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Solving Complex Software Sales with ABM

In this episode of Let's talk ABM we speak to Mathew Kent, Senior Marketing Manager (UK & IRE) for Pegasystems, about how ABM supports complex sales.

Date published: Date modified: 2021-04-23 strategicabm 550 60

Mathew Kent
Senior Marketing Manager, UK & IE, Pega

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Matt Kent is Senior Marketing Manager (UK & IE) for Pegasystems where he heads up their ABM efforts. Matt is a seasoned ABM professional, schooled in the latest thinking from ITSMA and with more than 15 years of B2B technology experience marketing complex software solutions to enterprises.

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.


In this webinar you will learn:

  • Why ABM is the right strategy for complex sales 
  • How to build a strong Sales and Marketing alignment 
  • What success looks like for Pega’s ABM strategy 
  • Advice on how to succeed at Account-based Marketing
Read the full transcript

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Solving Complex Software Sales with ABM

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - So today I'm joined by Matt Kent, who's a Senior Marketing Manager for UK and Ireland at Pegasystems. Matt. Thanks for joining us today. 

Matt Kent (Pegasystems) - You're welcome, nice to be part of this. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So we're going to spend 15-20 minutes talking about Account-based Marketing and I know you've been doing it there at Pegasystems for at least a couple of years now. 

Can you talk a little bit about Pegasystems and why you thought that ABM was the right strategy for you to implement? 

Matt (Pegasystems) - Yeah. Absolutely, delighted to. So Pegasystems or Pega for short. If you're not familiar with us - we're a Software as a Service (SaaS) company founded in 1983 out of Cambridge, Massachusetts in the USA. And you know...what do we do? 

Well, essentially, we're a Software as a Service company that creates solutions to help large complex organizations crush complexity. That's our...one of our new strap lines. So in essence, what that means is we help the world's largest companies make better decisions about how they interact with their customers and internally, how they get work done, and most importantly, how they can stay ahead in a fast changing world. 

Why ABM for Pega? Well, I think Pega is right for Account-based Marketing. Why? Well, I think because principally... Well, firstly, who do we look to do business with? 

So as I mentioned just now, we look to do business with the world's largest, most complex organizations. And when you're selling the kind of software that we do, typically the average order value is high six figure amount, dollar amount. And because of what we sell and the average order value, the people that we need to market to engage, influence and convince to buy Pega tends to be quite a large group of senior individuals. 

And to my mind, all of those factors mean that Account-based Marketing is an absolutely perfect approach for Pega in terms of what we're trying to do. 

Declan (strategicabm) - And obviously there Matt, you started with a pilot system, a pilot program rather, at Pega. Can you talk us through what that looked like and what success you've had to date? 

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Matt (Pegasystems) - Yeah, so Account-based Marketing takes various forms. I think if you've done the ITSMA training and certification like I have and a number of my colleagues at Pega have now done. You know, they talk a lot about Strategic or One-to-one ABM, also One-to-few or cluster ABM, and for us, ABM started really around supporting what we called must-win deals. So deals that sales leaders have called out as being pivotal to success of our business that quarter or that year. 

So for us, our first steps into ABM focused really on what I call Pursuit Marketing or Deal-based Marketing. So delineating, defining a clear budget, clear Marketing budget to provide Marketing support to the progression of those opportunities, leveraging Account-based Marketing principles where we could, that started probably in earnest about 18 months ago, I would say, because we were kind of doing it in one shape or another in the UK and our work in that area was deemed to be successful and that's now turned into a global program. 

So for us, it really started with supporting must-win deals through Pursuit-based Marketing using Account-based Marketing principles.

Declan (strategicabm) - And that pilot program, how long was that? Did that actually last for the pilot program?

Matt (Pegasystems) - Yeah, it's turned into a fully-fledged global program now. So every year there is a sizable budget dedicated to it. It is something that we continue to do. 

In fact, it's predominantly how we measure Marketing's impacts to business in terms of, you know what percentage of those must-win deals are we supporting? And there's a whole raft of metrics behind the scenes with regards to how are we supporting, what tactics are we deploying and are those activities over a sustained period of time contributing to the principle velocity of the deal, the value of the deal and our win rate. 

So it's, yeah, it's grown from being a pilot in the UK to being a fully-fledged global program with its own budget.

Declan (strategicabm) - And obviously, you know, we talk a lot about ABM and the need for that kind of alignment between Marketing teams and Sales teams, and in fact, ABM is that kind of great unifier between those two teams and it unifies around the language of accounts. 

What's your experience there with Sales, bringing Sales along this journey with you, this ABM journey.

Matt (Pegasystems) - So I think, yes, I think, you know I'm steeped in all of the ITSMA content and training and I think one of the mistakes that ABMers can make is to almost rely too much on the principles, the academic side of Account-based Marketing and you know to talk the language of Account-based Marketing to a Sales organization that either hasn't been exposed to Account-based Marketing in the past or frankly don't care. They just see it as Marketing. 

So I think, in answer to your question, I think one of the things that we've tried to do as an organization is to try to demystify Marketing or demystify Account-based Marketing. 

So, you know, we're not necessarily talking about tactics we're talking about business outcomes. So what we started our, you know when we rolled out our global program about supporting must-win deals, we, instead of talking about tactics, aligned tactics to stages in the Sales cycle. 

So Pega has its own sales stages like most technology companies do, they have their own names and so what we would do is when we were, when we collaborated with the Sales leaders on defining kind of what those must-win deals look like by country, by industry, we would look at the deal stage that the opportunity was in and, you know, off the shelf we knew exactly what we could do at that stage of the opportunity to help progress things along. 

It's not always foolproof, but it was a fairly rigorous methodology so that we weren't kind of starting from scratch every time that we started to work with the account team on that must-win deal. 

So I think demystifying what Account-based Marketing is to Sales, not using Marketing terms that I know now that probably not well known outside of Marketing but also aligning kind of what you can offer to the business in a way that everyone inside the business - when I say the business, I'm talking Sales, I'm talking Sales Operations, Sales Effectiveness - in a way that they can understand and appreciate.

Declan (strategicabm) - So in terms of the Sales leaders and the Sales teams and I imagine they're very, very positive now in terms of the response that they're having, what they're seeing in terms of the ABM campaigns, that alignment now between Sales and Marketing, you've achieved that.

Matt (Pegasystems) - Yeah, so with our approach to supporting must-win deals, I mean, absolutely Account teams, they're never going to turn down attention from Marketing or indeed budget. But I think one of the things that we, as ABMers, need to do is that there has to be conditions - if conditions is the right word - but, you know Marketing shouldn't be seen as a piggy bank for Account teams to raid just because they can. 

So one of the things we've tried to do is that once we've agreed which must-win deals we can support, there's a whole raft of criteria that we looked to establish from the outset. What do I mean by criteria? So is their close plan regularly updated? Is the close plan, is it being fed into, by, you know the extended cross-functional team? Do they have the right cadence in place for that must-win deal so, are there regular meetings going on where all parties are involved? 

So there are things that, you know, there are gates that we try to force Account teams through to justify that investment, and I think once we've got through those gates and we're satisfied that, you know, the Account team is committing just as much as we are, it's so important that we, that we respond at speed and effectively. 

So I think one of the lessons that I've learned about working with Sales is when you're taking them on an Account-based Marketing journey, you can't be having hours and hours at workshops with them and then there being a considerable delay to actually getting into execution mode. 

So when it comes to our Account-based Marketing playbook, a lot of those things that we've defined that we can support depending on what stage of the Sales cycle, are things that we know that we can almost grab off the shelf that we can do quickly and deliver to our Account teams effectively. So time to market around anything in Account-based Marketing is vital.

Declan (strategicabm) - Well, you've hit on a couple of points there actually, Matt. It reminds me of the conversation I had with Christa Norton over at Capita around our ABM program, and she talked very much about that level of contract or commitment between the Sales and Marketing teams, that it was a, it was a mutual relationship where both parties had to agree on certain things that they would do in order for each account to justify that level of investment so far in Account-based Marketing. So it seems like Pega and Capita are very aligned in their ABM thinking. 

Actually, just one point, you mentioned that as well, that time to market, you mentioned time to market is key. Now obviously, Sales are very used to moving very quickly. They're very used to working on multiple deals at the same time. I'm guessing there, with that time to market has been key for your ABM program on how you're supporting the Sales team, I'm guessing that the Sales guys won't wait months and months for you to roll out a program, deploy all the assets, et cetera.

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Matt (Pegasystems) - No, absolutely not, I think so I talked about how we've rolled out our ABM playbook for supporting must-win deals and in the past six months we've actually - pivoted probably isn't the right word but we've kind of supplemented that with Strategic or One-to-one ABM. 

What do I mean by that? So for those of you who look at any kind of content that comes out of ITSMA, to me, you know good Strategic or One-to-one ABM is about taking very much a long-term view and with your account. It's not just let's build a three-month plan and go and execute and see how we got on three months later. That might work for some organizations who are selling, whose propositions are more commoditized, they're quicker to sell, they involve a smaller decision-making unit. 

But for us, it's, we've, kind of said we supplemented our Deal-based work with One-to-one ABM, but One-to-one ABM, if you're trying to sell to an Account team, look, you know we believe in your account, we've done the due diligence, we feel like your account is right for ABM and we want to take you on a journey. 

You know, one of the first things you've got to do is you've got to be very clear from the outset with the Account team about what's the journey you're taking them on, how you're trying to deliver that in phases and most importantly, one of the lessons that I learned is be very clear from the start, what inputs you need from the Account team in terms of documentation, their time, attendance at meetings with your Agency or Agencies you're working with. But marry that with, what are the outputs? What do they get as a result of their time investment? And how would you delineate that through the various phases of whatever Account-based Marketing program you're deploying? 

So I think ABM will always be... it's, you know it's highly complex, it's not easy. But it's highly worthwhile and I think when you're taking Account teams on this journey for the first time, it all starts, or the good foundation of that is being very clear about it is a big commitment. It's not just 30 minutes of your time, once a month. 

Depending on what you're doing it could be two or three hours a week to whatever program you've got in place with that Account team and we are going to need, you know, input from you but you know, you will reap the rewards with all this great stuff that's going to come down the line that we just know is going to help you better engage with the people that you need to inside your account. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So let's talk a little bit about, you mentioned a couple of things there around the success of your program there. Let's talk about ROI and ABM. 

Can you talk us through some of the things that you look to measure there in any of your ABM programs? 

Matt (Pegasystems) - Yeah, so we very much follow ITSMA's methodology around the three 'Rs'. So Revenue, Reputation, and Relationships. You know, there are so many people in the ABM community that I follow whose presentations that I've watched, whose webinars I've seen - I won't name them on this video - but it's a pretty common way of tracking and measuring your kind of your ABM efforts. 

So, and at Pega, we're not short of data. We are blessed to have an array of great data at our disposal. So in terms of ROI, given what we sell and whom we sell to, ultimately revenue is the thing that we want, right? But revenue doesn't always come within the space of weeks and months. So good ABM is taking a long-term approach particularly One-to-one or Strategic ABM

So whilst we've got a range of measures around revenue with regards to, you know new pipeline created, pipeline influenced, deal velocity, deal value, win rate, what's really vital for those who are embarking on their ABM journey is to think about measures around Relationships and Reputation as being leading indicators of what you hope to see in terms of returns around revenue further down the line. 

So when it comes to Relationships, you know, we look at things like how many contacts do we have in the account? How many of those contacts are up to date? How many of those contacts are engaging with us through Marketing channels, through Sales channels?

In Pega, every account team has to classify a range of contacts in our account as being what we call 'top contacts'. So typically people who are at the most senior, the most influential who carried the most decision-making authority. So we track weekly and monthly, are we moving the needle on engagement with those top contacts? 

But when it comes to Reputation, we look at things such as web traffic, you know are we seeing an increase in visits to our website from the people in that account, as a result of our activity? Are they engaging with more of our content? Are they attending more of our webinars? Are they registering for 'PegaWorld iNspire' which takes place every May or June?

So I think it boils down to looking at what data is available to you in your organization and aligning those measures and metrics, KPIs... whatever you want to call them, to the three 'Rs', and making sure that you've got a great kind of scorecard in place from day one so that you can report the successes of what you're doing and be sure to benchmark, you know. 

What do I mean by benchmarking? Well, if you can undertake an ABM program, be sure to capture all that data at, you know, from day one so that, you know three months later, six months later, 12 months later, or however frequently you want to revisit and review kind of progress that you can, you can compare that, you know, start to end performance.

And I said, I think, you know, doing that regularly in terms of measuring how you're performing, communicating that with all the internal stakeholders that you should be engaging within your organization is vital. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, I think I concur around the '3Rs'. It's definitely something that we also use ourselves on our own ABM programs and I think you're also right the way that you define the Reputation and Relationships as being that kind of early indicators of the revenue that will come down... down the road somewhat and obviously you can see that those are ticking up in terms of building up that relationship and that DMU and that buying committee, and obviously the relationships and the reputation growing within those accounts then you will then have a knock-on effect of the revenue then coming thereafter. 

So let's just talk a little bit about the building blocks of an ABM program and how you see it there at Pega. You know, obviously, you know, ICP account selection, value proposition, account experience, et cetera. Where would you say that you spend most of your time there, Matt? 

Matt (Pegasystems) - For me, account selection is yeah, huge, huge. You know, Pega, we have a fairly defined target account list globally. You know, it doesn't go into thousands. It's in the high hundreds. So compared to a lot, you know, a number of our competitors and other IT organizations, that's probably quite a low number. 

Even still, that doesn't deter us from being rigorous and methodical when it comes to look at all the accounts that we could do Account-based Marketing to and, trying to you know, use as much data as we can to, to review you know, things like engagement, review pipeline, review web visits to our accounts. 

And we use a pretty rigorous methodology to begin to score those accounts. So I think it's called the GE-McKinsey Matrix. It's something that ITSMA would advocate. But we look at every eligible account along two criteria. 

So first is about 'Business Strength'. You know, are we in a good position as an organization to land and expand an organization or to win that opportunity? 

And we also look at 'Account Attractiveness'. So whilst we have a clearly defined target account list, not every account is going to be attractive at that point in time. 

So again, we use a range of data that's available to us to score an account, based on those two things: 'Business Strength' and 'Account Attractiveness'. Some of those scores are objective. It's fact. You know, we pull data out of our CRM system. Some of that is subjective. You know, some of it, some of those scores are determined by speaking to people. 

But needless to say, once you've scored your accounts on those two criteria it then gives you an opportunity to plot accounts that are eligible for ABM onto a six-grid matrix. So if anyone's familiar with the GE-McKinsey matrix they'll know what I mean. But essentially if you have an account in the top left, it means you've scored pretty highly on those two criteria. And it's almost like a 'no-brainer' to invest in ABM. Whereas if you're kind of in the bottom right you're thinking, well, you know, ABM as I mentioned, it's not an insignificant undertaking. Maybe that account's not right just now for ABM support. And if your account's been plotted somewhere in the middle, again, maybe look back at the data and say, well what things could the Account team be doing over the next kind of few weeks and months to better position it, get a better score and better position their account more prominently. 

And, you know, in my experience when we've kind of gone through that exercise, have those discussions with Sales leaders, it's indisputable. You know, yes, they'll always try to find holes in their data where they can or question some of the subjective data points you've captured. 

But it really empowers us as 'ABMers' to have those critical discussions about, where should we be investing, not as a Marketing organization, but as a business? 

Declan (strategicabm) - And talking about business, what's been the impact on the wider business there at Pega in terms of the ABM program outside of Sales and Marketing? Has the impact of your programs there been noted at the C-suite level? 

Matt (Pegasystems) - So, absolutely. So our Chief Marketing Officer is fully on board, and not just our Chief Marketing Officer but also our relatively new President of Client Engagement. 

So for us, I talked about these two forms of Account-based Marketing we undertake around, you know Deal-based Marketing through our ABM playbook, and increasingly so, Strategic or One-to-one ABM. So when it comes to success, you know our Chief Marketing Officer reported that, I can't give an exact number, but let's say a very high percentage of the deals that we support with our Account-based Marketing playbook close. 

So the lesson is if you've got a 'must-win deal' and you're not benefiting from Account-based Marketing, you stand a lesser chance of closing that deal. So, so, really it's a huge call to action to our Sales team about if you've got a 'must-win deal' and you're not engaging with Marketing, you're missing out. 

And let's talk about our, we're kind of venturing into One-to-one ABM right now, and it's going to vary from company to company. It depends on what your business objectives are and what challenges you're seeing in your accounts across the board. But our first steps into One-to-one ABM are focusing really on Executive Engagement. 

Like most technology companies, you're looking to, you know, market and sell high up in those organizations. So for us, where we are right now with our ABM is around, how do we arm our Account teams with the insights and the content, and the tactics they need to start engaging with and foster relationships with the people that matter inside their organizations? 

So that's the strategy. How do we measure it? Well, for us, we measure it by, again I talked about top contacts. So the people in our accounts that Account teams have called out as being, here are the most senior and influential decision-makers. And over time as we kind of execute our ABM programs, we are looking, are we moving the needle on the number of contacts, on engagement with those contacts, on the number of meetings we're having?

Because if you do all those things correctly and you're seeing an uplift in those metrics, then surely only good things will happen as a result of that given time. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, so finally Matt, what advice would you give anybody who's looking to start an ABM program or they're in the early stages of rolling out an ABM strategy and they're looking to see how they can finetune it or how to enhance some of the outcomes? What advice would you give? 

Matt (Pegasystems) - Yeah, I think it's two or three things. First, I think firstly, I don't think there's much you can do. You've either got it or you don't. But I think you've got to have curiosity, you've got to have a curiosity. You've got to have a passion for ABM. 

What does that mean and how would I, what recommendations would I give? So, you know, I started on this journey two- two and a half years ago, you know. There's quite a strong and growing ABM community out there and I reached out to peers of mine on LinkedIn, who worked for other tech companies, companies that we partner with, the likes of Atos and Accenture. And also some of our competitors. I found that when reaching out to some of those people through LinkedIn, they're very keen to tell you about, you know, what they're doing, what they've learned, what's worked well for them and that's really nice to see actually. 

So be curious, connect with people, connect with peers, you know, learn from them. Attend as many webinars as you can about the subject. I keep mentioning ITSMA, but there were some great, you know, they do some great webinars and some great content they put out there. But also, you know, some agencies, you know there's some great content agencies producing out there. 

So have an open mind, suck in as much content as you can, but I think once you've done that you've then got to look at all that insight and content through the lens of your own organization. 

What do I mean by that? Well, you've got to think - here's what's going on outside of this, outside of our business, but given what we're trying to achieve, given how we go to market, given what we sell, how would I begin to apply those learnings to my own organization?

I think so often it's tempting for people to say here's what 'good' looks like over here, isn't this great? And I think as a marketer, as an 'ABMer' we should be empowered to, you know, start discussions or drive discussions in our own organizations by thinking about what does that really mean? How would we go about doing that? Where would we start? How would we measure it? 

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So I think, you know, being curious, networking as much as you can, and I think in terms of, if you're starting on an ABM program or thinking about doing it, I think, you know, a good place to start is to start small. 

It's a bit of a cliché, but I think, you know, start small with an Account team or a Sales team that is committed, that has a proven track record. You know, have they been successful in the past? Are they willing to commit the time needed to Account-based Marketing? 

So start small with an account or set of accounts or an industry team. And be very clear from day one about, what does success look like? How are you going to measure success according to the three 'Rs' of Revenue, Reputation, Relationships? 

And finally, I've mentioned quite a lot of things here. There's a lot of the lessons that we've learned over the last couple of years. I think stakeholder engagement is, well probably number one, number two, for me, in terms of the things that I would encourage people to think about. 

Yes, it's all well and good sharing your successes internally within your own Marketing organization, but to truly get buy-in, to truly secure future investment when you've got successes, even if they're little even if it's just a bit of anecdotal feedback from a client, from an Account Executive - share that. 

Account-based Marketing, it's a long-term approach and don't wait for six months to start sharing your successes, your learnings. Do it as soon as you've got it. 

So quite a few there Dec, but I think, hope that's helped. There's a lot that I've learned and I'm just passionate to share my learnings with other people out there. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Well, I think that word, passion, Matt, it's definitely come through throughout the whole of this, our chat over the course of the last 20 minutes or so. I think that's some really great advice to end on. 

I think what you said there around starting small I think is critical- a pilot program. We highly recommend that, getting, as you said, sharing good news because obviously, it's a marathon, it's a journey so sharing that good news as and when it comes in is really important and that stakeholder engagement as well. 

I think the, I think you've cited some really good advice for anyone who's actually looking to start their ABM journey or who are, you know, on the early stages. Matt, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you today and thanks for all your time and hope everything goes well there at Pega.

Matt (Pegasystems) - Thank you very much, great chatting with you.

Declan (strategicabm) - Thanks, Matt.

Matt (Pegasystems) - All the best, thanks.