Episode topic: How should you approach your account-based strategy post-COVID?
In this episode, host Shahin Hoda chats with Bev Burgess, Senior Advisor at ITSMA, about key trends in the account-based marketing domain and its changes in the last four years.
During this conversation, Bev shares valuable insights on the differences between account management and executive management. She also talks about how marketing to accounts is not the same as ABM.
The discussion concludes with Bev sharing her predictions for ABM beyond 2021.
This episode’s guest:
Bev Burgess, Senior Advisor at ITSMA
Bev Burgess is an industry expert in marketing technology services and literally wrote the book on it (Marketing Technology as a Service, Wiley 2010). She is best known as an authority on Account-Based Marketing (ABM), being the first to classify it when developing the approach jointly with several clients. She is co-author with Dave Munn of the book, A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing: Accelerating Growth in Strategic Accounts (Kogan Page, 2017 and 2021), and author of Executive Engagement Strategies: How to Have Conversations and Develop Relationships That Build B2B Business (Kogan Page, 2020).
In addition to running her own strategic marketing consultancy, Bev was previously Private Sector Marketing Director for Fujitsu Services. She has also held senior marketing roles at British Gas and Epson. Bev holds a BSc Honours degree in Business & Ergonomics and an MBA specialising in Strategic Marketing. She is also a Chartered Marketer, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and a former International Trustee. Today, Bev is a founder and Managing Principal at Inflexion Group, an ITSMA Premium Partner.
Connect with her on LinkedIn
Conversation segments on this episode:
- [02:30] Since 2017, marketing teams tend to have a blended strategy.
- [03:15] Lots of people are driving global ABM.
- [04:20] Increased demand for consulting from teams in APAC.
- [05:25] Focus on executive engagement.
- [07:08] Difference between account management and executive engagement.
- [10:30] How is account-based marketing different from MTA (marketing to accounts)?
- [13:40] Figuring out metrics as a team.
- [20:34] ABM beyond 2020.
- [24:45] Advice for B2B marketers.
Resources mentioned on this episode:
- Books published by Bev
- Scott Brinker - Influencer followed by Bev
- Tom Fishburne - Influencer followed by Bev
- About xGrowth
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Episode Full Transcript:
[00:36] Shahin Hoda Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode. I'm Shahin Hoda with xGrowth, and today I'm talking to Bev Burgess, Founder and Managing Principal at Inflection Group and senior advisor at ITSMA about what should ABM practitioners focus on today, the trends in the ABM space, and what is in store for ABM the new feature. Now I'm super excited for this conversation. For those who might not know, Bev, who is the person who pretty much coined the term Account-Based Marketing back in 2003. So there is going to be a lot of insight that we're going to, she's going to drop in this episode. So make sure you listen all the way. On that note, Bev, thanks for joining us and thanks for being here.
[01:19] Bev Burgess Thanks, Shahin. I'm really excited to be here with you.
[01:22] Shahin Hoda Same here, same here, Bev. And look, I've read, I've read your books, and I've taken a lot of inspiration and a lot of insights from them. So I really, really appreciate it. And I know, you know, in 2017, you wrote a practitioner's guide to ABM. And the first question that I want to ask you is since writing that in 2017, I mean, a lot has changed, I mean, even COVID aside, ABM space has matured quite a lot. What has changed since then?
[01:55] Bev Burgess Yeah, that's a great question. And obviously, you know, the pandemic has had a huge impact. So we should talk a little bit about that. But lots of other things have changed as well. So you know, when we first started looking at ABM, people tended to do one type of ABM, and most often it was one-to-one ABM. So, you know, creating a plan just for one account. What's happened since 2017, when, you know, one-to-few ABM or ABM lite, and programmatic ABM, so marketing to a whole group of companies. Those were around, but people weren't blending them. And what we've seen since 2017, is people tend to have a blended strategy now.
[02:35] Bev Burgess And actually, the edges are blurring between that blended strategy of different types of ABM, and the way that you do other marketing, whether it's industry marketing, or marketing for particular solutions, or two particular personas. So there's some blending and blurring are probably the two words I'd use here. And obviously, the technology that's available, so you've got platforms like DemandBase, Sixth Sense, you've got the specialist tech, like Follows, Path factory, and people are building their own tech, so SAP and HP and IBM, they've got fantastic technology now to give them insights in their accounts, which has allowed people to scale their programs.
[03:12] Bev Burgess So we're seeing lots of people driving global ABM. There's an explosion in ABM in the Asia Pacific going on right now, that wasn't happening in 2017. So it's really exciting. And I think, through the pandemic, people have doubled down on account-based marketing principles, and they've doubled down on their existing customers and making sure that they got through the pandemic, and that, you know, they're still surviving and thriving coming out of it.
[03:37] Shahin Hoda Yeah, absolutely. And that's really fascinating. And you mentioned the Asia Pacific I, you know, I feel like Asia Pacific is a perfect place for for for ABM. And one should wonder why it took this long for it to get here because it's just there are so many small pockets of companies, or small pockets of culture, let's call it, that you can't just generally brush them the same pain. So it's really fascinating to see. What are you seeing from the APAC you know, you talked about it's exploding from the Asia Pacific part. What are you seeing from your side, you know, being in the UK?
[04:17] Bev Burgess Well, I'm seeing a lot of demand for training. And I'm seeing a lot of demand for consulting from teams in APAC, or from global teams, working with colleagues in APAC, and trying to figure out how much do we standardise our approach around the world? How much do we need to flex it across the APAC region? And I actually think it's, you know, we have an Emir, we have a huge range of cultures and languages and but so does APAC.
[04:43] Bev Burgess And I think APAC is even more complex culturally as well. So there's a lot of head-scratching going on right now of how do we do ABM across APAC? How do we blend it? What's the right approach in different countries? And also, how do we flex our, you know, if we're building asset templates or that sort of thing, what do we need to build so that everybody across APAC can leverage what we have? Or indeed, how do we capture some of the innovation that happens in the countries in APAC, and take it across the region and across the world? So those kinds of conversations are going on right now.
[05:18] Shahin Hoda Got it. Got it. Okay. Now, in 2000, I think 2020, you publish your, second book, which was, which is about executive engagement. Why that focus? Why all of a sudden, that became one of the areas that you started focusing on in that book?
[05:37] Bev Burgess Yeah, it's a good question. And I think it came about a couple of years earlier. So after the ABM book came out, I was having conversations with ABM program leaders who were saying, you know that the programs are good, but we still need to help our account managers engage at a more senior level, engage executives in these accounts. Were boxed in accounts, you know, we're getting across accounts, but we're not always getting up to the more senior decision-makers. And I started to notice that some of these program leaders were given executive engagement opportunities, let's call it initiatives, challenges, you know, and they were asked to run that as well as ABM alongside their ABM program.
[06:15] Bev Burgess So I did some more research on it, I've been involved in it for years, engaging with executives running things that drive conversations at a more senior level, and start to build those relationships. So I was interested in how people were bringing those programs together. And if you think about it, when you're dealing with executives, they have access to the budget. So that's not a problem. They can accelerate sales cycles because they just want to get stuff done. But also they help to shape what you're offering, so that's right for their business. And they're much more kind of willing to do that. So, you know, three good reasons to engage executives in the accounts that matter the most, I think.
[06:53] Shahin Hoda Yeah. Because, you know, I was surprised. The first time that I came across that and I was like, you know, isn't ABM, executive engagement? And what would you say? What would, how would you answer that? You know, what are the differences between the two and account-based approach and executive engagement?
[07:14] Bev Burgess Yeah, that is a great question. I think some of it comes down to the fact that the executives in your customer accounts want to meet the executives in your business. And so if every single account is making claims on the same executives in your business to go out and build relationships with, you know, the customers, that can get a bit chaotic. It happens all over the place. I mean, it happens already, because account managers request time with, you know, the CEO, or the local VP, or whatever it might be. But I think what most people are trying to do is be more intentional about that.
[07:49] Bev Burgess And to think about, well, how do we map our executives, with the customer executives that matter most? How do we give them opportunities to engage with those executives, around topics that matter to the customers? So we've got to have done our research and everything rather than calling on them to tell them about the next release of the software or whatever.
[08:08] Bev Burgess It's a business discussion at a very senior level. So it takes some preparation, it takes some managing and orchestrating and I think often there is the same kind of investment decision as there is in ABM or account management. Which accounts do we want our executives to spend their time in really? I mean, all customers are important, but obviously, some customers are more important than others. And so it's, I think it's about being intentional with that executive engagement time.
[08:37] Shahin Hoda Right. I mean, it sounds like and correct me, if I'm wrong, it sounds like, it's another level of personalisation and customisation for an account. Like you are doing an account-based strategy for one, but then you want to add, as you said, you might be doing ABM for a one-to-one basis, but you want to even take it one level further, and you have an executive engagement strategy for that. Is that correct? Would you say that's right?
[09:07] Bev Burgess That's exactly right. And then I think if you step back from that, and you say, right, we've got 50 strategic accounts we want an exact relationship with, so we need to, they're in our ABM program, they're in our key account management program. And now we want to make sure that we have a sensible, orchestrated executive relationship with them as well. But you may have other accounts in your ABM program, there may be, I don't know, 150 in the one-to-few level or, you know, 2000 in the one-to-many level, they probably won't get the same executive engagement.
[09:39] Bev Burgess You still need to think about how do we get some kind of exact relationship going in the accounts that you think, you know, could become the big customers of your future. So there are different ways of engaging, you know, there's the one-to-one sit down and have a meeting, you know, which is obviously the most powerful thing you can do with your exec and your customer exec. But there are other things like VIP customer events where you're bringing executives together to pay a network and to meet your executive team. So, different ways for different types of ABM accounts, I think.
[10:12] Shahin Hoda I see. I see. Let's flip this and look at the others' end of the spectrum. One of the things that, and when I say others' side of the spectrum is that, we said ABM account engagement is one level beyond that, or one level deeper. Let's go the other way. One of the things that you say is there's a difference between ABM and marketing to an account. What is the difference Bev?
[10:39] Bev Burgess That's a good question. Yeah. So ABM, or M2A. And actually, I should say, I'm not saying that marketing to accounts is wrong. I'm just saying it's not account-based marketing. So there are four principles we talk about with account-based marketing. One is that you're really deeply partnering with sales. So you're working, if you think about marketing, and sales working as a business development value chain, they're working together to grow the business. That is account-based marketing. If you don't have that kind of partnership with sales, and it's more of a campaign that's just going out, you're throwing leads over the wall, I would say that's marketing to accounts, you know. So there's one difference.
[11:17] Bev Burgess The second principle is that everything's based on insights. So you're starting with the accounts, and what's going on in the accounts, what the stakeholders are doing, what their issues are. And you can do that at scale by using technology. But if you're not doing that, if you're not doing that thinking, and you're just saying, oh, well, we've got a cybersecurity solution, we're going to just take it out to every chief security officer across the utility sector, that's not account-based marketing, that's just understanding who your solution is aimed at, and sort of putting some industries spin on it. So again, that's marketing to accounts or it's industry marketing.
[11:54] Bev Burgess And then I think the third principle is around tailoring. So really customising what you're doing even customising your value proposition for an account and a stakeholder in that account. And, you know, again, you can do a bit of that with technology. And that's getting better all the time. But some people don't do that. And they're just taking out a standard set of messages with, you know, Dear Shahin in it, rather than, you know, just a general call-to-action. So that isn't really account-based marketing.
[12:23] Bev Burgess And I think the fourth principle and the final kind of difference is we talk about account-based marketing, building your reputation in an account, really building relationships in the count, strengthening relationships, and also then driving revenue. So you know, bigger deals, faster closing, you know, higher profits, all that sort of stuff. And I think if you are running a campaign, and you're marketing to a group of accounts that you've put together, and it's all about generating leads, then again, that for me is not account-based marketing. So I think it's it's, it's overarching, it's about a mindset, you know, it's account-based, or it's based on you and what you want to sell. And that's a really easy way to think about it.
[13:04] Shahin Hoda Yeah, I like those four components. I have two questions that came up when you were explaining that. The first one is for the first component, the sales and marketing collaboration side. And I have to admit, first, when, you know, when I was starting in this space, I was like, yeah, that sounds great. It sounds like the fluffy stuff, you know, getting alignment and all that stuff. And the first campaign that we ran, it just fell apart, it fell apart because we didn't have that. And I was like, okay, I take it back. There's definitely some work that needs to happen there. How do you address the component around KPIs?
[13:45] Shahin Hoda So because one of the challenges is a lot of organisations are demand gen focus, where you just like you said, marketing has certain responsibilities to generate revenue, so that pipeline revenue generation is tied to marketing. And when you start to introduce ABM in an organisation, they're like, yeah, we understand that it's a collaborative effort. And it's marketing and sales. But they come back and say, yeah, look, this campaign that we're doing, there's a lot of stuff that sale is doing, what are we going to claim?
[14:19] Shahin Hoda How are we going to say we're contributing to this and cool, you know, we can maybe talk a little bit about attribution and show that there are connections here. How do you answer that to a head of marketing who is, would traditionally use to say, yes, this is a lead that we brought in and close, we're gonna take credit for that. Now, they're like, hey, we ran an event and they came to it, and we've influenced it, how do you approach that?
[14:46] Bev Burgess Well, it's different in every company, which, you know, doesn't help you because the answer is really it depends. But I think this gets to the change in mindset. And this is why you know, we talk about ABM revolutionising B2B marketing because, you know, heads of sales who are getting a bunch of leads from marketing, are generally quite annoyed about that process. And one VP of Sales actually swore about how unhelpful you know, the raft of leads coming from marketing every week was. And I think that's been broken a long time.
[15:22] Bev Burgess So my advice would be, just step back, think about what you're trying to do as a business and align with that, you know, are you trying to grow wallet-share to existing customers? Or are you trying to win net-new logos? ABM might not be the answer. It might not be the right marketing strategy. It might be a different approach you need to take is the answer. You will be more successful if you sit down with heads of sales, heads of customer success, delivery, whoever is involved, and talk about well, okay, what are we trying to achieve with these accounts?
[15:52] Bev Burgess And how will we measure it as a team? Is it a team sport? It's not, well, marketing you did that bit. Sales, you had that one meeting, what did you get out of that meeting? How did it influence the closing of the deal? You know you don't talk about sales in that way. And I think we need to kind of grow up a bit and look at that, look at this as a team sport and not an excuse to hit marketing over the head for not building leads.
[16:16] Shahin Hoda That's, I like that. It sounds like we're moving from a game of, for example, tennis to a game of soccer.
[16:25] Bev Burgess Exactly.
[16:25] Shahin Hoda Where you can't just turn and say, hey, this person did all the work, really is the collective of a team. Do you think there is going to be a merger in organisations that really practice ABM? There's going to be a merger of sales and marketing. And there is not going to be sales and marketing. It's just going to be one entity? You think that's gonna, you might see that in some of the organisations, I don't know, what are your thoughts on that?
[16:48] Bev Burgess Yeah. Well, I mean, there's been a kind of, always, always on the question of, do we have sales and marketing separately? Do they report to one person? Is it the head of sales? Is it the chief revenue officer? How do we do that? And even if you get that reporting line into one person, what tends to happen is you have two separate teams, even down to two separate operations teams, for example. And I think what ABM is doing is driving those teams together. So I think we could see that. It may not be for the whole organisation, it may be just around specific accounts. And I'm working with a global professional service firm at the moment, which is looking at the account management and the ABM team, as one team for its most important clients. So I think we are seeing the start of that.
[17:34] Shahin Hoda I love that. I love that. Bev, I want to ask you another question. And that's related to the last point that you said in terms of the KPIs. And when I was reading your book, when it comes to reputation, which is one of the three R's, that you say that the relationship, reputation, revenue. In reputation, one of the metrics that you recommend organisations look at is the percentage of preference in that account. And when I read that, I was like, how do you measure that? How do you go about and, and put a number to that? I'm super curious about how you go about looking at that KPI?
[18:13] Bev Burgess So and this is, it's a traditional brand tracking approach. So in the past, people have said, we're going to track spontaneous awareness of our brand. So have they heard of, I don't know, ServiceNow, for example, then we'll track prompted awareness if they haven't. So, you know, do you know that ServiceNow exists and, you know, whatever? Then there's, do you know what they do? What's the familiarity with them and their portfolio, for example? And then there's preference. So if you were looking for a solution like this, would you choose, you know, ServiceNow? Would you choose someone else?
[18:48] Bev Burgess So previously, marketers have done that across a market, so they might interview buyers, you know, again, across utilities, or across financial services, or in Singapore, or in Australia. But what we're seeing is that people are doing that within accounts. And actually, ABM started as client-centric marketing and in Accenture in 2002. And they always did a brand study in the account before they created a plan because they wanted to understand how they needed to shift their reputation from where it was today among all the important stakeholders to where they needed it to be.
[19:34] Bev Burgess So really, that's a measure of if there's, let's say there are 10, or 50, or 500 really important stakeholders in an account, depending on the size of the account, and you know, your geographic scope. You need to get to them and say, you know, do you know who we are? Do you know what we do? Do you know what we've done for you? You know, if you were buying something like this in the future, would you consider us? Would you choose us? Do you prefer us?
[19:49] Bev Burgess It's those kinds of questions and I mean ITSMA does a lot of this brand research. And you know, there are other agencies that do it all around the world, too. So if you're not doing that, now I would recommend that you start to think about how you're positioned in these important accounts and start tracking what people actually think of you? Because we talked about, you know, marketing and sales and attribution. And I think marketing does have a really big role to play in getting a share of mind in an account.
[20:17] Shahin Hoda Got it. Got it, that makes sense. And I mean, it really becomes applicable for those really big organisations in your one-to-one kind of category. So I appreciate that. The last thing that I want to ask you is where are we going from here? So what's, I know you have a new book that is coming out. And I'd love to touch on that as well. And also, what do we have, what do you think is in store for ABM going forward?
[20:49] Bev Burgess Good question. So the new second edition of the practitioners' guide to ABM is coming out in June. So next month, as we're talking today, and it's been interesting, looking at what has changed since 2017. And what's continuing to change. And I think I've touched on this already, I think ABM will continue to revolutionise the way we think about B2B marketing. You know, the way it influences industry marketing or, or field marketing in a country or a region. We'll continue to see that changing more and more people are choosing ABM as a career.
[21:21] Bev Burgess So they're going in and you know, starting as a kind of junior in a team and working their way right up to running global programs. We're seeing more of that. We're seeing, you know, competence, models, and frameworks being built-in companies to recognise that this is a career path or a specialism within marketing. I think we'll continue to see a global kind of alignment around ABM. So companies that are global, sort of deploying it around the world and working out that balance of, you know, centralisation, localisation, and building centres of excellence to enable people doing ABM around the world. So that's continuing.
[21:58] Bev Burgess Tech will continue to evolve. And I think that's really exciting. Because I think the promise of one-to-many ABM, we're sort of there. But we could get so much better at this when people are harnessing AI, building out their AI platforms, and ABM platforms and demandBase and Sixth Sense really. Ones to watch in that area, I think. The other thing with the use of AI is that we can actually be more intelligent in the way that we're doing ABM at scale and make it a little bit less like just marketing to accounts, throwing campaigns out to accounts. So that will be an interesting one to watch.
[22:33] Bev Burgess And I think the final thing I'd say is this idea of orchestrating the organisation around an account, you know. That's what account managers tend to do. And I think marketers are playing an increasing role in supporting that for key accounts. And that's bringing in things like the customer success team, customer experience, team, digital teams, and making sure that everyone that's touching, the people in that account are aligned. So I think we'll continue to see that kind of growth.
[23:01] Shahin Hoda Exciting. Exciting and excited. No, thank you so much for that. Bev, before I have a few rapid questions that I want to shoot at you, but before we do that, is there anything else related to what we've just talked about in the areas that we covered that you think I didn't ask, or I should cover that, that maybe the audience will benefit from?
[23:24] Bev Burgess You know, I think the one thing I would say is I've been in this game for quite a while now. And I've seen people that get into account-based marketing, their careers, just rocket. You know, and a lot of them are running global programs now, or they are chief marketing officers or their head of marketing for a region. It's a really good place to be. So if you haven't done a stint in ABM, I'd recommend everyone just has a go and does it.
[23:47] Shahin Hoda I agree with you. And I think there's an element of, there is a bit of a gap there. And therefore, one can really shine and the competition is not as heavy as some of the other areas. So that's a great point. Now, let's go through rapid questions. The first thing that I want to ask you is, what is one resource, it could be a book, it could be a blog, podcast, talk, whatever it is that fundamentally changes the way you work or live?
[24:13] Bev Burgess Yeah, it's a TED talk from Stephanie Sinclair, who started in a tech company, I think, in the '60s in the UK. She used to call herself Steve Sinclair so that she could get sales meetings with customers. And she built a company, sold it, she was philanthropic, she still is. And she's very inspiring. So if you haven't seen Stephanie Sinclair talk, do her TED Talk. That's definitely one to look at. It really, really, really moved me.
[24:40] Shahin Hoda Thank you very much for that. We'll definitely put that in the show notes. Number two is if you could give one advice to B2B marketers, what would it be?
[24:48] Bev Burgess I think, you know, make sure that you're data-savvy, that you're using data. But the other thing that has worked for me in my career is to get out and spend a day with your customers because there's nothing like shadowing a customer. I mean, when I went to Fujitsu, I just spent the day with a bunch of CIOs, you know, different days, obviously. And I really understood what their life was like, by living it with them. So that would be my advice.
[25:11] Shahin Hoda Yes, very true. Very sure. Number three, what are some of the influences that you follow in the marketing space?
[25:18] Bev Burgess Well, I've got two that are my favourites, if you like. Scott Brinker, who is chiefmartec.com, and his wonderful analysis of what's going on in the martech space all the time. And my other favourite is Tom Fishburne, who is the marketoonist, who is just hilariously funny, but also gives us a perspective of how silly some of these buzzwords as we were talking about at the beginning of the show, you know, can be at some of the practices and how he gives us a real perspective on not to take ourselves too seriously as marketers, I think.
[25:49] Shahin Hoda And I think we do that some may be too often. And then after a while, people are like, why were we doing that? Like, what was the point of that? I'm not gonna name anything right now, but the list that I can go through. The last thing is what is something that excites you about B2B today?
[26:09] Bev Burgess I think some of the talent we've got coming in and watching that talent, I still do a lot of training and a lot of mentoring. And I just love working with the people that are excited about coming into B2B marketing. I think technology has served as well through the pandemic, I think it will serve as well as we look ahead and look at, trying to deal with the climate issue. So getting into B2B tech in particular, I think is just such an exciting place to be and there are some great people coming in now.
[26:38] Shahin Hoda I agree with you. I agree with you, 100%. Bev, thank you so much for that. I very much enjoyed this conversation, there was a lot of insight that you shared, and I'm sure a lot of listeners would enjoy it as well. So thanks again for coming on the podcast.
And looking forward to the next one.
[26:56] Bev Burgess Thanks very much, Shahin.