In this episode of the Account-Based Marketing podcast, AWS’s Account-Based Marketing Lead talks about his experiences at SAP and the transition from a 50-year-old business to one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic—with lessons for ABMers navigating cultural nuances and strategic challenges across different organizations.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Click here to listen to the full podcast.
How did you start with account-based marketing?
I’ve been in B2B marketing for the entirety of my career, mostly in enterprise software and related services. Before AWS, I was with SAP for 18 years and worked at enterprise services organizations like Deloitte and The Hackett Group.
SAP is where ABM really started for me. However, one of my colleagues at Deloitte won a big new relationship with a large US bank through focused marketing and primary research. So, that was always in the back of my mind. At SAP, I went through various roles before my manager initiated ABM, after seeing how well it performed at IBM. Not long after, the opportunity to lead that function opened up.
What’s your current role?
I joined AWS six months ago to build an ABM function in the Americas and syndicate it across other regions. I look at all the processes and various marketing elements and how they work together. With AWS’s customer obsession, resources, and customer base, it’s a wonderful opportunity to build and codify an ABM function.
What’s exciting to you about ABM?
I like repackaging things I’ve learned in my career—relying on my marketing and business background to understand the bigger picture. In marketing, we often find ourselves doing tried and tested activities. But most people have growth needs beyond doing the same things over and over. Taking on the ABM responsibility at SAP allowed me to use other parts of my brain.
What are the key differences in sales and marketing between SAP and AWS?
SAP is a 50-year-old company with a long heritage of enterprise software. They have a large segment of strategic customers, contributing significant revenue. SAP’s challenge is to help them navigate their digital transformation—and they have about 4,000 different products they can sell.
AWS was founded in 2002. In 20 years, it’s become a $US 60 billion business. The cloud services market still has low penetration rates, which means we’re reaching out to companies that haven’t started their cloud journey or still have most of their journey in front of them.
AWS is a marketing-led company, whereas SAP is a sales-dominated culture. Both companies regularly sell to a committee of buyers over a long, complex buying cycle, with multiple people to influence along the way.
With AWS, it’s relatively early days for the category. You may be talking to buyers concerned it’s a big leap for their organisation, or they don’t have the requisite skills, so they need reassurance crossing that chasm. At SAP, buyers had more experience and confidence, which meant less nurturing and justification were required.
How did your SAP customer relationships affect your ABM strategies?
Working with longstanding strategic customers to understand their IT roadmap was wonderful. However, shifting customers from buying patterns reliant on deep discounts was sometimes difficult. Another sticking point was the buying relationships. For many years, SAP’s primary relationships were with CIOs. As SAP grew its portfolio, they were selling to people in HR, supply chain, marketing, etc., but the CIO often wanted things to come through them. ABM had to work around that creatively.
Have you got access to a strong bench of talent at AWS?
It’s gratifying to meet people who have already been doing ABM, either for AWS or a previous employer. I can learn from – and incorporate – things that are already working at AWS. There’s plenty of data, too. Sometimes the challenge is narrowing it down to make the most informed decisions.
AWS prides itself on having an entrepreneurial culture. They call it the Day One approach. We can initiate ideas, get a fair hearing, and quickly incorporate them into how we go to market.
Eric Martin, Account-Based Marketing Lead at AWS
Can you replicate any of your SAP approach at AWS?
AWS is in a similar market to SAP, selling to many of the same companies and individuals. That said, there are quite a few different market dynamics. At AWS, the main focus is on the initial sell. Most ABM is one-to-few, shorter in duration, less of an investment, more reliant on data, and focused on helping sales teams target multiple accounts, many of which don’t have a relationship with AWS. At SAP, it was more about cross-selling and upselling to existing accounts. However, AWS does have a category of low-billing customers where I can apply my experience at SAP to grow account penetration.
Is there one thing that works best in all ABM programs?
Good ABM programs work backward from the customer and are 100% aligned with sales. There are marketing organizations who think they can do ABM without sales involvement or even knowing a whole lot about the customer. That’s not a good ABM program. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it ABM. I’d focus on customer expectations, business challenges, and the unique ways we can solve them—and work forward from there—rather than wondering what marketing can do in our ivory tower.
Have you found it easier to embed ABM in organizations with mature marketing functions?
It’s probably been my biggest learning in transitioning from a 50-year-old company to a much younger one. AWS has been growing so quickly that some of the more mature marketing functions I’d become dependent on at SAP are still being formed.
There are a lot of dependencies that come with ABM roles. Is there anyone doing advanced digital advertising or targeted social media? Is your event function mature enough to build ABM threads within it? How do lead scoring mechanisms dictate interaction with sales?
You have to work with the systems, tools, and processes that are currently available—and map out how ABM can mature as marketing matures.
One thing that’s been a constant for me is ITSMA’s ABM maturity model: it’s a good colour-by-number approach to the various elements of ABM.
What’s your advice to leaders setting up a new ABM program?
The ABM discipline has really matured in the last 5–10 years. The martech and personalisation are much more sophisticated; the bar is lower than ever. Even finding ABM talent is much easier, thanks to organisations like Momentum ITSMA.
I’d recommend starting with the use case. Where would ABM best apply? Is the cost justification there? It won’t always be. And look at the willingness of sales to use ABM.
One of the things I’ve really benefited from my relationship with Momentum ITSMA is the ABM council. I’ve been a member for close to seven years, comparing notes with peers from some of the best marketing organisations across IT and services. The open, transparent, and confidential dialogue has helped me analyse initiatives and led me to ABM innovations I wouldn’t have considered.
What’s the value of Momentum and ITSMA coming together?
You’re bringing together ITSMA’s research-based, subject-matter expertise with Momentum’s pragmatic, actionable approach in ABM and B2B marketing. It’s a powerful combination and a one-stop shop for someone like me.
Listen to the full podcast here.
In this podcast, Alisha is joined by Eric Martin, Account-Based Marketing Lead at AWS, to explore the core principles of ABM and differences in developing Account-Based Marketing for two technology giants.
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