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Account-based marketing advice from the masters: From pre-launch to developing a growth mindset

Ahead of the B2B Marketing Conference, ABM: Getting it right and making it happen, three marketing leaders – Amanda Holmes, Conrad Wilson and Gemma Davies – share their thoughts on account-based marketing.

Amanda Holmes, EMEA marketing director at Alaris, a Kodak Business, shares the questions you need to ask yourself before you get going

Amanda Holmes, EMEA marketing director at Alaris, a Kodak Business

It’s ABM again! Don’t worry, I am not going to labour on about what ABM’s meaning is or why do it. I really want to explore what you need to think about before launching an ABM programme.

The first question to ask yourself is do you know what the strategy is of the business you are involved in? It is paramount to properly understand what the direction of your company is before leaping ahead into any marketing activity. The trigger for determining if I should launch an ABM programme at my previous company was understanding that named/strategic accounts were part of the investment plan for growth. Although I want to stress ABM is still relevant if you don’t have a named account strategy. Your business could be vertically-focused and want to go after the whole financial services sector, for example. ABM would still be relevant, as you want to target several accounts within that sector.

Once you’ve determined what the strategy is, you must figure out who your stakeholders are, and whether you can get them onboard and aligned. Personally, it was all about having the right level of sales leadership engagement in place. I had sales leadership behind me but if you are not that fortunate then you have educating and convincing to do. Keep things simple, focus on an area that you know is set to grow and with some further investment you can prove additional growth.

The next question is how will the programme run? Can you resource it internally or do you need external help? Do you have the skills internally, and how do you determine what skills are needed? What extra funding may be required? A lot of questions but all relate to your required resources.

In summary: Understand your company’s strategy; determine your stakeholders and get alignment; check what resources you have. There’s a little more to it than that, but that will get you to a good place to launch.

6 steps to understanding your customer's buying process

Conrad Wilson, head of marketing and communications at Cranfield School of Management shares 10 things he’s learnt on his past 11 months’ ABM journey

Conrad Wilson, head of marketing and communications at Cranfield School of Management

It’s November 2017. I’m at the B2B Marketing ABM conference. I’m sitting among 400 marketers listening to Joel Harrison. His speech struck me. That was where my ABM journey began.

Fast forward 11 months and I’ve learned a lot. Here are my top 10 tips:

  1. Own a clear personal vision for ABM. It’s much easier to get buy-in when you tie it closely to business strategy.
  2. Be a politician – learn to navigate individual agendas and get dark lords on your side.
  3. Use the full repertoire of your stakeholder management skillset to back your ideas. I learnt to compromise, cooperate, compete and collaborate to make it happen, just don’t be a wimp.
  4. Get external ABM training. You’ll cut the learning curve, make fewer mistakes and inspire colleagues.
  5. Be a conduit for useable ideas. I found cross-functional workshops facilitated innovation and changed mind-sets.
  6. ABM is a culture change and old habits die hard. Think about the things that could get in your way. Work smart to sweep them away. 
  7. I caught a lucky break. I saw the opportunity to introduce ABM during a change programme to my new line manager, it made all the difference.
  8. Be prepared to enter what we call the ‘zone of uncomfortable debate’. Use evidence, logic and process to win influence.
  9. Be inclusive. We adopted the moniker ‘accounts-based strategy’ as it’s a joint sales and marketing initiative.
  10. You need energy to drive momentum. I got energy by never letting go of my vision, challenging the status quo and committing to take action

Gemma Davies, global ABM strategy at ServiceNow, has a challenge for marketers running an ABM programme

Gemma Davies, global ABM strategy, ServiceNow

“A moment's insight is sometimes worth a life's experience.”

I stumbled on this quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. the other morning, and it made me think of the growing importance of being open to new insights, especially in an age when none of us have a ‘lifetime’ to master, or even fully understand, every specialism in our business. Which is why cultivating a ‘growth mindset’ within my own teams has been such an important focus for me over the last few years, especially when embarking on an ABM journey.

The concept of a growth mindset  was developed by psychologist Carol Dweck and popularised in her book  Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Research has proven a growth mindset makes employees better team players, they can learn more or become smarter if they work hard, persevere and view challenges and failures as opportunities to improve their learning and skills. All of which is key when running an ABM programme.

When successful, ABM wins the toughest customers, changes the most challenging relationships, and represents a level of business integration that most marketing can only aspire to.

Your virtual ABM team (marketing, sales, product) requires a growth mindset to achieve that success. Take a few examples of Dr Dweck’s language: 

  • Dedication: ABM is for the long-term, teams and individuals need to be committed to seeing success over years not months and quarters, which requires a fundamental shift in the short-term mindset that drives many large businesses.
  • Hard work: A true customer-first mentality requires a lot of hard work to understand their market imperatives and business initiatives, and as a result develop propositions that fit their requirements.
  • Learning: As ABM practitioners, we need to understand every facet of marketing as well as the sales and customer worlds. This means always being open to learning and developing, never assuming you know everything.
  • Resilience: There will be fallow periods of limited engagement with the account, just as there’ll also be internal reorganisations that detract from the focus you’re trying to bring. Sticking to the plan, adapting and learning, and most importantly being resilient is key to pushing through and maximising ROI 

When a ‘growth mindset’ meets ABM reality  

To take one real-life example: How might you tackle a sales-nominated target account that has been historically difficult to engage, insular, and has been going through a significant M&A process (that has made the process and opportunity to add-value even more difficult)? On top of this, you learn that key stakeholders have a negative perception of your brand. Every ABMers nightmare, right?

Despite the challenges faced, you push forward with the wider account team, develop a robust strategy, and spent the first five months trying different approaches and custom value propositions for different audiences. Nothing worked – not even a muttering of interest.

Until, around month six, you hit on the right angle at the right time – a mixture of cross-functional collaboration, resilience, hard work and learning (from intent data and other tools to help better understand the customer’s world). As a result, you have established positive c-level engagement with a customer that previously had a negative impression of your brand, a proposal is in development and about to be submitted, and a multitude of other stakeholders are raising their hands to talk about how you can help them.

It’s one thing to be able to identify, aspire to and reward a growth mindset before you kick off an ABM programme, but without the benefit of a time machine, how do you reverse the process, and use the impetus of ABM to actually foster, and develop that kind of mindset amongst your team, while you’re in the midst of your marketing activities at light speed?

Start with action, and the desired mindset will follow  

For me, the following steps have been key in helping individuals and teams alike in adopting and developing growth mindsets, and using this to succeed in their roles:  

  1. Identify all your stakeholders, clearly define their roles, and highlight their value to the program to them and to the rest of the team.
  2. Create a compelling vision that aligns both the core strengths of your team, with the core values of your customer.
  3. Encourage and celebrate collaboration and education across-functions, departments and specialisms.
  4. View failure as ‘success in progress’.
  5. Provide the time and the space for people to indulge their curiosity; to explore, experiment and share their lessons.
  6. Tie professional development to personal ambitions; tap into your people’s passion.  

The real benefit of adopting a growth mindset – whether you do this while in full swing of running an ABM program or not – is the opportunity to challenge ourselves; to learn new skills and to develop new strengths.

At the same time, this mindset can encourage closer cross-functional collaboration and alignment between teams and individuals in your business, not just between the sales and marketing team. In my own experience, this has resulted in a more thorough and accountable ABM program for our business and ultimately, for our customers.

So, my challenge to my fellow marketers is this:

If you’re working on an ABM programme, make a pledge to sit in a room with cross-functional business divisions (e.g. sales, chief architects, product line specialists, solution consultants, partner and channel leaders, business analysts, industry experts and of course the customers). Work with them to collaboratively help design a program that meets their needs – and you’ll likely find that you’ll be rewarded with many lifetimes’ worth of experience to shape your moment’s insight.