ABM Playbook

ABM from the trenches

In this episode of Lets Talk ABM we chat with Amy Hall, Global ABM Manager at Hitachi, on how to start an ABM programme and what drives ABM success.

Date published: Date modified: 2021-01-15 strategicabm 550 60

Amy Hall
Global ABM Manager, Hitachi

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Amy Hall

Amy is Global Account-Based Marketing Manager at Hitachi Ventara. A 15 year veteran in B2B Marketing, Amy is a leading ABM thought leader and practitioner. Amy’s reputation as a leader and strategic thinker combines with her strong focus on collaboration with sales leaders to deliver a truly outstanding ABM programme at Hitachi Ventara.

Declan heads up marketing at strategicabm. After some 20 years working as a CMO in the Professional Services, SaaS and EdTech sectors, Declan is now Agency-side building the Strategic IC brand and sharing our clients’ ABM success stories.

Watch this webinar and learn:

  • How a team of one can do ABM
  • What drives ABM success
  • What the future holds for ABM
  • Advice on how to start an ABM programme
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ABM from the trenches

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - So today I'm joined by Amy Hall, Global Account-based Marketing Manager at Hitachi Vantara. Amy, thanks so much for joining us today.

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Happy to be here.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - So, we're all familiar with Hitachi, it's a very well-known brand, but Hitachi Vantara, tell us a little bit about that.

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - (laughs) Hitachi Limited is 840 different companies. So we always say to our customers that we're more like you than any other technology vendor that's out there. So at Hitachi, we've been engineering and manufacturing machines for a range of verticals for more than 100 years. 

So Hitachi Vantara is a data company. So we've leveraged Hitachi's 100-year heritage, and now we're providing digital infrastructure, DataOps, and IoT solutions for businesses and society 

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - So tell me, Amy, there at Hitachi Vantara you're an ABM team of one?

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Yes.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - So you're really in the trenches, fighting one-to-one ABM combat.

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - (laughs)

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Is it possible to do ABM on your own?

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Yeah, no, it is, and I'm living proof of that, right? And I haven't got any grey hairs yet, touch wood. 

Yes. I mean, don't get me wrong, doing it on your own, it is pretty hard work. It's pretty full-on, I'm doing ABM One-to-one for seven accounts, and then ABM lite for eight accounts.

I think the thing that, I suppose, keeps me focused and sane, is that across those accounts, I'm supporting two verticals. So I've got a split of FSI accounts and Telco accounts, so that makes things a little bit easier for me.

Although I'm a team of one, I'm not really 'Billy no-mates'. I've got a great ABM Agency that supports me, and I also work very closely with an SDR. So when I have my account calls, that SDR is on all those calls with me, she's my right-hand 'gal'. She knows exactly what's going on in all those accounts. So, although as a Marketeer in ABM I'm on my own, I have a really good support network.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Yeah. And so what would you do more of if you had more resources there?

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Well, back to the webinar that we were on a couple of months ago, Declan, or maybe last month now, actually, time is just a crazy thing at the moment, I would like to do more scaling.

And so in the last sort of six months, I worked closely with some people within our geos within Hitachi Vantara, and I'm scaling there. We've got some people that are supporting some FSI accounts in Americas, and in EMEA, but I'd just like to do a lot more of that. We create some lovely assets, eBooks, video, landing pages, that I am now in a position to scale and support a lot more companies, but it's just, I just don't have the resource to do that at the moment. Things are hopefully going to change when the current climate changes, but at the moment, yeah, I just don't have the capacity.

And sharing wisdom. So I'm doing this in a kind of ad hoc basis. I have calls with a number of stakeholders across the organisation that work in Marketing, and I'm sharing as much as I can. I would like to do this at a larger scale, but, you know, again, it just comes back to time and bandwidth, and unfortunately, I can't do that at the moment.

Another thing that I'm not doing so much of, I suppose, is kind of hyper-personalisation that we used to call it. We were a lot more personalised this time last year, when we had a team of three, but across all of those accounts we've had to scale back a little bit. And what we're doing now is kind of a hybrid between One-to-one, and ABM Lite, to support our One-to-one accounts.

Once we get back to a position where budgets aren't so tight, and we can look to maybe hire again, we can go back to that hyper-personalisation, but at the moment, it's just not quite possible.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Yeah. Obviously, a lot of the conversations that I've had through this series of 'Let's talk ABM', a lot of the people I've talked to have focused on the importance of getting your ICP right, getting your Target Account selection right. Would you concur with that kind of thinking?

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, that's where it all starts, right? And if you're not putting effort into that ICP, and following a kind of framework, we followed the Sirius Decisions Framework, which is very, very useful. So we're looking at things like firmographic data. We are looking at behavioural data. We're looking at predictive data. We're looking at intent data. 

Obviously we are a data company, so we have all that kind of predictive modelling, so I'm quite lucky that I had that to fall back on. So things like customer lifetime value, propensity to buy, percentage of wins across that account in the last sort of 12, 24 months, the size of those deals. 

I think the most important thing, though, really, is the relationships within the accounts. So, one thing that we have found a little bit tricky this year is, we started the year, we chose the accounts. One of the things we looked at was the relationships that we had within those accounts, and of course, there's been so much churn within every account that's out there, but of course, in the accounts that we're targeting, people have left the company, and those relationships that we have, we don't have anymore. So that's been a little bit tricky for us.

So I definitely say really have a look at that, relationships you have within, for us, it was in IT, and line of business. And also, one thing that I really advise people to do is have a look at, almost interview the Account Managers that you're working with, and just make sure that you are going to have the support and alignment from them.

One thing I did is I did a pilot when I started onboarding each of my ABM accounts, but it wasn't just a pilot for the accounts just to see what the level of engagement was like and how much traction we could get. I also did it as a POC with the Account Managers too. I speak to lots of Account Managers, say "Yeah, I really want to do ABM," but they just don't really understand what's involved, and what my responsibilities are, but then what their responsibilities are at the same time.

So that was an interesting exercise, doing a three-month POC, just to see how on board they were, and you did see a lot of people that were really supportive at the very beginning, and then kind of dropped off. So then it was a good kind of indication to me that I wasn't going to have alignment with Account Managers, and that, for me, is just so, so important.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - And talking about ABM, obviously it's one of the hottest subjects at the moment in B2B Marketing. And particularly we're seeing it this year in terms of what's actually happening out there, but why do you think ABM is such a hot topic at the moment?

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Well, I mean, it's been around for a while now, hasn't it? And I think, you know, I started my, I suppose, career in ABM, three and a half, four years ago now, but I think it's become such a hot topic because Marketing is being asked to do a lot more with a lot less, especially in the current climate, and really starting to flip that funnel, and focus on the most strategic accounts within an organisation.

I think, with the current climate, there can be no waste. Everyone has been asking to provide major value and ROI. So, we can't - going back, how things were done, well, still are being done, of course, within a lot of organisations, and Demand Gen, there's just so much waste out there, and of course as we always say in ABM. I mean, you're going fishing with a net rather than going fishing with a spear.

So, so many companies are looking at cutting costs and improving efficiencies, and Marketing's always the first place they look at. So, it's the easiest way, I think, to do Marketing in a much smarter fashion.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Yeah. And you've referred a couple of times there to what's been happening over the course of the last six months or so, what’s one thing has surprised you, perhaps, with your Marketing over the course of the last six months, that maybe you didn't expect?

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara)  - I'd say, from a Marketing perspective, it's funny, this time last year, it was all very much, "Well, we'll make sure that we send our emails Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Maybe 10:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. is the optimal time for people to engage with those emails," or engage with content, or whatever it is. We're finding that anything goes at the moment. And I think it's because, work, life, kind of, is all merging together. And then it just doesn't, there doesn't seem to be that window anymore. Like we send things out all different times of the day now, or completely different times of the week, and we're finding crazy engagement at times which you wouldn't expect in.

I just think because people, rightly or wrongly, aren't switched off, they're not disconnecting from work. We're finding it the same across LinkedIn too. So we're running Lead Gen Form campaigns. And, we used to find this, actually, at Christmas time or Thanksgiving. So we used to find that we used to get a real uptick in engagement on LinkedIn during the holiday season, 'cause people were just, I suppose, stuck at home and got a little bit bored, so started looking at LinkedIn. We used to see a surge there.

We're finding surges at the weekends, on Saturdays and Sundays, which I don't think, we just wouldn't have seen that this time last year. So, that has surprised me, I suppose, but it doesn't surprise me 'cause I'm doing the same thing, so I suppose it's not too much of a surprise.

And then I think, if you asked my SDR, I think people are just more willing to have a conversation now, I think. They're more willing to answer the phone and speak to someone. I just think it's because we are, although we're doing Zoom, we're having Zoom calls, I think people are missing that interaction. So the willingness to take a conversation from our SDR, and we've been able to secure a lot more appointments than we were this time last year.

So they're the two changes I've seen.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Yeah. I mean, Amy, I think I'd concur. We've definitely seen that, both within the Agency, but also across our clients, in terms of the fact that those days, those times, are no longer relevant so much, in terms of the social engagement. And also in terms of the people are willing much more to have a conversation. And I think that kind of human element is definitely being more pronounced than ever before. 

So, leading on from that question, actually, when normality returns, if it ever does, what one thing, perhaps, will you not do, or will you eliminate, or will you reduce, from your Marketing, that perhaps you would have always been in your Marketing toolkit?

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Yeah, I think if you had asked a lot of ABM-ers, they'd probably say that they probably wouldn't be doing as many events, but we pivoted to digital in ABM a couple of years ago. So the majority of my spend does go on digital. So that really isn't a big change for me.

One thing that probably is going to change, it's nothing to do with the climate, really, I've just been struggling with it recently, is content syndication. And although it's good for driving engagement, increasing your kind of share of voice within these accounts, and getting leads. I just found that we've been working with a number of different vendors now, and we've struggled to actually convert those leads. So they just stay at the very top of the funnel. We do so many different things. So our SDR has what we call a "10-point touchpoint plan," which includes social selling, e-mail, and telephone calls, and we've just not been able to move those along. 

So that's probably one of the things that I am going to drop from the Marketing mix, probably in the very foreseeable future, actually.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Yeah. And let's talk about the future. What, for you, does the future hold for ABM? What does ABM 2020 and beyond, what does that look like for you?

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Yeah, I think, this year, going into next year, and the future, I think B2B Marketing will just become ABM. It's going to be a lot less around kind of generating leads, and there's going to be a much more of a focus on those bottom-line metrics.

I think, Executive sponsorship across, I mean, I'm very, very fortunate. I have amazing Executive sponsorship at Hitachi Vantara, but I know a lot of the ABM peers that I speak to, they really struggle with that. But, as I say, as I said earlier on, with the focus now on doing more with less, and not having any waste, I think it's just going to become on the Executive's agenda to make sure that ABM does become a cornerstone of the Marketing strategy.

I think too, I think Sales are just going to become a lot more switched on to ABM, and the benefits and the value of ABM. So I think when we first started doing ABM, not so much at Hitachi, actually, at previous companies, I really had to sell ABM. It was almost like I went to the Account Managers and said to them, "I'd like to see if ABM is going to be of value to your account." And it was like, "Well, what's in it for me?" And I just think that's changing now too. I think Marketing and Sales are just becoming one business unit, which they always should have been, really, but it's very, very siloed in a lot of organisations.

I think the other thing we're going to be seeing is integrated ABM tools. There's so many different technologies out there that don't talk to each other. And again, I'm very, very fortunate that I work for a data company, and we integrate all the tools, but speaking to, again, lots of my ABM peers from other different organisations, they're having an issue with very siloed tools, and they can't marry their first-party data with their third-party data. And they're logging into all different, but not having a 360-degree view of the customer behaviour and intent data. I think that's going to change.

And multi-touch attribution models too, making sure that if we are putting this money and this resource into supporting these ABM accounts, we need to be able to say at the end of the day, because of this particular campaign, we've been able to touch these many people. We've been able to add a certain amount of contacts and leads to an account. We've been able to generate whatever it is, number of appointments. We've been able to increase the size of a buying committee. We've been able to influence these many Marketing opportunities, sourced Marketing opportunities, and then look at the pipeline too, as well as closed revenue, of course. 

So I think that all needs to change as well, and I think there's a lot of companies at the moment that are really struggling, really saying that because of say what we've done, we've been able to influence or generate pipeline, and revenue for these accounts, and say that just has to change.

I know a lot of people that I speak to, they're just looking at the first touchpoint or the last touchpoint. And so they're missing all the stuff that's happening in-between, which, for a company the size of a Hitachi Vantara, with big old sales cycles of like 12 months, or 24 months, that's a lot of information to miss, so I think that's going to change as well.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Yeah, and I think they're all really good points. I was talking to somebody the other day around this whole point around ABM MarTech, and they mentioned that they had a client that had 27 different tools, and they managed to get it down to six tools in the end. 

So, I think this kind of bringing it all together, and finding out actually what you actually use, and not being too obsessed with technology for technology's sake, I think is really important-

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - That's right. You have to, these technologies are so expensive, they really are, the amount of work that goes into setting up the integration to various tools, or whatever it is, just that initial setup, it takes a long time, and I struggle sometimes.

We use, I dunno, I suppose probably about six ABM tools, so not too bad, but we've got three intent tools, but they're not really intent tools, but they do something else, but they also have intent too, but that intent isn't the same as the intent from another tool.

So it really is just, and I think that's something else that's going to really change in the future as well. Intent, for me, is just not where it should be at the moment. You know, I work with very, very strategic, huge enterprise accounts, and they've got presence all over the world. So, I look at some of my intent tools sometimes, and it tells me that a particular huge FSI account is surging on multi-cloud, but I don't know where that's happening. Is that happening in North America? Or is that happening in LATAM? Is that happening in Europe? It's just, you have to be able to action this data, and if you can't action on it, and you don't have the resource to action on it, it is kind of like for me, it feels like a little bit of a waste of time at the moment.

Of course, it's the big thing, you go to any ABM event and they will say that intent is the way forward. And we probably use about four intent tools. Some are better than others. I still don't think they are where they need to be yet.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Yeah. So Amy, it's funny you say that, because obviously, we're very fortunate at the Agency, that the intent platform that we have access to does give you that information in terms of geography, and so we can tell you that X company in Y location is surging or showing interest in this term, or in this part of the buying stage.

And also, I suppose what's also of great value, is the fact that we can run campaigns into the very, very device that is actually-

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Yes. I mean, that's amazing. I'm ever so grateful for all that. That's amazing. Yeah.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - So, we're very fortunate with that, and that's when you're able to actually talk to, and present information to the device, i.e., the user, that is conducting that search, that's when you obviously can actually activate.

And I think going back to your point around data, I think the problem that many companies are showing who are doing ABM, if they've got a lot of data, as you said, but they're not necessarily activating it properly, right? And I think, as you said, going forward in time, I think companies that are able to really harness the data, and bring the creatives together, and bring the personalisation. And I think that's where we'll see the greatest success from ABM.

So just to finish really, Amy, you're there doing ABM, One-to-one ABM, in the sense that you're on your own, (laughs) you're there in the trenches. You're fighting your ABM battles every day on your own. What advice would you give to companies who are looking to start ABM, or looking to start, rather, an ABM programme, perhaps, but have very limited resources? Either they're a small Marketing team. What advice would you give them?

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - I would say, start small. As I spoke about earlier on, I'd just choose a couple of accounts, make sure they're in the same vertical. Like, do yourself a favour.

I spoke to a couple of people recently that have got no budget to do anything with, really, and they've spent a heck of a lot of money doing kind of insight reports, and discovery for 10 accounts, but they're all different verticals. And now they're looking to kick it off. I mean, that is going to be really expensive and time-resourcive.

So just say start small, pick one or two accounts, at the same time, as I kind of mentioned earlier on, make sure as you go through that pilot, you are piloting that account, but you're also piloting that Account Manager, and just make sure that you have that Marketing and Sales alignment, 'cause if you don't have that at the very beginning, you're never going to have it.

So, yeah, definitely starting small, hopefully you'll see some quick-ish wins, and those quick-ish wins can be anything from finding people that the Account Manager wouldn't have engaged with, if they were on their own. We use Engagio, so we can see at an account level, where we were before we started ABM, and where we are now in terms of website traffic, and what people are engaging with. So, we saw like a, I can't remember what the actual stat was now, but it was really, really good uptick in engagement across our two pilot accounts we chose 18 months ago.

And if you do get that traction, then you can look to expand and add to that account list. But I think the problem, people I speak to, they're doing their demand gen, and they're kind of dipping their toes into ABM, and what seems to happen is, the Sales Directors they work with, or even the Exec Team, just get a little bit impatient. And they expect to see these amazing results almost immediately. And when they don't see that, it's like, "Well, we haven't got any leads, so drop ABM and go back to generating leads for us. You haven't been successful here. We've given you three months. You haven't been successful here. So go back to demand generation."

I think that seems to happen quite a lot. You know, ABM is, it's a full-time role. I think a lot of people, I suppose, companies make the mistake in thinking that, do demand gen, and do some ABM on the side, and it just doesn't work like that.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Amy, great advice. Lovely speaking to you today-

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Thanks again, Declan.

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Lovely to learn more about Hitachi Vantara and the great ABM work you're doing there, and speak to you very soon.

Amy Hall (Hitachi Vantara) - Lovely, thank you. Take care. Bye

Declan Mulkeen (Strategic IC) - Thanks Amy. Bye.