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ABM: It’s all about the groundwork

In this episode of Let's talk ABM, we speak with Guy Phillips, Head of Enterprise Marketing for EMEA at Autodesk, about building the groundwork of a successful ABM strategy.

Date published: Date modified: 2022-03-29 strategicabm 550 60

Guy Phillips
Head of Enterprise Marketing, EMEA | Autodesk

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Guy has that unique experience of working both Agency and Client-side, delivering exceptional ABM experiences. In his current role, as Head of Enterprise Marketing for EMEA at Autodesk, he is leading the charge to create high-impact ABM account experiences.

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 strategicabm brand and sharing our clients’ ABM success stories.

Watch this webinar and learn: 

  • Why ABM is not rocket science
  • The importance of account insights to unlock accounts
  • Guy's greatest ABM learning
  • Advice for anyone starting out with ABM
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ABM: It’s all about the groundwork

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Okay, so today I'm joined by Guy Phillips, who's the Head of Enterprise Marketing for EMEA at Autodesk. Guy, thanks so much for joining us today. 
Guy Phillips (Autodesk) - Hi Declan. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So Guy, you've been involved with ABM for a number of years now, both Agency-side, and now obviously Client-side with Autodesk. What's been the greatest challenge for you, there, moving from the Agency-side to Client-side? 

Guy (Autodesk) - Yes, good question. Probably not a challenge as such, but I think as an observation, it's a bit of a culture change. Basically, when I was Agency-side, we always used to talk about the quality of the brief and how important that is. Coming onto the Client-side, I do now realize how challenging it is sometimes to write an ABM brief.

You know, ABM is a real-time activity and things are changing, you know, all the time, day in, day out. Our relationships, particularly with our largest enterprise customers, are always on. So writing that brief and getting it right is quite tough. 

And the Agency-side, you're quite insulated from that in a way. I mean, you, obviously, when you've got a good relationship with the client, you understand that, they'll share some of that with you, but it's not always as clear as to what's going on inside the organization. So that's something I'm now obviously much more aware of, which is useful and an interesting learning exercise from my point of view. 

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Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. And so, with that kind of insight from both the Client-side and the Agency-side. What advice then would you either a) give a... Well, let's start. What advice would you give a client working with an Agency, and what advice would you give for an Agency working with a client? 

Guy (Autodesk) - Yeah, interesting. It's still the same thing from a client point of view. I think having as clear and as well documented 'an ask' for the Agency as you can is important. If you need the Agency to be consultative and to effectively help you drive that brief, then again, you kind of need to give them the room and as much insight to do that as possible. 

As I say, there's lots going on inside the client organization, which the Agency will only know based on what you tell them. And if I was Agency-side again, my questioning would be better, I guess, in terms of talking to a client about what's really going on and what's driving the requirements on their side. 

Obviously, a lot of what agencies are used for is execution, but sometimes they're used for strategy and execution. And having that clarity I think is really important. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, yeah. I absolutely agree with you there, Guy, really. And that's what comes from building those really, you know, strong relationships, both from a client with an Agency and an Agency with a client, right? 

And really, you know, we always see it as being, you know, as an Agency being an extension of the client rather than being an outsourced vendor. And the more you can actually make that relationship work, the more you'll actually benefit, or both parties will benefit. Let's- 

Guy (Autodesk) - Absolutely. Everybody talks about trusted partners. Oh, sorry. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Go ahead. 

Guy (Autodesk) - No, I was just going to say, everybody talks about trusted partnerships, but actually developing that and working at it is a two way thing. And that's really important to make sure everybody is still focused on that. 

We talk about that all the time in Account-based Marketing, right? Of how we're trying to build trusted partnerships with customers. And I think the same applies with the Agency and client relationship too. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Absolutely, absolutely. So let's dig a little bit more into the ABM strategy there at Autodesk. Can you paint a picture for us kind of, you know, industries, types of accounts, the mix of programs. Just an overall kind of picture of what you're doing there. 

Guy (Autodesk) - Of course, yeah. I mean, well, I guess it's probably as you would expect actually, I mean, anybody who knows Autodesk or at least has a look at our website, will see that we are a big organization with a vast and complex product offering. 

We serve a number of industries and a huge range of work that we do, from things like Hollywood blockbusters all the way through to the biggest infrastructure projects in the world. And I think that spread of being a complex product-led business gives us an obvious industry and solution approach. And that's always driven a lot of our success. 

And then we have that kind of typical matrix across the Sales organization and Marketing organization that supports it. So, I work in enterprise customer base, the largest customers that we work with globally. Obviously, I handle the EMEA portion of that. And I think that's then reflected by other sales tiers and other go to market channels and partners and all that sort of stuff that, again, as a big enterprise organization, we rely very heavily on. 

I think culturally, because we are a very physical company, I mean, we're a software company, but we help our customers produce very physical things with the exception of those movie and game markets. Everything else is a very tangible, physical thing that we produce. So I think culturally, we've been very physically oriented. 

And I think, you know, I still regret in a way that I haven't been able to get over to the Autodesk gallery in San Francisco, which showcases the work we do for all of our customers and how we help people using our tools to design and make fantastic things. I've seen the photos, but I think it would be a lot better to be there in person. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Well, I'm sure, Guy that time will come in the not too distant future. So obviously ABM, you can have, obviously, several objectives of an ABM program in terms of whether you're looking to penetrate a client, whether you're looking to win a new client for the first time, whether you're looking to change perceptions within a client base, et cetera. But, at Autodesk, where do you see it working best? Is it on the client acquisition side or on the customer expansion side? 

Guy (Autodesk) - Yeah, another good question. I think again, given the scale of what we do, I think we see strong success in both areas. Obviously, in my space as an Enterprise Marketer, then a lot of what we're doing is in kind of customer expansion, working closely with the customer to help them develop and use our tools better. 

As a SaaS company, or primarily a software company, we've got that commitment to developing our products constantly to really make sure that there's that super fit with what our customers’ challenges are, to what our tools can help them do. And so from that point of view, we have that kind of constant dialogue requirement with the customer base. 

So, we're very fortunate to have a loyal, very engaged customer base. Autodesk University regularly gets over 100,000 people every year. And so I guess that level of sort of expansion of usage is kind of baked in, but it's still not something we take for granted. So we have to continue to work at it. 

Declan (strategicabm) - And also, I'm guessing you are always bringing new solutions to the market. So you need to obviously use ABM to make your customers aware of all these new solutions and obviously to kind of cross-sell and upsell, right? 

Guy (Autodesk) - Yes, that's right. I mean, and not only through development, but by acquisition, we've grown enormously in, just in the last couple of years by acquisition, as well. 

So also talking to our customers about how they can use our tools better, and as we develop those tools, but also as we acquire tools, how they fit into the solution mix and how they can get the most out of working with those newly acquired tools as well. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, so- 

Guy (Autodesk) - And I think that will continually evolve as we become more of a platform-based company as well. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, so I think people don't necessarily realize, but there's a huge educational element to ABM, which kind of separates it from other, kind of, Demand Gen tactics, right? The ability to kind of work really closely with your customers and hold their hands, so to speak and to help them to learn how to use your product or your solution better, right? 

Guy (Autodesk) - Yeah, I think so. I think, and again, maybe that's a particular focus in a software business. Where, as you say, products are developing all the time. You know, every month brings a new release of some new extra feature or improved features. So you could never take it for granted however loyal your customers are, that they're just going to automatically consume and understand that. 

I think keeping that awareness and educational piece going as part of their learning and development and their best practices is so important. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, yeah, yeah. So let's talk about, you know, there are many kind of moving parts to a successful ABM strategy. And obviously many of the previous guests that I've talked to on "Let's talk ABM" have highlighted the importance of account insights. And I know that's a particular area that you're passionate about. 

And I think also one of the things that's kind of come back has been the fact that it can be a costly area, both in terms of time, investment and indeed if you're using an external resource to do those account insights, it can also be costly from that point of view. But what do you think that account insights provide? And do you think the investment is worth it? 

Guy (Autodesk) - Well, that's a very leading question in many ways, isn't it? I mean, the best things in life are free. Somebody once said, didn't they? But I'm not sure that applies to things like Marketing and Sales. I think pretty much anything that's worth doing is going to cost you some sort of time or money. 

So for me, you get what you pay for in this context, I think account insight and, you know, any form of insight, actually, account and stakeholder insight is always worth it from my point of view. The more you focus on it and the more you invest in it, the more whatever you do afterwards is better, right? It's more tailored, it's more personalized, it's more accurate, it's more effective. 

But, sometimes the best things do come for free. I think one project I was working on recently, there was a new stakeholder who came into focus and we really wanted to work out how to connect with them. And we found out that somebody inside the organization had actually worked with them for quite a long time previously. And so just by joining those dots and actually then having a conversation with somebody internal, we were able to find out quite a lot about the person we were going after to talk to. 

And I think that's its own form of insight, which is about working your network and understanding the network within your organization as effective as you can as well. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, I think that's a really good example. It's a bit of detective work, right? To be done, almost like a private eye, but not prying too much into the personal life of the people you're looking to work with and to engage with. 

But as you said, in a company like Autodesk with the 1000s of employees that you do have, then obviously there will be those connections that exist between people moving around, right? 

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Guy (Autodesk) - Yeah, it's the oldest cliché, isn't it? But most industries are actually quite small and incestuous industries and traditionally, we've always recruited out of industry. We've brought people in from the customer base and therefore that likelihood of somebody who works within Autodesk, particularly in one of our kind of product or go to market areas is probably quite well connected to the customer. 

They may not be as focused from a Sales and Marketing point of view on trying to talk to those customers, but I'm sure they have a relationship and an engagement with them that we can leverage and utilize. 

And ignoring that or not exploring that is a waste of time and money in a different context than just spending it on something you put in a draw later. I think that's where insight kind of gets a bad reputation. Because you kind of invest in it and then it gets put in a draw. Any form of market research in that context, there needs to be a commitment to use it before you spend the money on it. 

Declan (strategicabm) - No, I think it's a very good point there. I think that what we find at the Agency is that, obviously doing that insights work is absolutely invaluable for the client and also actually for the Agency in order to build better campaigns, better strategies, better messaging, better routes into those clients or prospects. 

But as you said, you've got to really take the time to actually look at what's actually being produced and seeing how you can actually use it. I think that's a very good point there, Guy. 

One thing that we were talking previously before this recording. One thing that you said to me that really, I kind of wrote it down, 'cause I just thought it was a really interesting quote. You said to me, "There's no real rocket science to ABM, it's all about the execution." Tell us more about your thinking there. 'Cause I love that kind of quote. 

Guy (Autodesk) - Yeah, it's not my sound bite. By the way, I mean, I think everybody who's been doing ABM for a while starts to realize that ABM is just a super version of putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time. And I think that's been proven many times to just be good marketing. 

So I don't think I'm saying anything controversial when I say that, ABM is, I say, is just about doing that level of groundwork to get you into a position to make sure that that message is as finely targeted as it can be. And that person is the absolute right person. And timing, you can never control. 

But what I find is that, by doing the insight, by doing the groundwork, by working closely with the Sales teams, then you are getting that timing as right as you can. Because you are working in conjunction with people who are talking to the customer all the time, or at least are more engaged with the customer, particularly in the enterprise space, right? 

Then you can possibly be in Marketing. I mean, I work across 167 accounts. I can't possibly know all of them in the same detail as the Salespeople do. And I think ultimately we come back to what I think ABM is best at, which is about putting the customer's voice into the conversation as much as possible. 

So flipping it classically from what we'd like to talk to the customer about to, what do they want to listen to? What do they want to hear, and how can we make sure we join those up as best as possible? And I think that's, you know, I always talk about and I stole this off a previous employer. So copyright them the 'insight to action' phrase. 

You know, the point about the insight is it enables you to improve the quality of that next action. And that really is why ABM is so much better than just standard Marketing in my humble opinion. Because it ensures that that next action is as tailored, is as accurate, is as personalized as you can possibly make it or afford it to be, I suppose, is the other point, right? 

So depending on what your budgets are, that will control that level of tailoring that you can afford. Is it off the shelf? Is it customized or is it absolutely bespoke? And that's usually a budget conversation. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. Well, that what you just said there leads nicely into the next question that I had for you, which is around Demand Generation and ABM. There's obviously a lot of talk about that. Are they the same? Are they siblings? Is ABM a subset of Demand Gen? What's your take? Where do you sit on this, in this debate? 

Guy (Autodesk) - Yeah, it's interesting. I think and, you know, I'm a big believer in the capability of the ABM platforms that are out there, but in many ways, they've muddied the waters about what ABM is. Because they've taken it from that pure One-to-one context out into a One-to-few or a One-to-many context. And that's why, again, it's sort of almost become about just doing B2B marketing really well. 

So there are so many flavors of ABM now. And I think that's because we're trying to redefine ABM in whatever context we want to come at it from. Is it about retention marketing? Is it about expansion marketing, as you were talking about? Is it about influencer or advocacy marketing? And these are all subsets of ABM, because ABM has kind of become a kind of a substitute for B2B marketing.

I think ultimately it goes back to, what are you trying to do? Are you trying to catalyze a change in the account? Which is where I see Demand Generation sitting. Or are you trying to activate or jump on something that is already going on in the account and trying to make sure that your business is in that thought process, which is a more typical lead generation process, I guess. 

And for me, the whole point about ABM is that it's usually about trying to stimulate some sort of change. Is it about improving the relationship? Is it about improving the perception of your company, or is it about improving the speed or growth of pipeline? And that's where ABM, with its roots in One-to-one, is much more closely aligned to Demand Generation, I think. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, now, very interesting points there, Guy. So just a couple of questions to finish off on now. We often talk about ABM as being a journey. You know, some people equate it with being a marathon, et cetera. But, and with any journey you can have, you know, you can take a wrong turn, you can go down the wrong path, you can get a flat tire, et cetera. But what has been your greatest learning from those kind of ups and downs that you've had on your ABM journey? 

That's actually if you've had some ups and downs. But maybe you've had a fantastic journey and it's all positive. But what would you say have been those kind of moments, those kind of greatest learnings? 

Guy (Autodesk) - Yeah, I mean, ABM is full of super highlights, isn't it? I mean, the first 100 million deal that I worked on with one customer, I mean, it's super high to feel as though you've been influential and had an impact in that sort of a result. 

By the same token, I can't remember who said this, but I think it might have been a Churchill kind of quote. Which is, "Treat success and failure with the same level of equanimity", basically. So, you know, you haven't been that influential in a success and you're probably not totally responsible for a failure. So work out as best you can. 

And I'm a big believer in learning as much as you possibly can from both success and failure. Why have you succeeded? Why have you failed? What could we do differently? What can we make sure that, sorry, what can we do differently in the case of a failure? And what can we make sure we can try and double down on in the case of a success? 

And I think those are the things that apply to everything, really. They don't just apply to ABM. They apply to anything you do. I think, and this comes quite easily for me, I guess, 'cause I'm a logical driven person. Some people are very kind of ruled by their heart rather than by their head. 

So my strength in many ways is, I don't get too vested in what the success or failure was. Go back and try and learn what that point of departure was. Try and learn from that point of departure and try and not to repeat the same mistake again. 

That's always the clicheé, isn't it? It's try not to repeat your mistakes. And if you can do that more often than not, then ultimately you'll get that success rate and that strike rate better over time. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, yeah. So, couple of questions just to finish off with now, Guy. What do you think is the hardest part of ABM? 

Guy (Autodesk) - Hardest part of ABM? Where do we start, right? I mean, sales alignment, measurement and attribution, getting executive support internally, making sure that everybody is fully aligned to the program and knows what they're doing. It's a long list, arguably. Because there are so many elements of what makes a great ABM campaign. 

But I think, for me, it's slightly linked to your last question. Really it’s, if we think of ABM as a constant evolution, so what did we do last time? What worked, what didn't work? How can we improve on that with either planning or execution? 

You know, I think that's the hardest part of ABM, because we're almost programed to move on to next quarter. You know, what are we doing next quarter? Let's not worry too much about what we did last quarter. Let's just move on to next quarter. So being able to find the time and almost have that rigor to do the wash ups, to understand what worked, what didn't work and then take it forwards is the hardest part, organizationally, as well as within ABM. 

And I think that's where I see it always being a challenge is, we are always moving on to the next thing. We're not really looking at what we learned from the last thing. 

Declan (strategicabm) - It's really, I mean, I think it's really quite important, as you said to try to look back. And that's, everyone's always looking forward, but try to look back, really and assess what went right, what went wrong, what did you learn? And try to apply that going- 

Guy (Autodesk) - Again, hands up, I'm a historian. Hands up, I'm a historian, right? So I'm programed to try and learn from history. That's part of my make-up. Not everybody's wired that way. 

But for me, it's really important to try and do a good job of, you know, having done something to try and learn what worked, what didn't work, and then work out how we can take that forward as best as possible. 

And, you know, with what's been going on in the last few days in Europe, it's a great example of where we never seem to learn from history. And for me, that's always one of the saddest things in our life and in our society, generally, not just in a business context. That we sometimes don't do a great job organizationally and culturally of learning from history.

Declan (strategicabm) - No, I definitely agree with you there- 

Guy (Autodesk) - Actually, that's a deeper thought than just about ABM, right? 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, it is. And I'm a real historian, a history buff as well. And I'm just surrounded by loads of history books here. So, I think we could have a separate podcast episode around history if you'd like. I've got one final- 

Guy (Autodesk) - Whenever you'd like. Definitely. 

Declan (strategicabm) - One final question for you, Guy. Phone rings, Friday evening. You're about to open a bottle of wine 'cause you had a tough week and you're looking forward to a little glass of something. 

And then the phone rings, it's an old colleague of yours from one of your previous companies. And they say, "Guy, I've just been told, I've got to launch an ABM program. And they want me to come in next week and start talking to them about it." And they say, "I just need some advice." 

And so, what's that one piece of advice you give them on that Friday evening just before you pour yourself that glass of wine? 

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Guy (Autodesk) - Well, I'm glad you've given it that sort of a context, really, because giving people advice is always a fairly dangerous game to get into. But if I know them well enough to be blunt, then that's a good place to be. 

I would say don't encourage anybody to start an ABM program until they know exactly what the business problem is that they're trying to fix, right? 

You know, for me, this is the whole point about ABM is it's not a platform, a tool or a tactic, or even a strategy. It's an approach to your business’ Sales and Marketing challenges. And therefore, unless you know what the business’ Sales and Marketing challenges are, just jumping straight into ABM is kind of a dangerous thing to do, I would say. 

It's an approach that needs the business, the Sales teams and the Marketing teams to all be completely aligned in what they're trying to do. And so therefore, I think that's the first place to start. Make sure that everybody's on the same page of that complete agreement, complete alignment on what the business is actually trying to do. 

And then you can get started with the perhaps more challenging questions about what platform, what tools, what tactics, what strategies to employ. That's kind of the fun bit, I guess. But unless you are really aligned at the start, then don't even begin. 

That advice might get more and more blunt depending on how much wine I've had, I suspect. But there we go. 

Declan (strategicabm) - I was going to say, you definitely earned that... You might have got to the half of the bottle by the time you finished giving the advice, actually. 

Guy (Autodesk) - Quite possibly, yeah. I imagine so. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Good stuff. Well, listen, Guy, thanks so much for sharing your ABM journey with us today. It's been great to learn more about both your, you know, the Agency-side and then also now the Client-side. And we wish you every success for the future. And thanks for your time today. 

Guy (Autodesk) - No, thanks, Declan. It's been a pleasure and I've heard some really good questions, and some quite thought provoking stuff there as well, which hopefully I haven't been too clichéd in my answers about. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Thank you, Guy.