ABM Playbook

Building a world-class ABM strategy

In this episode of Let's talk ABM, we speak to Danny Nail, Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services at Microsoft, about what makes a truly successful One-to-one ABM strategy.

Date published: Date modified: 2021-12-13 strategicabm 550 60

Danny Nail
Account-based Engagement Lead - Financial Services | Microsoft

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Danny is one of the world’s leading ABM practitioners and thought leaders. His ABM programs at SAP and now Microsoft have won numerous awards and praise. Danny sees One-to-one and One-to-few ABM as true ABM and shares his insight in this Let’s talk ABM podcast interview.

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: 
  • How Demand Gen and ABM can coexist
  • The difference between ‘intent’ and ‘interest’
  • What the hardest part of ABM is
  • Advice on how to succeed at Account-based Marketing
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Building a world-class ABM strategy

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - So today I'm joined by Danny Nail, Account-based Engagement Lead for Financial Services at Microsoft. Danny, thanks so much for joining us today. 
Danny Nail (Microsoft) - Sure, good to be here. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So, let's kick off. So you can't get any bigger than Microsoft, such a well-known company, but where does ABM come into the mix, Danny? 

Danny (Microsoft) - Well, at Microsoft, we focus on, actually in North America we call it Account-based Engagement. We have ABM at a global level. It's more of the One-to-many, and it's more Demand Gen. 

So it's really targeted Account Marketing. It's not ABM. But since they are ABM, we call ourselves Account-based Engagement in our team in North America and we focus on One-to-one, and each Marketer in the team focuses on six individual large accounts and does One-to-one to each of those accounts. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - And so, obviously when we were talking before, to have a little get to know each other session to learn more about yourself and obviously and the campaigns and the programs you're doing there, we were talking about your previous role at SAP. And you were running there a mix of One-to-one I think, and One-to-few. And I think the key thing that you were focused on as you mentioned, actually, is One-to-one exclusively. 

Now, One-to-one for many people, is the purest form of ABM. What do you find, or what do you enjoy most rather, about the One-to-one strategy? 

Danny (Microsoft) - I think the One-to-one strategy is where you get tightly aligned with Sales. And the alignment with Sales and working closely with Sales on what's happening with the account and working together to affect the motion that's happening with each account is what's the most exciting because knowing that you're helping contribute to revenue that closely, is, you just can't beat it. 

And working with Sales is exciting because they're just a whole different group of people that Marketing doesn't normally work that closely with. And that's what's so valuable to me about ABM, is the relationship with Sales. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Yeah, well I think we'll actually touch on that point around Sales a little bit later, but let's just dig into, if we can Danny, a little bit more about the ABM program, if you can share any information? Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of industries you kind of target? What kind of types, what kind of accounts? A little flavor of the ABM program there? 

Danny (Microsoft) - Sure, so, like I said, we, each person on the team covers six accounts. We each cover an industry or a segment, so I cover Financial Services and Insurance. So, that would give you an idea that of my six accounts, I have two banks, large banks that everybody has heard of, two large capital markets companies and two insurance companies. And again, they're the names that everyone has heard of. There would be no surprises in any of the names of the companies that I cover. 

And that's the way my other, my counterparts are too. They all cover six very large accounts. And depending on the motion with the account, some get a little bit more attention at times than others. And then down the road, it may reverse and the others get more attention. It depends on what's happening with each account. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Yeah. And obviously six accounts per ABMer, that kind of shows the value that these accounts can actually bring and actually mean to Microsoft? And obviously, that kind of tells you a little bit more about why ABM is such a key strategic investment for any company. 

Can you elaborate a bit more on what you can achieve with your ABM program in terms of that level of investment in terms of one person, one professional working on such a small number of accounts?

Danny (Microsoft) - I think that the biggest thing that I have seen, because, you know, at SAP, I was on a, I did a One-to-few program, right, where I covered six industries. And in each industry I covered six to seven accounts. So a total of 40 accounts that I covered. I'm still working with the sellers from each of those accounts, still doing versioned targeted stuff for each account, but not at the same level as we're doing at Microsoft in the One-to-one. 

What happens in the One-to-one that didn't happen in the One-to-few is the actual working with the customer. So in a number of instances, the things that I create for the account actually have input from the customer and their Marketing team and their Brand teams. And we work closely with a lot of the people within the account to make sure that what we're going to produce is going to land correctly and that they're going to be happy with it. 

So that's the biggest advantage I see to doing One-to-one, is when you can really get tight in with the account. And that helps with the relationship with the account, as well as the reputation with the account. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - And then going back to your point, Danny, around Sales that then leads nicely to talk a little bit more about how you build that relationship with your Sales colleagues, who are clearly on the front line with those accounts. Right?

Danny (Microsoft) - Right. Right. And I think that the one thing that Sales, in our instance, recognizes is that we're bringing something to the table that is special. It's for them only, It's for their account. It's not just a marketing piece, it's actually something that we're doing specifically for them, for their account. 

And that makes them more excited about working with us and giving us the feedback that we need and collaborating with us. And that collaboration with Sales in a One-to-one, particularly in One-to-one, is huge. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - And so any tips for the listeners in terms of how you actually build that relationship with your Sales colleagues? 

Danny (Microsoft) - Sure. So I would say first, come bearing gifts. So when I go to meet with a new team, I usually have some research that I bring with me or some information that hopefully will all automatically provide value to them. 

Secondly, I would say, understand their cycles. And make sure that, you know, at Microsoft we're on a different type of fiscal year so our fiscal year ends at the end of June and we start a new one, so it's not, this is not the fourth quarter for us, this is Q2, whereas for most companies, this is Q4. 

But at the same time, Sales at the end of each quarter is very busy. So, we tend to not bother them during their busy times. We have to understand the sales cycle, understand the pressures that they're under. And if you do that and they recognize that you're doing that, that goes a long way to helping that relationship with Sales is if you can make them know that you understand their pressures and their timeframes, and therefore you're going to acknowledge those and honor those. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - That's really, really good advice actually. And I think I was talking to another guest recently and they said the same thing is that you need to know when you can bring goods to the table, so to speak, and when you can ask of your Sales team and when you actually need to leave them to actually get on with their role, right? So let's talk... 

Danny (Microsoft) - Right. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - 'Cause one of the kind of key topics that you are passionate about is obviously scaling ABM. And I think that's one of the kinds of focuses that they've actually asked of you on joining Microsoft. So, what do you have planned for your scaling efforts there? 

Danny (Microsoft) - So, I think that what I have done this year is I'm piloting a different way of doing it at Microsoft, at least, which is the programs that I'm building are 12 to 18 month programs, where we're focused on a long-term view of the account. We're focused on long-term view of the messaging for the account, the narrative that we want to bring into the account so that we can bring a consistent and continuous narrative over the next 12 to 18 months.

It's not where we're going to go in and produce an event and be done, or a video and be done. It's going to have a continuous drum beat that goes into the account over a longer period of time. 

The other part of the key of that is as far as scalability, is I am doing that for three accounts at one time, two banks and one cap markets in this first pilot. I can look at what I'm doing for both banks as well as what I'm doing for the capital markets company and see where there are synergies where I can utilize something I'm doing for one bank at the other bank or at the cap markets company. 

And if we can do that kind of synergistic view, we can see where there can be scalability for those assets, with other banks and with other cap markets companies. So, utilizing that, taking that view and building the programs at one time for three accounts enables us to really have a view across all three at the same time and see where there are synergies that we can capitalize on. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Yeah. That sounds... That actually leads nicely. 'Cause that's a lot of the work done around ABM Centers of Excellence is really in that, isn't it? In actually building your repository and then being able to reuse those playbooks again and again, right? 

Danny (Microsoft) - Right. Yeah, and, you know, at SAP, when I was doing the global One-to-few program and had 40 accounts, the same thing was true. Because if I had six accounts in automotive, anything I did for those six accounts would be usable for any other automotive account in the world, most likely. 

So, after a couple of years, I'd built up a library of assets that could be utilized. So I worked with my agency to create a platform, think Amazon for ABM assets, where you could go and actually search and order an asset to be versioned for your account, whether you were a Seller, or a Marketer, or anybody else at SAP, for that matter. 

It was just a way to scale. And that allowed us to have, increase the number of accounts that were getting versioned assets or account specific assets by over 200%. So it really allowed us to get more ROI on our original investment. And it also enabled us to provide stuff to the rest of the company at a very low cost because we had put the upfront investment in but they could get the same piece in a, you know, half the time or more like 1/10th of the time in some instances for about 1/10th of the cost.

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - I'm sure, Danny, an awful lot of people would be interested in it and getting their hands on what you created actually. That sounds pretty amazing. 

So, let's move on now to talk about intent. And I know that we had a really interesting conversation around this before we were talking, Danny, but let's talk about... 'cause you've got a very clear idea about there's a difference between intent and interest. Can you share a little bit more with us on that one? 

Danny (Microsoft) - Sure. So the way I look at it is if you're basing intent on one source, then you really don't have intent yet. Because if you think about it, if you're a company the size of SAP and you have 100,000 employees and your CEO mentions XYZ company, and even if 5% of those employees go search on XYZ, all of a sudden, someone's going to be saying, "Hey, SAP is showing intent on XYZ company, because 5,000 people searched on it." When really those people were just trying to figure out what the CEO was talking about or who he was talking about. 

So they were interested, but they had no intent of anything. But, if you take that and add it to some first-party intent data from your website, and you add it to additional intent data from other intent data providers, maybe you have three or four sources and you put those together and they all are showing that there is intent on XYZ company, then you actually have intent instead of interest. 

Intent from one source is interest. Intent from three or four sources is intent. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Well, I think it's a really, really, super simple way of explaining it. And I think too many, as you're probably aware, too many people are relying on a lot of these intent data platforms and believe in them to be the Nirvana and they don't turn out to be that. 

And also then they're very concerned that their programs aren't delivering the value that they believe they would do. And I think that definition of at least two or three sources to actually define what intent is, I think it should be played out a lot more to many more people, so they can actually take that on board really. 

So, let's just talk about, obviously the accounts that you're handling there. And, you know, there's a lot of talk around building an Account Experience, which is, you know, building a unique experience for one account and then taking that account through that experience. How important is it in your campaigns then with your programs there to really 'get under the skin' of the accounts that you're working on? 

Danny (Microsoft) - It's really important. And that's why I'm piloting the 12 to 18 month program because you can't get under the skin of an account like you're describing it in two quarters. It just doesn't work because these accounts are huge. And, therefore you've got to have a long-term consistent narrative to those accounts that the salespeople are all messaging into the account, that we're messaging into the account, so that they get it from day one all the way through 12 to 18 months down the road. 

That's why the long-term program is important because otherwise you're not going to get under their skin, you're just going to, it's a hit and run almost.

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Yeah, so basically and then the company needs to understand that there's that level of investment in time is there and you can't expect a miracle to happen overnight, in as quick in the first quarter, second quarter, et cetera. You've got to give the ABM program time to play it out, right? 

Danny (Microsoft) - Absolutely. And, you know, in our case, I mean they're 12 to 18 months sales cycles even. So, you know, and they're large deals that are not just going to happen overnight, and they don't happen, you know, somebody just doesn't wake up one morning and say, "Hey, I think I'm going to buy X hundred million dollars worth of Microsoft." It's a long-term process so therefore the program needs to be long too. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - I mean, maybe there are people who wake up in the morning thinking that, but they're probably few and far between. 

Danny (Microsoft) - But then they'd never had a year's worth of research and a year's worth of buying group advocacy to get it all accomplished. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Yeah, that'd be another layer of intent. If you could find out which people wake up in the morning thinking about Microsoft that'd be an extra layer of intent to add on to your intent platform. 

So, let's just... Demand Generation vs. ABM. There's an awful lot of talk out there, you know? What is one, what is the other, are they the same? Can they exist together, et cetera, et cetera. What's your take? 

Danny (Microsoft) - They can absolutely exist together, but they have different purposes. And, in my instance, I fall back on the ITSMA definition of Account-based Marketing, which is, if you're driving in leads, if that's the purpose of your program, that's not Account-based Marketing. If you're not working closely with Sales on each specific account, that's not Account-based Marketing

So those two parts of the definition alone, those are Demand gen, right? Your Demand Generation is all about driving in leads, taking them through a funnel, and then bringing them to the end. But at the end of the day, that's not what ABM is for. 

ABM is for three things. It's helping drive the funnel, but it doesn't mean driving leads because we already know the customers, or we're supposed to, and we already know who our stakeholders are, so we don't need the leads from that. We just need to make sure those stakeholders know who we are. 

And then the other part of it is Reputation and Relationship. You can't do that, you can't build Reputation or a Relationship. Well, you can do your reputation, but you can't do a relationship by doing a lot of online paid media. That's good for driving leads, but it's not going to create any sort of relationship with a customer. That has to be done in an almost One-to-one type arena. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Yeah, I think I'd definitely agree with you there, that particularly going back to the ITSMA and the Revenue, Relationships, and Reputation, and how important the first two are as key indicators of the Revenue that will come down the pipe. But you've got to put that investment in, you've got to build those, those Relationships, you've got to build that Reputation and that will then lead on nicely to the increased pipeline opportunities. 

Question for you. You know, a lot of people talk about ABM as being a journey. Now, with any journey, you can have good moments and bad moments. You can take a wrong turn, you can get a flat tire or whatever, but from your ABM journey, what's been your greatest learning? 

Danny (Microsoft) - I think my greatest learning has been that it's very difficult to get an understanding, company-wide, of ABM, because as you mentioned earlier, there are a lot of different definitions of Account-based Marketing. Executives want different things from Account-based Marketing.

So, if you can't get everyone on the same page as to what the goals are, and what the outcomes should be, and what the metrics are going to be, then you're going to run into trouble. 

And so, one of the things that's hugely important when setting up an ABM program is making sure that the executives from marketing and sales at a minimum, understand what it's going to, what you're going to focus on, what your planned outcomes are going to be and what the KPIs are going to be. 

And make sure they agree to those, because otherwise, you're going to end up with someone saying, "But where are the leads?" And again, it's not to drive leads, but that's the numbers they're always thinking is, "Let's drive leads. We've got to drive more leads. Let's scale this to drive more leads." And that's just not how ABM works. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Yeah. Yeah. 

Danny (Microsoft) - Not really. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Quite true. Very, very true there, Danny. So just two final questions for you. What, in your opinion, do you think is the hardest part of doing ABM? 

Danny (Microsoft) - Well, it's the same as one of the best parts and that's working with Sales. You know, Sales has so many demands on them and getting their time and getting their focus, it can be difficult, but once you've established the relationship and you've shown value, that becomes easier, but it is also sometimes one of the most difficult parts of it. 

And the other one is back to what I was just talking about, making sure that you get the runway that you need and the Executives understand what the outcomes are supposed to be and they agree to them, because if they don't, you're going to run into trouble shortly. Very quickly. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - So...and I think you mentioned earlier at the beginning of conversation, Danny, that obviously a lot of Marketers aren't that used to working with Sales. 

And I remember when I was speaking to a previous guest - I think it was Andrea Clatworthy actually, of Fujitsu. She was saying that, you know, finding ABMers with that kind of commercial background, that kind of commercial nous, is very often invaluable, 'cause it gives them that kind of understanding of a Sales individual much more than a normal Marketer who hasn't had that experience working with Sales and doesn't actually understand what the numbers mean, and what the pressure that salespeople can very often be under. 

So, it's whatever, Friday evening, you're just about to shut your laptop down and enjoy the weekend and the phone rings and it's an old colleague of yours from the old days at SAP and they've moved on elsewhere and they say, "Danny, I've been asked to launch an ABM program. I need some help. Give me some advice." What's that one piece of advice you'd give them on a Friday evening before you ended the day and enjoyed your weekend? 

Danny (Microsoft) - Call me on Monday! This is going to be a long conversation. 

No, I would say the one piece of advice is to, as I'm assuming that they're just a Marketer, right? Let's just say that they really don't have a lot of ABM experience. I would say, get your ITSMA certification and go understand ABM the way that ABM is supposed to be done, and make sure that you have a clear view of what ABM really is, because, you know, I have seen a number of ads out there for jobs where they're talking about ABM, but then the third sentence is all about lead generation and data and you're like, "No, this is not going to be an ABM position." 

So making sure that they understand what ABM is in the very first place. And then also making sure that the people that they're working for understand that. If they can get that going at the very beginning, it will make their lives so much easier. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Great advice Danny, to finish off on. Thank you so much for your time today and for being so generous and I wish you all the best with your ABM program at Microsoft. 

Danny (Microsoft) - Thanks, Declan. It's been great talking to you and I appreciate the opportunity. 

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Thank you.