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Let's talk ABM: 8 tips to build relationships with ABM

In a recent episode of Let's talk ABM, we spoke with Rhiannon Blackwell, ABM Leader, Global Marketing Organization at PwC, about growing relationships with ABM. Here are the key takeaways.

Strategy   |   ABM

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Declan Mulkeen

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Apr 29 2024 - 12min Read Date published: Date modified: 2024-04-29


Every contact, interaction, conversation and opportunity starts with a relationship. 

Relationships are the building blocks of successful businesses – and of course, ABM is all about creating long-lasting, meaningful relationships with the accounts that matter most.

We had the pleasure recently of speaking with Rhiannon Blackwell, ABM Leader, Global Marketing Organization at PwC, about the art of growing relationships with Account-based Marketing, and how she built a successful ABM program from the ground up through forging meaningful connections.

In the interview (full recording here) we discussed:

  • What it takes to start up an ABM program from scratch
  • How to achieve Sales and Marketing alignment
  • Why personalization is key for ABM success
  • How to measure that success

So let’s take a look at some of Rhiannon’s top tips for ABM relationship-building:


8 tips to build relationships with ABM

1. Be prepared to reset expectations

When building an ABM team and function from scratch, you’d think the sky is your limit – which it is, within reason. But, you also need to be prepared for the fact that the organization will likely have a number of preconceived expectations about what ABM is and isn’t.

And while building relationships with accounts is the end goal, you can’t get there without building solid, reliable relationships with your own internal teams.

While Account-based Marketing is by no means a new approach, there are still a lot of misconceptions and varying definitions around what ABM actually is, and what it entails. Before you can start building out an effective strategy, you need to ensure everyone is aligned on their roles, contributions and objectives. 

Essentially, the whole organization needs to be singing from the same hymn sheet if you want to avoid a total cacophony.

“I think when you are starting something new, there's already a number of expectations across the organization around what ABM is, and what ABM isn't. And so one of my first challenges was: How do I reset expectations around what this program was going to look like?” – Rhiannon Blackwell, ABM Leader, Global Marketing Organization at PwC

2. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty

You can’t deliver ABM effectively without digging beneath the surface. 

Every organization has different nuances and complexities. Even as a seasoned ABMer, it’s important to understand that what worked in one of your previous roles might not apply to a new one. There will be different processes, ways of working, priorities and objectives to work with – and that will sometimes require an entirely new approach.

This is where you need to be prepared to get your hands dirty. Do a deep dive to truly understand the challenges, goals and battles of your organization. Take stock of the people, processes, tech and data that you will need to work with to build a successful program.

To forge long-lasting relationships both internally and externally, you will need a solid foundation from which to build your program – and that starts with really understanding the ins and outs of every department, and their role in the program moving forward. 

“I think a big learning for me is that there definitely isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to ABM for different organizations – even in the same industry.” – Rhiannon Blackwell, ABM Leader, Global Marketing Organization at PwC

3. Think big, start small, scale fast

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when launching an ABM program is to jump in headfirst without doing the initial groundwork.

It is highly unlikely you will get it right first time. ABM is all about continuously learning, adapting and pivoting based on what is and isn’t working. You won’t be able to succeed without making a few mistakes and wrong turns along the way.

That’s why it’s important to start small.

Rhiannon’s mantra for ABM success can be broken down into three core steps:

  1. Think big. Set your goals and objectives, know what success looks like, and work out what it’s going to take to get there. Clearly define your end goal for the rest of the organization, so that every individual knows what you are collectively working towards.

  2. Start small. Don’t go in all guns blazing. Launch a pilot program as a premise to understand what works, what doesn’t, and how you can improve based on the results. This will be key to working out how your program needs to evolve, and where your weaknesses lie.

  3. Scale fast. Look at how to implement learnings from your pilot phase, and how to better use technology to help you scale quickly. This is where you will need to continue fine-tuning your approach – to ensure you’re constantly pivoting based on results.


“Year-two mantra is scale smart, fine tune. And so that's where we're now thinking about, how do we better use technology? How do we actually take the lessons learned from the top pilots, and re-evolve or evolve what our proposition is for accounts?” – Rhiannon Blackwell, ABM Leader, Global Marketing Organization at PwC

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4. Never stop evolving

What makes ABM so impactful as an approach is how it stands out so prominently compared to standard B2B Marketing. It’s more personalized, more relevant, more empathetic, more targeted. 

But, to maintain that ‘Wow’ effect, you need to always be looking for ways to improve.

That starts with a feedback loop.

Using feedback – not just from your own internal teams, but also from your accounts – is the best way to gauge what works well, and what needs to adapt. Start conversations with key decision-makers, and find out how you can improve the experience or partnership that you’re offering them. You can then use these learnings for your future programs.

“It has been incredibly valuable learning about the account’s experience with our competitors as well, and how what we are doing is helping us stand out, and making sure we've got that feedback loop in place with our accounts, but also with my team as well.” – Rhiannon Blackwell, ABM Leader, Global Marketing Organization at PwC 

5. Focus on the story - not just the data

ABM is very much a long game. Results won’t come flooding in overnight. It’s not a strategy for those seeking quick wins. 

However, that’s not to say you won’t see early signs of success. Naturally, your C-Suite and Leadership teams will want to see the return on investment. And while that may take time, there are definitely ways to communicate positive inroads.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the numbers, but the key with ABM is to look beyond the data and focus the story behind it. See the bigger picture of the relationships you’re building and the connections you’re forming. 

Qualitative data can be just as powerful when used to tell the right story. So get feedback from your accounts, use those conversations to reflect on the program, and play them back to your teams to show the positive impact.

It might take a little longer to see the gains in revenue, but sharing those small successes in the early stages can help bolster buy-in and keep your teams engaged.

“I think for me the success has shown through the fact that now we've got accounts who are asking to be on the program. I'm currently doing the rounds now, we're halfway through this kind of three-year pilot with our global client partners, and all of them so far have said they would recommend other accounts to be on the program.” – Rhiannon Blackwell, ABM Leader, Global Marketing Organization at PwC 

6. Put in what you want to get out

You might be familiar with the ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’ principle. Well, ABM works in a very similar vein.

If you’re not prepared to invest the right amount of time, money and effort into the initiative, then the results will likely fall short of your expectations. 

This rings particularly true when it comes to the Marketing and Sales partnership. Account-based Marketing is not a silo-based initiative, and without equal effort and contributions from both Marketing and Sales teams, it simply won’t work. 

That alignment is critical, which is why you need to be crystal clear about what’s needed from each team to reach the desired outcome. And why you must equip them with the resources they need to succeed – whether that’s upskilling and training, marketing collateral and content, or account-based insights.

“For us, the biggest step was definitely forging a new relationship between Marketing and account teams that hadn't really existed previously. So, setting those very clear expectations upfront that this isn't something that Marketing just takes away and does for you.” – Rhiannon Blackwell, ABM Leader, Global Marketing Organization at PwC

7. Don't skimp on personalization

Data and insights are the not-so-secret ingredients of a successful ABM program. It’s not your typical ‘spray and pray’ approach that’s shared with the masses. It’s carefully crafted, personalized, and designed to directly resonate with a specific vertical or account – and that’s precisely why it lands with such impact.

Every relationship starts with trust. If you can show your accounts that you not only understand their challenges, but have taken the time to research their pain points and put together content that is relevant and timely, then that trust will build over time.

Nobody wants to be marketed to. But they do want to feel seen and understood. When done right, ABM does exactly that – building long-lasting relationships and partnerships, instead of simply selling to the next buyer.

“We are seeing clients really responding, it's resonating well and we're getting follow-up meetings and conversations off the back of it. So it has been great to see those results now.” – Rhiannon Blackwell, ABM Leader, Global Marketing Organization at PwC

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8. Leverage tech, but don't lead with it

Businesses everywhere are talking about it. It’s the hottest trend in the digital world. Generative AI. The opportunities it presents are seemingly limitless – especially for Marketers.

But it also brings significant risks.

Technology – AI or otherwise – should never be the leading aspect of Account-based Marketing. It’s an enabler, not the be-all-and-end-all. Now more than ever, customers are craving more human, personable interactions – and over-reliance on technology such as AI could be exactly what holds you back.

“I see massive potential for Gen AI to help us scale strategic ABM, 'cause obviously that's what we've all been struggling with, given that it's so resource and time-intensive. But I think there's a danger that we find new lazy ways to do bad Marketing.” – Rhiannon Blackwell, ABM Leader, Global Marketing Organization at PwC

While AI will prove hugely useful for scaling ABM efforts and improving operational efficiency, you still need to lead with a human edge to get the right results. The right tech can be game-changing, but it can never replace the impact of real, authentic, human interactions, which ABM hinges on.

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