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Q&A Robert Norum: Why your ABM should be unique to your organisation

We’ve invited Robert Norum, a guru in ABM, who spoke at our ABM conference to lead a series of training sessions. Why? Because the following is just some of the great advice he has on offer.

So let’s start at the beginning. Where should those wanting to deliver account-based marketing begin?

You really need to develop an ABM strategy that’s going to be right for your company. Start by scoping out what you want your programme to achieve. Essentially you want to start with a blueprint of what success looks like, including a clear strategy that everyone is signed up to before you begin. It’s crucial to have the senior management on board and engaged – perhaps through a workshop or a series of conversations.

How long does it take to set up a process for ABM?

I talk about a cycle in which you spending six to eight weeks getting your programme up and running. In this time you’re creating and defining your accounts, working out whether it’s going to be one-to-one, one-to-few or one-to-many, conducting research, strategic planning, and coming up with your account or sector proposition. I would expect the first communications to land by the end of Q1.

Your essential, practical overview of how ABM works and how to adopt and deliver it successfully

See how Robert can accelerate your ABM at his training courses taking place in 2019. He will be taking the training Account-based marketing essentials course over several dates providing a highly practical overview of how ABM works what it looks like in practice, and how to adopt and deliver it in your business.  

Find out more

ABM practitioners talk a lot about collaboration with sales. Is sales and marketing alignment a result of ABM, or a prerequisite?

I don’t think alignment happens by accident. If sales aren’t on board then an ABM programme is going to be pretty difficult to implement properly. You need understanding from sales almost from day one, and certainly as each account or sector kicks off.

That said, alignment will improve throughout the process, because sales and marketing must work really closely together to deliver the programme.

Can any marketer do ABM?

I think any marketer can become an account-based marketer; I don’t think there are any restrictions. Those with a really strong understanding and rapport with sales will definitely do better. Those in global brand marketing might find it more challenging as they’ll have to become adjusted to working very closely with sales.

 Robert’s top attributes for account-based marketers:

  1. Solid understanding of marketing
  2. Combination of sales and marketing experience
  3. Commercial acumen.

How should senior leaders support ABM?

From a leadership point of view it’s about having a very clear understanding of ABM, a clear definition of what it’s going to do for the organisation and then ensuring the right level of resources, in terms of people and budgets, are in play.

The role for leadership is to have a strategic view, you need to commit to the long-term rather than expecting to see results quarter by quarter. It’s probably going to be a 12-month sales cycle, it might even be longer, so set realistic expectations and manage them.

Sales leaders must galvanise their team, ensure they’re bought into the ABM programme and are working closely with marketing. Marketing leaders should support their team in understanding ABM in all its guises and enabling them to communicate that well to sales. They should ensure they’re commercially switched on, not thinking of marketing in terms of how many items they sent or clicks they received. They need to look at it from an account perspective, which historically has been more of a sales thing.

Can you use ABM for quick wins while waiting for the big wins to come to fruition?

This requires a bit of definition as to what we mean by quick wins. If you’re talking about winning an account, winning revenue or closing a deal, that’s harder to guarantee in the short-term. Look for quick wins in the form of more people in the account, more engagement and more relevant communications, those things are possible in the first three months if you hit the ground running.

If ABM is positioned as a magic wand you can wave over any deal and suddenly the deal is bigger and faster, there’s a good chance people are going to be out of sync.

Of course you could get lucky and land some really good communications in Q1. Intent-based marketing has become quite a key part of ABM. Therefore if you’re tracking your potential key customers and they’re showing interest in a topic, getting salespeople to contact them in a really timely fashion could well give you an advantage. That of course, would give you a quicker route to closing a deal.

In the past you’ve critiqued using tech. Why is that?

I think ABM is a strategic approach to going to market with your biggest and most important high potential growth accounts. ABM is a strategy and it’s not a tactic. I’m a critic of tech when people treat ABM as a box-ticking exercise; they buy a platform or a piece of technology and assume that because they’re sending people loads of communication they’re doing ABM. There is a danger of looking for a quick fix or a technology platform that’s suddenly going to crack ABM – I think that’s problematic.

For me, the best approach to ABM is a blended one where you look at one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many. Don’t try to shoehorn your ABM programme into the piece of technology you bought.

You need to work out which accounts are really high value so you can spend time doing one-to-one on them. You’re going to be looking at industry segments to conduct one-to-few, which may be 10 or 15 accounts at a time but still highly personalised. The one-to-many piece, the programmatic side of things, is the point where people need to be really clear about why they’re doing it and that accounts fit.

Is one-to-many really ABM, or just ‘good marketing’?

I think one-to-many actually has a real role to play. It could be targeted advertising via LinkedIn, it could be clever outbound marketing, it could even be direct mail. It’s making sure you’re giving air cover to your salespeople who aren’t working on the one-to-one or one-to-few programmes.

Where it gets a bit more confusing is when people say they’ve bought a platform and now they can do ABM to 5000 accounts at a time. For me, that isn’t ABM - it’s just taking some good messaging and targeting a whole raft of accounts. There are some subtleties as to how you use ABM at scale and I certainly don’t think you can do it to thousands upon thousands of accounts at a time.

What difficulties can marketers expect to encounter when starting ABM?

Initially the difficulties are getting executive-level buy-in – that’s absolutely mission critical.

Getting sales and marketing aligned is easy to talk about but actually quite difficult to do. Companies that work on quarterly sales cycles need to understand the long-term strategic play and developing long-term client relationships, which can be difficult.

ABM does not take the place of hitting your quarterly numbers, but these two things can run in tandem. For example, in the old days, IT was always about keeping the lights on, supporting the business and providing an IT infrastructure to ensure people could do their jobs properly, but now IT is seen as a strategic differentiator. Most companies are trying to work out how they can add value to their customer base and offerings by using technology, and that tends to require a more innovative approach.

I think it's the same with ABM, you can use it to support your current efforts as well as pushing things to a new level.

What are the most common errors you’ve seen with ABM?

Different companies make different mistakes but a common one is rushing into it without a strategic approach, or failing to engage senior management and align sales and marketing. You need to think about this properly. It’s probably going to change how you do business as a whole organisation.

ABM is definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach. I think every company that I train and work with have their own different business drivers, their own means, their own uniqueness, and the ABM programme needs to reflect their business and their customers.

What will marketers take away from your training course?

  • How to get executive buy-in for the programme.
  • How to work with sales to ensure sales and marketing are closely aligned.
  • The different types for ABM: One-to-one, one-to-few, and one-to-many.
  • Solid criteria to ensure you’re choosing the right ABM for your organisation.
  • The importance of research and insight. 
  • Creating a clear value proposition.
  • Defining measurements and KPIs.