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10 take-aways from ITSMA’s ABM Forum

Paul Mackender

September 21, 2018

Scaling ABM was the recurring theme that we heard time and time again; based on the successes of small scale ABM pilots, the desire to have a broader impact on the business and take the principles and magic of ABM and scale it.

It’s taken me a week to digest the sheer amount of great content I heard at ITSMA’s ABM Forum. I’ve collated everything and created my top 10 takeaways from what was a truly enlightening day:

  • Remember the principles of ABM

The ever-energetic Bev Burgess from ITSMA kicked off the day in style by reminding us all just what ABM actually is and what true ABM delivers; the 3 Rs – reputation, relationships and revenue. The backdrop was that as ABM has become ever more popular, we all need to remember that ABM is a strategy and not a tactic for marketing to accounts. For success, focus on true ABM, something I wrote a previous post on, here.

  • From marketing to engagement

Rudy Dillenseger from Microsoft made a case for Account Based Engagement i.e. seeing the need for ABM to be holistic and not just focus on sales and marketing alignment. We encourage this with our clients at Agent3 and often have customer success and customer service input as well as ensuring we’re pulling on all forms of insight. Try and put yourself in the customer’s shoes.

  • (Actionable) insight is the lifeblood of ABM success

It was clear that an ABM programme needs a blend of insights to build and land a message that truly resonates with a client. Stephanie Deane, from O2 explained how she has taken the application of insight a step further by combining the Challenger sales methodology with ABM. The basic principle is you need to have done enough research so that you can actually challenge the customer’s thinking and bring them ideas they had not even considered, to become that trusted advisor. ABM’s role thereafter is using a strategy and message that hits the right people using the most appropriate channels and tactics. If you are serious about ABM, expect to do industry, customer and persona research, and insight, coupled with internal data gathering and analysis on the customer’s interaction with your organisation. Only by doing this can you connect the dots and create some real value, which has to be end game of ABM.

  • ABM success requires structure
    We heard numerous anecdotes about requests for ABMers to jump straight to tactical execution – usually securing event space, building ads or creating content – but in absence of asking the question; why? ABM requires discipline and structure and Danny Nail from SAP summarised this by outlining three must-haves: 1. A consistent and defined approach 2. Clear account selection criteria and 3. Established and agreed organisational support model.

Rhiannon Blackwell from Accenture, presented on the Anatomy of an ABM campaign, and also reinforced the need to stick to an ABM framework. Similar to that which starts with insight and account selection and goes through building appropriate insight-driven strategies, to add value.

  • ABM operational efficiency and program management

In the breakout sessions Agent3 spoke to over 80 practitioners and marketing leaders about the challenges facing organisations where it comes to making ABM more efficient. It’s clear that turning theory and best practice of ABM into a repeatable, consistent and visible process is a challenge. Other key challenges such as governance, ABM programme health, re-use, and ABM training all point to the need for more ABM-centric programme management tools to help drive ABM operational efficiency.

  • Start small and prove the model

For those starting out looking at ABM, the advice was to run a proof of concept with the goal of understanding what best works for your organisation and to prove the model.  It’s worth remembering that ABM requires an element of change management so look to adopt best practices and align your strategy to your organisational structure and needs.

  • Once established, scale!

Scaling ABM was the recurring theme that we heard time and time again; based on the successes of small scale ABM pilots, the desire to have a broader impact on the business and take the principles and magic of ABM and scale it. There was unanimous agreement that the wrong thing to do here was just to jump to what Bev Burgess calls Marketing to Accounts (M2A) i.e. mass marketing to accounts using just digital advertising and email. It was clear that more and more organisations are looking at a clustered approach to ABM to achieve scale. The key here is targeting clusters of accounts with common characteristics / pain points, and then building engagement at that level, while having enough account specific insight to engage in a personalised way with the right people in each account. This is what we call true ABM and something I wrote about recently.

  • ABM is online and offline: engage the customer on their terms

We saw some great examples of how great ABM blends the offline and online worlds. For all the personalisation that an ABM martech stack can deliver, remember to keep your customers at the heart of your strategy.

Three great examples we heard about on the day:

  • Leaders are Readers: an initiative by Accenture where, based on insight, key stakeholders in target accounts are sent business strategy books aligned to the challenges of the target account with a handwritten note from the Accenture account lead.
  • Video books: after being so acquisitive, SAP’s portfolio is much broader than many customers realise and SAP needed to challenge perceptions and position the company based on its cloud capabilities. To help the SAP sales team tell this story, sales executives are armed with video books that tell their proposition through a short, compelling and tailored video. The results have been remarkable and as Danny Nail from SAP said, some of the sales teams have the books permanently in their hands – true sales enablement.
  • Burger kits: Yes, burger kits! This is cool example of how you can use direct mail to engage the people that count – in this case the top executives in McDonalds. Gum Gum used personalised burger kits to tell their story.
  • Storytelling wins every time

The day was full of amazing insights and examples of ABM success, particularly those who considered content a watchword and who focused on storytelling as a method for getting their message across in an inventive and ingenious way. Kick starting the afternoon session Rhiannon Blackwell from Accenture brought parallels between online dating and finding the perfect partner with building an ABM campaign. The content was great. The energy and enthusiasm infectious and delivery topped off the winning presentation. And if a picture tells a thousand words…

  • ABM is revolutionising the marketing domain

This was the title of of Bev Burgess’s final slides. ABM clearly has momentum and is here to stay; we heard how ABM is core to many marketing strategies and how it’s a central part of many CMO’s strategies as the quotes on the slide below demonstrate:
Thanks to ITSMA for a great event and we’re excited to be a sponsor at the ITSMA Marketing Vision Conference in November – hope to see you there.

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