How Leads Fit Into Account-Based Marketing

Are you trying to figure out how your leads or Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) fit into an account-based strategy? You’re not alone – it’s one of the questions I hear most often.

Many marketers believe that making the switch to ABM means they have to sacrifice all of the traditional marketing metrics they’ve become accustomed to: form fills, leads, etc.

But ABM doesn’t have to be a “this or that” strategy – you can still incorporate leads into your account-based approach by simply adjusting a few things.

How Do Leads Fit Into Account Based Marketing?

It is a common misconception that leads are bad in an account-based strategy. Yes, bad leads are bad. But if you were to ask any salesperson if they want a good lead, the answer is probably yes. What you have to ask yourself is, “What is a good lead in modern B2B marketing?”

Is your definition of a lead simply a form fill? That might be too restrictive in today’s B2B space as there are many ways that people can engage with your brand – your new definition of a lead should reflect that. Did someone engage with you through chat, watch a video on your site, or read an ungated ebook?

Many of the tools you use today to host content, such as Vidyard or Uberflip, are able to send information back to your marketing automation system. This allows you to track known contact activity, add them to a campaign, and alert sales without using a form.

If someone did any of the items above and they’re from a good-fit account, you should think of them as the equivalent of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL).

Incorporating Leads Metrics Into Your ABM Program

Once your organization makes the switch to account-based marketing, you’re faced with the challenge of figuring out what to do with one of the most important metrics in traditional inbound marketing: leads.

For years, traditional businesses have been able to create very predictable pipelines based on lead metric targets; for example, by doing a historical analysis, a business could benchmark an average 5% conversion on leads becoming an MQL, and from there they could benchmark an average 50% conversion to SQL, and so on. This historical conversion data would allow them to build predictive pipeline reports.

While you’d always expect for there to be fluctuations based on seasonality, competitive pressure, or other outside forces, this kind of predictive modeling made it a bit easier for marketers to measure themselves based on their ability to make incremental gains in any of those lead-based metrics along the path to revenue (or a newly acquired customer).

It also gave sales the ability to easily scale hiring needs based on lead consumption rates and pipeline velocity.

But the problem with lead-based marketing is that, while the end result is predictable, you can also predict one other important thing: you’ll probably have to deal with a lot of unqualified or bad-fit leads.

Switching to account-based marketing filters out those bad-fit leads because you’ve narrowed your focus to your total addressable market and/or your ideal customer profile. This requires a mindset shift because you’re essentially asking your marketing team to either ignore or deprioritize the gross acquisition of leads, or severely discount their impact and learn to focus on entirely new metrics (like revenue). Scaling your sales team based on consuming bad-fit leads also makes the sales org more expensive without the same return on investment.

Tools like a marketing automation system can filter out incoming leads that don’t match your ICP, and because you’ve already done the legwork in advance to identify your ideal customer, when contacts from target accounts lean in and self-identify (via a web form, etc.), you can immediately move them into your marketing qualified lead bucket.

The benefit of ABM is that, in theory, you can “skip” the lead stage and move contacts into an MQL or SQL status. Because bad-fit leads shouldn’t be entering the pipe at all.

So where do traditional inbound metrics fit into account-based marketing? Essentially, you’re going to stop paying attention to the very top of the funnel – you just cut it out of the reporting. Instead, you’ll focus on marketing accepted leads or sales accepted leads, because that’s what ABM will help you drive more of.

Turning Anonymous Account Engagement into MQLs

Engagement is currently a big word in ABM and B2B marketing. Unfortunately, people sometimes have a hard time figuring out how to make it tangible, especially if they are still measured by leads or MQLs. Overall, we feel that measuring marketing’s success based off of engagement is far more valuable than MQLs, but we don’t want you to throw the baby out with the bathwater or suggest that someone transform their marketing measurement model before they are ready.

Just because marketing’s performance is measured by leads, doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of engagement. When you see that a good-fit account is engaging with your brand, you can add that account to a marketing program or campaign. You could create retargeting audiences based on good-fit account visits to your site. You could start proactively advertising to a whole department in an account that has visited your site. You could send a direct mail, invite them to an event, or create a personalized landing page. All these tactics will help you attract more high-quality leads.


It’s not only untrue that leads don’t fit into an account-based strategy, but it’s also pretentious and dangerous to continue evangelizing this notion. Not everyone is ready to completely transform their go-to-market teams from lead-based to account-based, and most organizations should never completely make that transition.

What is important is to evaluate how to transition your organization to start focusing on target account leads. Start slowly by showing the success of account-based strategies and proving the value of your ABM campaigns with small pilot programs. Then, if and when you’re prepared to make a larger transformation, you’ll be ready.