executive engagement

C-Suite Marketing: How SAP’s ABM Team Approaches Executive Alignment and Orchestration

Momentum ITSMA Staff

November 9, 2021

Eric Martin of SAP explains how his team of ABMers approaches executive alignment and orchestration as they work across the C-suite.

C-Suite Marketing: How SAP’s ABM Team Approaches Executive Alignment and Orchestration

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Experience is a wise teacher! I talked C-suite marketing recently with Eric Martin and the hard-earned wisdom of this longtime ABM leader’s experience shone through the conversation.

Eric launched SAP’s North American ABM program back in the early 2010s and has run it with tremendous success ever since, driving growth and innovation with SAP’s most important accounts. He’s an ITSMA Marketing Excellence Award winner, widely recognized as an ABM expert, and plays a starring role in ITSMA’s “Magnificent Seven” ABM leaders in A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing: Accelerating Growth in Strategic Accounts (2nd Edition).

Eric and I talked specifically about the importance of connecting with executives at strategic accounts and why that’s so challenging for large and complex organizations like SAP where so much of their revenue comes from those top accounts.

He explained how his team of ABM-ers approaches executive alignment and orchestration as they work across the C-suite. Traditionally, SAP has had success in building relationships with and selling to IT. But as SAP shifted its business model to primarily cloud solutions, they are now selling to executives in other lines of business. A big part of his team’s executive engagement is thus enabling the sales team to reach those “other” audiences with content, events, and account-specific material, as well as engaging directly with the lines of business leaders themselves.

The challenge of cross-business connection is common for many enterprise solutions providers, and it’s a big reason why ABM and Executive Engagement have become so complicated when focused on top-tier accounts.

As Eric explained, SAP’s portfolio of offerings and capabilities has grown dramatically over the last 20 years and there’s no way that individual salespeople can have the breadth of knowledge needed to represent the entire portfolio. And, while SAP continues to have a single account owner, they bring in sales specialists for product areas as needed. In fact, the company has built a hybrid sales organization so there’s harmony between the different sales groups.

Eric also referenced ITSMA’s How Executives Engage research, which shows that executives not only want access to personalized content, but they really want to hear from subject matter experts and they want peer-to-peer interaction.

As such, the ABM-ers need to balance efforts to engage a wide range of business executives, relying on a wide range of internal experts, while still protecting essential relationships with IT leaders who often have different priorities and agendas.

They rely on three main initiatives:

  • Generating interest and initial connections across the C-suite via a pull vs. a push model
  • Working with account teams to create more consultative selling approaches and capabilities to follow up the initial interest
  • Connecting specific domain experts within SAP to their counterparts at the client

This last piece can be especially tricky and requires both deep insight on the individual executives and cross-functional orchestration across SAP. Among other concerns, capacity issues come into play very quickly. While SAP executives do want to interact with customers, they cannot do that 100% of the time. The demand from customers quickly exceeds the supply.

“Our executive suite is a finite group of people, so our challenge is how do we spread our SAP executives among so many customers and allow them to do their job well at the same time?” he asked.

To maximize the impact overall, the ABM team focuses not only on orchestrating executive engagement at the account level but putting discipline around it. Thus, SAP board members and executives each have a small number of client relationships, where they are the primary C-level “sponsor” for the account. These executives work with sales leadership (the account owners) to understand what’s important to the account, what’s the confluence between their interests and SAP’s, and what are the top priorities for each conversation. This ensures that the time SAP executives spend with customers is quality time, it’s strategic, and it allows for a strengthening of the relationship.

Want to learn more? Listen to the full episode for additional detail on the orchestration challenge, as well as:

  • How to curate marketing content for each account
  • What good thought leadership looks like within an ABM program
  • Why it’s important to build trust even when it’s not tied to a revenue opportunity

And let us know what you think, and what other guests we should consider for the podcast. Ping me at my new email address: Rob.leavitt@wearemomentum.com.