Coca-Cola, Sony, Nike, Apple. What do they all have in common? They are all word-class companies.
They have been setting the trends for years and will undoubtedly do so in the future.
The same is true of Microsoft. Hard to believe that the company is soon to be 50 years old.
If there’s one thing that Microsoft knows how to do, it’s stand out. After almost 50 years of constant evolution, transformation and game-changing strategy, Microsoft is a firm leader in the technology space.
And their Account-based Marketing strategy is no exception.
In a recent episode of Let’s talk ABM, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Microsoft’s Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services, Danny Nail, to explore the secret to building a world-class ABM strategy.
[Note: Since this interview, Danny has now moved to head up Salesforce’s ABM Center of Excellence]
In the interview (full recording here) we discussed:
- How Demand Gen and ABM can coexist
- The difference between ‘intent’ and ‘interest’
- What the hardest part of ABM is
- Advice on how to succeed at Account-based Marketing
So let’s take a look at some of Danny’s top tips:
8 tips for building a world-class ABM strategy
1. Align with Executives
One of the greatest difficulties with ABM is getting the entire company on the same page.
ABM has many definitions. Some see it as a subset of Demand Gen, others see it as a strategy in its own right. Some see it as a journey, others as a destination.
The challenge is to ensure that the entire organization agrees on the strategy, goals and metrics you will use.
And this becomes especially difficult when aligning Marketing and Sales, as their priorities tend to differ vastly. Sales is all about the numbers – but with Marketing, it’s all about the impact.
By shifting to the language of accounts, your teams will be better aligned, and you’ll be in a stronger position to secure Executive buy-in and agree on the best way forward for your program.
“One of the things that's hugely important when setting up an ABM program is making sure that the Executives from Marketing and Sales, at a minimum, understand what you're going to focus on, what your planned outcomes are going to be and what the KPIs are going to be.” - Danny Nail, Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services at Microsoft
2. Partner with Sales
We know that Marketing and Sales have a history of clashing. After all, some say Marketing is from Mars, and Sales from Venus – or vice versa?
But for the sake of your ABM program, it’s time to put your differences to one side.
Without the valuable insight and experience from Sales, your ABM program will fail to do what it is designed to – engage your target accounts and build a meaningful relationship with the decision-makers that matter most.
All the creativity, strategy and investment in the world can’t make up for a lack of insight.
It’s understanding your accounts that will make your program stand out – and who better to provide this insight than those on the front line?
“Working with Sales is exciting because they're just a whole different group of people that Marketing doesn't normally work that closely with. And that's what's so valuable to me about ABM, is the relationship with Sales.” – Danny Nail, Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services at Microsoft
3. Keep longevity in mind
‘ABM is a marathon, not a sprint’.
This is hardly the first time you will have heard this expression – but when launching your first ABM program, it’s vital to keep it front of mind.
ABM is not about quick wins. It’s about the long-game – winning, growing and nurturing the accounts that matter most to your organization.
It takes training, preparation, discipline and a lot of hard work – and it takes time to reap the rewards. It’s a long-term and organization-wide commitment, not a ‘set it and forget it’ strategy.
That’s why building a consistent and continuous narrative over a period of time is key to engaging your target accounts. It provides an account experience, as opposed to a one-off lead-generation campaign.
“We're focused on the long-term view of the messaging for the account, the narrative that we want to bring into the account so that we can bring a consistent and continuous narrative over the next 12 to 18 months.” - Danny Nail, Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services at Microsoft
4. Create a content repository
Your content is the secret ingredient to a successful ABM program.
The strategy, the planning, the foundations of your program – these all take place behind closed doors.
But your content is the showpiece. It’s what engages your accounts, and it’s what lays the foundations for meaningful relationships.
The key is to build a library of assets – a repository of content – that you can repurpose and optimize for accounts within a set segment or industry.
This will make it easier for you to scale faster, and help you create a package of content that speaks directly to that industry’s challenges – instead of creating new content from scratch for every program you launch.
“It really allowed us to get more ROI on our original investment. And it also enabled us to provide stuff to the rest of the company at a very low cost because we had put the upfront investment in but they could get the same piece in 1/10th of the time in some instances for about 1/10th of the cost.” - Danny Nail, Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services at Microsoft
5. Separate interest from intent
Interest is not intent. And when it comes to ABM, separating the two is critical.
So what’s the difference?
Simply put, intent from one source is not intent – it is interest. Just because someone googles your product or your company, it does not mean there is a propensity to buy.
It simply means they’re curious.
What shows true intent is a pattern in behavior – something you can track across multiple sources. And that’s why leveraging your data is so important.
Combine data from three or four sources, including your first-party data, and the intersection between several data sources is where you’ll find your intent.
“Intent from one source is interest. Intent from three or four sources is intent.” - Danny Nail, Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services at Microsoft
6. Get under the skin
To truly engage and capture the attention of your target accounts, you need to be prepared to get your hands dirty.
It takes data, insight, research, and a whole lot of relationship-building to reach a point where you can really ‘get under the skin’ of your accounts.
And because of that, you can’t expect to get there within the first two quarters.
It will take time. You need to build a long-term, consistent narrative with these accounts – that can often span 12-18 months – to ensure you’re forming the foundations of a relationship with your key decision-makers.
You can’t rush it. Without the right dedication and commitment, you’re risking a ‘hit and run’ style campaign that won’t resonate and is unlikely to succeed.
“I'm piloting the 12 to 18 month program because you can't get under the skin of an account like you're describing it in two quarters. It just doesn't work because these accounts are huge. And, therefore you've got to have a long-term consistent narrative to those accounts” - Danny Nail, Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services at Microsoft
7. Differentiate between ABM and Demand Gen
The debate of Demand Gen vs ABM has been going for years – and for some, it appears we are no closer to finding one definitive answer.
At Microsoft, Danny Nail’s position is clear: they are not the same. But that does not mean they cannot coexist.
Demand Generation is all about driving leads and closing a deal. But with ABM, it’s so much more.
With ABM, you already know your key stakeholders. It’s not about driving leads – it’s about working closely with Sales to build relationships with accounts, boost your reputation, and nurture existing relationships in the hopes of expanding your footprint within that account.
It's Relationships, Revenue, and Reputation – and that’s where Demand Gen differs.
“Your Demand Generation is all about driving in leads, taking them through a funnel, and then bringing them to the end. But at the end of the day, that's not what ABM is for.” - Danny Nail, Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services at Microsoft
8. Lean into relationships
ABM requires growing and developing significant relationships with key stakeholders in a target account.
And it’s even more important when it comes to your One-to-one programs.
These are hyper-personalized, hyper-relevant programs that speak directly to your target account’s needs. Generic messaging here simply isn’t going to cut it.
This is where your relationships come in. If you can build strong relationships with key stakeholders, you can gain the insight you need straight from the horse’s mouth and ensure the content you produce will land with high impact.
“The biggest advantage I see to doing One-to-one is when you can really get tight in with the account. And that helps with the relationship with the account, as well as the reputation with the account.” - Danny Nail, Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services at Microsoft
Keen to find out more about the world of ABM? Check out our Let’s talk ABM webinar series to hear from some of the leading ABM experts on how they build their programs.