How to build a world-class ABM campaign

Each year, the B2B Marketing Awards celebrates the best in the business and – just as importantly – is a good excuse to have a drink and a laugh. Mercifully, the 2020 awards show was held virtually, and so everyone was spared any potential drunken embarrassment.

Fortunately, the calibre of entries in the 2020 B2B Marketing Awards remained absolutely phenomenal, and so all those who made the shortlist can be extremely proud of a job well done, let alone the winners.

So, what does it take to be a winner? David Rowlands spoke with David Reid, client services director at Transmission, to find out more. Transmission won Gold in ‘Best use of account-based marketing’ for their campaign for HP Apollo.

Q. Tell us a bit about your campaign for HP Apollo. What was the goal, and how did you set out to achieve it?

David Reid: As one of the biggest IT suppliers on the planet, it’s not hard for HP Inc to get on the RFP lists of large enterprises. The challenge is not to win a seat at the table, it’s to be more successful while you’re there. This insight, ultimately, was the brief.

HP knew their customers had an understanding or awareness of their products and solutions. They didn’t want or need thousands of MQLs or even SQLs. What they wanted was an approach that enabled them to understand their customer better, communicate the right message to them, respond to what they were most interested in at any given point of the customer lifecycle, and help sales be more successful. It needed a campaign that would deliver tangible value, helping HP’s sales and marketing teams to get real insights into target accounts over the long-term, so that when RFPs were in play, prospects were already emotionally connected with the commercial and technical value that the company had to offer.

Transmission decided that, in order do to this properly, we needed to rip up the rulebook and develop a completely new ABM framework that would be always on, crafting messaging and targeting based on real-time data and insights on a weekly basis.

This meant different content, different targeting and different tactics for any given account, depending on where they were in a five-year RFP cycle.  It resulted in a programme that reinvented the way HP Inc does B2B marketing.

Q. Although it’s an ongoing campaign, what results have you seen to date?

David Reid: We have seen results, although the ultimate goal is pretty binary: did HP win the business or not? That isn’t something we will be able to share in this interview, however we can discuss how it has performed from a marketing sense. For that, we are using a ‘four Cs’ framework to measure success: coverage, contacts, context and conversion. The reality is that insights will become richer over a period of three years plus. However, the results for the first few quarters of activity were regarded as a huge success, so we use these as a benchmark.

The campaign consistently reached 51% of companies on the target account list, and engaged with 30%. We created 1362 net new contacts, many of whom were from businesses approaching an RFP.

As part of the strategy, we are aligning messaging and content based on a number of factors, but a key one is the time to RFP. The closer the customer gets to an RFP, the more focused we are on solutions-led content, the further away, we drive more thought leadership and topical content. So far, we’ve seen that 75% of engaged accounts have engaged with or have consumed content that fit within HP’s key pillars. Again, this is a long-term play, so while initial results have been excellent, we consistently monitor performance and look for areas we can improve on or innovate in to add more value. 

Q. ABM isn’t just about marketing – sales is equally important. How did you ensure sales and marketing were aligned, and that sales were given the information and collateral they required?

David Reid: Collaboration is the most important part of ABM. Sales were critical to the engineering of the framework – they were the first people we spoke to. The premise to segment  accounts by stage of the buying cycle came from interviewing sales. By  understanding where the team was   most successful at building relationships with prospective customers and when they could influence buying decisions we were able to arm them with the right kind of marketing material for each stage of that journey.  

So, the sales team could see we weren’t looking to do ‘another campaign’ here – we really wanted to transform the communication of HP’s core proposition, products and services to customers and we needed their help. With their help, we could then help them. This is sounding all a bit self-help Guru now, but you get the picture!

As an ongoing programme, sharing results and getting feedback from sales on any progress made is crucial. It’s a two-way street, of course, and there will be some traffic lights stopping you, but perseverance in communication is vital. Once you win an account or sales meet a VP, the penny drops and suddenly everyone wants a piece of the action. We saw this when we were doing deep dive account analysis on priority accounts approach 12 months to an RFP – we were able to provide them with intelligence it would normally take months to unearth.

Q. How did you leverage data and insights to identify the right accounts? How can other marketers do this effectively?

David Reid: Typically, we find a lot of the most useful insights in programmes like Apollo exist already, so we first looked at what insight sales could give us. On top of that, we looked used install data (which was critical) and then intent data to help prioritise activation.

I don’t think there is a silver bullet to using data or insights – we knew what we want to discover and looked into the sources that could help us best. If I started again, I would build a CDP to create more meaningful insights over time. I would say to anyone developing an ABM programme or new strategy – look inhouse first, pull as many resources together in terms of sales, data science etc. Then look at 3rd party sources to enrich your data and insights.

Q. Once the accounts had been identified, how did you use account mapping and profiling to identify the right individuals? What lessons can marketers learn from this?

Persona research really helped us understand the role of each influencer and decision-maker throughout the buying cycle. Everyone wants to meet the CIO, but sometimes it’s not necessary. We ensured that we kept an eye on what we were trying to achieve: being more successful at the RFP table. We used tools such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator, ZoomInfo or DiscoverOrg to find the contacts and align them to the account map which enabled us to prioritise the message prospects received and what outcomes we were looking to achieve from our activity.

Q. Most of our audience are in the early stages of implementing ABM in their organisations. What advice do you have for marketers who want to reach a stage where they can create world-class ABM campaigns?

David Reid: I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary to be honest – define your goals, set objectives, be clear on what outcomes you want to create and be willing to test and learn. I think anyone looking at building an ABM programme will need support from their business in order to be successful – a planning session will go a long way in helping define your plan, and you should invite as many customer-facing functions as possible to discuss your plans.

It is also worth looking into what martech you could leverage – whilst there are a lot of vendors out there, selecting the right tools to help you understand your audience, their behaviour from your programme and unearth deeper insights will be very useful in the long run.

Q. Finally, ABM is very much a change in mindset from the old model of how sales and marketing interact with one another. What pitfalls should marketers look out for when implementing an ABM campaign?

  1. Define the boundaries early on. You are spending marketing budget on these accounts to help sales. In turn, this helps the business you both work for. You shouldn’t need to spell it out, but both departments are working towards the same ends.. So, be open on what you are trying to achieve and what you can provide to sales, and in return what you need from them to help you be successful.
  2. Don’t aim for too much and too little. What I mean by this is that leads are still important, but they need context around them. How can you package up your insights, intelligence and leads for sales to use the next time they pick up the phone?
  3. Be open. Show sales what you are looking to create and what you can create. Also, allow them to have a say (ok, no one wants to do a brochure, but try and dig deeper to what that might mean to them).
  4. Be agile. Your ABM campaign probably won’t go to plan at first. So, build out your perimeters, and be ready to pivot. Also, expect the unexpected. It’s great when you help land a whale of an account (we have had some great feedback recently from our clients), but sometimes things don’t go your way, and it isn’t always easy to understand why. For instance, the data, insights, sales alignment, messaging and creative was all on point – so why didn’t it work? Ultimately, you have to go again and try something different.

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