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ABM from the start line

ABM is often seen as more of a marathon than a sprint. David Cotterill reveals how to make it across the finish line, while reaping lucrative rewards along the way.

David Cotterill, marketing director of Europe isn’t long into his task of setting up a global ABM strategy at Conduent, but he has a wealth of prior experience to help him. He’s one of the few who experienced the merits of ABM early on.

Back in 2006, he took lucrative returns from a $30 million deal he won through a mere six-month ABM-led sales cycle.

Having ridden the highs and lows, he’s ready to reveal his ten biggest lessons (and mistakes) at the B2B Marketing Conference. Here, we ask him a few questions in preparation for the day.

What made you want to start ABM?

David: It started back in 2006 when I set up European marketing at a company called Cognizant. We got the opportunity to work with a large Scottish life insurer.  The question was how an Indian organisation (Cognizant) could work with a fairly dowdy Scottish company.

By doing account research it became obvious there were lots of parallels between that organisation and Cognizant. We started to uncover the things that were keeping them awake at night that we were able to solve. We were very quickly able to conceive a strong value proposition based around the clients’ needs and wants. Through that process we signed a $30 million deal in a six-month timescale. But it wasn’t until afterwards that I realised we were using account-based marketing.

“This particular deal really crystallised what I wanted to achieve, which was to sign large deals in fairly short sales cycles.”

ITSMA had been talking about account-based marketing for a while and I hadn’t really realised the relevance. We were still doing what I call ‘spray and pray’ marketing and doing a lot of outbound lead generation.

Are quick wins possible in ABM?

As long as you’ve got a really focused set of accounts, you can deliver outcomes in a matter of weeks, that’s because the amount of intelligence you can attain in today’s very digital world is amazing. We can understand the stakeholder’s personality, what content they’re consuming, what discussions they’re having; you can really get to the bottom of that individual’s challenges.

You measure a win in a number of ways, revenue is obviously important but it’s also about how your relationships are developing and how your reputation is maturing in that organisation.  If all of the three R’s – revenue, relationships and reputation – are maturing, then the account is becoming more critical to the business.

It’s difficult to develop new business quickly through ABM but expanding an account can be done in a matter of weeks of months.

How did you feel about starting ABM from scratch? Was there a lot of pressure?

Absolutely, because the CEO was flying in to meet the client from India so we needed to have very compelling reasons as to why those meetings had to take place. We had to understand the different stakeholders and the different business issues they were facing; the only way was to deep-dive.

“We really needed to understand the account inside-out, back-to-front and upside-down.” 

How did you train your marketers to do ABM in a short timeframe?

The first thing I did was go to my network and pull in some good hires from the agencies I’d previously worked. In today’s world, marketers are still talking to you about the demand funnel. They haven’t really understood having the accounts at the centre of what you do, and that’s a critical part of account-based marketing.

You need to have the right people who have the right mindset and if they’re just looking to ‘spray and pray’ or to drive through the qualification funnel, then they’re not in the right place for today’s marketing funnel.

The ideal ABMer

  • Insightful
  • Digitally-savvy
  • Good all-round marketer
  • Extra passion
  • Desire to solve problems

They could have all the marketing qualifications and traditional marcomms qualifications but it won’t make them ABMers. It’s a different mindset and capability.

You said you regarded starting ABM as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’, do you feel this will become a more common scenario for marketers? Is ABM growing in popularity?

Clients today expect you to understand everything about their organisation; they expect you to come enabled with a properly structured discussion based around their issues. It’s purely driven by the customer.

If you’re not delivering that, the client switches off and actually you’re no longer portraying your company in the right light.

If somebody calls you with something that’s not relevant you get annoyed and never want to deal with that organisation again. If they contact you about something that you were looking at on the internet ten minutes ago you can start a well-conceived conversation that will ultimately lead to a good outcome.

What was the most difficult lesson in your ABM journey?

I think the biggest lesson was in how to flip the conversation from inside-out to outside-in.  Putting yourself in the client’s shoes to understand their issues and then come up with a value proposition that resonates with their challenges. That becomes incredibly compelling.

How did you bring that concentrated relationship with the customer into sales and marketing’s focus?

  • Research:  Start by understanding customer challenges and working with the ABM team to ask how you can marry skills and capabilities to deliver on these.
  • Communication: Establish a strong communication process.
  • Scale: This is the hardest aspect. You need good agencies, and just because it was a good ABM agency two years ago, doesn’t mean they’re still at the top of their game. You’ve got to constantly evaluate and ensure your marketing agency deliver on what your clients are looking for.

“There were ABM agencies formed a number of years ago, that haven’t kept up with today’s digital needs.”

How can a marketer source an ABM budget if the board aren’t prepared to give it to them?

Try to shift as much budget from ‘spray and pray’, demand gen and traditional marketing to ABM as quickly as possible. Then build confidence with sales, business development, client partners and start small.

Start with one or two accounts, give them confidence that you can add a lot more value than they can on their own.

ABM is an additive business model so you need to constantly build the business case. Only when you get into the annual budgeting cycle can you clearly define the outcomes that you’ve achieved through revenue, relationship and reputation. Then you can make the case for a bigger budget, or acquiring different budgets from sales or business development.

ABM at Conduent

Approach: Blended


Conduent have been conducting account-based marketing globally since it was founded in January 2017. When the digital platform decided it wanted to have a more consistent approach to ABM, it brought in David.


David and his team have been building the necessary skills and capabilities at a regional level. He’s now confident US and Europe have a consistent methodology for the US and Europe.


Conduent has marketers dedicated to delivering ABM campaigns, who have a very clear strategy. David says the headcount isn’t significant but they shifted some away from brand, business development marketing to concentrate on putting the accounts at the centre. Although there’s a dedicated team, he feels elements of ABM have been integrated into the marketing organisation whether that be PR, brand or creative.

Don't miss David speaking at The B2B Marketing Conference

David's session 'Building ABM from scratch - the 10 most important lessons' will be running at 11.05-11.45.

And don't miss our other keynote speakers for more tips to take back to the office.

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ABM from the start line