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6 key lessons from the ABM front line

Greg Salmon

January 06, 2022

There are lots of things about my job that I really enjoy, but one of the things I really look forward to is getting an opportunity to talk ABM strategy with other practitioners.  There is always something new to learn or share!  So I was particularly excited to be asked to attend the recent ANA ABM Committee meeting as part of a virtual round table panel with two stars of the ABM firmament; Danny Nail, Account-Based Engagement Lead at Microsoft, and Kathryn McGinney, Director, Strategic Programs and Demand Generation, Americas, for our Agent3 client, Splunk.

Kathryn and I had the pleasure of presenting our award-winning ‘Responsive ABM’ case study to the 25 or so ANA member attendees, but then came the interesting part when we got to answer some questions from the floor.  I thought I’d share six fundamental questions that we addressed during the conversation, as the content covered was incredibly relevant for anyone who is either already engaged in ABM or at the early stages of their ABM journey.

Question 1: We are very new to ABM in our company and are trying to understand where best to begin.  Which model do you recommend starting with?  1:1, 1:few or 1:many?

The consensus from the panel was that establishing a strong framework on what ABM means to your organization is absolutely critical in answering the question of where to start.  And following accepted current industry models to gain the all important consensus about what ABM can (and can’t do) for your organization was regarded as a sensible first step.  The point was also made that piloting a limited scope of accounts first was instructive in helping understand ABM’s impact, the tools that can drive success and the processes you need to adopt if you are going to then attempt to scale. 

Question 2: How do you manage stakeholder buy-in within your organization?

Linked to the question above, the panel agreed that the most difficult thing about ABM is helping others in your organization understand what it is; that is not a ‘one and done’ activity and, in fact, is a constant conversation.  And it can be particularly challenging to help sales colleagues get on board with what ABM can do for them because, typically, they have a more short term view of an engagement process.  However, it is essential to establish a benchmark understanding of what the scope of an ABM program is, what outcomes will be delivered (and when) and how executives within your organization can be engaged and motivated to help drive success.  As Danny counselled,  without buy-in from executives BEFORE you start your program, ABM can invariably become a ‘nightmare’ for marketers to manage! 

Question 3: Can you still use traditional lead generation tactics and ABM together or does one preclude the other? 

The panel acknowledged that this was a question that they had all wrestled with and indeed, one admitted that they started ABM activity by identifying their target accounts and then segmenting them off from all other marketing led activity.  However, they soon realised that was a mistake and, with the exception of email, don’t take those accounts out of any other activity. This means that the target ABM accounts still get normal lead generation like content syndication or digital advertising because it doesn’t necessarily impact ABM activity and, practically, it can be very disruptive for a large organization to start trying to isolate accounts from certain activities.  Accounts were removed from email when talking about 1:1 or 1:few activity as the consensus was that email can get out of control and there is a need to make sure the message is right for the audience. 

Question 4: Our sales team tries to ‘hold onto’ their accounts tightly and won’t let us near them, so how do we train them to work collaboratively with us?

Again, this was regarded as a perennial challenge for marketing and sales by the panel; how do you achieve that necessary alignment to drive the right commercial outcome.  The panel’s view was that the answer lies in creating trust and showing the sales team the ‘art of the possible’.  Which means the onus is on marketing to make the move and approach the sales team, but the advice was to do so ‘bearing gifts.’ This may mean taking Insight reports that show the sales teams that you’ve already got information about those accounts – it was recognized that this can be super valuable in winning the hearts and minds of sellers if you can give them information about something they didn’t already know about their account.  One panel member mentioned that they had even seen sellers use such reports in their QBRs.  

 Question 5: What is an appropriate spend as a % of revenue for ABM?

The panel’s conclusion here was that there is no ‘one size fits all’ but, as a rule of thumb, take what your ROI is in general as a company for marketing, and what you spend on marketing, and then for ABM activity put a certain number of percentage points above that in terms of return on spend.  All the panellists agreed that, while you’re going to have to go through some ABM programs to understand what its impact can be for your organizations (be prepared for ‘trial and error’ was a key point), you should be getting a higher ROI than your regular marketing dollars do.  One panellist confirmed they had seen as much as 30% higher ROI.  But working out an appropriate spend was a complex process involving considering the length of the sales cycle and the size of the deal, as well as the amount of time and resource you have available to you for any particular campaign. 

Question 6: What does a successful marketing team look like?  How many people do you need and how do you assign roles?  Finally, does it pay to have someone focused only on ABM rather than split their time?

The panel concluded that dedicated headcount is the best way forward for ABM programs.  Beginning an ABM program ‘on the side’ from a field marketing background (as is often the case because perhaps you have a reputation for getting things done and a strong relationship with the sales teams) carries the danger of making you a victim of your own success.  Imagine you’re a field marketer that suddenly doubles 5 ABM pilot accounts – suddenly you’re being asked to work the same magic for 500 accounts!  So having dedicated resource is definitely important!

Industry consensus seems to be that one headcount should be able to run about 5 x 1:1 accounts or 3 x 1:few clusters, assuming 10-15 accounts per cluster.   

If you are a marketer engaged in rolling out ABM, I hope sharing some of the content from the recent ANA ABM seminar has been helpful.  I’d also thoroughly recommend considering membership of the ANA’s ABM Committee which would provide you with instant access to a community of like minded practitioners, events, discussion groups, and even awards to when all the hard work pays off and you want to showcase some of the great results you’ve achieved!

Alternatively, if you want some immediate help or guidance, we’d love to hear from you!

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