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ABM: From bonkers to best practice

Andrea Clatworthy

March 06, 2020

The future is sales and marketing working together again; we’ve started to reposition ourselves in marketing as strategic through ABM, and that’s so powerful. We still occasionally get asked for pens though!

Head of Account Based Marketing, Fujitsu, EMEIA, Andrea Clatworthy is recognised as one of the foremost authorities on ABM.  She has built a global team and capability, is an active member of ITSMA’s ABM Advisory Council and still loves getting involved with the building and overseeing of ABM programs. Here, she shares some of her tips for success and key considerations when building an ABM capability with our Chief Revenue Officer, Paul Mackender

Hi Andrea, can we start with some basics and ask what constitutes ABM, and where it can really work?

From my experience, ABM works best when there is a complex selling cycle, with a consequent complex offering, which in turn creates a long selling cycle where there are a lot of people involved. And that’s where you would work with an account manager or sales leader and supporting pre-sales and subject matter experts. Then, the combination of the sales teams’ knowledge and deep account, stakeholder and competitive insight – often provided by marketing – is where the power of ABM comes in. ABM is different from more traditional marketing because it is so very insight led, as well as relevant, personalised etc. ABM, in the way that I describe it, isn’t really appropriate for transactional based selling. That’s a different thing. You can still use some of those principles. But I don’t think ABM works when it is being used in a transactional way, and actually is probably not cost effective. From what I see, what people end up doing here, quite often, is marketing to accounts. That’s fine and it’s good marketing, but it’s not ‘true’ ABM.

You’re clearly a passionate ABMer – when did you become a true convert to the approach?

I’ve known about ABM for some time and I have done it for a while, but wasn’t doing anything in a standardised, cohesive or constructive way across multiple accounts.  Towards the end of 2013, however, we were discussing marketing plans for the following year, and we decided to put all our eggs into the ABM basket and turn off all lead gen activity completely in order to fully focus on ABM.  Our sales leader bought into this proposal and the activity ultimately generated more demand than we could manage from a sales perspective. The sales organisation was delighted – they loved the ABM engagement and could really see the value of sales and marketing working together.  That was really powerful. Even more powerful is when an Account Director complains when their ABMer moves onto something (or somewhere) else.

Ok, so how did your sales people start to see the value in the ABM program?

Let me answer that by saying we’re driving for outcomes that cover three Rs; relationships and reputation, because if we get those two things right the revenue will come, and ABM can support that, sometimes very explicitly with what we call Deal Based Marketing (DBM). I don’t take a target on pipeline generation. There is a target, obviously, and we contribute to it, but I don’t take a number on it because if we get the first two Rs right then we enable the Account Director or seller to identify the revenue opportunity. That’s really where the massive collaboration comes in. We see other useful metrics, such as increased pipeline velocity and improved customer advocacy, both of which add value to the business.

And when talking within the organisation about ABM and pitching for budget for programs, how do you go about making your case?

It’s not a difficult conversation, to be honest, because I always show the end result of things we’ve already done.  For example, a set of hero assets and how they’ve been applied, and what the outcome of using the assets has been. It’s then easy for people to draw their own conclusions and they tend to say “that’s brilliant.”  Then I’ll explain that it worked because we took those steps [aligned to the ITSMA ABM workflow] and how the whole sprint is focused around delivering a program specifically for that one key account or customer. As soon as I explain that, they tend to get it!

And if you were starting in a new organisation and they had never done ABM before, how would you go about rolling out a program?

My advice would be that the best way to begin is to run a pilot in two or three accounts for one-to-one ABM activity – definitely choose more than one account otherwise you won’t have enough coverage to show possible success.  I can’t stress enough, though, that you must identify those accounts by engaging with sales and it must be sales and marketing working together on the program.  I must emphasise here that this is not marketing doing something and then giving it to sales; this is total collaboration. You’ve got to foster that bit first and whether it sits at CMO or Sales Director level, you need to have that agreement and collaboration and intent to go ahead and do it.

For your pilot ABM programme, what were your primary objectives for your chosen accounts and what activity did you run into them?

We started with 58, 1:1 accounts in the UK, which was bonkers and I would not recommend that as an approach.  Activity was wide and pretty much any marketing strategy or tactic you could think of was executed somewhere with those accounts. It was not a program, it was a strategic approach. 

You’re about to start your new financial year, seven years on from your first ABM program  – what will you be doing differently this year?

 Strategic ABM, on a 1:1 basis is still an emphasis for us, it’s where we see the value and so do our internal stakeholders. We’ve developed a blended approach over time, and last year we started to scale with some 1:Few, or Cluster, ABM, and that’s where we are going to put most of our evolving effort this year.  We’ve laid the foundation, now we just need to build upon it and it’s really not a program for us, it’s a core part of our marketing strategy,

 Finally, looking further out, what does the future hold for ABM?

 I think it will become the norm. Its marketing and sales working collaboratively, its being customer obsessed and its delivering real value to the business.   Having said that, I think the term ABM is starting to be used incorrectly, so, I think we may have to morph the name and remember we are talking ‘true’ ABM. To be honest, I think it’s the proliferation of marketing technology that has caused so much confusion around the term. Activity that is not insight led, and often semi-personalised, generic activity or broad programmatic ‘marketing to accounts’ is not ABM in my mind. That said, I think tech will continue to help. And I do believe that AI and machine learning has a role to play here by doing interesting things with historical data, for example. If you have the right brains looking at it, you can look at the types of deal, which geography and which organisation is in play, and you could predict which ones you are going to win or lose in your current set based upon what’s happened in the past.

 For too long in the IT sector marketing suffered for being the three ‘P’s… pens, powerpoints and parties. If you look at a lot of tech companies, there’s sales over here and marketing over there. Marketing is working really hard and will occasionally chuck something to sales and sales go, “what’s this?” or they go, “Oh, that’s quite good”. Or sales would say, “I need some pens please”… because they weren’t working together. So the future is sales and marketing working together again; we’ve started to reposition ourselves in marketing as strategic through ABM, and that’s so powerful. We still occasionally get asked for pens though!

Andrea won an ITSMA MEA Gold Award in 2019 for Scaling and Optimizing Account Based Marketing. You can follow Andrea on Twitter @clatworthya

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