ABM Playbook

Building trust with ABM

In this episode of Let's talk ABM, we chat to Karen Strugnell, Global Client Relationship Marketing Leader at Accenture, about building trust with ABM.

Date published: Date modified: 2023-08-22 strategicabm 550 60

Karen Strugnell
Global Client Relationship Marketing Leader | Accenture

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img-headshot-Karen Strugnell

Karen is a seasoned B2B Marketing professional with more than 30 years experience working in the technology industry. Her recent experience has included 12 years at IBM, where she was the ABM & Strategic Partnership Leader for Europe. In her current role at Accenture, Karen is part of a team of Marketers working on some of Accenture’s most important accounts delivering client relationship marketing 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 strategicabm brand and sharing our clients’ ABM success stories.

Watch this episode and learn:
  • Why trust is so important in an ABM strategy
  • How ABM can be used to change brand perceptions
  • Why ABM needs a change in mindset
  • What makes a successful ABM strategy
Read the full transcript

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Building trust with ABM

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) – So, today I'm joined by Karen Strugnell, who's the Global Client Relationship Marketing Leader at Accenture. Karen, thanks so much for joining us today.

Karen Strugnell (Accenture) – Thanks! Thank you, Declan, for this opportunity.

Declan (strategicabm) – Well, obviously, Let's talk ABM. We're going to talk about Account-based Marketing for the next, er, half an hour or so, but I'd like to talk about you first, actually, 'cause I was looking at your LinkedIn profile before we met. And obviously, what struck me was the very, very seasoned B2B marketing professional with a long time spent at IBM, the Big Blue.

And also, what struck me was, obviously, that you've been based out of Paris for, I don't know, you'll tell me, but it seems like a number of years, so you are obviously an expat. Probably not going home now back to the United Kingdom. But I'd like to ask you those two questions, really.

But first, let's kick off talking about the time you spent at IBM. Tell us a little bit about the Marketing you did there, and tell us a little bit about the Account-based Marketing that you did there, and then we'll move on to talk about France and Paris.

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Karen (Accenture) – Yes, so I spent a number of years at IBM and had various very interesting roles. A long stint really in Industry Marketing, for our consulting business across EMEA. And so, that was really working with the account partners and account teams on some of our largest financial services clients. And I felt that was really a good segue into Account-based Marketing.

Because in Industry Marketing, a lot of it was about really working directly with the clients. In Industry Marketing, you really have to understand the client context, what's going on in the industry, the trends and so on. So, it was definitely a good way to, a set-up, actually, for moving into Account-based Marketing afterwards.

And then, I did move into an Account-based Marketing role across EMEA, and it was really about setting up that ABM function, starting with account selection. So, really starting from scratch, account selection, prioritization, and working through the resources and activities available, and basically structuring what Account-based Marketing was. And then, that led into working with a global team about defining Account-based Marketing globally. And that was then the program that was rolled out across IBM.

Declan (strategicabm) – And so, just touching on that then, from your time and the timeframe. Obviously, this year, we're celebrating 20 years of ABM. I think Bev Burgess coined the phrase back in 2003 doing work with Accenture. So therefore – and I think also with Unisys – so, with your work with IBM at the time, you were more or less at the beginning of that journey as well, that ABM journey. Is that fair to say?

Karen (Accenture) – It is fair to say, but initially, as I say, I was focusing more on Industry Marketing and we didn't talk about ABM per se, at that time. And it was more of an industry focus, but we lent towards working, specifically, with our largest clients; it felt like a natural thing to do. Especially when you have really large conferences, industry-specific conferences, thought leadership, you want to bring that to the clients. So, we actually started to think in those terms without calling it Account-based Marketing, I would say.

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah. So, let's talk about the connection with France and Paris. The question I had in my mind, I spent a long time, on and off, living in Paris and working there, almost 16, 17 years, so when I saw that you're based there, it brought back nostalgia of my time there, as well. But, from the time you spent there – how many years have you been living there now?

Karen (Accenture) – So, I've been in France for, actually, almost 30 years, coming up to 30 years, so it feels like a very long time. And obviously, longer in France now than I spent in the UK.

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Declan (strategicabm) – Well, I was going to say... Go ahead, go ahead.

Karen (Accenture) – So yeah, I feel equally French and British most of the time.

Declan (strategicabm) – Well, the question I was going to ask you, having worked there, and I've done a lot of Sales and Marketing in France, as well, and had to market to French companies and the like. Do you think that that, kind of, how your mind has changed, perhaps, and your mindset has changed, do you think that has any impact on how you approach Marketing and how you approach communication?

Karen (Accenture) – It probably does. To be honest, it's so much a part of me today that it's difficult to see what it would've been otherwise. What I would say, though, is I think the whole idea of being sort of bilingual and bicultural is a really useful thing when it comes to Marketing, especially in a global organization.

I think there's something about the ability to, really making a conscious effort to understand, to listen and to adapt, essentially, from one culture to another. In an Account-based Marketing world, that is actually one of the key strengths, being able to adapt and understand different client contexts. So, I think it's actually a skill that probably comes from that situation that's really helpful in my work today.

Declan (strategicabm) – Particularly, Account-based Marketing is all about putting the customer at the center of what you do and getting as close as you can to them, and understanding them as much as you can. So, having that ability to understand their culture, their psyche, what makes them tick, et cetera, in a different culture. And obviously, there's so many huge French accounts. Across petrochemical, oil, IT services, et cetera, that's a real benefit.

So, Karen, you moved relatively recently, I think about 12-18 months ago to Accenture, another well-known company. And actually, we mentioned, just at the beginning of this podcast, that Accenture was one of the first companies to actually create and deliver Account-based Marketing programs back in 2003, I think it was. So, tell us a little bit about the role there that you have at Accenture, and a little bit about the ABM programs that you are responsible for.

Karen (Accenture) – So, I actually work in a cross-markets team in Client Relationship Marketing. So, it's a fairly new... Client Relationship Marketing is a fairly new organization, and as the name suggests, there's a really strong focus on relationships, on building and strengthening relationships with our key buyers and stakeholders. This is a B2B services industry, and the relationships that we have with our key clients are a very key component of the business that we do with them.

We make a distinction really – we make a distinction between Client Relationship Marketing and Account-based Marketing. Actually, our CMO, Jill Kramer, talks about this, and says that Account-based Marketing can often be seen as the last mile of personalization, personalizing campaigns to a specific client.

In Client Relationship Marketing, it's really about putting the client first and understanding the client context, and then creating the right – the relevant, I would say, not the right – but really the relevant context, experiences and content for that particular client. So, again, the focus is really on really building and strengthening relationships, the key relationships that we have.

Declan (strategicabm) – I love that, kind of, definition and the split between the two of them, as well. There's something that you said to me when we were talking previously, it's quite long, but I'm going to read it just because it really kind of, I made feverish notes when we were chatting before, and I thought that it was important to share this with the audience. 

But you said something like: "With one account, it might be a VP project, or build up a new relationship, or an engagement plan. Whereas with another account, it might be more mature, and it might be a case of broader-based outreach, more tactical things."

So, when I was reading that back, this is what I kind of love about ABM, the fact that you can really go deep, you can really go personalized with each account, depending on where they are in their journey, their level of maturity, their knowledge of you as a company, their knowledge of Accenture and different services that they are procuring from you. Tell us a little bit, if you can about that.

And also, there's another thing that you said which kind of jumped out at me. You said that you were doing One-to-one, but in a One-to-few model, which I've never heard of before, but I kind of love that. So, tell us a little bit about the different approaches to the way that you engage with accounts, with customers, and this whole thing about One-to-one in a One-to-few model.


Karen (Accenture) – Yeah, so that was just the way that I think about this because, for me, One-to-one is really about a highly customized approach with each of the accounts, right? And obviously, there's a lot of resources and implications around that. At One-to-few, you're serving multiple accounts, but for me, really, what we are doing is having that highly customized approach on multiple accounts. And so, that's what I mean by One-to-one in a One-to-few model.

And again, coming back to the different types of work, I think that's what makes it really varied and really interesting. And for each of the accounts, there'll be a specific context, of course: the client itself, the industry that they're in, their current challenges and ambitions, and where we are also with that account. So, that creates a specific context.

So again, there are a number of things, multitude of things that we can do with each of those accounts. It may be that there has been a change in the C-suite for one of the key stakeholders and that we really need to build that relationship up from scratch, that may be one scenario. And if that's the case, then we will really work hand-in-hand with the Account team and the Sales leaders around what it means to build up that relationship.

We talked about trust earlier; these things take time. But, we would lean into things like our value proposition and articulating the partnership that we have with our client, and just bringing that partnership narrative to life. You know, that's one aspect. You may have other accounts where you want to go really broad and it's much more about creating awareness or education on certain types of solutions. And there, more of a broad-based digital marketing-type campaign would be relevant.

And then another instance, you know, there may be a really big deal that's in the works, and the relationships that we have with the key stakeholders who are involved in that, that we would want to work on the relationships from that perspective. And you know, at Accenture we would hand those off to our pursuit services, who will then go and work on deal-specific marketing.

And that's something that we would, sort of, join forces and connect with to ensure that we are being relevant. But then, you can actually also have all three of those things going on at one account at any one time. Again, that's what makes it really varied, but it's having that, sort of, starting from that deep understanding and context, to define your strategy for the account.

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah. And I think, linked to that is another thing that you said when we were chatting previously, you said – and I think this was from your time at IBM – I think you said: "I enjoyed working directly with the customer and doing speaker engagements, videos, case studies" – and just what you said then as well – "really bringing the partnership to life."

So, do you think that's what makes ABM – Account-based Marketing – and I think we need to remove the 'M' somewhat 'cause I think that's a little bit, kind of, misleading, the 'M' of Account-based Marketing. But do you think that's what makes this, kind of, Account-based approach so special, that really close relationship that you have to build with a customer that is not as common in other marketing disciplines?

Karen (Accenture) – Yeah, I definitely do. And I think it, I mean for me it's what makes it so interesting. 'Cause the moments that, you know, when I look back and I remember taking the CEO of a French bank to a conference in Las Vegas and he was speaking in front of 11,000 people and just being with him at that moment – things like that are just absolute highlights and things that you kind of remember forever.

But it's just having that connection with a client, definitely for me, that makes it a lot more interesting and unique. And it can take various different formats. It's working directly with a client to scope out the way the workshop will go. It could be working on a joint press release, or a case study, as you say, creating a video. 

But I think these are times where, yeah, marketing – the boundary between marketing and business – is slightly blurred, I would say. And it's almost, sort of, business development. Sometimes I do question to what extent, you know, what I do is purely marketing. But again, for me that's what really what makes it interesting.

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Declan (strategicabm) – Well, it's funny you say that 'cause that's kind of a recurring theme from a lot of, kind of, Let's talk ABM guests that some of them do say they feel more Sales than Marketing sometimes. And that example of, going with the CEO of a French company, going to an event, that is, kind of, more of a Sales-type role than it is actually a Marketing role, really.

But I think you're right. I think this blurred, that line blur, which I think is a very good thing, to be quite frank. Otherwise, just Marketing / Sales – we're from Mars and these guys are from Venus – or whichever planet you want to choose!

But, there's another thing you said to me, I seem to be, kind of, picking up on all these different things that you said to me when we chatted previously, but another thing you said to me, which really jumped out to me, we talked about conflict. And you talked about a conflict between tactics and strategy. And obviously some people get mixed up what a tactic is and what a strategy is. So, we might need to define that at some point, as well. But what do you mean by a conflict existing between tactics and strategy?

Karen (Accenture) – Maybe conflict isn't actually the right word, but I would certainly say that, I think there's a tendency for Marketing to jump into tactics. And it's almost because, you know, it's a safe place to go, or it can feel that way. It's something that we know how to do. Events, connecting accounts into events, thought leadership, different types of marketing activities. And not starting with defining what the strategy is and working with the leadership team on what those strategic priorities are.

There's a tendency to do that because – to be seen to be doing things is one, and, sort of, quick wins. But I've seen, when you do that without having done the sort of strategy work in the first place, that it's almost impossible to be or to remain relevant in that case. Because, ultimately, if you don't have that deep understanding and alignment around strategic priorities, then the activities that you are proposing can't really resonate and be really relevant to the client.

And I think, also, you run the risk of, when not having that strategic seat at the table with the Sales leadership as well, when you do that and Marketing continue to be considered as this support function that we can call upon when we need some type of marketing activity. Whereas, when you start with a strategy, the conversation is different, and you do have that place at the table. And you define, jointly, what the strategic priorities are. And actually, then the marketing plan and the tactics flow quite naturally from that.

Now, I'm not saying it's not a huge amount of work in itself – because it is, working through what they are, what the relevant tactics are, how you actually personalize them and customize them for a given account; that's a lot of work. It becomes so much easier when you are really clear on the strategic priorities and you have that alignment with the Sales leadership team.

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah. And I think, added to that, probably, I'm going to sneak a question in here, which is that thing you mentioned several times, is time. And no-one seems to have any time. So, how do you make sure that you're given that time? To actually do that strategy work, to do the hard work that then, that background desktop work almost. How'd you get that time?

Karen (Accenture) – It is a really good point and I think, linked to questions around, the hardest part of ABM and what it is, is that: It's about the time that is required to do it. Now, I'm not saying that you should not do any tactics in the meantime, because there will be immediate things that you just think: "Okay, we will, of course, get the client involved in this particular activity, event that's happening – we should share that, we should do things immediately." But not without doing the strategic work!

So, I think there's almost a way to manage that, is to start from that strategic place where you can bring in some immediate and relevant tactics. Start to do that, but maybe, sort of keep them going in parallel, almost. But, it's a lot about changing the mindset. We talk a lot about this changing the mindset in Marketing, when you do move to an Account-based Marketing approach, which is, it's not really about quick wins; it's actually really a longer-term initiative. And it should be; you need to allow that time, if you really want to see results, you need to factor that into your Account-based Marketing strategy.

Declan (strategicabm) – I'll make sure, I'll try to see whether that fits on a T-shirt! 'Cause I think more people need to hear that, really, because it's a message that we're trying to get out to the market a lot about the fact that ABM takes time.

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Karen (Accenture) – Yeah.

Declan (strategicabm) – And I think you're right. At the Agency we have a program which we call Kickstart Accelerator, which is exactly what you were saying then, is you can put into market with the accounts, certain programs, which can do some testing while you are busy working on the strategy in the background. But it's a case of, there's a lot of education as you said, and there's a lot of setting expectation, I think is really important, as well. So, if everybody's agreeing that this is what's going to happen, it's going to happen on this date in the future, whatever it is, and everyone says: "Okay, I get it, that's fine." And I think, as Marketers, we've got to be great communicators, as ABM-ers, rather, we've got to be great communicators.

Karen (Accenture) – Yeah.

Declan (strategicabm) – To communicate to those audiences that need to hear what's going to happen and when. You mentioned about perceptions and changing perceptions. Obviously, there are many use cases for ABM, you know, client growth, retention, new business opportunities, et cetera. And one of them, obviously, is changing mindset, changing perceptions within an account. And I think you gave a case, an example, earlier when we were speaking about, it may be the case that an Accenture customer might be buying tech solutions from you, but you'd like them to know more about your full capability, you'd like them to know about your consulting or your customer experience solutions, et cetera. Could you possibly share a little bit about how you do that, kind of, perception shift in an existing customer that is a big buyer of X, but you'd like them to know a little bit more about Y and Z?

Karen (Accenture) – Yeah, and I think that it's a very common challenge that companies have. But, ultimately, the experience that the client has of you is very personal and directly linked to what they've been in contact with. And so, if you have projects running on certain topics, then that will really shape the way that they see you, and the things that you are really known well for.

And so, there is that challenge of how do you break out of that, how do you broaden it out and basically change perceptions? I think there are a number of things that work in that context. One is, something that we do at Accenture, which is around, sort of bringing the partnership to life, telling the story of the full value, the 360-degree value – that's actually something that we talk a lot about – is articulating the value that we bring to these really large clients across six dimensions, multiple dimensions.

Not only financial, which is often the first source of value, but also around customer experience, also around sustainability, inclusion and various other factors. And when you start to tell a story, which is based on the value that you bring to the client, that's one way of showing that it's not just about a specific solution, but actually it's a broader set of capabilities that are behind it.

I think the other thing is, when you want to bring in different ideas, leaning into things like thought leadership, and especially when there's an industry lens. So, you are tackling industry topics with this thought leadership. You're not looking at it from a solutions or a products perspective, but actually, you are talking the language of the client and their industry, and solutions for that which will span multiple different, sort of, product lines or solution lines for you.

So, using that, and then on a practical level, taking that into the account through workshops and bringing in the relevant SMEs who are renowned in their fields on these different topics. These are ways that you can really, sort of, broaden your reach within the accounts. I think those are sort of the good starting points.

Declan (strategicabm) – I think there's some great points there, Karen. And I think leading to that, actually, is – or linked, rather to that – is this whole issue around trust. And I think this is something very close to your heart and I know it's something very close to our heart at the Agency, as well, we're a great believer in the fact that ABM, a key element within an ABM program is how you build trust with those accounts. So, tell us a little bit, I think you mentioned CR Marketing is the name, or CR Relationship Marketing.

Karen (Accenture) – Client Relationship Marketing.

Declan (strategicabm) – Is the name at Accenture. And tell us, obviously, you can't fast-forward a relationship, you can't accelerate a relationship, you can't build trust in an accelerated fashion, even with Chat GPT or whatever else has come out in the last few weeks or whatever. These things take time. Tell us a little bit more about your thinking around trust and how it manifests itself within an ABM program.

Karen (Accenture) – Yeah, so I think trust, it's the basis of any relationship, personal or professional. And you can't build a marketing plan to create trust! It's something that happens – and it happens because you have, you know, sort of certain behaviors, because you have shared values. Things like consistency, reliability, being coherent and there are, sort of, sets of behaviors that help to establish trust.

In fact, there's an interesting notion of the trust equation, which says, basically, that credibility, reliability, and intimacy over self-orientation are basically what builds trustworthiness. And so, if you think about credibility – it's a lot about what you say. Reliability is about what you do, the way that you show up, and so, in services projects, a lot of that is about the way that you deliver them, as well. And intimacy is really being able to get, sort of a, having direct and difficult conversations with a client. And then over self-orientation, which is really about caring more or less about the client or yourself; the way that that balance goes.

And I hear that Account teams talk about this notion. I think from Marketing, it's really important that we also think in those terms. When it comes to being transparent, for example, some of it can be the tone of the conversation or the tone that you have when you're writing reports, or you're writing email copy, or whatever it is that you're creating.

Tone can be one thing. It's also about having a, sort of, collaborative approach with the client and being open and honest when there are issues, potentially. And it's helping the, sort of, Sales and leadership team in communications to get that right, sort of, balance of tone. 

And then also, again, the transparency. I talked about this notion of, sort of, value and value reports and that's something that we work on where we share the value that we bring, but again, it has to be authentic and it has to be something that the client recognizes. So, there is a level of transparency, as well, when we're doing that. I think those are elements that help over time – and it takes time – to build trust and it's really key to developing and strengthening those business relationships.

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, and I think linked to that, as well, what we see with a lot of companies that we talk to, we run this workshop called ABM Lunch and Learn, and I think we've done about 300 of these workshops. And so, we've got a lot of data that we've spoken to people, and I think, very often, we see where some companies in the B2B space go wrong is they try to rush, the classic, kind of, get a Sales meeting, book a Sales meeting, book a demo... all this kind of work, when the customer or the prospect isn't really ready for that yet; they need to build that trust with you first before they want to start.

So, I think it's almost like, you've got to think about activities, going back to Marketing and ABM, activities that build that trust upfront. And then the customer, or the potential customer, will then make a decision when they're ready to engage you more, to learn more, to join that executive meeting, or whatever.

But I think it's a lot of hard work, really, I think, and there's no denying it's hard work and there's a lot of leg work and a lot of, it's a very human thing as well, which I'm delighted with. 'Cause obviously, with all the personalization and all the technology that's involved these days – it is a very human thing, it's a very personal thing to build that trust. 

So Karen, let's just finish off with some very rapid-fire questions and some really kind of quick answers from you. Tell me, obviously you've been involved in Account-based Marketing now for quite some time. What would you say is that one thing that you've taken from this ABM journey, this one learning that you've taken from this ABM journey?

Karen (Accenture) – I think it's really about trying things out. I've had loads of ideas about, convictions about things that would really work and that we absolutely should try this on a particular account, and with varying degrees of success. And I think the main learning I get from that is, actually: try. It's this 'fail fast' kind of mentality, which is try things out and if it doesn't work, then you adapt, you change. But, you know, test your ideas out, sort of, to carry them through. I think that's one of the main learnings that I have.

Declan (strategicabm) – No, I think that many, many guests say the same thing, as well – that you shouldn't be afraid of failing. And I remember Akriti Gupta, who was at Google Cloud when I interviewed her, I think she's moved to LinkedIn now, she was saying that Google have this famous mantra about, 'fail fast, learn fast' kind of mantra in the organization. Couple more questions to finish off with. What is the hard – I think you talked about this earlier, actually – but what do you think is the hardest part of ABM?

Karen (Accenture) – I think it comes back to the time that is required to do it. And getting people on board with the idea that it is going to take time and it's not necessarily a quick win. It is also the change in mindset, and that's relevant for the Sales and Account leadership teams. It's relevant for Marketing, as well. And it's shifting really, from, again, this sort of a focus on tactics and ensuring that Marketing then moves up to a more strategic position, and working with the Sales leadership. So, I think those are the two things I would say.

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, I think two very, very valid points. This is a question I like to ask people: What do you think the greatest misconception is about ABM?

Karen (Accenture) – I would actually go back to, the quote I mentioned earlier from our CMO, Jill Kramer. Which is, this idea of ABM being the, kind of, last mile, and that, basically, you know, you have marketing campaigns and you basically plug them into certain accounts and you are doing Account-based Marketing.

And whereas, really it's about putting the client at the starting point, at the center, getting a deep understanding of the context, and the priorities there, and working back from there. I think that would be the main one.

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Declan (strategicabm) – So Karen, very, very last question now: Imagine, it's been a tough week, it's Friday evening, you're dying for a glass, obviously, you're based in Paris, you're dying for glass of Sancerre or Borgogno, or whatever your favorite tipple is there. And you get a call from an old friend of yours, or maybe, perhaps, from your ABM days and they say, "Hey, I'm at a new company and I'm presenting an ABM strategy on Monday morning." What's that one piece of advice you say to them, "Hey, don't forget to... ?"

Karen (Accenture) – Align on your strategic priorities with the leadership team. Agree on what those are and, ultimately, what success will be for you.

Declan (strategicabm) – So, kind of, define success with the team there. Make sure everyone agrees what success looks like, so therefore there's no ambiguity.

Karen (Accenture) – Exactly. And, you know, explaining obviously what Account-based Marketing is, and again, coming back to this time in ensuring that people understand that they're in it for the long term as well.

Declan (strategicabm) – That's a good one. We'll make sure that we'll put that on the T-shirt as well, that you're in it for the long term.

Karen, thank you so much for sharing your ABM journey with us today. All the best to you and your team there at Accenture for the future. Thank you. 

Karen (Accenture) – Thank you, Declan.