in the overall adoption curve and has a long run ahead of it.

    Understanding the ‘ABM funnel’ as outlined above, and how it compares with traditional B2B marketing and sales funnels, is a good way to jump-start the ABM learning process.

    Questions or Comments?

    I hope this brief overview of ABM funnels in the context of B2B account-based marketing has been helpful.

    Feel free to add your own insights in the comments below with any thoughts, feedback, or related questions. Thanks also for any social shares on this post via the buttons below!

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    Website Visitor Identification Tools

    Get My Complete Vendor Listing

    Hello and thanks for reading!

    I’ve built an Excel spreadsheet that captures key details on virtually all software products that focus on anonymous website visitor identification.

    (Many more vendors than I have room to include in this post!)

    It’s based on many hours of my vendor research… and I’m happy to share it as a helpful reference item for you.

    Just drop me your best email address below and I’ll send the link to the spreadsheet download page.

    Grab the current version now. I’ll send you future updates, too!