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Scaling out ABM programmes: Change and project management

Over the last few years there’s been a significant push to embark on Account Based Marketing (ABM) programmes, whether one-to-one focused programmes, one-to-few or one-to-many, and organisations are clearly generating success and seeing the benefits.

I’m going to put this out there: any kind of well thought out campaign with buy-in for a pilot is likely to demonstrate some form of success. The strategy is often singular, targeted, focused around messaging and the team within the business is engaged. The approach is shiny and new… and everyone is up for trying new ways to generate opportunities and interest from within their key accounts. And it’s great when it pays off.

Running a pilot is one thing, and if you’re working with a partner like an agency, then it’s relatively easy to get success as the programme is outsourced and contained. But when it goes well, how do you scale up and extend the activity to work across other verticals, markets or programmes?

ABM pilots are great… but

Planning for a small ABM campaign can be done fairly easily, but that’s just it – it’s only a campaign. You take it out, give it a spin and then put it back in the box. It’s contained and distinct. And whilst it’s a great way to test a concept, it’s rarely the basis of a programme.

An ABM programme is an approach, not a campaign. It’s defined by the way you approach your key accounts and encompasses far more than just tactics. (If you’re not sure about account selection, read our tips on intelligent shortlisting)

Programmes should be a well-researched, deeply personal and targeted methodology that is consistent and persistent over time to deliver continual results.

This means taking that successful campaign and scaling it out isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem.

These are core elements you need to consider:

You need a set of ABM champions

ABM can’t be done in isolation as it requires a step-change in the way marketing operates. The impact of doing ABM successfully depends on integration, cooperation and senior stakeholder sponsorship. All three elements are equally important, but it’s critical to understand the importance of the senior stakeholder sponsorship because without that, the programme will fail.

That senior sponsorship needs to come from C-suite – if the organisation is not engaged and it’s not in the business plan, then it will feel like you’re constantly pushing up a great big hill. You need political clout to chivvy the other parties to cooperate.

Which leads me nicely to cooperation… others within the organisation need to understand and see the value of scaling the programme. If there is senior buy-in and it’s an imperative for the business, then you’ll get the cooperation you need. But, in sales heavy organisations, there are often key players (and egos) that don’t always want to play along, therefore you need to have champions within those departments that see that value and see the benefit to them. (Show them how this will make them look good and make sure you use their time effectively – always add value to every conversation to keep them involved as a champion).

You also need integration across different functions. For a successful ABM programme, you’ll be dependent on other departments as ABM crosses digital, strategy, brand, sales, presales, marketing operations, events and content. Your ABM programme should align with, or leverage, the wider set of functions to maximise value and impact. When ABM is a key part of the business strategy, then it’s easy to get that buy-in both from the top, and from the supporting functions, but if you don’t have that senior champion banging the drum, then it’s back to that very steep hill.

The glue that sits cross-functional teams

Most mid-market technology organisations have disparate teams across marketing with experienced marketers leading charge within their own discipline or area of expertise: events (virtual these days), digital, analysts, content and field. For an ABM programme to be successful, each of these distinct disciplines needs to work together – the ABM programme, especially when scaled out, requires a cross-functional team.

Another way to look at this is to have an ABM linchpin that coordinates internally – bringing people together, programme managing and ensuring the activity is pushed forward seamlessly. In organisations where there is C-Suite stakeholder engagement, a business imperative, a senior marketing stakeholder, a senior sales stakeholder and a marketing programme lead – the ABM programme has got off the ground and been successful. There is the drive and commitment from all key parties to deliver success.

Where this is the case, the buy-in across functions is even easier. Get the senior buy-in and the teams on the ground fall in place. But this doesn’t happen alone – you need the ABM programme manager (with enough seniority themselves) to manage and coordinate the programme.

This ‘glue’ across the teams needs to be exceptionally adept at stakeholder management, capable of selling concepts and leading the team (upwards, across and down) to make the programme successful. In most organisations we work with, this is often a single person dedicated to a market, working remote and isolated from the rest of the organisation which makes this role even more challenging. It’s a constant ‘sell, sell, sell’ that requires plate-spinning mastery. (My hat goes off to them).

ABM programmes need a different set of success measures

Once the pilot has gone well and scaling up is really on the cards, some thought needs to go into reporting. Seeing results from a campaign is one thing, setting up programme reporting is another. For ABM, the critical measures are based on ‘account’ – it’s all in the name, but most of the marketing systems look at contact level performance, not account-level.

It’s therefore critical to determine key performance metrics at multiple levels and work with the marketing operations team to identify how ABM can be assessed in the current reporting structures and what needs to change. This is not a quick fix and something that needs a fair amount of consideration, so start conversations early.

Another consideration is the platforms in use. With an ABM programme rolled out at scale, it’s likely that new systems will be incorporated into the mix such as account-based advertising data platforms, sales engagement platforms and website personalisation including conversational marketing through chatbots. All of which need incorporating into the mix strategically, integrating technically and having attribution models set up that demonstrate their contribution to marketing, to the ABM programme and to the bottom line.

What’s next?

ABM is not a campaign; it’s a strategy and an approach which, when done with the right intent, changes the way you work. We’re working with several clients helping them to scale out programmes and supporting them with strategy, change management and programme management. If this is something you’d like to explore, get in touch.

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