Friday, March 14, 2008

Blurring the line - Account Based Marketing

I often ask people - what's the difference between marketing and sales ? And once you dig past kotlerian noise - you figure out both do about the same stuff ; with one key difference. Marketing focuses on segment, while sales focuses on account. Fortunately - as accounts assume gigantic proportions in the world of IT services, the line starts blurring. My team has been battling for some time now to lift off the concept of account based marketing - but blurred lines take time. This to me is the next battleground for the much beleagured Category Manager.
In my business, some accounts can be treated as segments by themselves. The F 500 can have 200 relevant decision makers spread across the world - and a highly effective sales team may be able to canvass about 15% of these. In these accounts - there are three objectives which should be treated as key. The most obvious is to gain entry and start leveraging cross sell and upsell. This is not enough. If there is a 15% coverage situation amongst key decision makers - there has to be genuine focus brought to relationship penetration and coverage (think above the line). And all of this is for nought unless positive impact is brought to Disposition - demonstrated by active participation in references, customer meets and such like. Caveat 1 - this is impossible unless there is strong account management already in place. ABM is not a crutch, it is a multiplier. Caveat 2 - this is impossible unless the larger organisation rallies around to the cause. Account Based Marketing in reality has little do with the marketing department.
There is a 5 step process - which done well and with sincerity can lead to success. These are - Situation Analysis, Program Setup, Proposition generation, channel creation and action and measurement. Needless to say - a large group has to take responsibility to drive these , in the following fashion.
Situation Analysis : In most accounts, you will find it is difficult to have reliable and timely intelligence. This is dependent not just on intelligence gathering ability, but also on ownership in monitoring and updation - and the knowledge management capability to share. There are six pieces that need to be owned by various stakeholders in the process and updated in a weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual fashion. Let us call these - Client Industry Information, Client Business Information (tracking the clients business performance) , Client Insider view (primarily structure, role and influence related), Client Engagement (record of RFPs, responses, meetings and even unstructured conversations), Client Delivery details (like case studies) and an evolving Account Development strategy. If done well - this is really 50% of the job done.
Program Setup : This is the tough part (not from doability - but from buy in). This is the part where all stakeholders discover that you cant just mouth off - you need to invest resource and time in the effort. Sales needs to build an Inside sales engine to reach into the account, create a multi level contact beat plan, convert the account into a Global Account Management setup (if required) , generate a reporting framework which can touch the multiple KDMs and get a senior management sign off on the account plan and budgets. The delivery organisation needs to start building account specific competencies (an example being the account centre of excellence), and deriving the metrics necessary to communicate delivered value to the client. The pre sales organisation needs to build a proactive proposaling engine to carry account specific value propositions. The marketing team needs to configure communication channels into the account, and build a campaign plan. Realise - without yet actually doing anything, this is 80% of job done.
Propositioning : This is magical. Once you put your mind to it - there are so many ways to build propositions. Cross sell propositions (basis experiences with peer group clients) are easy. Case study based propositions - done on the same customer in a different department / location become interesting, especially as the client can get involved in marketing it to other parts of their organisation. Existing horizontal propositions are also easy - mostly they would require larger marketing campaigns to be customised into the ABM organisation. At the bleeding edge, we would have thought leading propositions which can be used to generate visibility, credibility and respect. These were not so difficult - the most important and toughest is the client centric proposition. This is where the delivery client innovation capability has to kick in.
Channel Creation : How do you carry all these propositions into the ABM organisation ? There is a significant channel setup process required. Sales calls, collateral (newsletters etc), Steering committee meetings, relationship milestone celebrations, joint case studies - there are 31 channels we have already identified. The ABM program should be built leveraging 5 identified most effective channels - these would require investment.
Action and Measurement : There is not much to be written about action. It needs to be done. However - doing is not good enough. Measure and communicate are important. Measurement needs to be dealt with objectively - the SFA needs to measure impact on cross sell and upsell. Relationship penetration needs to be measured in terms of new touchpoints created in the ABM organisation. Disposition needs to be measure through customer participation in our activities - and their championing of us through these and referencing.
Clearly - this is not a quick fix solution for targets. It is strategic and intense - not for the faint hearted. But - can we survive without it ?


Blogger IamAWinner said...

Dear Krishnan,

This is a great thought and though might be new in world of IT, this concept already exists in the Banking, Industry Solution space. There is lots we can learn from exploring these realms.

Also one key challenge I see is defining the ownership. You are right in saying that Marketing cannot be the owner for this, but should be an enabler. Should Sales own this or Delivery or Both (with clearly defined boundaries) is a question that we need to explore.


2:16 AM  
Blogger Krishnan said...

would be really interesting if you could point me towards some examples in the banking space that I could explore. On the ownership issue - there is no doubt that sales / account management needs to take primary ownership. This would mean that I have named this initiative wrong - which is a view I am coming round to.



3:46 AM  
Blogger EMRobbins said...


Just saw this blog post. I think ABM becomes even more relevant in a down economy where defending (and perhaps extending) your current account base is paramount.

A few intrepid souls have created an ABM group on LinkedIn, I'd certainly like to invite you to add your perspective to the dialogue.

The direct link to the group is .

4:00 PM  

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