Podcast: Making Messaging the Core of Your ABM Strategy with Richard Jacobson from IBM

Allysa Maywald 16  mins read Updated: January 9th, 2024

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How to Measure the Success of Your ABM Program

In this episode, Shahin Hoda sits down with Richard Jacobson, Head of Account-Based Marketing & Strategy for Asia-Pacific at IBM. They talk about how to approach messaging for your ABM strategy.

Not only will you learn how you should craft your messaging but also how the importance of alignment between sales and marketing can affect your strategy immensely.

Personalisation and the difference between curating messaging for one-to-one accounts and cluster (one-to-few) accounts is also touched on in the conversation.

This episode’s guest

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Richard Jacobson, Head of Account-Based Marketing & Strategy, Asia-Pacific at IBM

In his role, Richard is responsible for generating value for IBM’s top clients by ensuring they are experiencing the best of IBM’s thought leadership and expertise when interacting with IBM across the region.

Richard has been with IBM for over 20 years and has extensive experience in market intelligence and prior to his current role was responsible for providing both high-level and detailed market insights, analysis and advice on key issues affecting IBMs business, including growth opportunities, business risks, competitive analysis, and company policy. This input was central to IBM’s strategy development in the Asia Pacific Region. 

Originally from Malaysia, Richard is based in Auckland, New Zealand.

Conversation segments on this episode:

  • [2:02] Important factors when crafting account messages & value prop
  • [08:07] Structuring messaging hierarchy
  • [11:46] How far to go with personalisation
  • [14:31] The difference between messaging 1:1 accounts vs 1:few accounts
  • [17:22] Mistakes made when building messaging for target accounts
  • [22:30] Rapid fire questions

Resources mentioned in this episode:

About the Growth Colony Podcast

On this podcast you'll be hearing from B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.

Hosted & Produced by Shahin Hoda, Allysa Maywald & Alexander Hipwell, from xGrowth

Get in touch!

We would love to get your questions, ideas and feedback about Growth Colony, email podcast@xgrowth.com.au

Episode Full Transcript

[01:17] Shahin Hoda  Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode. I’m Shahin Hoda with xGrowth and today I'm talking to Richard Jacobson, Head of Account-based Marketing and Strategy for Asia Pacific at IBM, about how to build a messaging framework for your ABM program and develop personalised value propositions for your target accounts. On that note, let's dive in. Richard, thanks a lot for joining us.

[01:42] Richard Jacobson  Hi, Shahin, thanks. Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

[01:45] Shahin Hoda  Absolute pleasure. Absolute pleasure. I think value proposition messaging is probably one of those things in ABM that doesn't get as much attention and probably maybe there is not as much expertise. There's also like a lot of work that goes into it. So I think the first question that I want to ask is at a high level, what are some of the most important factors and elements that goes into building that messaging and the value proposition component of ABM?

[02:15] Richard Jacobson  So I mean, that's a great question, right? When we think about ABM, or at least in our program, we like to say that the ABM or it's like the CMO of the account., right? And so they're not just marketing to an account. They're marketing to various segments within that account, right? So different different stakeholders, different people, different levels of leadership. And I think that's where the messaging framework has to be, you know, has to be modified or adapted to suit that environment. Imagine if you are the CMO of a country, your messaging for large accounts will be different small accounts, right? 

[02:31] Richard Jacobson  So similarly, in an account messaging that the CEO would be different than messaging to the developers or architects, right? So the messaging framework has to be adjusted depending on who the message is for within the account. So I think that's one of the key things, right? And obviously has to be made relevant to the person that you're trying to speak to or the group of people, right? So it's about the individual, the CFO will have a different priority than the the CMO, for example, even though you're trying to sell the same solution.

[01:45] Shahin Hoda  Yeah, very true. Very true. So in your opinion, what you're saying is that is the core component of first of all, I think there are two things that you really said there. It was like you are the CEO of your account, 

[03:34] Richard Jacobson  CMO.

[03:35] Shahin Hoda  The CMO of your accounts. And then adjusting that messaging for different individuals within that account. So would you say those are the two main, main factors, and mindsets, and approaches that one needs to think about?

[03:50] Richard Jacobson  Yeah, that's what I would say. And, you know, and the whole, all of the tactics that come around are really to facilitate or to enable you to deliver those messages to the different stakeholders right? So it's always message first, tactic second, right? And that's kind of, I guess the other way of saying it is kind of client-centric focus, right?

[04:13] Shahin Hoda  Of course. What are usually the inputs when you're trying to build that messaging framework or value proposition that you take advantage of when you're building that messaging for an account?

[04:26] Richard Jacobson  We have a, so we have obviously a tool that we can use to gain insights on accounts, right? And some organisations might use external sources, you know, but we do have a you know, we are a fairly large corporation and we have a large program globally. So we have a global program office, and they provide some of this content that they can use, right? So we have something called the Industry Client Engagement Handbook, right? And this is a document that looks at industry imperatives around the industries for our top accounts.

[05:00] Richard Jacobson  And lines that are up against, you know, things like what are the client pain points that line up to those industry imperatives, you know, and what's the IBM point of view about how we solve those problems, right? So we have this document that is a shared document between marketing and sales. So we use that as a primary source or a starting point for the input, right? So it's, you know, it starts at the industry imperatives. 

[05:22] Richard Jacobson  We understand what the client's pain points are. We look at, you know, whether the individuals within the claim that might have different pain points and then we start lining up the IBM point of view against those pain points, right? Then we start talking about tactics and marketing plans, et cetera, right? So it starts from industry imperative, so that's the key input, I would say.

[05:41] Shahin Hoda  Got it. Got it. Do you find that, you know, kind of getting the input from the sales team, the account team, where do you think that comes in, in that developing? Is that a factor? What are your thoughts on that?

[05:56] Richard Jacobson  I think that has to happen from the very beginning, right? So there's an analogy I like to use, which is I don't know whether, you know, about rally racing Shahin. But it's basically a driver and navigator and they are racing against time right. And usually the driver and the navigator would refer to a map, of the course, right? And they would then go over that map at the beginning before the race, in fact, right? And the navigator's role is to help the driver, you know, decide how fast to go, when the next turn is coming, etc., right? Because if they are looking at different maps, they wouldn't be going in the same direction, right?

[06:37] Richard Jacobson  So at the very beginning, and this document that I talk about is what we would use would be the map, you know, example here, where sales and marketing both refer to the same inputs from the very beginning of the marketing and planning cycle. And then they make sure that they are coordinated when they go when they go out and start engaging the clients, right?

[06:57] Shahin Hoda  I love that analogy. Because obviously, you're saying both. So you're saying that the driver and the passenger are the sales and marketing. Is that correct? 

[07:07] Richard Jacobson   Correct.

[07:08] Shahin Hoda  Yeah.

[07:08] Richard Jacobson  Yeah, so the car is the client , let's say, right? And the driver is the sales team and the navigator is the marketing team. And you wouldn't be able to do or go as fast as you could, driving a rally car without a navigator. So, we think of it as a partnership, an essential partnership. And, you know, and that's what it should be., right? Easier said than done. I think, you know. It's always been sales us, marketing them, in some conflicts and that happens. But, you know, I think that if we can get this right, it really makes a big difference for the client.

[07:45] Shahin Hoda  I really like that rally race. And considering you both have to be familiar with the map and then you're right there together navigating the road and everyone has a bit of an understanding of the road. But really that hand and collaboration is going to get you to the finish line. I love it.

[08:02] Richard Jacobson  And also, I think if you end up in the ditch, you end up in the ditch together. So, you know.

[08:07] Shahin Hoda  That’s true. That’s right. The other question that I want to ask is how do you structure a messaging hierarchy? So what would that look like usually, when you build a messaging hierarchy for an account?

[08:22] Richard Jacobson  So, there's a construct, right. That the different levels, layers of leadership in an organisation. And this is probably much, much more true for large organisations, although, you know, it can be adapted to small organisations, right. So if you think about the three layers of leadership, you have. The strategic leadership. So this would be like your C-suite, a board of directors CEO. And they have you know, and they're thinking in terms of the long term growth of the company, you know, broader topics, macroeconomics. right? All of those things and and really trying to define the strategy of where they want their company to go, right? So that's one layer of leadership. 

[09:01] Richard Jacobson  And then the second layer, we would call them the operational leadership. So this would be a line of business, supply chain managers, that sort of thing, right? And then the third layer is what we call the execution, right? So these are the people who actually get the stuff done right? And I think that the messaging framework or hierarchy, as you put it, needs to be different for these different layers of leadership. So for the strategic layer, it'll be very, very personalised, right? The message will be for the CFO, right? In fact, in our program, we are our ABMers to name the person and not just the role, right? 

[09:36] Richard Jacobson  So they need to figure out who the person is that they're trying to speak to, right? And similarly, you know, operational leadership will be a different message for the practitioners so the execution layer will be a different message again. And even though we are trying to, you know, promote or propose the same solution to these three layers of leadership, the messaging is different, right? But ultimately, we want all of them to kind of see the value from their perspective that hopefully tells them, you know, that the value proposition we have for the organisation as a whole, right? 

[10:07] Richard Jacobson  So that's the way I would position it. I think the key thing around value, creating value is creating these opportunities to deliver value to these individuals, whether it's an event or a webinar or some piece of content. And once you deliver value, they recognise that, you know, you can do more than just sell them stuff. We can teach them stuff, right? Especially for a corporation like IBM, where we have a lot of industry expertise and that builds trust, right? Once we have the trust, and then you can have further conversations that eventually hopefully lead to some demand generation and demand capture.

[10:46] Shahin Hoda  Got it. Got it. And it sounds like the person you're suggesting is that that is a model to think about for each buying centre and whether that's that's relevant. So if you're looking at the finance buying centre, it's like you got to think about the leadership, the operation, the execution. If you're looking at the marketing, a buying centre, you're looking at the software development buying centre. It's like looking at it from those three lenses so there will be multiple buying centres within the organisation looking at those three layers and some of them might be relevant, some of them not. Is that fair to say?

[11:21] Richard Jacobson  Yes. And I think some of them will be decision makers, some will be influencers. You know, some will kind of need to know. Right. So and, you know, understanding the different people in those organisations is key, right? You don't want to be spending your time investing in the wrong person, right? So yes, within the buying centres, you also need to be targeted.

[11:46] Shahin Hoda  Okay. Okay, you talked about how you would personalise, for example, the leadership level. Can we dove a little bit deeper than that? How deep does the personalisation rabbit hole go?

[12:00] Richard Jacobson  Right. So because we deal primarily with very, very large accounts and we have individual marketers assigned to these accounts, we can get fairly pinpoint, accurate in our personalisation, right? So I think I mentioned earlier, we don't say we want to target the CEO, we actually put a name to the person in the account plan. So we do well in the largest accounts anyway. And then we would make sure that we have some, you know, profile of the person, right? So that we can really personalise that message to the person, the individual in the account, right? So, so, so at one level that is very, very deep pinpoint personalisation. But as you can imagine, you can do this for everyone in an account, right?

[12:47] Richard Jacobson  Because, you know, in some of these, if you talk about the different layers, some, you know, certainly if there could be tens, if not hundreds of people, right? So, within that account, the personalisation has to be tiered is the word I would use, right? So some are really pinpoint accurate. Some are more, you know, cohort base and then some a bit more broad based. So that's how I would put it. I think in terms of personalisation. But one of the things that we have found success with is creating opportunities or platforms for these stakeholders in the client organisations to be seen or be or be recognised in the industry among their peers, right?

[13:27] Richard Jacobson  We might do, like a partnership with the media company, for example, where we invite the targeted stakeholder, the person that we have identified by name, to go on stage with an IBMer or for example, in and have a conversation or a fireside chat. And this might then be broadcast through the media, whether it's video or whether it's publications, right? And that gives us an opportunity because you obviously have to plan for those engagements, gives us an opportunity to get to know that client a little bit more. And then, you know, in future, when we do these personalisation messages, we have a bit more insight about what's important to them, right?

[14:08] Shahin Hoda  Got it. Got it. That's a very, very interesting way and a practical way of thinking about personalisation because I think a lot of a, I hear quite often a lot of people are like, how deep do I go into personalisation? How much personalisation should I be doing? And in that say, that's a common question that that one would get. How do you differentiate between one-to-one to one-to-few? I don't know if one-to-few is an area that you focus on, there's like clusters of accounts. But if you do, maybe that's the first question. Is there one-to-few, is that a thing in APJ for IBM?

[14:53] Richard Jacobson  Yeah, we do have one-to-one and one-to-few, and clusters, right? And the way we do it is maybe a little bit different. So we have cluster programs or programmatic approach to a cluster. So say a banking cluster, say a cluster of banks in India, for example, we will have a programmatic approach. So we might have a series of round tables or a series of engagements like, like what I spoke about earlier, these are partnerships with the media, but for each one of them it's a different client and a different stakeholder. So we just repeat it, right, for the different organisations. So that's kind of how we approach clusters rather than doing a piece of marketing that we hope will touch all of them.

[15:37] Richard Jacobson  We do a program that we can repeat, right? And then we put different clients in there. So that's how we approach cluster programs. But in the organisation, when we engage with sales, it's on an account by account basis, right? So each account will have an individual plan and then where it makes sense, we kind of slot them into these programmatic things that we have at a cluster level. So it's a combination really of one to one engagement and understanding the account but deploying a cluster-based programmatic approach.

[16:10] Shahin Hoda  Right. So would you say the tactics are more, it sounds like the messaging is still very account focused, but it's really the tactics that becomes, goes into the category of like one-to-one, or one-to-few programmatic. Is that fair to say?

[16:24] Richard Jacobson  Yeah. And that helps us with getting more bang for the buck, I guess, right? Because if you have a repeatable format with the same sort of media partner that will be more cost effective than doing individual bespoke events for each account every single time, right? So that's one approach. And the other way is, you know, we like to tag on to other existing sort of non ABM tactics that are happening. So I don't know how familiar you are with IBM, but we have this huge conference called Think every year, right?

[16:56] Richard Jacobson  And in certain cities we will have them select, like Sydney is happening next week. Well, I guess it'll be in the past once this podcast comes out. But what we try to do is we say, well, there's a big event going on. Let's leverage all the buzz around that for our ABM program by putting some tactics that are ABM specific at the event, right? So we might do a lunch for the ABM accounts, for example, at this already existing event.

[17:22] Shahin Hoda  Got it. Got it. OK, that makes sense. And I guess my last question on this topic is what are some of the mistakes? Either you've seen other marketers make when they're building messaging or you've maybe personally have made when building messaging for four ABM programs.

[17:43] Richard Jacobson  So I think not starting with the industry imperatives is one that, you know, I mean, I don't have deep knowledge of other companies’ ABM programs, but I think that that's probably something that gets missed a lot. So, you know, understanding what is important from an industry perspective for those clients, it seems intuitively something that everyone does, but I don't think everyone does that. So I think that's one of the areas that I would look at, if you're finding that the messaging is missing the mark.

[18:16] Shahin Hoda  And what about the allocation of team members? You know, how you talked about the marketer is the CMO of the account, what do you see or how do you structure in terms of how many accounts a marketer would have? Is it a one to one kind of like one account, one marketer, or is it like multiple different accounts? How do you approach that?

[18:40] Richard Jacobson  So our program is based on, it's lined up to the sales segmentation. So, IBM is a sales segmentation model, right?  And while these are generally the largest accounts, large corporations, they're also within large, You can have largest, it's not so large and just large, right? So, you know, we would then, you know, depending on the size of the account, that's how you would look at them, right? So the largest accounts would have a dedicated marketer or one marketer might cover two of them or three of them, right?

[19:12] Richard Jacobson  So they can focus on those accounts. And then when you get down to, you know, the lowest segmentation in that model, you might have like a one to five or one to ten. And this is where that cluster approach really comes in, like I mentioned earlier, right? Because you can't do it, we don't have the resources to do, you know, ten bespoke activities for ten accounts in a banking cluster, for example, right? And so that's where we bring in the programmatic approach. So, it differs, but generally we like one to very few and then one to few, I guess I'll put it that way. We don't have the luxury of having all accounts, having one-to-one marketers.

[19:51] Shahin Hoda  Of course. I mean, we've covered a wide range of topics from the structure to the kind of mistakes to the rally racing analogy which I love. Is there anything else before I have some rapid fire questions, but before we kind of get to that, is there anything else that maybe I didn't ask you, you think it's important for us to kind of talk about with regards to maybe a messaging that we didn't?

[20:15] Richard Jacobson  Yeah, I think maybe I touched on it a little bit, but I think, you know, if we think about creating value for the individual stakeholders as the key behind all the purpose of our messaging, I think that will really help us shift our mindset in terms of what are we trying to do, right? We want them to recognise us not just for our products and services, but for our expertise and for the fact that we can help them understand by bringing in examples from because we are a global company, right? 

[20:45] Richard Jacobson  So a bank in Australia could benefit from examples from a bank in the US, for example, right. And delivering that in a way that shows we want to help you and we're not just here to sell you something, but here's some ideas on what's worked elsewhere for some of our other clients. So bringing that value I think should be the starting point. And once you've demonstrated you can create value for them, that builds trust and then, you know, at some point in the future you will get the pipeline. I mean ultimately it's all about demand generation.

[21:17] Shahin Hoda  Of course. All of it. yes, absolutely. Creating that pipeline for the organisation. But that's a really good point, like also taking in mind, how can you educate them? What can you teach them? And taking that into consideration. At the same time, you talked about the Industry Client Engagement Handbook and kind of combining those two in terms of what's happening in the industry and what you can teach to the organisation. This is awesome. This is great stuff.

[22:30] Shahin Hoda  Let's do some rapid fire questions. So, Richard, so the first question I have is what is one resource? Could be a book of blog podcasts, whatever it is that has had a profound impact professionally or personally for you.

[22:46] Richard Jacobson  Simon Sinek’s, Finding Your Why? So I don't know whether you've seen that. It's there's some videos around it. There's a book. You know, it's a few years ago when I was part of our Australia and New Zealand Marketing Leadership Team, we did a series of workshops and this was one of the workshops, right? It was about understanding what is your why and, and that really had any impact on me in my personal life and my professional life where I discovered that my why is really helping others to succeed and so that was kind of the key thing that I that I got out of that that that whole program.

[23:22] Richard Jacobson  And I think and it kind of manifest in the in the in the we are run my ABM program too because as I mentioned earlier, it's how can we help the client? So we exist to help the client but not to sell stuff to them. You know.

[23:35] Shahin Hoda  I love it. I love it. I mean, it's a very, very valuable resource. So thanks for that. Second question I have is if you could give one advice would be to be marketers, what would it be?

[23:46] Richard Jacobson  So my advice would be that you actually work for the client, right? So if you're in a meeting room and you're introducing yourself to people in your organisation and you know, and they say, you know, this is you know, I'm Richard Jacobson. I work for Westpac as an example. Right. And I think that puts you in the framework of what I said earlier.

[24:08] Richard Jacobson  You're here to help the client succeed. So you actually work for your client and especially in the B2B marketing space because you are trying to bring knowledge about the client to the sales organisation. Right. And so therefore you represent the client and the client's interests.

[24:25] Shahin Hoda  I think it's it's just such a powerful mindset to kind of talk about how can I work with the client and, and make them successful. Last question is what is something that excites you about B2B today?

[24:39] Richard Jacobson  So I think B2B, it's only a matter of maybe a few years when B2B and ABM would be the same. I think more and more corporations are recognising that you can't just do generic B2B marketing anymore. It needs to be generic marketing. And then it's B2B marketing. Then ABM is a subset of B2B marketing. But I think as our as our clients evolve, we got to look at them all as individual accounts and try to scale ABM. And so that's what I would say. I think ABM is free to be B2B is ABM. That's what I think's going to happen.

[25:15] Shahin Hoda  I love that. I mean, obviously we at our end, we're also biased on that front. But it's also lovely to hear other people kind of sharing that that vision. And obviously this is a lot has happening in that space. And you're right, there's a lot of development and a lot of people are adopting it, so. Well, that's very exciting.

[25:37] Shahin Hoda  Richard, this was an awesome conversation. Just want to say thank you for coming on the podcast. You just dropped so many insights and I'm sure a lot of people just like me, you've taken a lot of notes and got a lot of value out of it.

[25:50] Richard Jacobson  Thank you. Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the conversation as well.

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xGrowth brings a very structured approach to ABM. It’s been amazing working with you.

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Michele Clarke
Head of Marketing, APAC Secure Code Warrior
When I think ABM, I think xGrowth. xGrowth were 100% committed, the whole team was just like our business partner. I would say you are not a business vendor; you are our business partner.
reena misra
Reena Misra
ANZ Marketing Leader