Book review: The second edition of A Practitioner's Guide to Account-Based Marketing

The publication of the second edition of A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing by Bev Burgess is perfectly timed as we emerge into the post-pandemic B2B landscape. Those of us who have been deeply involved with ABM over the years have witnessed its powerful impact on the fortunes of our organisations.

ABM can make such a measurable difference because it is designed with specific objectives aimed at a tightly targeted audience. It offers advantages across the board. Externally, it is an integrated, coordinated programme of activities that brings valuable propositions and relevant ideas to clients. Internally, it encourages closer cooperation between marketing, account management, sales and delivery teams because it is only truly effective when everyone involved with a client works collaboratively.

ABM at O2

At O2 we started on this marketing journey about a decade ago, when we began to make tentative steps by applying the sales challenger approach and methodology to some of our key B2B accounts. It was aimed at demonstrating just what commercial value marketing could offer sales, and to build a strong partnership with account teams by clearly defining marketing’s role.

This worked so well that about six years ago we began to set up a more formal ABM programme with our most important clients. What ABM does is embed what I see as marketing best practice by encouraging you to build on your most important client relationships for mutual benefit. At the heart of it is client insight based on data excellence. You have to understand who you are targeting, why and then use the right combination of marketing strategies and tactics to shape the relationship.

Impact of the pandemic

Has the pandemic made a difference to that? There is little doubt that it has had a huge and devastating impact in so many areas. But as marketers we have always had to deal with constant and what can be sudden changes in our business environment. If anything, as the book illustrates, the pandemic has accelerated the need for us to get even better at some of ABM’s key tenets.

1. Agility

One of the most important is agility. We have to be able to respond even more quickly to the changing context of both our own and our customer’s organisation and how the dynamics of those will work together effectively. As Bev Burgess says in her book, agile marketing is about ‘improving the speed, predictability, transparency and adaptability to change in the marketing function.’

2. Relevance

The pandemic has shone a light on the need to be much sharper in terms of understanding what is important to clients right now. What is the value we can add? Does it resonate with them? How healthy is the relationship? Is it really two-way or has the pandemic shown that your clients don’t rate you as important strategically as you think they do?

3. Commerciality

While ABM is built on nurturing relationships and reputation, don’t forget the third ‘R’: revenue. We have to continue to sharpen our focus on the commercial value marketing brings significantly.

4. Data expertise

Knowing how to use the data at your disposal is critical to surviving competitively. Again I quote from the book: "Data is both the key benefit of and the driver for marketing transformation… Data has the potential to demonstrate the value of marketing to the rest of the business, a challenge that has nagged marketers for years. The remaining hurdle…is integrating an array of new tools, skills and processes to take advantage of the data deluge and close the gaps from data to insight to action."

5. Creativity

We must never forget the importance of creativity, This is, I believe, a skill that has at times been undervalued, particularly in B2B. But we have to get our customer’s attention. How do we do this? When the whole world is having to engage virtually rather than physically, how do we cut through? Our answer has been to ensure that we concentrate on what we know customers are interested in and make sure we use the appropriate channels.

It’s not easy. For example, holding networking events has long been an important part of our marketing mix. So we have had to rethink carefully and decide if an event will work online. We know that there are elements of face-to-face meetings which you just can’t replicate on a screen. It’s a case therefore of going back to the core outcome you’re trying to achieve through your strategy and execution, rather than a simple migration to virtual. 

Learning valuable lessons

When the first edition of this book was published in 2017, ABM was becoming far more prevalent in B2B marketing departments as a distinct marketing discipline as companies aimed at winning a higher percentage of clients’ spend relative to competitors.

In just a few years it has now become more sophisticated, with tools and concepts that offer more scope for scaling up programmes by balancing breadth with depth. It is essential that as a  practitioner you think carefully about your organisation’s specific requirements. You might decide to concentrate on strategic ABM and build close, one-to-one relationships with your most important clients. Or you might blend that with one-to few and programmatic ABM methodologies to reach different target markets more effectively.

Whatever you decide, this updated version with its invaluable case studies, will guide you through the complexities of ABM. Putting ABM in place is not easy. But having this book by your side will help you navigate your way through many of the challenges we face over the next few years.