Agents of Change
The ABM lifecycle
with Eric Martin, Account-Based Marketer at AWS (ex SAP)
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, and VP of ABM at SAP (North America), Eric Martin, as they discuss how the pandemic has impacted the demand for ABM and the implications for ABM marketers, including an interesting discussion on what the lifecycle of an ABM marketer may look like.
Paul Mackender (00:07):
Hi. So I’m Paul Mackender, Chief Revenue Officer at Agent3, And as part of our Agents of Change series, I’m here today with Eric Martin, a longterm friend of Agent3. Eric’s the vice president of account-based marketing for SAP in North America.
Paul Mackender (00:20):
Eric, as always, great to see you and thank you for making time to chat.
Eric Martin (00:24):
Great to see you, Paul. Always good to catch up.
Paul Mackender (00:26):
And so, under this banner of agents of change, one of the things when we caught up, Eric, was how, during the pandemic, you’ve been restructured to think about the life cycle, if you like, of an ABMer. And so maybe to kickoff with before we dig into that too much, it’d be good to understand how you see the pandemic impact your work and how you’ve coped with that change.
Eric Martin (00:49):
I know there have been stressors caused by the pandemic across our industry, and organizations like SAP certainly felt it in a lot of ways, one of which work that I’m most familiar with is how it affected our ability to run very complex sales cycles that require buy-in from multiple people at our customers over a long period of time. And their sales cycles are typically fairly high touch. Our account executives, our global account directors would be walking the halls of these companies, taking their client to dinner or to lunch. Certainly we do an awful lot of in-person events. All of that was off the table.
Eric Martin (01:38):
So we had these very active, very good salespeople reaching out to us saying, “Help me stay connected with my customer, help me stay relevant.” So the demand for ABM skyrocketed, but we also saw a lot of changes to marketing in general based on these changes to the sales cycle.
Paul Mackender (01:59):
Okay. And with that kind of increased demand on marketing and account-based marketing, I suppose what impact did that have? I mean, was there a general demand on marketing full stop, so looking to the marketing organization, or, like we saw, we saw a lot of our customers come to us saying that “These are our most important customers or our most important prospects,” to your exact point, “help us connect contextually,” especially with kind of the wall of digital noise that we saw both through email, obviously through the likes of LinkedIn, et cetera. How did you pivot to that and what impact did that have on kind of you and your team?
Eric Martin (02:37):
We had a mantra of we need to safeguard revenue, we need to safeguard pipeline, and to do so, we took our one-to-one ABM program in North America, which typically covers about 50 high priority accounts, and we expanded that to cover, by the end of last year, 300 accounts.
Paul Mackender (03:02):
Eric Martin (03:03):
So to do that, we had to alter our approach in a few ways. Number one, we needed more people doing this. So we pulled in some members of field marketing and we gave them some training and some education. We stayed very close with them so that they could help deliver this to more accounts and more account teams. The second thing that we did was we created what we called a skinny playbook, right? Some of what we do in one-to-one ABM, you just can’t scale or you can’t put it in the field quickly.
Eric Martin (03:40):
So we tended toward those things that we could. And we had four tactics that we recommended to our extended marketing team, and emphasized that they would be good ways to support sales and to safeguard pipeline and revenue.
Paul Mackender (03:59):
Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. So there was a general shift towards account centric marketing-
Eric Martin (04:04):
Paul Mackender (04:05):
I suppose across the board.
Eric Martin (04:05):
Paul Mackender (04:06):
Yeah. Yeah. So with all that said, thinking about this and going back to the topic of the life cycle of an ABMer, despite no doubt having a number of new colleagues, what was the impact on the team? I mean, when we talked before, one of the things you talked about was kind of the archetype of an ABMer being services led, wanting to help your sales colleagues, et cetera, but did that come with both pros and cons?
Eric Martin (04:35):
It did. As a pro, I would say we felt never more relevant in marketing, but especially ABM, right? We were in very high demand and our sales colleagues absolutely sold the value of what we did. So that was a pro. And I’m speaking about this somewhat in the past tense because we’ve recently scaled back to the more typical number of 50 to 60 accounts that we cover.
Eric Martin (05:06):
So that was a pro, that we were more relevant, more in demand, but that was a con as well. We were more in demand. We were suddenly among the most popular people at SAP. And our people are very service-oriented. I’m speaking of our ABM personnel. They absolutely want sales to succeed. They want SAP to succeed. And so they’re very willing to jump in, but there’s a limit to how much of that you can do and be effective. And at the same time that I said we deputized portions of field marketing and they were executing some of this, they needed our input and our regular touch as well. They needed us as coaches.
Eric Martin (05:54):
And so there was some coming from our fellow marketers as well to help them do this and do it effectively. In each of our market units, we have an ABM marketer that owns the ABM function for the Midwest or the South. And so that individual was very much in demand not only from sales colleagues, but from the marketing colleagues in that same market unit.
Paul Mackender (06:23):
Interesting. And again, it’s been said I think at conferences we’ve both been at about often an ABMer being seen as almost being like a mini CMO. They need to understand what’s going on within all forms of marketing. They need to understand the sales motions, the sales plays, and of course they’re incredibly close to customers. So I suppose, in many respects, it was even more pronounced in that period, where they also had more kind of marketing colleagues asking for their advice.
Eric Martin (06:50):
And in addition to the things that you listed, they also need to really thoroughly understand the entire bag of tricks that marketing can bring to the table, whether it’s high touch event-centric things or, at the other end of the spectrum, digital advertising that can reach a number of accounts at once with a similar message.
Eric Martin (07:11):
So depending on the situation at that account, they need to be able to recommend a bespoke bill of materials that combines multiple marketing tactics. And so it’s hard to do that if you are deep disciplined in one area of marketing, but not in others.
Paul Mackender (07:30):
And again, I know as an award-winning ABMer yourself, measuring ABM, and we look at obviously reputation, we look at relationships and revenue, and I suppose with the pandemic and even in the environment we’re in today, both the other two Rs, not just revenue, but the reputation one and the relationship ones that have come to the fore about being customer-centric, being close to your customer. So it’d be interesting to see if that’s something that comes through from your leadership, so to speak.
Paul Mackender (08:01):
So where does this leave you as a leader of this team? I think when we talked before, you were just saying you don’t fly quite as close to the sun as some of your colleagues. And so understanding the pressures there and how to support them, alleviate them, resource accordingly, where’s that left you, or where did it leave you and where are things today? Especially, as you mentioned, the actual level of support in terms of the number of accounts has dropped, but again, I should imagine the demands on ABM still remain very high.
Eric Martin (08:35):
Yeah, absolutely. And any time you have any kind of shock to the economy, shock to sales motions, et cetera, that we had with COVID, and there’s been others in the past, but this might be the most pronounced one of your lifetime and my lifetime, but anytime that kind of a shock to the system happens, there’s stressors, some of which are obvious. For instance, we could only do about half of the tactics that we typically do from one-to-one ABM.
Eric Martin (09:05):
And some of them are less obvious, and one of those was the higher demand, the stress on our people, combined with the fact that… I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been in this role six years, and many of the people that are executing ABM, as you referenced, I consider them flying close to the sun because they’re working directly with customers and frontline salespeople more so than I am. Many of them have been in these roles for five or six years. And so, they were already experiencing very high demand because of the success that they had created within a number of accounts. That of course creates more demand. Salespeople that have been successful with our contributions come back to us and ask for more help. It continually tests the boundaries of how many accounts we think somebody should handle one time.
Eric Martin (10:11):
And so that combination of we’re in higher demand because of the pandemic, and then we’ve got people that are experienced in these roles, have created a lot of trust with sales, and are in demand for that reason alone, even if there was no COVID-19. Those two things came together as something of a storm. And I’ve been very cognizant over the last year, but even more so over the last six months about potential burnout among the team. And it’s led me to ask the question, can someone be in this role too long? Which seems a little bit counterintuitive because the longer we’re in our role, the better we get at it.
Eric Martin (10:56):
And I think that’s especially true of a role like ABM, which is the opposite of cookie-cutter or assembly line. It constantly challenges us to think and apply creativity. And so you think you can have a fairly long run. I still think that’s the case, but if somebody is in this role for quite a while, there’s a familiarity with their sales colleagues that can lead to additional stress.
Paul Mackender (11:26):
Yeah. And as you say, pros and cons, and it’s great to win that trust, but with that trust can come great demand. And have you had any thoughts that’s going around your head at the moment so maybe not, but have you had any thoughts about if there is a life cycle, what’s next for an ABMer? Is there a natural path certainly within SAP that you could foresee in the future?
Eric Martin (11:51):
Absolutely. And what I’ve found is that, we talked about this a couple of minutes ago, but somebody that’s a right fit for an ABM role has certain characteristics, one of which, and we kind of alluded to this, is they’ve been in marketing or field marketing or even a sales role for some time and they have that experience to draw on.
Eric Martin (12:15):
So now ABM is a more challenging role and more creative role. It’s one I think where a lot of people get into the role and they feel very fulfilled, very engaged. This is causing me to use muscles maybe I haven’t used in a while, but they have some of the same stressors that sales has without the same compensation plan. And so over time, that can wear I think an individual down.
Eric Martin (12:48):
And so when I do have conversations with members of the team about where do they go next, there’s a bit of a quandary. They like the type of work that they’re doing. They don’t want to go back to a role that is maybe a little bit more doing a lot of the same things over and over. They like working directly with our customers.
Eric Martin (13:14):
So within SAP, we have something called a VAT team, which is value add team, and it’s all of the people that are connected to an account that don’t have a sales role, the value assessment people, the pre-sales individuals, the partner and alliance people, all of those people are part of the VAT team and ABM marketers are part of that VAT team. So when I talk with ABMers about where do you go next, oftentimes we have a conversation about another portion of that VAT team, right? Where else can I add value to the customer life cycle, get those customer touches that I find fulfilling, support sales efforts? But it gives me a new challenge because it’s within a different discipline.
Paul Mackender (14:03):
Yeah. I’m possibly compensated differently as well.
Eric Martin (14:06):
Yes. Not quite the same as sales, but some comp difference.
Paul Mackender (14:09):
Yeah, we shouldn’t lose sight of that.
Eric Martin (14:11):
One of the things that I personally learned well from you and from Agent3 was the need to understand the customer much more deeply than we typically have in marketing. Typically in marketing, we’re looking at what’s the audience we’re trying to reach? A combination of role and industry, and maybe what they own already, but with intent, we’re going well beyond that. It’s what are the initiatives within the company? What are the drivers right now for that individual? How are we going to help them succeed?
Eric Martin (14:46):
And that’s certainly core to ABM. It’s something that it ITSMA stresses in their certification, and as I said, something that we got into quite deeply with Agent3. So that I see picking up across the company as well. And we do have a tool that we’re using internally to give people insight into that sort of data. We were early adopters of it within ABM, but now I see other marketers picking up on that and altering their marketing.
Paul Mackender (15:19):
So where do you think this leaves you going forward in terms of… Well, to summarize, what do you think the lasting impacts of the pandemic have been? And again, I know it’s probably not something you’ve got an answer to at this point, but do you see that journey from an ABMer into a VAT, as you described it, type role as being something that will be firmed up more and more within SAP and maybe the wider industry?
Eric Martin (15:43):
I do. I think it’s one of those things that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. There are too many very good salespeople across our company that have been exposed to that type of marketing support that now want that moving forward.
Eric Martin (16:02):
So I think we have to think about how do we resource more widely against this, but even more important, and you kind of alluded to it a minute ago, how do we start to take ABM principles and tactics and integrate them into other forms of marketing so that it’s not a single discreet team that I have the pleasure to lead in North America, but it’s really part of many of our marketing motions. And I think we’ve been talking about that as marketers for some time, but again, the shock to the system of COVID is starting to accelerate that.
Paul Mackender (16:43):
Yeah. Fantastic. Well, Eric, as always, it’s great to talk to you. Appreciate your time, and it’s great to see you being so successful and in demand within SAP, so long may it continue.
Eric Martin (16:54):
Thank you, Paul. It was my pleasure as always.
Paul Mackender (16:57):