Good stakeholder management is half the battle in ABM, or maybe the main battle

When I took an ABM course myself, I noticed that it was mostly about stakeholder management. When rolling out an ABM plan that creates impact, two things stood out to me: 

  1. Bringing stakeholders together is of great importance and you can achieve this better if you take a turnover target as your starting point. 
  2. Start small and test your campaigns.

And today I am talking to Hans de Winkel from EY. Hans was involved in the start of account-based marketing at accountancy and advisory firm EY worldwide. He learned a lot from rolling out an ABM plan. His main learning: stakeholder management is really crucial in ABM. 

“We learned that ABM worked best when the client team was the initiator.”

Rolling out an ABM plan: interview between Ingrid Archer, SPOTONVISION, and Hans de Winkel, EY

The reason for ABM?

Six years ago, EY wanted to start with marketing automation in the Netherlands, but the international organization was not ready yet. Five years later it was. Marketing had a budget available, and with a small team of 3 (Americas, EMEIA and APAC) a worldwide ABM project was started.

What were the expectations?

Hans: “We wanted to make more impact on our customers and put the marketing function on the map internally. So we decided to invest in marketing automation, account-based marketing and customer lifecycle management. We wanted a global approach by setting up a global community to help each other. The Business Development Lead also wanted to work with ABM, so he was fully behind the idea.”

How did you guys go about it?

“We developed an ABM vision and approach for the entire organization. The ABM framework that was available to the entire organization included an internal website. This site was filled with a good slidedeck with the ABM steps to follow when rolling out an ABM plan, offerring templates, cases, examples and more. 

The target audience was our own marketing organization. We organized a monthly call for support, while the programmes were picked up by the team. We trained the Marketing and Business Development teams from the regions in 2-day trainings in London, Singapore and Boston. All these colleagues got a better understanding thanks to the ABM method we had developed,” says Hans.

The teams exchanged best practices in global calls. And in bi-weekly calls, they shared progress on the ongoing pilots. To reach the target group, the teams mostly used LinkedIn as well as email, as they had the email addresses and opt-in from existing clients. Hans: “Facebook didn’t work, we did try that for a while.”

What did you run into?

ABM is a long-term strategy, and although the team was given plenty of support and backing in the beginning, there was no longer-term commitment. We only were given the chance to build the initial programme and provide training. 

Hans: “People saw how much work it was and how big it was…that put them off. The people trained didn’t always get support from Business Development or the Client Service Partner. It worked out in the Nordics though; that was because we had done this before, and the local stakeholders knew what ABM can bring in the long term. If Business Development is not involved, it doesn’t work. They need to be involved and follow up on the leads.”

What were the successes?

Hans says: “We executed a number of successful one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many campaigns. A great example was e.g. an SAP S/4HANA campaign around ‘Agile Business Finance’. The visibility for our services was huge: 1.5 million hits to the campaign page, 50% more than usual! 35% of the shortlisted customers interacted with us. Part of the campaign was a successful webinar with high attendance. Of the 164 leads, 11% eventually converted to a high-value lead.” 

“In the US, we also did some one-to-one campaigns, which resulted in success. By doing so, we brought in large consulting projects with clients who only knew us as accountants. In the US, ABM worked a little better for us. The organization is less fragmented: we could ‘cross sell’ tax and consultancy more easily. We actually always went through EY’s 7-ABM step method. Our content varied in format; sometimes we put in a report, and sometimes a personal video message, depending on the client. We also used our CEO in the customized content.”

What were the pitfalls?

“ABM will not be successful if only one person believes in it; you need broader support. Partners, Business Development, but also marketing teams in the countries. We were creating leads and account engagement, but it often lagged,” explains Hans. 

“Our organization is sometimes too fragmented; you can leave or ignore things without it being noticed. There is so much going on in the organization, not everything can always be followed up. We also learned that ABM worked best when the client team was the initiator.”

What was the main difference compared to how you did campaigns before?

“There was more focus on the needs of the target audience. We looked deeper into the problems and needs of the customer.” 

What advice would you give other marketers?

  • ABM initiatives shouldn’t just be done by and for Marketing. You need connection with the sales organization.
  • Keep it small, don’t try to roll it out very big right away.
  • Start with a smaller version of the 7-step model, so you get results faster. Scaling up should be the next step.

Want to know more?

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