Modern Marketing Agency

Account-based marketing is both a marathon and a sprint

By Heather Barnett​ | Head of marketing

The Marketing Practice

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February 4, 2022 | 6 min read

Longevity is one reason many firms invest in account-based marketing (ABM) to nurture strategic accounts and – where possible – speed up pipeline velocity. Heather Barnett​, head of marketing at The Marketing Practice, looks at how marketers can optimize their ABM to kickstart business sales cycles.

What do Wagner’s Ring Cycle and business-to-business sales cycles have in common? They are both loooong. So long, in the case of B2B sales cycles, that they may outlast the tenure of an average CMO.

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a marathon then, right? It takes months and years of executive profiling, intelligence building, relationship nurturing and aligning propositions with customer objectives, right? Well, yes and no.

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The Marketing Practice on how to excel with your ABM programme.

We spoke to marketers at enterprise technology firms who know a thing or two about account-based marketing, to find out how they’re balancing the stamina and strategy of a Haile Gebrselassie with the short energy bursts of a Usain Bolt.

Mark Larwood, head of strategic customer marketing at Virgin Media O2

...on leading an award-winning, long-running ABM program aimed at retaining and growing key accounts.

We create three-year plans for our strategic ABM accounts and measure them against KPIs grouped around the traditional ITSMA metrics of reputation, relationships and revenue.

Having run ABM programs at O2 Business (now Virgin Media O2) for over ten years, we’ve learned that it’s a long-term game. That said, within the plan to deliver the long-term strategy we have room to experiment and benefit from new data as it comes in. For instance, we knew that a key component of our 2020 retail sector approach would be a ground-breaking survey, to help retailers understand what consumers’ priorities were for retail tech and connectivity. But by setting our project teams up in self-managing, agile groups, we were able to react at speed to the impact of COVID-19. As the lockdown hit, we rejigged the survey at the last minute to include questions about the pandemic and reworked the communications plan to shift from face-to-face events and assets to purely online delivery. The overall aim was achieved but our setup allowed for the near-term plan to adapt in response to new information.

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Kari Price, senior director, global account-based marketing at Red Hat

...on their ABM program entering its sixth year and including more than 55 ABM marketers located in 17 countries.

For us, ABM is about engaging with our top strategic customers over the long term. We use ABM strategies to understand our customers’ needs and objectives, and ensure we’re meeting our customers where they are in their buying journey. That way, we can deliver the best possible experience for each customer.

But that’s not to say that everything needs to be planned a year at a time. Our marketers implement progressive profiling and work closely with the account teams to pinpoint additional short-term and ad-hoc opportunities that build relationships, provide value, and engage with customers in the most impactful and relevant way – wherever they are in the buyer’s journey.

Elise Miller, ServiceNow’s director and head of ABM, EMEA

...on keeping everyone focused on the overarching strategy, while allowing flexibility for sprinting to shorter-term finish lines (ServiceNow’s ABM program has been running since 2018 and spans EMEA, the Americas, Asia Pacific and Japan).

It might sound counterintuitive, but we’ve found that the best way to give our ABM teams freedom to be flexible is to put a clear structure in place. Our global center of excellence produces an ABM playbook for local teams to follow, alongside defined processes, inspirational series, tools, templates and resources. Our aim is for roughly 80% of the program to be defined, to ensure solid foundations and clarity over the long term, with 20% flex within regions. It’s this final 20% that allows for local innovation, creativity and agility within the parameters of the longer-term strategy. That way, ABMers can deliver quick wins based on local nuances and changes within their accounts, while not losing sight of top-level goals.

The conclusion from these successful ABMers is that you need the skills of a long-distance runner as well as a hundred-meter specialist to deliver the best results. Agility offers quick wins which will keep sales teams and board sponsors happy, as well as meaning resource can be directed at the best opportunities. A long-term strategy supported by a clear governance process means the program won’t stray from its objectives and can be measured and optimized over time.

Ready to put your ABM program through its paces? It’s time to put on those running shoes.

Modern Marketing Agency

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The Marketing Practice is a leading, global B2B agency that delivers growth right across the funnel.

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