Transcript: That Account-Based Marketing Episode
Account-Based Marketing trainer and practioner Robert Norum takes us through the opportunities and pitfalls of one of the most talked-about, but not necessarily understood, frameworks in marketing.
Account-Based Marketing is one of those topics that’s been around for a while everyone’s pretty much aware of it, but not everyone necessarily knows the details. Can you give us sort of a nutshell of how it works?
Yeah, I’ll do my best. So ABM, Account Based Marketing, I think everybody’s familiar with the acronym. The biggest challenge, I think, is understanding that this isn’t something that is owned and driven and delivered solely by marketing. And it definitely requires sales and marketing to be working closely together, initially in the account selection process to choose a company’s most important accounts or target accounts, and then working really closely together to first of all develop the insight that you need in terms of understanding the sector or the account in question. And then from there to develop a clear strategy that is bought into by all parts of the organisation and then to create some specific value propositions and messaging that are either unique to the account or the sector in question. So it’s really about getting sales and marketing to work incredibly closely together to focus on your most important accounts, and then to land really tailored communications into those accounts that are obviously going to feel relevant, timely, and personalised for the accounts in question.
Once you’ve got marketing and sales, talking, understanding those insights, what are the what are the essential elements to be able to do ABM better? Where should we be looking to get the kind of insights we need about our client base or our lead?
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I mean, I think insight is obviously a big term or generic term. And I think each company has to find the right approach to research and insight that they can a) afford and b) deliver on a consistent basis. There are third party consultancies and agencies that will do the same search, there are information platforms out there, Discovered or LexisNexis, etc, that will help. But the key thing I think is that you have a replicable model that gives you a level of consistency across accounts and across sectors. And of course, some companies do have internal insight teams and internal research team. So that’s another option as well.
Is an Account-Based Marketing approach suitable for every industry?
Yeah, that’s a question I get asked quite a lot. And I think the short answer is it could be, and it probably should be. If I look at my personal experience over the last eight years, ABM has definitely been driven by the technology sector. And I think that’s largely down to the fact that the technology sector has typically long sales cycles, complex solutions, typically a quite a complex buying chain in terms of different stakeholders. And I guess for another driver would be that the technology sector are probably early adopters in quite a lot of things. So I think technology has almost been the driver. But there’s no question now that financial services, professional services, pharmaceutical manufacturing, the industries that are adopting ABM are expanding on an annual maybe even a monthly basis. You know, if I look at my training for B2B Marketing, then the cross section of companies attending that is definitely getting broader, by the session almost. So, I would say in principle, ABM is suitable for every industry.
The key thing is, you need to be looking at really large-scale opportunities. And you obviously need to match the kind of ABM you’re going to be adopting to the size of the order value. If you look at multi-million-dollar deals, that lends itself to one to one. If you’re looking at £500k to a million, then that might lend itself to one–to–few. If you’re looking at sub-£500k, or well down from there, then you’re probably looking more at a one–to–many play. So I think in terms of the companies it’s appropriate for, you need to be targeting large, complex organisations, you probably need to be thinking in terms of a large complex sales cycle, and you definitely need to be scaling your ABM or tiering your ABM to make sure that it’s appropriate for the size of the price or the order value that you’re shooting for. And I think that would dictate, as I mentioned, whether you’re going down a one–to–one route or one-to-few or one-to-many. By the way, those different bands are not mutually exclusive. So it may be that you have an, if you like, blended ABM programme where you have two or three sectors in a one–to–one play, two or three sectors in a one–to–few play, and then the rest of your enterprise accounts being covered off using the one–to–many side, which of course is where you would expect to be using digital marketing and technology platforms.
In that case, is there a lower boundary where ABM stops being appropriate, particularly in terms of company size, or the average order value that you’re putting in?
Yeah, I think there is. I do get people asking me whether you can do ABM to SMEs and I think if you’re talking about targeting thousands of companies, then that’s really a bridge too far for ABM. And for me, that’s just intelligent marketing to the sector or to the SME community, for example. So I think ABM is at its strongest when you’re cherry picking your largest prospects. They’re likely to be enterprise accounts. They may be Global organisations, and specifically you need to be thinking about a pretty high value solution. As I mentioned, the one–to–many play, which in my world would be perhaps a couple of hundred accounts, gives you an opportunity to scale ABM but even a couple of hundred accounts overseas is still pretty focused.
I think if you’re looking at demand Gen on a much broader basis, where you’re targeting thousands of accounts, for me that that’s probably questionable that that would fit neatly within an ABM strategy. And I certainly think as you come down the food chain, you know, SMEs and low value solutions 10s or 20s of thousands of pounds at a time, probably going to be quite a stretch for you to make ABM work. It’s not to say that you couldn’t take an ABM approach, if you like and say, Well, I’m going to do as much research as I can into the sectors I want to target. I’m going to come up with a tailored value proposition wherever I can, as well. But I think if you are taking that out to thousands of companies, you’re really talking about demand Gen, rather than Account-Based Marketing.
Is there an argument then that you could take an ABM approach for, say, your top 50 biggest spenders, and then a more traditional approach to the rest of your base? Or does that just dilute both efforts and leave them both less effective?
I definitely think that you could have two different approaches in play at the same time. And whilst I’m a huge advocate, obviously, of ABM, it’s not to say this is the only marketing option in town. Demand Gen, brand building, general awareness in the market are not things that cease to have value if you’re running an ABM programme.
From my point of view, I would always encourage my customers or people that I’m doing the training for to think about your Most important customers and then to segment them intelligently. So, it may be that you have 250 Enterprise accounts in the UK, or maybe you’ve got 500 Enterprise accounts across EMEA. It may be that you want to have some kind of ABM activity into those accounts, then of course, you’re going to have to think intelligently about which ones are going to make the one–to–one play, which ones are going to make one–to–few, and how would I use digital marketing to enable me to do a one–to–many play. It needs to be a very focused set of accounts and you really need to know why they’re in the programme. For companies outside of that core set of accounts, then that’s where you are looking at more traditional forms of demand Gen, or general market awareness, brand building and so forth.
In terms of those structures, does the sales funnel start to look very different once you’ve got an ABM approach in place?
Yes. The sales funnel is going to coexist with any ABM programme. From my point of view, I think ABM is typically about looking at your very most important accounts. So if you think of a triangle or a pyramid, which you probably would have seen, if you’ve done any cursory research into the ABM positioning or story, then right at the top of that you have one–to–one. And I think if you’re if you’re looking at one–to–one accounts, then really you need sales and marketing working really closely together to identify not just the key drivers for the account, but actually the individuals you want to talk to. So on that basis, I think it kind of coexists with the funnel. And it’s less about traditional MQLs or SQLs and driving people through that funnel. It’s more about engagement with a particular account at a particular time.
And if you if you drop down the triangle into one–to–few, then inevitably you’re looking at more accounts, but even there, you’ll probably only looking at 5, 10, maximum 15 accounts in a particular sector. Again, you would be looking at those accounts very much on a personalised basis, where sales and marketing and sitting down on a monthly or a weekly basis to review progress on the account. So for me, the funnel probably plays more in the one–to–many play, which is clearly not pure ABM. But it’s an overlay of Account-Based Marketing with demand Gen. And then you’re obviously looking at a large number of accounts, and you probably would be looking at the sales funnel in a more generic sense.
Given that ABM prioritises as you said a one-to-one approach, how can a marketing automation platform assist with an ABM approach, if it can at all?
Well, I think if you’re looking at one–to–one, you’re clearly going to be developing strategy value propositions and messaging before you do anything. You need research and insight even before that, and you’re going to work out exactly how you want to communicate with the customer in question. Now if you’re talking about targeting five or 10 C level executives, then marketing automation may, in fact not be the right place to go at all.
But of course, if you’re targeting a large organisation, there’s a strong possibility that they’re going to be geographically dispersed, and that you’re going to be looking at a lot of users and influences through the buying chain. So I think if you even if you’re looking in a one–to–one context, there’s a good chance that you would want to be landing a broad base of digital communications to a large number of influencers or stakeholders within that organisation. And that I think, is where a marketing platform comes in. If you look in the one–to–few space, again, you might be looking at senior execs, and you might be communicating with them on a highly personalised basis, which may not lend itself to digital comms. But again, you’re going to have that wide cross section of people within the organisation that you know are also important to be community.
Then on the one–to–many play, of course, that’s where a marketing platform or digital comms come into their own. And inevitably, if you’re looking at potentially dozens or even hundreds of companies, then that’s absolutely where you would want a marketing automation platform,
Given these differences that an Account-Based Marketing approach has, like the funnel being a slightly separate thing, what are the key metrics for success in ABM, different to previous sales processes?
You could take metrics and KPIs from other marketing approaches, and there would be some degree of relevance. At the end of the day, we’re looking for pipeline, we’re looking for sales opportunities, and we’re looking for revenue. And those things don’t change.
Where I think things probably are slightly different in an ABM context is you’re typically looking to start by really understanding the customer, and really getting under the skin of the customer’s business drivers and pain points, using research and insight to drive that. And the reason you’re doing that is you really want to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the customer to understand what’s keeping them awake at night, so that you can come up with the right value proposition and messaging to engage them. So particularly at one–to–one and one–to–few levels, this is really about creating a value proposition and a story that’s going to engage the customer. So this is absolutely not about leads. And that’s why I think things like MQLs and SQLs has become less relevant in an ABM context. And this is really about understanding, it’s about engagement. It’s about building a dialogue. And ultimately, it’s about building relationships with the people that you want to do business with. Typically you’re going to be looking at a high value solution in ABM, and you’re going to be looking at a relatively long sales cycle. So, this is not really about quick wins. It’s about building long term relationships. And I think from that point of view, it requires a different mindset when you’re looking at measurement, and when you’re looking at KPIs.
You’ve already mentioned the mindset there. Is that the biggest blocker to getting started that you’ve come across or there are others that company needs to be aware of when they’re considering starting this approach?
Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think mindset is probably a key word. People have talked about ABM actually requiring almost a change management programme within the organisation. For companies to move from push marketing, where we’re looking to generate demand, where we’re looking to create large volumes of leads, where marketing hand those over to sales, and then sales qualify and move forward, to saying we’re going to focus on our top 10 accounts this year, or we’re going to focus on our top 50 accounts, requires quite a big change of mindset. And I think both marketers and sales need to refocus to understand that actually, it’s not even Pareto’s Law of 80-20, it’s probably more like 90–10 in terms of where most of your revenue is going to come from in a given year.
Spotler have just relocated their offices and there’s been a bit of a shuffling of desks. In your experience of helping companies actually put this together, does the physical proximity of the sales and marketing teams come into it at all?
Yeah, another good question. Clearly the logistics of where a company is based and where the sales and marketing people are located, is not necessarily within an individual’s or even a company’s control. But I think getting sales and marketing to be spending time together on a regular basis, to be understanding each other’s drivers, issues, pain points, etc, is pretty important. And a key part for me of the ABM process is actually co-creating the strategy in workshops or in face-to-face sessions, or in a worst case on web calls, and co-creating the value proposition and messaging. So rather than it being a sort of virtual relay race, where marketing are handing off the baton to sales, it should be the two teams working together on the project on an extended basis. And what you’re trying to do is to create a holistic experience for the customer where you have a 360–degree view of what’s going on and you are in complete control of how your organisation is speaking to a prospect or a customer.
Who’s a good example of someone who’s doing an Account-Based Marketing approach really, really well? We can be looking for inspiration.
Well, that’s a challenging question, because I’m sure a lot of companies out there think they’re doing it really well. But historically, you’re talking about companies like Oracle doing really well. We would talk about SAP or organisations like Citrix and VMWare that have been doing it for a long time as well.
Those are just the brands that I’m familiar with in terms of an ABM context, but there’s certainly no shortage of good case studies. There are companies winning awards for ABM programmes each year, B2B Marketing do that on an annual basis, ITSMA, Sirius Decisions. If you look at any of their websites, you will find award winning companies doing ABM at a high standard.
If someone’s trying to dive more into ABM, or wants to get their head around there a bit more before diving in, can you recommend us some resources people can read or watch that will really get them into the right mindset to get started?
B2B Marketing have a good website with a lot of content on ABM, and they produce white papers and they do research in the sector. Sirius Decisions have a lot of content around ABM, ITSMA is a thought leader in the ABM space. And Bev Burgess, who’s been driving their ABM practice for many years, has also written a really good book, which is The Practitioners Guide to Account-Based Marketing. That’s a really solid read. If you’re looking for more input more in-depth information, I run monthly training sessions for B2B Marketing, which is quite a good starting point for people at the beginning of their ABM journey. And then some of the consulting firms I’ve mentioned, would be able to help as you get more sophisticated or you need more in–depth help.
There seems to be a trend, potentially just higher up at the CMO level, of shorter tenures for marketing roles, does that kind of trend threaten the power of ABM or is it not something you’re concerned about?
Well, I think ABM has taken on a life of its own. When I started working in ABM eight years ago, it really wasn’t a familiar term in the industry, and it wasn’t being widely talked about or even used or implemented. Now, it would appear that it really has taken on a life of its own. There’s even a book out there ABM is B2B, which might be a little extravagant a claim. But I think, ABM is here to stay. I think sales and marketing working together has honestly become a major theme, particularly in the B2B community, and for organisations with large complex sales cycles and high value solutions. In terms of the turnover of people, clearly, if somebody senior has bought into a programme and they leave, there’s always the risk that that could derail things, but I don’t think that affects ABM any more than it would do any other programme. If anything I would say the whole thinking and approach to ABM is about creating insight, creating strategy, creating value propositions and messaging that are well documented, and that means that they can continue almost without the requirement for the same people. When the process is in place, if the accounts are selected and the work has been done, then I think it’s quite easy for somebody else to pick that up and to run with it as long as they bought into the strategy and approach of ABM.
Okay, so ABM you heard of it, it works. And it is very much here to stay. Robert, thank you very much.
Thanks for having me.