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Creating WOW moments with ABM

In this episode of Let's talk ABM, we speak with Andrew Watkins, Top Account Field Marketing Lead at IBM, about how to create 'WOW' moments with ABM.

Date published: Date modified: 2023-10-18 strategicabm 550 60

Andrew Watkins
Top Account Field Marketing Lead | IBM

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Andrew’s experience marries Marketing and the Creative Arts. His 13+ years at IBM have seen him work in Sales Enablement, Brand, Advertising, and now Account-based Marketing. It is this diverse background and experience that Andrew is able to apply to his ABM thinking and successful 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:

  • How IBM has pioneered the use of AI
  • Why ‘WOW’ moments are so important
  • How diversity breeds ABM success
  • Why a ‘fail fast, learn fast’ mentality empowers ABM
Read the full transcript

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Creating WOW moments with ABM

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) – So, today I'm joined by Andrew Watkins, who's the Top Account Field Marketing Lead at IBM. Andrew, thanks so much for joining us today. 

Andrew Watkins (IBM) – Pleasure, thank you, Declan.

Declan (strategicabm) – Well listen, you know, I've been trying to get this Let's talk ABM interview recorded with you, have a chat with you for a long time now, so I'm delighted that you could find some time. 

One thing that struck me actually, in your job title, was that you had obviously Top Account Field Marketing. So, tell us a little bit more about the thinking there at IBM around field marketing top accounts. 

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Andrew (IBM) – Yeah, so Top Account Field Marketing at IBM, that's the name we've given to the program. Effectively, we're taking ABM methodologies, and we're still using them within the program, obviously. Top Account Field Marketing just allows us to have a bit more control over what the actual program looks like and how we're actually using those methodologies.

Declan (strategicabm) – So, when you say using the methodologies on those top accounts, can you expand a little bit more on that?

Andrew (IBM) – Yeah, sure, so when we look at the program – it's a global program – from the UK perspective it's a One-to-one model. Personally, I've got a number of accounts, there's four of us in the UK that look after them, and we've got a series of top accounts we look after. In terms of using those ABM methodologies, we're all ITSMA trained, so it's across how we adhere to The Three Rs, and how we build those flight plans in coordination with the Sales teams that we're with.

Declan (strategicabm) – Okay, we'll dig into that a little bit more a little bit later. But we were chatting obviously in preparation for this call and one thing that you said to me, was you said: Nobody does ABM the same way. And that was kind of a common thread in our chat that we had before this recording. So, what do you mean by nobody does ABM the same way?

Andrew (IBM) – So I think it's interesting and, as I said, we've all gone through the same training. But what makes ABM interesting is that you bring in your previous experience you've had. So, I come from quite a creative background so, where I can, I've tried bringing in, creating videos or creating photos, content, et cetera for my accounts.

And of course people will do that their own way, but the fact that you bring in your own experiences, and I've got colleagues who're very much involved in Marketing insights previously, so they've got all that sort of connection they use. The fact that you can bring to the fore what you are interested in, what you're good at and actually build and learn from others, I think makes it really interesting, and that's how I think you can really build it and make it your own.

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, I feel that's a very, very fair point and obviously my original background before moving to Marketing was Sales, which I find incredibly beneficial for doing ABM. And I think as you mentioned, if you've got that kind of artistic background, video background, which is a huge part of engaging with accounts, engaging with individuals within those accounts, that's great to have. And all the other skills that you've mentioned as well from your team there.

So, let's talk a little bit about the program that you're running there, specifically I think with regards to UK and Ireland, I think it is. But, can you paint us a picture of the ABM program you're running there? You know, is it One-to-one, is it One-to-few, is it One-to-many? And perhaps something a little bit about the program that might be interesting for the viewers and listeners.

Andrew (IBM) – Yeah, sure. So, as I said, it's a global program from a global perspective. It covers a few hundred accounts, a mix of practitioners like myself that sit in market. So when we talk about UKI, as I said, there's three other people like me who cover our top accounts in the UK. And when we look at what that looks like, we've got a series of tools that we have a global program office, that help us, help us really decide what goes into our flight plan and of course how we have those interactions with our different accounts.

And in terms of how it's different to others; I span two industries, which for me... bit of a challenge, I guess! Because it means I need to stay on top of both separate industries. But it just means I can increase my expertise and sort of increase my industry knowledge. 

Declan (strategicabm) – And in terms of, you mentioned of two industries, what would you say the challenge is when you're looking at two different industries? Is it because of they're so different, or is it because that the program you are running into each one is different, or what would you say is different?

Andrew (IBM) – So I think it's interesting, when you look at doing the ITSMA program – as I said, as we've all done – they say when you span the industries, you need to try and find alignments within those industries. There are of course alignments, but when you then start to work deeper with your individual accounts, of course they all want separate things.

So when I look at 5G, of course, that affects most accounts – especially the public sector and telco accounts I'm responsible for. But, when you really start to delve deeper with your accounts, and of course there's lots of individual salespeople within each account, as I said, they all want different things. So you need to delve deeper and really understand, what the client need is. And really then look at how you can actually work within that level of industry. And in terms of, why is that a challenge?

I think you can work with one account and you can do so much good. When you've got a number of accounts, like I have, like a lot of my colleagues have, it's a challenge to try and stay on top of it. You never have enough time, you never have enough budget. But then, that's the joy of ABM, right? You always have to look at your plans and make sure you adjust and you pivot accordingly.

Declan (strategicabm) – Just interesting about the language you had there in terms of the people you were referring to. Are you referring more to the salespeople at IBM that you are helping to support? Are you referring more to the actual customers themselves?

Andrew (IBM) – Yeah, so a bit of both, I guess. So I work with my sales team closely, and we build our flight plan at the start of each year. But then you look at that as you go through, and I think for me that's the joy of working in ABM, is that you do have that interaction with the clients as well. So I've been brought along to many meetings, and when you're running events, et cetera, you work hand-in-glove with clients as well, which I think is just a fascinating part of Marketing that I've previously not been involved in.

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, I think that's one of the things that separates ABM, wouldn't you agree Andrew? That, the fact that as marketers you're now hand-in-hand with your Sales colleagues, talking to customers, meeting customers, selling to customers for want of... wouldn't you agree?

Andrew (IBM) – Absolutely, without that interaction with the Sales team, there is no Account-based Marketing program. It's not Marketing delivered for Sales, it's hand-in-glove together, as I said; working to build out what your Marketing plan looks like across the end. 

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Declan (strategicabm) – So talking a little bit about that, is there anything you know – 'cause obviously, you mentioned ITSMA, and obviously they have The Three Rs methodology, which many, many companies use, and we use at the Agency, et cetera – but can we dig a little bit into measurement? How do you go about measuring success there of your ABM efforts? And is there anything you can break down to tell us a little bit about how you go about it?

Andrew (IBM) – Yeah, so we – I guess like most companies – have an overall growth target per account. And we are overall measured against that, right? But when you break down The Three Rs, as mentioned, I'm a firm believer that if you look after the relationships and the reputation, the revenue will come.

So, what that looks like from an IBM perspective constantly evolves. So, when we look at the program – and that's the joy of working with the global team – is that we can learn from each other, and we do share best practices on a weekly basis; from an industry perspective, country perspective, EMEA, global, et cetera. So there's lots of opportunities to be able to learn from each other. And that's where, as I said, the program is really just growing constantly.

Declan (strategicabm) – And any successes you can share? Anything you can tell us or paint a picture of any successes you've seen, from the work that you do there?

Andrew (IBM) – Yeah, so from my account perspective, and I was going to talk about this one a bit later, but I'll discuss it now! So there's one program in particular that I'm really proud of. So, it's called Lift – Lift As We Climb. So, that's a program that I started to work on, with my large telco account. And it's effectively a women-in-technology play, in the sense that we work with the client, and there's a third party as well that works on that. And we've got our third iteration coming up on Tuesday; we're hoping to run the fourth one next year as well. And it's about a hundred women, all different industries, all different levels come together and just talk about the blockers that they've seen in their careers, and how they can overcome them, and how to help grow as a woman in technology.

Now, from a male perspective it's fascinating to see, I consider myself an ally, but to be able to stand there and just see how awesome some of these women are is just brilliant. I've got two young daughters, so anything I can help to do to make the world a fairer place for them as they progress into work is just brilliant.

Declan (strategicabm) – Now that's a fantastic example. And you've got the event happening is it next week, or... ?

Andrew (IBM) – Tomorrow.

Declan (strategicabm) – Oh! Tomorrow! Okay, cool! Good, well thank you for recording this today – I'm sure you're pretty busy with that, but thank you! Well, good luck with that – it sounds like a really fascinating and worthwhile initiative.

As I said, we were chatting before to prepare for this and to get to know each other a little bit, and one thing that you said to me kind of stood out. You said that at IBM there's a real culture of always learning and in a kind of almost like a fail-fast mentality, that you're allowed somewhat to fail. And that you can try things that perhaps you've never tried before. And you have the feeling there that you're given the freedom to do that. And I know from speaking to other guests and other ABMers and ABM practitioners that that's such an important part of ABM. But why would you think it is perhaps more important with ABM to be able to try things and to fail, perhaps, and then to learn from that failure?

Andrew (IBM) – So, as I said – I completely agree, it's the freedom that you get with Account-based Marketing that I've not experienced in my previous 13 years in different Marketing roles. The ability to be able to work with your account team and say: OK, well we've got these events coming up, we know we're going to be doing that, but actually how do we reach these individuals? How do we really form or build or bond that relationship, and help nurture with these individuals? That will mean that when you go and have that conversation it's a much stronger or much easier conversation to have.

So, when I look across the board, we've had many examples of how we've done that. As I said, the Lift event is one such example, is that we've now created those relationships – we can go and talk about and have that business relationship because we've created it outside of the business environment. A very wise colleague once told me: Make your friends when you don't need them. So it's being able to form those relationships, and really help to nurture as you grow the program.

Declan (strategicabm) – That's fantastic. Great insight there. This might be related to what you just said, but I think one of the things that also struck me in our previous conversation was you talked about 'Wow!' moments, and I made a note of that. And you said that you are always there at IBM, always looking to raise the bar and to do things differently at IBM. And one thing you said to me, you talked about these, you know, you look back on the year when you were kind of doing the kind of highlights, and you're always looking for those 'Wow!' moments that you and your team created. And I think you've talked me through a couple of examples back then, but could you share one with the audience about a 'Wow!' moment that you and your team have done?

Andrew (IBM) – Yeah, absolutely. So, we had... we're going back, October 2022 now... we had a large telco event we wanted to turn up at. We’d had a booth space and everything else. Quantum is a big play for IBM. So, we wanted to bring a quantum experience to the client. When we looked at the ways we could do that, bringing a physical model was very expensive and not worth the cost. So actually – and again that, one of the joys of working for a viable company – started to look at how we could make a, the similar experience where you can bring clients into, and look at a quantum model in an IBM office, but do it virtually. 

So working in the metaverse, we have a team based in China, – so some slight language issues there, but we managed to overcome them – and we built a whole quantum-in-the-metaverse experience that then we were able to use at this event. It's also now been used at Mobile World Congress, it's been used at various different events across Europe and actually across the globe. And being able to actually take that physical experience: put this pair of goggles on and you'll see the whole thing you would if you were in our office – it's just fantastic to be able to do.

It's used at one-on-one meetings with clients, it's used at various different events set across the year now. The fact that I was able to build that for my client, but it can then be reused, and see that actually the onward growth of that is truly a 'Wow!' moment, right? And it wasn't cheap to build, but actually the return investment on that is just truly fantastic. And importantly, it's enabled my Sales team to have those conversations with the telco client, and actually introduce how we're going to work with them further on that. 

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, and I think obviously, trying to make the kind of the intangible tangible is really important, right? And I think producing something like that, where people can experience something which people talk about and they're not always quite sure what's the actual application of it and obviously IBM, obviously, have clearly shown the application! 

Linked to that talk about ABM technology, obviously, you know the last six months, people have been... probably less, actually... this obsession with artificial intelligence, ChatGPT, everyone's kind of like, every time you go onto LinkedIn, people are talking about different plugins, different uses, et cetera. But obviously, you know, IBM have been at the forefront of AI for decades, probably, I think it's fair to say. What do you see there at IBM but also from your ABM and your Marketing work? What do you see in there about how AI can be impacting the work you do? The way that us marketers work? And ABM in general?

Andrew (IBM) – So, as you say, it's a very topical, it's a very interesting area. As a company we're constantly looking at how we can leverage AI to improve efficiencies and productivities. In ABM, there are I think many opportunities where you could leverage AI and that's the point of AI – that you could do so much with it; it's just thinking about how you can do it and when you can do it. So, for example, in Account-based Marketing, we can use it to help automate some of the client insight work that we're looking at. And here, for the content personalization – how can you make that a better experience for the client? And all of the different ways we're looking at is all to try and bring that more meaningful Marketing experience for the client.

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, and you yourself there with your program, have you got a couple of favorite things that you're doing that you think has really, has actually really helped you with AI?

Andrew (IBM) – Um, it's a good question! Certainly, from an IBM perspective, 'watsonx' as you say, is a fairly new announcement. Whilst we've been doing it for a long time, at the moment it's enabling the account teams to go and have those conversations with the client. And we're doing that through a number of ways: We've got our – what's the next? Sorry – we've got our 'Think' summit coming up, 10th of October, where that will be a key feature. 

But there's also – what's the next session happening? – soon after, where we'll bring clients in, and looking at the many different ways and means you can do that. And I think the interesting thing of it is not just how they in their industry can use it, it's actually looking across the board and saying, Right! Well this is how other clients in other industries are using it, and how can you perhaps pick nuggets from that that you can then think about how you can introduce into your industry?

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, so if people want to know a little bit more, they need to Google 'watsonx', is that right?

Andrew (IBM) – Yeah, yeah.

Declan (strategicabm) – Gotcha, well I'll be doing that right after this! So, let's talk a little bit, you actually mentioned at the beginning, actually, of the recording Andrew, about previous experience. So the fact that you came from a kind of artistic background and video background et cetera. And now obviously you're involved in Marketing, and involved in ABM. And you mentioned there that the whole team is also quite varied there, at IBM in terms of their experience, not necessarily classic Marketing experience. So, tell me a little bit about that. And also I think something you mentioned before was the idea about how people can mix somewhat and move around, and share their experiences. Tell us a little bit about that. 

Andrew (IBM) – Yeah, so one of my UK colleagues I think terms it very well, and he says: "We are the conductors." So we don't necessarily deliver that true marketing experience, but it's the conducting, how'd you pick up all the parts and how'd you make it work for your flight plan, for your account? I think from my account perspective, it's certainly interesting in that you look at, as I said, the needs of the client, and it really is a team sport, and that you need to work hand-in-glove as we've already said with the Sales team, to try and define what that looks like. But importantly, check back and review it on a constant basis.

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, and let's just move on to some kind of rapid-fire questions just to finish off with. Obviously you've been involved in ABM now for some time. What would you say from your experience of doing Account-based Marketing, what would you say has been your greatest learning?


Andrew (IBM) – My greatest learning is that it really does need to be a team sport. I'm fortunate now with my accounts that they are all wanting me! They're wanting the Marketing side of things to be involved in the account. I've had experiences before where actually, it just hasn't worked for whatever reason. And that's where I talk about the fail-fast as well, from earlier; it's OK if not every account needs Marketing. Because actually there are so many accounts out there that it's important to know, if it doesn't work, move on – move on to another account that does need it and where it will work.

Declan (strategicabm) – Now, very sage learning, that is. And the hardest part – what would you say is the thing that you find the hardest about Account-based Marketing strategies?

Andrew (IBM) – So, I think the hardest part is certainly taking the time to understand what is really needed. So, when you move on to a new account, you have to build up the relationships quite quickly, but be able to get to that trusted level of expertise, in that they always come to you as a first port of call.

We've all been in situations before where Sales teams try and go off and do their own thing, and perhaps you could have made it land a lot better where you actually get involved with that. So, the hardest part is certainly taking the time to learn the industry. As I said, when you've got a couple that's always a bit more challenging. But to actually figure out where you can have the most impact and where you should be spending the time and resources.

Declan (strategicabm) – Excellent, now there's just two rapid-fire questions just to finish off with. So you know, the thing about anything that becomes popular or, kind of, like the latest trend or fad, Account-based Marketing obviously, you know, got a lot of news over the last few years. And that obviously has driven a lot of misconceptions and myths about ABM. But what would you say in your opinion is the greatest misconception about ABM?

Andrew (IBM) – I think the greatest misconception is that it is one thing. It's back to what we said at the start: Account-based Marketing can be very many different things, depending on how you treat it with your account. And in fact, when I was speaking to our worldwide colleagues the other day, they shared a story: part of the reason why we've called it Top Account Field Marketing is that she was told, Oh! I've noticed that such-and-such is doing Account-based Marketing and so are they. And actually, it's not Account-based Marketing as such; it's just washed it with that name to mean that it will land better. But actually that's not always the case. So, you do have to really take the time to figure out what it means for your individual account.

Declan (strategicabm) – So basically being a bit wary, if it says on the tin that it's ABM, be very wary of the content of that tin is what you're saying.

Andrew (IBM) – Absolutely, yep.

Declan (strategicabm) – Very, very, last question Andrew. Obviously, you've got a great network. I know many people that speak very highly of you and worked with you before. Such as, you know, Gabrielle over at Cloud Software Group, and Karen over in, who's at Accenture now – who are ex-IBMers. What advice would you give anybody looking to start an ABM program?

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Andrew (IBM) – Ah, thank you for that, obviously a great, great deal of respect for both of them as well.

In terms of what advice I'd give. You need to take the time to ensure that Sales and Marketing are aligned. You need to define what that looks like, build yourself a flight plan and define what it looks like before you hit the ground running. There's a real temptation when you first come into an Account-based Marketing role, you just want to get things done. But actually, if you're just firing out things, and it doesn't make any sense, and it's not aligned on strategy, it will just look messy. So you need to really make sure whatever you're doing is sat on the timeline and is done for a reason.

Declan (strategicabm) – Excellent, excellent advice to finish off with. Andrew, thanks so much for sharing your ABM journey with us today and I wish you and the team there at IBM every success for the future. 

Andrew (IBM) – Thank you. Thank you, Declan, appreciate it.