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Building an enterprise ABM program

In this episode of Let's Talk ABM, we speak with Christa Norton, Head of Industry and ABM at Capita, on building a true ABM enterprise program.

Date published: Date modified: 2021-03-03 strategicabm 550 60

Christa Norton
Head of Industry and ABM, Capita

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Christa is a senior director with more than 20 years’ experience in the Digital, IT Services and BPO sectors. Christa is Head of Industry and ABM at Capita where she has established a new pan-Capita ABM function and created B2B Marketing Awards finalist client programs.

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 Capita does One-to-one ABM
  • How Accounts move between ABM programs
  • Why Sales alignment is critical to ABM success
  • Advice on how to succeed at Account-based Marketing
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Building an enterprise ABM program

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm): Today I'm joined by Christa Norton who's Head of Industry and ABM at Capita, Christa, thanks for joining me today.

Christa Norton (Capita): Thank you for having me on.

Declan (strategicabm) - So let's talk a little bit about Capita's ABM program. Obviously, I think you were saying to me before it's been in existence for about a year. Can you paint a picture of what that looks like, and how it's working?

Christa (Capita): Yeah, of course. So we went through a bit of a restructure at the beginning of 2020, and as part of that we formed an Industry and Account-based Marketing function which we hadn't had in the organization before, with the idea that we would be sitting across all of Capita - Capita has got several divisions - and maybe sitting across all of Capita would enable us to create an industry narrative, and also to support our top 10 pan-Capita accounts with an Account-based Marketing strategy

So it was initiated as a proof of concept and I think, you know, absolutely the right thing you know, new strategy, new approach. 

So we started off really with just targeting three or four accounts to see how that worked and to get our process up and running to, you know, to build up the engagement from Sales, because this was, you know a key education piece for them as well. 

We are still small, but now we're looking to expand and as part of what we're doing, so saying, and we're explaining, you know, we're responsible for both Account-based Marketing and for Industry. 

So the people that were brought into the team were all people who had quite substantial experience working within specific sectors. So for my own part, I've got a lot of experience working in Critical Infrastructure - so the Telecoms and Utilities industries. 

And one of the reasons for doing that was so that when we then started to talk to what were very, very senior salespeople within the organization, we instantly had some credibility because we did know the industries, we understood them really well. We understood the challenges they're facing. 

So, you know, instantly credible at the, you know at the table. Being responsible both for Industry and ABM was actually something that came in, you know was actually really useful for last year because obviously with the pandemic hitting and the real challenges that every organization faced around ‘how do we approach this’? What do we do? 

It gave us, within the team, a lot of flexibility to either immediately be able to pivot towards Industry and what this meant for Industry, and how we could support industries and customers through this, whilst customers were individually sorting themselves out and did not want to be receiving a massive ABM program, but then did it as businesses started to reopen and started to 'right side' and started to identify their challenges and what they, you know, what they needed to do. 

We were then able to pivot back very quickly to, again, supporting Account-based Marketing and looking at that very detailed client level as to how we can help our customers. So, you know, some real flexibility there having that dual capability.

Declan (strategicabm): Yeah, and obviously your strategy there has been primarily focused around One-to-one ABM, right? 

Can you, can you talk us through some success stories, or, you know the things that you learned from your One-to-one programs that perhaps 'moved the dial', you know, make that difference in an ABM approach?

Christa (Capita): Yeah, sure. So I'll talk through, actually, it was one of the main campaigns that we ran this year and we knew that there was quite a big tender coming for one of our key clients. 

But what we didn't have was a great engagement with the person who was the lead on that tender. Funnily enough we had a really good relationship with their manager but we didn't have the relationship with them. 

And it was a tender around learning and development, and we identified that within, it was a client who was in the Telecoms industry. And we identified that, you know, one of the real challenges that this person personally was going to have in delivering his role, in delivering this tender and in really shaping it was around the part of reskilling, around the issue of reskilling. 

So, you know, if you think about the Telecoms industry, they are going through massive transformation both being disrupted digitally but also being expected to lead the, you know the digital transformation, quite a big onus on UK PLC as well as from the private sector. 

So what we did was we put together a program of thought leadership specifically around reskilling and we put him at the center of it, and a couple of other clients for whom it was also relevant 'cause you want some sense of scale sometimes with these things. 

And what we did was we set up a roundtable and it was a physical roundtable, at the time must've been one of the last ones we did and all around the issue of reskilling and we invited him to join us; but we invited other people from across industry so that we could facilitate cross-sector learning because we found that one thing that's really, really valuable and from a Capita perspective and one of the USPs and one of the real tangible offerings that we can take to our customers is our ability to bring together perspectives from different industries and from public sector as well. 

So you get this real diversity of thought and a real sense of cross learnings, to be honest they know what's going on in their industry but we can bring together these learnings. 

So we had somebody from a Utilities organization, from a Banking organization, from Third sector, we had coming along it's hosted by an organization chaired by Management Today, we had our own consulting team specialists there talking as well, we just really explored all the challenges that organizations were facing around reskilling and what they were doing to address some of those challenges. 

So really, really interesting roundtable. 

We made sure that we had arranged for the Account lead to be in attendance. So he could then pick up and they could have a meeting directly afterwards, the Account lead said it was a fantastic meeting because all of a sudden from it being a very tactical arm's length conversation, suddenly it was a much more strategic conversation. 

The customer's much, much more open about his challenges because he'd had this experience of a very, very strategic conversation and seeing the thought leadership that we could offer. 

What we did off the back of that actually was to create a white paper where we sort of explored the results of the white paper we overlaid, sorry, we explored the results of the roundtable. 

We overlaid some really fascinating data that had come out from the World Economic Forum about the sorts of skills that were in decline versus the skills that were in growth. And we also overlaid that with some data from the ONS about the sorts of skills that they were seeing being disrupted in the UK. 

So put together quite a compelling white paper but what we did was make it industry specific and what we did was to call out a lot of this guy's quotes so that he looked like the real 'hero' of the piece that, you know, his perspective was positioned by us as being really at the pinnacle of this issue. 

We sent him a copy of the white paper as well but we sent it to his manager with whom we had the relationship and to several other people that we had relationships within the organization as well. Again, really 'heroing' him as a thought leader and, you know, bringing together a lot of the strands that had been discussed in the roundtable. 

And as a result, he invited us to come in and present to his peers on the challenge of reskilling in the organization. 

And so we delivered that as a webinar, a couple of months after the roundtable, and we delivered it to just over 50 executives directors within the organization with whom we'd have no relationship at all. 

So it was fantastic because we could go in there and from having been sort of seen as quite a tactical niche supplier we were able to go in and actually be presented as thought leaders around this very, very pertinent and challenging topic that they're facing. 

So, you know, I think that's quite a good example of, you know, you bring together different channels you target it very much around the person, their individual challenges, both professionally and personally, and seeing really great results off the back of it, you know, in terms of our profile. But in terms, just in terms of the relationships that you have with the organization as well, so one example.

Declan (strategicabm): Yeah, so there's obviously hyper personalization which is what you would expect really at the One-to-one level, right?

Christa (Capita): Yeah.

Declan (strategicabm): So that kind of leads in nicely to a question around you know, One-to-one versus One-to-few or ABM Lite. 

You mentioned that when we were talking previously to this recording that you were looking to put in place the concept of moving accounts from ABM Lite, from One-to-few ABM through to One-to-one and potentially back again, what do you think you're going to find when you, if you're actually putting that in place now what do you think you'll find with that process

Christa (Capita): Well, I mean, to my mind you've sort of got three very interlinked strategies and taking away the sort of 'ABM at scale', you know, you've got your One-to-one ABM, you have got ABM Lite and you've also got your Deal-based Marketing as well. 

And I think when you're having the conversations with Sales you know, they're immediately going to want the One-to-one 'cause it sounds better and they want the best. 

And, you know, they want all the, everything that comes with, or they think they want everything that comes with having a One-to-one account, but actually really when you delve down into it and when you look at the challenges and what the account can achieve and what, you know what the objectives are within the account, you know, there are some very, very different outcomes. 

So if there is a big tender, that's just, you know we haven't got a relationship. If it's not part of an overarching strategy then you have to sit in a Deal-based Marketing, it's the right strategy for that particular account. 

I think in terms of One-to-one and ABM Lite, you know, there are reasons why you would move them around. 

You know, I think you need to understand, you know what's happening in the account, is the account in ascendancy, is the account in decline, and why is that, and, you know, is that an opportunity for us or is that, you know, actually it's not a good idea to invest a huge amount in this account because actually we think it's going to get taken over, in, you know, it's going to get disrupted in some way and we need to, or do we want to invest because we think it's going to get taken over and we want to make sure that we're in a really good position because that takeover represents an opportunity for us.

You know, we need to consider what the relationships are like, you know, if you have no C-suite engagement at all then going straight into the One-to-one is probably going to be a really hard piece of work. You're probably going in at an ABM Lite and starting to build up that relationship. 

I think you need to understand whether the account is receptive or hostile. You know, if there are lots of service challenges if for whatever reason you're not delivering against the contract, then you know an ABM program can be really tone deaf. 

I think Sales engagement is key, and ensuring that, you know, there's the willingness on the Sales side to go into a One-to-one. 

And if there isn't, then that, again, speaks to more of an ABM Lite whilst you demonstrate the value because a lot of the time, you know with ABM, it's about, you know, this is a, it's not a new strategy, but it's, you know we're still in the early adopters, aren't we? 

So it's a case of, you know, maybe having to really demonstrate the value to the Sales team. So getting them on board. 

I think it's really important to understand what is going on in the funnel. You know, is this an account where, you know there are some, you know, two or three major bids that we really need to work on as part of an overarching strategy, you know where are we expecting to go? What's the funnel looking like? What are the challenges around the funnel? 

You know, if you got, you know, 18 million but it's all sat in qualification or if you got, you know, 18 million but it's all sort of slightly further on because I think that talks to, you know what is the account looking to achieve? And, you know, what are the objectives? And therefore what's the right strategy. 

And that's why you need this flexibility because strategy changes, the accounts change, the needs of the account and what's going on change, bids come in and out, you know, things get qualified in, get qualified out, people within the account change. 

You might suddenly get someone coming in, who's got an amazing relationship with the C-suite and you'd be all saying, well, actually, no, this isn't you know, you need to be able to respond to that. 

So that's what I sort of say, you know you've sort of got this triumvirate of different strategies all of which are similar, but very much not the same. And I think, you know, being able to move around just means that you can invest you know, your people, your resources and your budget most effectively to get the best outcome for what you want for your clients.

Declan (strategicabm): And, you know, obviously from your One-to-one programs what kind of, what is the greatest learning you'll take from your One-to-one through to your ABM Lite

Christa (Capita): I think there's a few things. 

I mean, I think for me it has to be about clarity of outcome. You know, again, one of the things you risk doing, I suppose, when you start an ABM strategy is you start to, you know obviously you go in and you sell it as this, you know, we all sort of we quote the Gartner statistic about seeing a 20% uplift in pipeline and close business, and, you know 'cause we want to get that buy-in but I think you need to be really clear on actually what it is that you are going to deliver and what you need from the Salespeople in order to be able to deliver that. 

And you know, that real clarity around this is a partnership and it's got to work both ways and you've got to have both sides really fully engaged and committed to delivering. 

And I think that comes from Marketing, you know, it's resource heavy. So we need to make sure that we are, you know, that we do have the resources to put behind it otherwise you get, you know, very burnt out people not doing everything they want to. 

And I think from the Sales side, you've got to have that buy-in to seeing Marketing as your partner at the table. 

So, yeah, and I think, you know as I was just sort of saying before, ABM from a One-to-one basis and ABM Lite, they are not the same thing. 

So we've been looking at some proof of concepts around ABM Lite over the past couple of months. And our first proof of concept around ABM Lite, yeah, that's just turned straight into a One-to-one program because we weren't clear about the outcomes and we didn't put in some really strict boundaries over what ABM Lite was. 

It was our first proof of concept. So it's a really great learning - maybe not the right outcome that we wanted, but you know, you've got to learn from these things and it's about failing fast.

You know, you've got to get these things wrong to figure out how to get them right sometimes especially it's different in every organization. 

So, you know, ABM Lite definitely is not a smaller version of One-to-one, a different strategy. And I, you know, I think that's probably the greatest learning that I've had to date.

Declan (strategicabm): I think that's a very really good definition to be honest, Christa that they're not, you know, ABM Lite or One-to-few ABM is not the little brother of One-to-one, right?

Christa (Capita): No, no, not at all.

Declan (strategicabm): And interesting, you touched on there, the whole idea about Sales and Marketing alignment, which is, you know which is an interesting topic I know a lot of people talking about it right now. 

So, you know, in my head, you know, ABM is just marketing without sales. And I know you're a huge believer in building a really strong relationship with Sales you know, even a contractual relationship. 

So can you talk us through the relationship that you have with your Sales teams there and what you'll see is working with Sales?

Christa (Capita): Sure, I mean, you know, I very much see ABM as you know, it's a partnership between Marketing and Sales and when I'm talking to my Salespeople about it, because, you know, we've had to do, as we had to do a learning process from the Marketing side we've had to do an education process from the Sales side. 

And, you know, I think the thing that I always come back to is an ABM program allows us to be as flexible and relevant in our Marketing as you are in your Sales conversations. 

So it becomes two sides of the sales conversations and the Sales teams really seem to, you know they seem to buy into that. I think it's really clear just going back to what I was saying earlier, that you do need to be really, really clear about inputs and outcomes on both sides. 

And so when we have been talking at a strategic level with our Sales community, we've been really clear to say, look, this is what we would, we will deliver. And these are the sorts of outputs that we expect to see. And by the way, you know, we'll take, you know we're willing to have our own pipeline target as part of that, but we can't deliver that unless you deliver X, Y and Z as well. 

And that means, you know, engagement is a partner at the table. It means, you know, having that engagement and input into the account plan it just means being aware of what's going on. 

And I think sometimes where that falls down, that I've seen, and I suppose one of the, again, one of the learnings, you know, forever learning in this job but one of my learnings is really about making sure that you're speaking the same language. 

And that's why, I guess I use the word is a Sales and Marketing contract 'cause that's, you know, Sales get that idea. 

And it's, you know, I suppose that one of the reasons why I use the word contract is the idea that that's a partnership of equals, you know, it's not a covenant, this is a contract and it really, really builds on that idea of the partnership, but it also sets out up front what the expectation is from Sales and it does enable us to say, you know if you aren't able to deliver this for whatever reason and that might be because actually you're not bought into this process or it might be because the account isn't quite right at the moment it's not mature enough, or it might be for 101 different reasons, then actually, you know an ABM program isn't going to work. 

So we should look at another strategy to help you achieve your objectives for the account. And I think when you could have that sort of very, very open and honest conversation that, you know that Sales guys buy into that and it enables us to position ABM very much as a privilege to the account as well, not to the Sales team but to the accounts. 

I mean, to run an ABM program effectively requires a huge input from Sales, a huge input of time resource from Sales, a huge input of time and people and money from in terms of Marketing budget from the Marketing side.

So we want to make sure that that's the right account and that, you know it's the right account that's getting the privilege of that support and that engagement, you know, so I think those are sort of my views in terms of, you know, engaging with Sales.

Declan (strategicabm): And obviously you mentioned there about this kind of idea of that marketing or the ABM team there at Capita, have a revenue target. And you also mentioned previously when we were chatting that obviously you attribute it in Salesforce and you kind of record it, et cetera. 

How has that changed the perception of ABM in the wider organization or even up to the C-suites of Capita? Has that kind of raised the profile of you and your team there?

Christa (Capita): Oh, well I think the first thing I'd say is that, actually it's not just the ABM team the entire Marketing function has a pipeline target and that's something that our Chief Marketing Officer, Antonia Wade, instigated when she came into the business. 

And I would say that it's fundamentally changed the position of Marketing, you know, when you take her pipeline target, you know the first thing that you then have to put in place is a really, really broad set of metrics to demonstrate how you are helping to meet that target. 

Because it's not just about origination that's probably one of the more straightforward, you know, we found this opportunity, that then goes pipeline, fine. But I think a lot of Marketing, especially in the ABM world that's about attribution, that's about influence. 

So finding the different metrics to demonstrate that you are having a tangible impact is really important and I think the level of reporting that we provide into the business gives us the level of authority that we didn't have before that. 

So in a way, taking the pipeline target, which is, you know I know a lot of businesses do it. It is a brave step, but as I said, you know Antonia was very clear that that was essential for her in terms of being able to, you know, to step up and, you know, to have some, you know, be able to talk authoritatively about how we were supporting growth within the business. 

You know, I think that has fundamentally changed the way that we're seeing because there's something tangible that, you know we're both held to.

And it, again, just builds on that sense of partnership but it is Sales and Marketing working together. 

And actually within Capita, you know we are on the same team. We both sit under Growth and we've got a Chief Growth Officer and it's all about working together and you've got to be working towards the same target. 

So if you're going to work together that's just, you know, essential.

Declan (strategicabm): And talking about your ABM strategy there and the various building blocks that make up an ABM program, you know, ICP, Account Selection, Value Proposition, etc., where do you and your team there, where do you spend most of your time, you would say?

Christa (Capita): I think it's got to be research, and that's a really broad term, yeah. But research has to inform everything. 

You have absolutely got to understand your client and their challenges, both the personal and the professional challenges of the individuals that you are dealing with. 

So we do a lot of persona profiling. You've got to understand the different relationships within the organization. You've got to understand how they perceive you. You've got to understand where you've got influence and where you need to build it. You've got to understand, you know what's keeping them awake at night, where they are positioned within industry, you know, the risks and threats. 

So it's all got to be around research. 

You've got to understand that, and that sort of flows into understanding their problem statements and how you might then want to start addressing those because if you don't understand that you cannot begin to hope to be relevant to them. 

You know, a sales guy would not be successful if they went into a conversation not understanding what their client's problems were. 

And we have to have that exact same diligence, that exact same level of understanding and one of the things that's been absolutely great about our ABM program, the way that it's being run at the moment is that, you know there is a core Sales team around each account and Marketing is a part of that core. 

So whenever we're talking about the account whenever there's a strategy meeting about the account, I'm in the room, I'm hearing everything. So you get to hear a lot of the anecdotal evidence as well. 

And then you can also start to see where some of the gaps are or where we might like to explore more. 

And I think that's the point at which you can really start to talk, as I was saying to talk the same language, but also this idea of really being able to join up the dots as to why you are talking about or recommending a specific strategy for engagement. 

So a great example, you know, I think, you know we run a lot of events a lot of the time and we are doing an event for International Women's Day, really looking forward to a great lineup of speakers. It's been brilliantly organized by the team. 

And so one of the things I wanted to do is to invite one of one of our clients to it, somebody who was a 'new into role'. 

And I think sort of maybe previously the conversation would have been, hey, we've got this great event, International Women's Day, can we invite this person? 

And the Sales guy would have been like, no, you know 'cause sometimes the easiest answer is no, because they have got a million other things to do. And do they want to reach out to somebody with a random event invitation? That's not, you know, that's a no, isn't it?

And so normally then it would be, oh, sales don't want to engage, you know and we would have been in the cycle but what I was able to do this time was to, because I have been in a number of conversations was to be able to go and say, look, we're holding this event. I think this would be really relevant for this person because they are 'new into role'. 

We don't have a relationship with her, but by the way their organization has recently, she has been talking about the importance of building more women in this sector. And by the way, their organization has just committed to 50% of their next intake will be, you know they want that to be women. 

So I think this is actually going to be really, really relevant and will help us demonstrate that synergy between our two organizations.

And by the way, we want to follow this up with a 'Diversity in Resourcing' webinar that we're going to be delivering. That's going to be hyper-relevant to them at this time. 

And so I was like, yeah, sounds great. You know, and it's just, and I think with Marketing you know, I'm the first one, I love the glitter, I love the creative, I love the enthusiasm. 

And I think sometimes in our enthusiasm we don't step back and put it into why is this absolutely... 

But ABM forces you to do that. Everything has to be absolutely hyper-relevant 'cause you're dealing with individuals and you're dealing with the 'so what' all the time. 

So I think that's, you know I think that just totally fundamentally changes the way that you can engage. And that's why the research, you know that becomes fundamental.

Declan (strategicabm): Yeah, so I think it's interesting 'cause obviously, you've mentioned several times, you know speaking the same language, joining the same conversation, the importance of the use of insights, that deep level research on the persona at an individual level and also the company level as well is really, really important. 

I think I definitely concur with that, Christa that without that level of insight, you really are, you're going to be struggling to get any, to cut through and to actually engage with that person and the wider account thereafter and the buying committee and et cetera, et cetera.

So just to finish off with the final question, really, what advice would you give anybody who's either, you know thinking about starting their ABM strategy just starting it and looking and thinking, oh, I'm not sure whether this is working quite right for me. 

What kind of advice would you give them, for those people, particularly at the beginning of that journey?

Christa (Capita): So I think the most important advice I would get would be to set the expectation that you're going to fail fast because I think ABM is going to be different in every single organization. 

I mean, if you go to any conference around ABM you will hear some amazing organizations talking about how they're doing ABM and they're, you know it would all be different. 

They'll all have different approaches, different levels of maturity. So I think that there's a case of, you know set the expectation that you're going to do a proof of concept, and it's going to be about failing fast because I think you've got to learn what will and won't work for your organization. 

And the quickest way to do that is unfortunately also the most painful way. 

But I think if you get, you know, if you've got a Sales team a specific account that is just, you know ready and you think you can, you know you've got some opportunity to go in there and really start to test out some strategies and so on, you know, you can find what is going to work for you. 

You can find where your Sales team is at in terms of the, where, how ready they are to engage. 

And also by running a proof of concept, you get your proof points and you can demonstrate the value and then all of a sudden you get exactly the same situation that we've had at Capita where you know, some really nice success has led to this explosion of, you know, we all want it. 

And we've now got the, you know that wonderful problem of okay how are we going to deliver this?

Declan (strategicabm): So you're suffering from your own success, basically.

Christa Norton (Capita): It's a lovely problem to have.

Declan (strategicabm): Yeah well, it's funny 'cause obviously I was talking to Andrea Clatworthy over at Fujitsu. And she was saying the same thing that, where she went wrong at the beginning of her ABM program over at Fujitsu was they started with too many accounts. 

I think she said they have 58 accounts to start with. So her advice was just start small, pick a couple of accounts, do your best with Sales, learn and then you can then grow from that starting point really. 

So I think that's really good advice. Christa, thank you so much for spending some time with us today and learning more about your ABM program there at Capita and wish you every success for the future.

Christa Norton (Capita): Brilliant, thanks Declan, been great to talk to you.

Declan (strategicabm): Thank you, Christa.

Christa Norton (Capita): Cheers.