Agents of Change
Pondering the Pareto Principle: what’s next for ABM?
with Bev Burgess, CEO of Inflexion Group
Our Agents of Change series with business leaders and pioneers talks of how to drive sustainable success in a changed world.
Join Agent3’s Chief Revenue Officer Paul Mackender as he chats with ABM titan and Inflexion Group CEO, Bev Burgess, to hear how the ABM explosion has evolved over the pandemic, its impact on broader marketing and sales, and what the trend of account-based growth and high-touch, high tech events means for the future of businesses looking to keep, scale, and grow their accounts.
Paul Mackender (00:06):
Hi, I’m Paul Mackender. I’m the Chief Revenue Officer here at Agent3. And in our latest Agents of Change conversation, I’m overjoyed to be here with Bev Burgess. I think many people, if not everybody, who watches this will know Bev.
Paul Mackender (00:19):
Bev is ABM, in many respects, and account centric marketing. Written the book, the latest one here, as an example. Obviously has consulted lots of organizations, sales and marketing leaders, and is now the Managing Principal at Inflexion Group. So first of all, Bev, welcome. And thanks for making time to chat.
Bev Burgess (00:38):
Thank you, Paul. Always love chatting with you.
Paul Mackender (00:40):
So, as you probably know, Bev, we start these conversations by asking everybody basically how they’ve professionally found the past 15 to 18 months, what are the changes you’ve seen and how have you adapted? So how has it been for you?
Bev Burgess (00:54):
Well, it’s been fantastic in many ways. I mean, I’ve missed seeing clients face to face and colleagues face to face, but I’ve seen more people from more countries via Zoom over the last 18 months than I ever had before. I mean, I used to travel quite a lot and consult with ABM teams and train people in ABM, but I’ve been doing more of that globally.
Bev Burgess (01:18):
So I’ve built relationships with people all over the world over the last 18 months. And some clients that I’ve not met previously and now I’m really close to, that I’ve never met in person. So I’m feeling quite privileged really that I’ve got these rich relationships with people everywhere using Zoom.
Paul Mackender (01:36):
Yeah. And I mentioned your book. So, I can’t remember, when did your first book come out, your first edition?
Bev Burgess (01:43):
The first edition was 2017.
Paul Mackender (01:45):
Yeah. So this is the second edition of A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing. So I know from the first one, like a typical book launch, that’s a mix of online and offline meeting people, sometimes drinks involved. How did you approach launching the book, just out of interest, in this case?
Bev Burgess (02:02):
Yeah, we had a virtual launch. Which, again, was really good fun. So we had somebody that had endorsed the book, so Jon Geldart, who’s Director General at the IOD, he came along and said why he’d endorsed it. We had the publisher from Kogan Page come along and talk about how the book was doing.
Bev Burgess (02:21):
We had two of the Magnificent Seven ABM-ers, so Andrea Clatworthy and Dorothea Gosling came along as well. And a whole bunch of friends and some family. And we just had a really nice 45 minutes talking about the book and celebrating it. So it was good fun.
Paul Mackender (02:36):
Yeah. And I suppose the timing of it couldn’t have been more perfect in some respects. Again, we’ve seen as an organization this massive explosion of ABM, I think we’ve seen… And if you watch the video, I’ve talked to Eric Martin at SAP, who I know you know well. He talked about how sales came to him and his team and said, “How can you support us?” Almost like tenfold of what coverage they’ve got.
Paul Mackender (02:56):
We’ve also seen an increase in the number of our clients that has already been on the journey that have said, “Look, we need to invest in this center of excellence.” And so we’ve worked in a number of our clients, many that you know well as well, to say, “What’s the best way to approach that? And what’s the right model for your organization?”
Paul Mackender (03:11):
And I think for many as well, it’s been a catalyst to start ABM. And that’s, again, no doubt where people have been reading your book, will have come from those backgrounds. Is that something similar that you’ve seen?
Bev Burgess (03:22):
Yeah. Oh, almost exactly the same, Paul. We’ve seen people that have never done ABM start new programs. And, again, lots of this happening in APAC. So I know you’re down in APAC as well, and in Australia. And there’s lots of people just coming to ABM and for the first time and thinking, “Okay, this is really powerful.” It’s a great way of supporting account directors who can no longer go and see their clients and just sit at the water cooler, or whatever they were doing before. So we’re seeing a lot of people set up for the first time.
Bev Burgess (03:54):
We’re seeing a lot of established programs thinking about what’s next. Globalizing their programs, standardizing around the world. So there’s been a real drive to take it more seriously and focus on those all important kind of top clients.
Bev Burgess (04:11):
And then we’ve seen other people who have, because they couldn’t run big events or couldn’t do field marketing in the way that they were, they’re switching existing marketing teams in other areas to do more ABM inspired work. Whether that’s nurturing and more of a one to many type approach, or whatever it might be, I would say it’s ABM inspired. So more people are sort of saying, “Well, oh yeah, I’ll have some of that, please.”
Paul Mackender (04:37):
Yeah, most definitely. So do you think in some respects the pandemic has woken a bit of marketing leaders and sales leaders up to the potential and the… As I say, the potential, because obviously there is a definition of what is true ABM and what isn’t, but the potential of what ABM could deliver for their organization.
Bev Burgess (04:53):
I think so. I think so. And it’s one of those things, and obviously I know this from having done ABM at Fujitsu myself. Once you do it and you prove the concept, then there’s a stampede of people that want ABM for their account.
Bev Burgess (05:08):
And that’s when your problem switches from trying to educate them as to why it’s a good idea and why we should be investing in it through to, “Oh my goodness, how do I cope with the demand? Everybody wants ABM for their clients.” Which of course you can do to a certain extent through one to many programs, but it’s not quite the same, I would say. So yeah, I think people have been trying it, and have just proven the concept, and want to scale it.
Paul Mackender (05:34):
And what about sales leaders doing that? Do you think sales, in some organizations clearly are huge sponsors, they align to marketing and get behind it. And that’s obviously a major pillar of ABMs success. Do you think sales leaders and sales organizations on the whole have come to appreciate the power of ABM? And maybe have that linked into account based selling, for example, within management?
Bev Burgess (05:57):
Yeah, I think they have. And I think, again, it comes back to the pandemic and people really taking a good look at their customers, and how they were responding in the pandemic and what they needed. People pivoting what offers they were taking out to their clients, the way they were engaging with all their clients.
Bev Burgess (06:14):
And, of course, a lot of it had to be digital, so we saw a lot of sales leaders looking to marketing to say, “You need to support us in this new world. And you need to do it for these accounts that we care about, where we already have. We already know there’s a lot of opportunity in the next few years, so help us keep hold of it, help us help the clients get through this.” So I think there was a recognition.
Bev Burgess (06:38):
And I was talking to the head of key account management at a center of excellence for a global pharmaceutical. And they’re in a really interesting position because they really want the pharmaceutical company to do ABM. But of course the marketers are much more brand managers for different drug areas and things. So in that case we’ve got key account management saying, “We need our marketers to do ABM,” and they don’t understand what it is yet. So we’ve seen some people taking the lead from sales.
Paul Mackender (07:08):
Yeah, amazing. And I suppose with that, again, going back to interviews, again people you know well. So we talked to Cat Dutton, who’s the Deputy CMO at Atos. Where Cat’s looking at both ABM, and deal based marketing, and executive engagement, thinking about how to scale that. Mark Larwood from O2, again, a good friend of yours. I know also he’s always been the forefront of that exec engagement, scaling that.
Paul Mackender (07:30):
And so we’ve seen both the scale at that level, but also to use your term ABM inspired or ABM principles, we’ve had clients come to us as well saying, “We love the work we’re doing with you, a great partnership. But actually if we look at areas like demand generation or lead generation, actually can we not apply those to, to your use your term again, “ABM principles and deliver a better quality pipeline that’s faster to close?” So that’s a scenario that we’ve pushed in.
Paul Mackender (07:57):
So I think this recognition that ABM is having an impact on broader marketing, as well as impacting on sales, is certainly an interesting one. And almost picking up on that, when we caught up last time you were talking about account based growth, as opposed to just account based marketing. Could you just explain a little bit more about what you mean by that and maybe how it differs from ABM?
Bev Burgess (08:20):
Yeah. I think this is fascinating. And I’ve always said that ABM should be a business initiative, not a marketing campaign. And I think, since 2003 when we first started really getting into and under the skin of ABM, and when it was used at Accenture, it wasn’t in a business initiative, it was done with the account teams.
Bev Burgess (08:40):
And it was a serious investment and it’s evolved in some companies like that over the years. And in others people are approaching it as almost a better way to do demand gen, and a marketing thing. But it’s definitely stronger when it’s lined up with other areas of the business.
Bev Burgess (08:55):
And, for me, the fascinating thing, and I’m going to quote a theory at you now that comes from the 1890s. You’ve probably heard of it before, the Pareto Principle, so that’s the 80/20 principle. So what’s fascinating is it’s through business, it’s through nature, it’s everywhere. 20% of your customers or your inputs, if you like, give you 80% of your outputs. So in our world, 20% of our accounts give 80% of profitable revenue.
Bev Burgess (09:26):
So if you’ve got 1,000 accounts, 200 of them are giving you 80% of your profitable revenue, there or thereabouts. Sometimes it’s more extreme, so in one company I was talking to it’s 90/10. But then if you model that out, so 200 really important, this principle’s fractal. And this is turning into a maths lesson now, but what that means is that 40 of the 200 give you 64% of your profitable revenue. And eight of the 40 still give you over half your profitable revenue.
Bev Burgess (09:59):
So anyone that’s saying, “Oh, well, I don’t know if ABMs for me,” when they’ve got the pandemic going on and everything else. Actually, you’re looking at 40 of your 1,000 accounts, or eight of your 1,000 accounts that are really, really, really important to your business.
Bev Burgess (10:14):
So I think account based growth is a way of literally focusing everything on that 20% and saying, “How does marketing deal with them? How does sales deal with them? How do customer success or customer service deal with them? How do we as a company align so that we delight them, and keep them, and grow them?” Because we all know it costs so much more to win new customers than it does to grow your existing ones. So yeah, that’s where I’m interested at the moment, this 1890s principle actually playing out in business today.
Paul Mackender (10:52):
Yeah. And it’s so obvious, isn’t it? I mean, but maybe the question is, are business leaders, either through their own interest or actually through the [council 00:11:04] of sales and marketing, actually really understanding that, those kind of numbers?
Bev Burgess (11:08):
Yeah. And my experience is that they don’t. And, again, I’ve talked about working at Fujitsu. And when we were at Fujitsu I was lucky enough to work for an MD who had come out of Accenture, a head of sales who’d come out of PWC and an excellent finance person. And as a team we did this work, we said, “Okay, what is the 80/20 principle for us? What are the 20%?” And we allocated marketers, account managers and customer success managers to those accounts.
Bev Burgess (11:37):
So it was a kind of radical reallocation of resources going on and alignment internally. So looking at how do we do business planning for those accounts, that spans marketing and other areas? And all of that. Then when you come to touch the accounts, it’s spanning the exec sponsorship and exec engagement. It’s the way that you do account based selling, account based marketing, and the way that you make sure, whether it’s through customer service or customer success, that your customer’s getting the outcomes they’ve bought your solution for. So really getting long term value.
Bev Burgess (12:12):
So I’m interested in that kind of internal alignment and external engagement, and taking it kind of beyond ABM. Because for a lot of companies, and you’ve seen this, Paul, people are dropping the M word.
Paul Mackender (12:25):
Yeah. Oh yeah, I mean, totally. We did a webinar recently around this term of the never normal. Where we were saying, “Things are always a total state of flux with digital transformation, et cetera.” And within that one thing that Matt Preschern, who is the CMO at NTT, talked about was in his view in some respects get rid of the M, and also possibly get rid of the A, it’s about customers. And you start then with an acronym that nobody would understand. So actually he said, “That may be more of an internal thing.”
Paul Mackender (12:59):
But we’ve seen this and some of our clients are doing that. And I think we are hopefully contributing towards that shift. But, as you say, a lot of people still are seeing it very much as a marketing led thing. And I think if you do that it limits its ability to be truly successful. And you can still have some success, but to have the impact that you want to be that around retention as well as strategic growth, is something that you’ll probably never see. So yeah, I agree with you, it sounds like the ultimate ABM in some respects. But whether or not everybody’s looking at it like that’s a different thing.
Paul Mackender (13:31):
So, well, with that in mind, and kind of just wrapping up this conversation, what do you see as, I suppose, the lasting trends and impacts of the pandemic, especially around this account centricity piece? Is it this shift, as you say, to a more scalable, smarter, data led move? And then, as you say, a more greater precision to really blow out this growth focus as opposed to what could be deemed a marketing focus?
Bev Burgess (13:59):
Yeah. I think this… Well, again, this 80 /20 piece, this bifurcation, of where do we want to go really deep? Where do we still want to give a great experience? But it’s not going to lead to the same amount of profitable revenue. And I think thinking that through, the pandemic led people to think about it that way. And I know Salesforce, one of your clients, rethought how they were dealing with those customers. And I think that will continue.
Bev Burgess (14:26):
And I think the other thing that we are seeing is this blend of high touch and high tech, if you like. Getting that, the right blend in that 80/20 split. People are still working through that. And what I love is the humanity that’s coming through the high touch piece, and some of the high tech, but just the respect for people as individuals. You mentioned my dog, he’s there on the sofa. I would never have done that a few years ago.
Bev Burgess (14:55):
But we all have lives and we know that we have lives. And I think treating people with respect and working your way through some of the tech to make sure it doesn’t pester people, put people off. I think that kind of humanity is going to continue as we go through the rest of this year and into next.
Paul Mackender (15:13):
Yeah. Hear, hear. And I think that’d be great to see. So, Bev, as always, it’s wonderful to catch up. I look forward to seeing you in person at some point.
Bev Burgess (15:21):
You too, Paul. Thanks very much.