ABM: its origins, its future

ABM: its origins, its future

Let's talk ABM

A webinar series by Strategic IC

Watch this webinar and learn:
  • How Account-based Marketing originated
  • What criteria dictate a successful ABM programme
  • What the future holds for ABM
  • Practical tips for starting with ABM
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ABM: its origins, its future

The Full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - So today I'm joined by Bev Burgess, Senior Vice President, and Global ABM Practice Leader, at ITSMA. Bev, thank you so much for joining us.

Bev Burgess (ITSMA) - Thank you, nice to be here.

Declan (Strategic IC) -  Bev, you've been involved for a number of years in ABM - practically from the outset, I think actually you also coined the term Account-based Marketing. Tell us a little bit about that journey and where it all started.

I’d be fascinated to know.

Bev (ITSMA) -  Sure well, I was running a dinner actually in London, in 2002, and I had 25 Senior Marketers around the table and I had Accenture on one side, and Unisys on another, and both of them had started applying Marketing to specific accounts. 

And I thought that was very interesting and the following year, we kicked off a piece of research around what they were doing, what others were doing, and then we codified it ITSMA, in 2003 called it Account-based Marketing, and wrote out the principles that still remain true today. And we've watched it evolve ever since it's been a really fascinating journey.

Declan (Strategic IC) -  And how would you say it has changed over the last 15 or so years?

Bev (ITSMA) -  Well, it started off very much treating an account as a market in its own right, and it was One-to-one, what we called Strategic ABM. And this was really on the principle that the relationship between two companies is too important to leave to a single Account Manager, and Marketing and Sales weren't necessarily working together for the benefit of the clients in that account. 

So it started there, and over the years, as people realised it worked, they said, "Well, we want more of this," but you can't have any more resources or people, and so, the very creative ABM Programme leaders came up with a One-to-few approach, where they clustered accounts which had similar issues and needs. And then, of course, the technology developed to support reaching out to hundreds of accounts with similar issues and needs, and the One-to-Many approach started off. And really now people are blending One-to-One, One-to-Few, One-to-Many, in whatever recipe is right for their business.

Declan (Strategic IC) -  Yeah, and obviously when we were speaking the other day, we were both in agreement that ABM is obviously one of the hottest topics right now in B2B marketing. Why do you think that is?

Bev (ITSMA) -  I think right now everyone's trying to stay very close to their customers and everyone's concerned with keeping resilient customer base, making sure that they survive, and then thrive in this kind of evolving normally that we're moving into. And we know that Account Directors and Salespeople can't get out and see those customers. So more and more support is being asked for specific accounts, and also where you've got Field Marketing teams that did big events they're not doing that anymore. They're being redirected into Account-based Marketing type activities. So ABM was already exploding and with the pandemic, it's become even more important

Declan (Strategic IC) -  Yeah, I think I would definitely concur. We were having a bit of a joke the other day and you were telling me a story where you saw that a conversation you had with some Senior Executive, they said that they didn't really see you as being like a marketeer. And you were relating it back to, there's a certain type of marketeer is required to actually do ABM. What kind of skillset do you think is required?

Bev (ITSMA) -  Yeah, I think we were talking about my time at Fujitsu where the Finance Director, we grew the part of the business that I was in using an ABM strategy, but it was broader than that. It was an Investment Strategy focused on the accounts that mattered and he turned around said, "You're not like "any other Marketer I've ever known." And I think the things that we find ABMers need, as well as that kind of end-to-end marketing knowledge, they need commercial acumen. 

So they need to be able to understand the levers of a business, how it makes money, how the client's business makes money. They need leadership skills, they need to be able to bring together parts of the business for the benefit of the client. And I think they need quite a bit of gravitas and facilitation skills because they need to be taken seriously by an Account Team or a Sales Team, and to be able to sort of challenge the thinking around what's best for that customer and how to create that sustainable value.

Declan (Strategic IC) -  And that probably links nicely into how you were defining ABM before as being part of the Business Development value chain.

Bev (ITSMA) -  Yeah, absolutely, I think historically I've worked in marketing for 30 years. I've also worked in Sales and I've run businesses. And the classic thing has been in B2B that Marketing we're over here doing something important and Sales are over here trying to work with specific accounts. And they look at each other and say, "Well, how are you helping me?" 

What I love about ABM is it pulls together both of those sides and they work together for the benefit of the company and the client. And a CEO I know said to me, "I think the beauty of this is it's one Business Development value chain, it's not two functions working separately."

Declan (Strategic IC) -  So in essence, ABM is actually more important than Sales or Marketing.

Bev (ITSMA) -  I think so, and this is where maybe 'Marketing' in the title was not such a great idea back in 2003, but it's certainly... Accenture was using Client-Centric Marketing. But we've seen some companies like Microsoft start to call it Account-based Engagement. And I think that's where you're bringing, in Customer Success you might be bringing in CSR, anybody that can help that client. And so you're really looking at, how do we engage as one business into another? And that you might say, that's the job of the Account Manager, but I think it's also the job of Marketing and often to be the glue of the business and take a broader view and bring that all together.

Declan (Strategic IC) -  Yeah, and I think just touching on that point, I saw that Adobe is referring to it as Account-based Experience, which is kind of on a similar level to Microsoft. So digging a little bit deeper into ABM, where do you think people go wrong when they start off on this ABM journey?

Bev (ITSMA) -  That's a great question. I think, thinking that it is just a marketing campaign, actually, is just totally wrong, because it has to be done in partnership with sales and other parts of the business. Also thinking that you can buy a shiny tool, technology tool and think you can do ABM that's wrong as well and people come unstuck with that, so sort of trying to do it on your own, trying to do it just with applying technology that doesn't work at all. And I think it's when you lose that momentum with Sales, so you might start off with a good buy-in from the Account Team or Sales but, they lose faith if you haven't got any quick wins and you're no longer working side by side. I've seen people come unstuck with that. So those really are the main things that can probably be boiled down to the fact that it's a Strategic Growth Initiative and you need that kind of alignment.

Declan (Strategic IC) -  So when you look at the kind of the work that you do in the consultancy work, with various clients around the world, what can you say they have in common in terms of a successful ABM programme?

Bev (ITSMA) -  Well, that's interesting cause we did some research last year, looking at how Programme Leaders who are pretty sophisticated. So they're three years plus into their journey, how they've got to the point where they're expanded across the business, and they're covering a lot of accounts, and they are seen as part of this Business Development value chain, and what we found there were, there are seven things basically that you have to get in place and you have to evolve as you go down your ABM journey. And the first one is the alignment I was thinking about. 

So are you aligned with Sales? Are you aligned with the strategy of your business? The second one is the objectives and metrics. Have you got the right kind of goals and KPIs that matter to the business? 

Then you come onto Account Selection, which is really important. So how do you select accounts for the programme, and how do you tier them, if you've got different types of ABM going on? Then we come onto content and campaigns. Have you got a good approach to that? Can you customise your content? And are you efficient in omnichannel campaigns? 

Then we've got programme management and resources. So, do you know who's doing it? Is it a bunch of people that are just doing it on top of their day job? Or do you have the right skills and you've got dedicated resources for it?

And then two related ones, the last two are, have you got the data analytics and insight you need to create compelling ABM propositions and campaigns? And have you got that technology infrastructure that allows you to run it all efficiently? So, seven things basically.

Declan (Strategic IC) -  And leading on from that actually, obviously ITSMA has defined the three Rs

as being three key strategic metrics, Reputation, Relationships, and Revenue. Now, obviously, most companies are always focused or primarily focused on Revenue. What do you hear from the C-suite in terms of the importance of Reputation and Relationships in an ABM programme?

Bev (ITSMA) -  Well, you're absolutely right. And I think this is a bit of a mindset shift because Marketing's always been seen as the engine that generates leads, and then where those leads go, who knows? But what I find is particularly at the moment actually, is that Reputation is increasingly important because how you're handling your business in COVID, how you're working with your customers, keeping your own people safe, helping your customers stay safe and resilient, that seems to be more important than ever actually. And I think we'll look back on this and say, "Well, which companies handled themselves well? "Which were helpful to us as customers?" So that's been increasingly important and the relationship piece. 

What I've found and I've actually just written about this, so I have a book that came out in March, on Executive Engagement, and what we're seeing is increasingly complex B2B purchases. You have to get to a very senior level to get those signed off. And of course, if you're engaging with the C-suite and you've got the right Decision Makers involved, it means you get access to the budget, they can accelerate the sales cycle and actually they start shaping the solution with you. So it becomes more likely that you're going to get an interesting opportunity. So the strength of people's relationships, and whom they've got those relationships with, has become more important.

Declan (Strategic IC) -  Yeah, and obviously you mentioned your book there, 'Executive Engagement Strategies,' funny enough I have a copy here on my desk. I'm halfway through at the moment, I think it's obviously a great read for anybody involved in Sales and Marketing, and the point that you just touched on there, the importance of reaching that C-suite. 

We find in our own Agency that the most successful ABM programmes that we run are where we have the C-suite involved from the outset. That they're part of the Decision Making Group that actually takes a decision to work with us as an Agency, and they're involved throughout the life cycle of the ABM programme. Those are the ones where we know there is Executive buy-in and they make it, they make the programme of strategic importance for their organisation. I think that's really and that's one of the messages I think I've been taking from your book as well. 

ABM, what does ABM look like? I mean, what does the future hold? What does 2020 and beyond ABM look like?

Bev (ITSMA) -  Well, I think when we brought the book out in 2017, on ABM, someone that I really respect, Professor Malcolm McDonald said, "This has the potential "to revolutionise the way we do marketing." And we all kind of looked at him and thought, well, that's interesting. I mean he's 80 something. He's seen things come and go, but he had a really firm view on this. And over the last couple of years, since that book came out, we've seen more and more people applying ABM principles even to their Demand Generation Campaigns and so on. And then as I said, COVID hit and people were redirected to do more ABM type activity. So I think what he predicted is actually happening, more and more Business-to-Business Marketing is becoming ABM.

So you've got kind of Vertical Marketing taking a bit of a One-to-few or cluster type ABM shape. And the kind of offering campaigns we used to do we used to just chuck them over the wall to a list of accounts. That's becoming much more nuanced and much more based on insight on those accounts, and who's in-market and ready and showing intent and then much more customised messaging to cut through to those people.

So, even at that scale, ABM principles are influencing the way we communicate with customers and prospects now. I think that revolution will carry on.

Declan (Strategic IC) -  And finally Bev, what advice would you give to any company looking to start with ABM?

Bev (ITSMA) -  I think the key thing is to work out, spend the time on research. What is the right ABM for you? If your deal sizes in the thousands or tens of thousands, you're probably not going to want to do One-to-one ABM. It's probably a One-to-few, One-to-many, blend that will work for you. 

Whereas if you've got a few hundred customers around the world that are the bulk of your business, and they're contributing millions every year, and could contribute millions more, then maybe One-to-one is. So, work out what the right strategy is for you and what you want to achieve from it. And then everything else will kind of flow from there.

Declan (Strategic IC) -  Great advice Bev, absolute pleasure having you on the Let’s talk ABM series today. Thank you so much for your time.

Bev (ITSMA) -  Thanks very much. Thanks for having me on, bye.

About the presenters

Declan Mulkeen

CMO | Strategic IC

Declan heads up marketing at Strategic IC. After some 20 years working as a CMO in the Professional Services, SaaS and EdTech sectors, Declan is now Agency-side building the Strategic IC brand and sharing our clients’ ABM success stories.

Bev Burgess

Senior Vice President & Global ABM Practice Leader | ITSMA

Bev Burgess is one of the industry’s major thought leaders on marketing and selling complex services and solutions. She is best known as an authority on Account-based Marketing (ABM) and author of A Practitioner's Guide to ABM (2017) and Executive Engagement Strategies (2020).

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