The business planning cycle is when we review annual activity and decide what new strategies to adopt for the following year. There are five strategic pillars of B2B marketing to consider in this process:
- Demand generation
- Lead generation
- Sales enablement
Marketing work to integrate activity across these pillars, with tactics such as events, content marketing, paid media and many more. The fourth pillar, account-based marketing (ABM) is common practice in large enterprise technology organisations. Only now is ABM becoming more common in wider industries.
With crowded channels and digital spaces, share of voice is no longer the sole challenge for B2B. Competing for attention, not only for your solution but in general, is a struggle. Cutting through the noise is now as important as the share of your voice in the market.
According to ITSMA, 72% of 118 companies say ABM delivers higher ROI than other types of marketing. The focus on accounts allows cut through of the general market noise. As more marketers begin their journey, inexperienced organisations consider how best to integrate this approach into their current strategy. This article outlines how businesses can implement ABM into their current marketing approach, explores the challenges of making the shift and draws lessons from successful implementation.
 ITSMA Research, January 2022
How can organisations implement ABM?
One objective for marketing teams is to lower the total cost of a customer acquisition and drive profitability for the organisation. This assembly-line mentality works well for demand generation. Unfortunately, 57% of marketers report that their sales teams do not fully utilise content created by marketing.1 ABM is about building relationships with prospects and customers – creating content that connects with those individuals for your sales teams to use in conversation.
When competing for prospects’ attention, it is not the scale that will help win in this interaction, rather the scope of information you currently hold. The organisation with the greatest scope of information is more likely to win the opportunity. When implementing ABM programmes into strategies, marketers should consider the scope of information – not the scale of outputs. As a result of this change, old methodologies for marketers must be set aside.
Implement a test approach across existing teams
Implementing a test and learn approach across your existing marketing disciplines is a useful way to help introduce ABM practices to your organisation. Rather than going in at the deep end, organisations can run multiple single account-based programmes across the annual period – taking a handful of accounts through account-based processes.
This methodology allows teams to learn quickly from experiences and take small steps. Running an agile process (often used in software development) keeps continuous improvement the focus of the strategy (see figure 2).
In this scenario, one individual should be selected from the marketing team to help run this test and learn approach with sales. This individual becomes a ‘mini’ centre of excellence (CoE) for ABM and educates their colleagues on the learnings taken from implementing small ABM programmes.
This also allows marketing teams to limit their investment in ABM, making a dive into the unknown much more manageable. This is suitable for organisations that are unclear on the benefits of ABM for their market and key customers.
Set up a team for success
ABM is a strategy and a way of working. Having one person lead this across an organisation may reduce momentum and not gain the attention this practice requires. An alternative is to identify your priority accounts for the year.
Assess where the greatest opportunity (pipeline) and relationship (engagement) exist within your existing and acquisition accounts.
Once you have a shortlist of around 10 accounts, you can create a team that supports these accounts in account-based activities. Whilst this team are marketers, they are separate from your main functions and will support your sales team in building relationships. They focus on the scope of information, not the scale of implementation. They remain focused on the account activity and are freed from the day-to-day of other marketing activities.
This will require investment into the ABM team of two or three people that support the initiative – focusing the responsibilities of the team on a specific set of outcomes. This is suitable for organisations that are new to implementing ABM strategies but clearly understand the benefits to their customers.
Alternatively, given that the investment in a team can be a considerable undertaking, an agency or outsourced team can provide the support required to help build the team quickly and provide the flexibility to scale up or down based on the success of the programme.
Adopt the practice
Depending on your market and customer needs, a more in-depth approach may be required. Organisations that are confident of ABM practices may wish to implement a change in the go-to-market for the business. This means altering the way your sales and marketing teams operate for your prospects and customers.
Creating an account based or key account function, who help deliver for all your main accounts, nurtures alignment between marketing and sales. Bringing alignment between these teams can drive measurable returns in revenue growth and job satisfaction. Accenture show that building key account relationships helps improves profitability by up to 15%.
Your marketing team become employees who service specific accounts across the organisation. Your ABM function in this scenario are the leaders of your marketing. Your brand, website, content, and other functions support this.
Your sales team understand that marketing is there to help them generate engagement and develop relationships with stakeholders. Sales realise this approach will be in service to them and the customer. Your sales lead and marketing lead become synonymous with each other.
This approach requires a champion to lead the organisation through a period of change management. It may require support from external consultants on the best way to implement for your organisation.
 Rethinking key account management, Accenture, 2019
Arvato Financial Solutions
“It’s easier in this remote environment to work and focus on your existing relationships than build new ones,” says Will Green, Senior Vice President, USA, Arvato. This is the single biggest change he has witnessed in over two decades of working in sales and account management. Arvato made the change to adopt an entirely new key account management practice in 2021.
They had trialled the account-based approach previously through several sales members and found that it lacked attention from leaders to be able to implement the process. Instead, they needed to adopt it fully to service their most valuable customers.
Arvato have now supported their key account managers via a key account management practice throughout the organisation. This has helped them bring a more human approach to the way they sell to their customers “One of the key things that we do as a company is ensure that we’re [taking] a human-centric approach,” he adds. Momentum ITSMA’s advisory team provided Arvato with recommendations for implementation of key account management practices.
A global advertising firm based in France, Criteo undertook an account-based marketing approach, initially to target a new market with their offering.
Rather than implementing a team to help lead this effort – Criteo outsourced their ABM advisory and implementation to the Momentum ITSMA team, gaining support for the delivery of programmes across their high-profile accounts. After a successful implementation trial across media agencies, Criteo implemented further programmes into the retail industry, with the support of Momentum ITSMA.
The support of an implementation partner provided Criteo with the flexibility required to scale up their programme quickly, driving efficiencies through the knowledge of experts who have lead many successful ABM programmes in the past.
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