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B2B CMO 100: Account-Based Marketing

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An ABM cynic moderates this roundtable with ABM proponents—can these marketers convince Rachel Fairley the strategy is worth pursuing?

Of all the strategies employed by marketing, to support, enable or complement sales, none inspires so much enthusiasm for disagreement than ABM, or Account-Based Marketing. The reasons for this are manifold, but to distil ABM into its constituent components, as advocated by its proponents, the practice personalizes content and engagement to an organization, at the right places and times, along a well-thought through journey, to either support the relationship or win a new one. And even within that description some marketers may find fault.

Appropriately therefore, this ABM roundtable podcast features a number of senior marketing leaders who each have their own definitions and opinions on ABM, moderated by an outright cynic, to test and cajole these executives into agreeing, one way or the other, what ABM is, what it isn’t and how relevant it is for the modern day marketing function.

Rachel Fairley, Marketer & Brand Strategist, modetates Amit Sharma, Head of Europe and Americas Marketing, Tata Communications; Samir Bagga, CMO, L&T Technology Services; Robert Humphrey, CMO, SecureLink; John Watton, VP Marketing, Yext; and John Williams, CMO EMEA APAC & LatAM, Verizon.

 

Controversial introductions

“I’m going to kick us off by admitting straight off I’m not a believer in ABM,” opened Rachel Fairley. “I thought we’d start with the definition, which I found to be this: ABM is a focused approach of B2B marketing in which sales and marketing work together on a particular organization to turn them into a client.

“So, let’s start with this. Do you agree, Amit?”

“Well, yes, I believe in it and I believe it’s the only way to do marketing in a B2B environment.”

And so went the responses. Even within this definition, disagreement and interpretations competed with one another as they commented on the validity of a basic definition. What the group eventually agreed on, excluding moderator Rachel, was that the controversial part was not the definition, but ‘M’, marketing element of the name.

“Account-based strategies are not limited to the marketing function, it’s more business-development, to be honest” one executive commented.

“And therein lies the problem,” Rachel interjected.

For her, the process by which ABM touts itself is in fact basic marketing. Grow market share to grow business, identify segments and target clients within those segments, and then be relevant and authentic in your engagement with those clients, she explained.

“Is ABM in fact a glossy term made up by mar-tech to sell more software?”

Robert seemed to think so: “You’ve nailed it, Rachel.”

Amit was a little more reflective.

“Having seen the evolution of marketing, there is a wide difference between what we do and used to do. Yes, we already segment markets and divide them, but the granular entity of segments is where we now see major differences and that is where ABM has come into play.

“We have a lot more insight that can be unlocked [with the focus ABM enables] because at its heart is the cry of the customer to be understood more and its the first time sales and marketing have this joint acknowledgement of that need,” he said.

Still unconvinced, Rachel felt this was simply marketing maintaining its subservience to sales.

“It comes back to the definition of account based experiences for the customer,” said John. “I want to generate pipeline; when we build these account based journeys and automate them based on data, analytics and experience we can service those accounts. That’s how I want to build the pipeline.”

 

ABM resolution?

The debate continued to pick apart the group’s often differentiated approaches to ABM—should it be new or existing customers? Is ABM 1-1, 1-few or 1-many? Where does it lie among demand and lead generation? What does good ABM look like?—but ultimately, the main sticking point was that no agreed definition could be relied upon. And if that’s the case, maybe ABM was too fluid a strategy, too abstract a concept, to be relied upon in a business setting.

“If we could write a criteria list for ABM, what would we include?” Rachel asked the group later in the debate.

“Existing customers only, because it’s not opportunity-based marketing, and delivering value for customers that needs to be along long term objectives,” said Amit.

“80 percent of our work is with prospective customers…” retorted another, almost immediately, concisely illustrating the singular interpretations of these executives.

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