Hardly a day goes by without us hearing something about Account Based Marketing, or ABM. It's one of the hottest topics in sales and marketing today.
Given that there are different types of ABM—and different approaches depending on your market and your strategy—there has been a lot of confusion about the role of C-Level engagement and where it fits into ABM.
In this ebook not only will you learn how C-Level engagement fits into ABM, but you'll also learn:
The Three "Flavors" of ABM
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A Boardroom Insiders eBook
Most B2B marketers can’t go an entire day without hearing something about Account Based Marketing, or ABM. If it seems like a fairly recent discipline, it’s not. Those of us who have been working in technology marketing for longer than we’d care to admit have been practicing ABM before we ever knew there was a name for it.
Learning about—and giving white-glove treatment to—your most important accounts has always made sense. And organizations such as ITSMA and SiriusDecisions have recognized the value and potential of ABM—and have offered research and consulting services around it--for well over a decade.
But in that time, many things have changed, and ABM has likewise evolved. The most major shift has to do with the tools and technologies now available that support ABM and make it easier to do and scale.
Since we don’t like to make assumptions that we all have the same level of knowledge about ABM, let’s start with its definition: According to SiriusDecisions, ABM is “a strategic approach that focuses on aligning demand creation programs and messaging against a set of defined accounts and goals in a way that is relevant and valuable to those accounts.”
An important point is that not all ABM is alike — and therefore, there is not just one formula for success.
SiriusDecisions has done some great work in this area, and has made things easier for marketers by defining and providing frameworks for three types of ABM. We like to visualize these three “flavors” of ABM on a continuum from one-to-many personalization to one-to-one personalization.
On the far left side of the spectrum (one-to-many) is the broadest form of ABM, Industry ABM. Industry ABM focuses on a moderate or large number of new or existing accounts in the same vertical and/or segment. Messaging and content is personalized to appeal to the careabouts of these segments and sometimes, specific roles within those industries.
In the middle of the spectrum (one-to-fewer) is Named Account ABM, under which marketers target a moderate or large number of specific prospect accounts. In contrast to Industry ABM, where specific accounts are not defined, a list of target accounts is created and targeted through a coordinated effort by sales and marketing. Ideally, messaging is personalized to each specific account based on what is known about their current initiatives and challenges.
At the far right end of the spectrum (one-to-one) is Large Account ABM, under which an organization targets a small group of large, strategically-important accounts. According to SiriusDecisions, organizations that adopt this type of strategy often have a product or service with a higher selling price, a longer sales cycle, and a narrower applicability to a limited set of companies. Target accounts may already be customers, in which case the focus is on retaining and up-selling. Practitioners of Large Account ABM also put a lot of focus on building strong relationships with the account’s executive team through one-to-one communications and in-person touch-points throughout the year.
So many of our customers are launching and managing Account Based Marketing programs these days. In fact, hardly a day goes by that we are not having a conversation with someone about ABM.
So we eagerly await SiriusDecisions’ annual survey about the state of Account Based Marketing.
In 2017, their study surveyed 200+ B2B ABM leaders from around the world.
Anyone interested in or working in ABM should check out the full report, which is available online for free.
Andrea Soltysiak, Head of Global Demand Management and Customer Marketing Operations, SAP at SiriusDecisions Summit
Some other findings caught our attention, due to the role that we play in supporting the executive engagement part of ABM. Specifically, SiriusDecisions looked at the role that “in-person interactions” play in ABM.
McKinsey, December 2017
According to a December 2017 McKinsey report, “Digital transformation is everywhere on the agendas of corporate boards and has risen to the top of CEOs’ strategic plans…digital transformation is being driven from the top, personally mandated by the CEO. This is something new.”
What does this mean for technology vendors and sellers?
It means that there is a bigger opportunity at hand for vendors who sell multiple solutions and are willing and able to act as collaborative experts to C-Suite teams looking for a trusted partner on their digital transformation journey.
It means that—when it comes to large technology purchasing decisions—C-Suite conversations are necessary and inevitable.
It means that the strategy of selling point products into the margins of the business—or into business silos—is risky. Imagine having a foothold into one business unit only to have your competitor swoop in with a more comprehensive solution that includes a full suite of integrated digital products—including one that replaces yours.
Now, obviously you can’t scale C-Suite engagement across every single account. Most tech companies have thousands of customers—from small businesses to large enterprises—and many of those customers engage primarily through channel partners. So…under what conditions should you use C-Suite engagement to support ABM?
It depends on your business.
Some companies—such as Boeing or Airbus—may care about only one hundred companies in the entire world. After all, if you make commercial airplanes, there are only so many companies that buy them. In these cases, you should be engaging with the C-Suite across every single customer.
The same goes for companies that make a industry-specific manufacturing equipment (used by just a few hundred manufacturers, globally), or companies that only sell to big service providers. One of our customers that sold to service providers told us they only cared about 30 companies in the world. In cases like this, knowing and engaging with the C-Level team at every single company is a must!
What is more common however, is for vendors to have thousands of customers that are divided into several tiers. And, when it comes to ABM efforts, it makes sense to concentrate the heavy lifting of C-Suite engagement on only the top tier, where a single opportunity could be worth seven or more figures.
Now let’s take a look at who is succeeding with this type of an approach.
Back in 2016, Salesforce reported “an all-time high in the number of large transactions,” including a net-new nine-figure deal, a nine-figure renewal, and more than 600 (600!) seven-figure plus transactions. When analysts asked how the company had been able to close such a mind-blowing volume of mega-deals, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce and Keith Block, President and COO of Salesforce shared the secret to their success: they sell directly to CEOs.
“When I look at the largest transactions ... every transaction was done with the CEO," said Benioff at the time. "I think it's really unusual, and that's why we're really selling more enterprise software than Oracle or SAP.”
Over the years, Salesforce has developed and acquired a large suite of products. Like many SaaS companies, they have taken a “land and expand” approach, where they aim to sell customers much bigger enterprise licensing agreements (ELAs) across multiple products. In order to accomplish this, they have to sell business outcomes —not products—and these bigger, more strategic deals often force C-level conversations. Benioff knows this (he wrote about it way back in 2010 in his book Behind the Cloud.)
We checked in again on Salesforce, to see what its leaders had to say on their November 2017 earnings call—particularly to see if they offered an update on their C-Suite selling strategy.
Salesforce is still growing like crazy; revenues for the quarter were up 25 percent. And, Benioff and Block are still crediting the company’s success—in large part--to its C-Suite selling strategy.
“What we've started to see over the last 24 months is how important it is for CEO engagement,” Block, President and COO of Salesforce told CNBC in November 2017. “And we have a steady drumbeat of CEOs who are coming to us to talk about: What does digital transformation mean in my industry? What is your point of view? What is disruption? How can I leverage all these amazing technologies of cloud, mobile, social, data science, artificial intelligence in changing our business model?
And it is a regular dialogue with the CEO. I don't believe that is happening in Redmond [where Microsoft is based] or Redwood Shores [where Oracle is based] on a regular basis, or in Waldorf [where SAP is based], but we are having those conversations.”
Block has become an active ambassador to the global CEO community. Earlier in the fall he was in Europe, where he says he met with over 50 CEOs. He is also leading Salesforce’s charge to go into customer boardrooms alongside its system integrator partners; companies like Accenture, for example, who—due to the transformational nature of their consulting engagements—have long sold into the C-Suite.
Salesforce is also putting a lot of investment behind its effort to be a bona fide digital transformation partner. It launched a robust customer collaboration program called Ignite, that helps customers reimagine how digital transformation could spark new revenue streams, improve operational efficiency, or transform corporate culture. At the end of the program, Salesforce then delivers a draft prototype to the customer for that transformation—whether it’s a mobile app or digital service that happens to use Salesforce software.
Salesforce claims that Ignite has moved more than 250 customers toward what the company calls the “digital precipice” in less than two years, driving more blockbuster deals and record revenue. The Ignite program is brilliant in that it not only enables visionary CEOs to co-create their future—with Salesforce—it also gives Salesforce invaluable insights into customers, leading to more effective collaboration and deeper relationships.
What Benioff and Block understand is that all C-Suite executives are intently focused on the increasingly critical role technology plays in the business. They have to be, too, if they want their companies to survive. Digitalization after all, is no longer just about back-office issues, but the totality of the business. The entire C-Suite is looking for help and guidance, and Salesforce’s top brass is willing and ready to provide it. That is why Salesforce is winning more mega-deals.
Consider this: According to analyst Michael Levy, “Over the past four years, Salesforce has more than doubled the number of million-dollar deals to 1,600 and quadrupled the number of $5 million deals to 260. At the upper end of the revenue spectrum, Salesforce has one hundred customers with annual deals of $10 million and 24 in excess of $20 million.”
DXC Technology was created in 2017 from the merger of CSC with HP Enterprise’s services business. At the time of the merger, Dorothea Gosling, DXC Technology’s current Global Head of Pursuit Marketing & Demand Generation Programs, had been working at CSC, where she had created and was leading an ABM effort. With merger integration planning underway, Gosling realized that scaling large-account ABM was going to be a challenge, so she changed her approach.
"We’ve been hearing about ABM for a long time, and many tech vendors have jumped on the bandwagon. CSC/DXC has been a leader in ABM, but recently we’ve heard you talk about Pursuit Marketing. What is Pursuit Marketing and how is it different from ABM?”
“If you think of ABM as a multi-layered pyramid, with each layer targeting a decreasing number of accounts with more specific marketing activities, Pursuit Marketing is at the very tip of that triangle. It focuses on a small number of strategically important accounts at a very specific point in their journey with DXC. It usually kicks in around the RFI stage or later, although the earlier in the deal cycle marketing is involved, the greater our ability to influence the buying center. The goal is to surround the buying center with messaging that is highly relevant, is 100% in line with the company’s goals and will thus resonate with the decision makers and influencers.”
“Pursuit Marketing is a hyper-targeted one-to-one type of activity—and it requires deeper intelligence on the company, the decision makers and influencers so that you can customize your message for them so that it resonates and it is aligned with whatever their objectives are.”
“That is accurate. We need to really understand them not just as a Chief Procurement Officer, for example, but as an individual who happens to be a Chief Procurement Officer—but in his or her spare time is involved in some kind of charity work or has specific preferences around how they expect a business to be run. We want to gain this deeper understanding of the person and brief the sales team on what this individual might be like.”
“It is nice to have this type of personal insight but not everyone is really sure what to do with it. How has DXC leveraged this type of personal information?”
“It’s about being able to build a rapport, without being fake and at the same time avoiding pitfalls. This comes in handy, when e.g. briefing a DXC executive before a first meeting with a key decision maker, and to prepare them to not just talk business, but also for potential small talk, and how to steer clear of landmines, like congratulating a Manchester City fan on the great performance of Man United! Or it could identify common ground or interests, which allows building a much more personal relationship, beyond the deal, where that’s appropriate. Those little things can make a big difference. Even in these large deals, people buy from people. So by trying to understand the individual it helps our executives prepare to have the right type of meeting and conversation.”
“Your Pursuit Marketing effort has been endorsed by your senior leadership, along with your CMO. How hard was it to get their buy in?”
“I kicked off the ABM CoE at CSC with [Head of Global Brand & Digital Marketing] Nick Panayi’s sponsorship support nearly four years ago. We took a strategic approach, seeking input from many stakeholders. The incoming CMO at the time, was also a big supporter of ABM. But we also realized that we were unlikely to get large account ABM off the ground big time because the company was and would continue to be in flux for some time to come [due to the merger and integration with HPE’s Service Business on April 3 2017]. So we took a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, we continue to focus on Named Account Marketing, with around 200 accounts. On the other, there is a key area, strategic deals, where as a company we wanted to focus. So I suggested to Nick, ‘look we have built this armory around ABM…We should surround a deal with the marketing activities that are appropriate and completely focused on helping to close that deal.’ And sometimes, when you work hard, you have that streak of luck! The team working on a large engagement with an insurer came to us looking for marketing support. We collaborated and built a prototype model of what Pursuit Marketing could look like, where the pursuit marketer is like the hub into the wider marketing organization and our agency network. We built an agile marketing team and surrounded the field with a whole bunch of different activities…[Editor’s note: The team won the MetLife deal in 2016, which CEO Michael Lawrie has called out in earnings calls as a landmark deal for CSC]. We had great feedback from the sales leader, we got to pitch to the SVP who owns strategic growth deals, and pursuit marketing is now a firm component of large deal teams at DXC.”
“You have designated the role of “Pursuit Marketer” and you embed these people within the teams pursuing these large deals. How do you identify a Pursuit Marketer? Do they go through special training? And how many of them are there?”
"We have seven folks plus myself and occasionally we recruit others from other marketing teams. They have to be experienced and/or be very smart, because they need to engage at eye level with senior sales people and understand how to navigate these complex engagements. They also need to understand the business landscape and what’s at stake and be able to put together a meaningful plan that resonates with both the sales people and the audience—and then execute it. They need to be excellent communicators, too, as well as strategists with a broad skill set. You can train them but ideally you are looking for generalists with substance. Sometimes we recruit folks who are more junior but are really, really smart and we buddy them up with someone more experienced. That gives us scale and gives them a growth path. A Pursuit Marketer usually has three, sometimes four, active pursuits and assembles a team bespoke for each of those pursuits and then manages those teams.”
“What is your criteria for taking on an opportunity—and does the level of sales engagement play into it?”
“We say it is a privilege and not a right to have pursuit marketing support. We need to have access to all important information and a high level of engagement and collaboration. We sometimes agree to walk away when a deal team doesn’t engage. And there can be many reasons for that—it can be a tight timeline or they might be juggling too many things and we have to say ‘OK, it’s not going to work this time.’ At the same time, the deal teams can hold us absolutely accountable for delivering high quality marketing activities against agreed timelines and goals. One of the things that I am totally delighted about is that deal teams are starting to give our pursuit marketers a head’s up about new opportunities—like, “Hey I have something else coming and I hope you can work with me again.” That’s a nice endorsement.”
Editor’s Note: In May 2017 Gosling and Panayi told their story from the main stage at SiriusDecisions Summit and were the recipients of a SiriusDecisions ROI Award. In addition to what Gosling described above, the two spoke about the ease of measurement when it comes to Pursuit Marketing. Gosling told the audience: “The ROI of Pursuit Marketing is indisputable. You either win or you lose.”
Over the years we have worked with a variety of enterprise customers who have used C-Suite engagement efforts to drive Large Account ABM.
Some have succeeded and some have failed; we have studied them all, and have concluded that there are four main critical success factors that come into play.
1. Mandate From The Top
Remember the Salesforce case study earlier in this ebook? The CXO-selling mandate came right from the top of the organization and the company’s top two executives spend a large percentage of their time meeting with customers and supporting their sales team’s effort to close bigger deals. Your C-level leadership must buy into a C-Suite selling strategy and be willing and able to support it, personally. Maybe it’s not the CEO, but someone at the C-Level needs to be the designated ambassador to the customer C-Suite. C-Level players want to meet with someone on their same level, so a lack of commitment on the part of your own executive team could derail your efforts.
2. Serious Sales Hustle
A lot of work needs to happen before your C-Level execs are invited into your customers’ boardrooms. The road to the C-Suite is typically paved by hard-working account teams, who put in months of effort learning about the customer, crafting targeted communications and laying the groundwork to make that meeting happen. You need a strong enterprise sales team that is not afraid to sell high and engage C-Level players. And, they better have a high level of business acumen. To boost business acumen, investments in training might be required.
3. Sustained Executive Insight and Programs
You need the infrastructure to support ongoing CXO engagement. This should include a source for readily-available, deep customer insight; C-Level programs such as events and content; and robust account management and support so that what your C-Level executives promise customers actually gets followed up on and executed well.
4. Measurement and Proof Points
Gather input from your account teams and track major deals that get CXO engagement versus those that don’t. Remember Benioff’s quote above: "When I look at the largest transactions ... every transaction was done with the CEO,” he said. This kind of success and feedback drives enthusiasm with account teams and other C-Level executives—which drives even more success.
What the executive’s company or division does.
While some people include this information in their profiles, many do not.
Many people just include their titles without saying what they are actually responsible for. So if you are looking for the person responsible for digitization how do you know you have the right person? A title doesn’t always tell the story.
Personal attributes, interests, and passions.
While some executives post their hobbies and interests, most do not.
The CXO’s current strategy/objectives/priorities.
Has the company announced a sweeping cost-cutting initiative? Are they consolidating vendors? Do they have a blank check for cyber security? These are three examples of real initiatives at real companies. How helpful would it be to know these things going into a meeting? And how dangerous would it be to go in not knowing these things?
What the person has said.
Senior executives give interviews and some participate in quarterly earnings calls. Do you know what they are talking about? There is no better way to get an executive’s attention than to use his own words. This shows not only that you have done your homework, it demonstrates a level of interest and due diligence that most vendors lack. Are you going to get this from a LinkedIn profile? Not likely.
Current operating environment.
Has there been an executive shakeup? A reorg? Layoffs? An IPO? A product recall? A merger? A new boss who plans to shake things up? All of these things could impact your deal, so you should know about them.
We love LinkedIn.
But it’s just a starting point. If you really want to make a favorable impression with deep insight into an executive’s priorities, challenges, and interests, you’ll need more than LinkedIn. That’s why we created Boardroom Insiders.
LinkedIn is an essential tool, but the profiles are unpredictable, limited in strategic insight, and biased. Boardroom Insiders is rich with strategic insight, unbiased, and provides the full professional story of the key decision maker you are calling on.
An executive profile is a document that includes 6-8 hours of research performed by experienced researchers uncovering a decision maker’s:
• Personal Attributes and Interests
• Business Focus Issues
• Business Challenges
• Biographical Highlights
• Board and Organizational Memberships
• Social Media Links
• Our U.S.-based team includes former business journalists, industry analysts and management consultants, each of whom has a minimum of 10 years experience.
• We maintain a rigorous editorial training program and employ a proprietary research methodology.
• Each individual profile represents an initial 6-8 hours of research by experienced researchers.
• We invest many hours in updating profiles after initial publication; many are maintained for years.
Boardroom Insiders is the ONLY business intelligence tool designed exclusively for B2B sellers, marketers and recruiters who need to reach, engage, and build relationships with C-level executives. Our proprietary executive profile database supports large-account ABM, enterprise sales, account planning and management and executive search. Founded in 2008, Boardroom Insiders is based in Fort Mill, SC and San Francisco, CA.
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