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Partner ABM – What is it and is it right for you? (If you’re a vendor, or a partner)

Partner ABM – What is it and is it right for you? (If you’re a vendor, or a partner)

Account Based Marketing (ABM) is certainly not new in the B2B Marketing world – it’s growing exponentially, and more and more marketers are getting on board. Although some dismiss it as just the next ‘big thing’, there’s good evidence to suggest that ABM is here to stay.

The 2021 Gartner CIO Agenda Report testified that 20% of accounts are still accounting for 75% of revenue, and the average B2B purchase now requires input from 6.8 stakeholders. At the same time, The CMO Survey (June 2020) highlighted ‘building brand value that connects with customers’ as the top focus for CMOs, with ‘retaining current customers’ ranking second, and ‘acquiring new customers’ after that. A couple more stats for you – B2B organisations with aligned sales and marketing achieved 24% faster three-year revenue growth (Sirius Decisions) and 84% of businesses surveyed said that ABM delivers a higher ROI than other types of marketing (ITSMA).

So, what does that mean for the channel, and is there an opportunity there for ABM? This week, I had the absolute pleasure and privilege of speaking with Glenn Robertson, CEO of Pure Channels, the channel marketing agency, and we spoke about ABM and why we both believe it’s a good fit in the channel. Glenn played devil’s advocate and said that people already think that marketing through partners and in the channel is difficult enough, and ABM is complicated, so why would it work? According to Forbes, ABM ‘focuses on a few large and important accounts that hold the greatest promise of adding to your bottom line’. Who in the channel doesn’t want that?

I think the opportunity for ABM in the channel is the same as the reason that the channel exists in the first place. Partners can sell vendors’ solutions to their customers – in many ways better than the vendor can. Often partners bring added value in terms of bolt on services, or servicing. Partners have expertise in building and delivering systems and they are the ones with the relationship with their customers. All these are powerful reasons why ABM can work when a vendor and partner approach it together as a true partnership.

Glenn and I also talked about the fact that channel marketing is still sometimes stuck in the old rut of approving MDF in the second month of the quarter, and still expecting the campaign delivered and new leads coming in by the end of the last month. I’ll say it really slowly in case some people still haven’t got it: THAT. DOESN’T. WORK. It doesn’t work for the partners who have to jump through hoops to get the funding, and it doesn’t work for the vendor, who knows the sales cycle is 6-12 months. So…let’s stop doing it! And try something that does.

For sure, ABM is not for every vendor and channel partner. It’s a serious, long term commitment that will take time and effort on both sides – often with external help – to get set up. There’s work to do in identifying target accounts, building insight on them, working out the process of delivering the content and campaigns and lots more. I think the biggest part which can often be hard to deliver is creating a value proposition that combines the value and messaging of both the vendor and the partner. It’s not a case of just slapping the vendor’s logo on some emails – the point of ABM is that you’re addressing the needs of the customer from their point of view, not yours. So, based on the insight you gather, you need to tailor the messaging to meet this – and often it’s a combined message with the strengths of both the vendor and the partner that meets the need of the customer.

All sounds really complicated, doesn’t it? And that’s not all – it’s also pretty expensive. You need to be prepared to invest for at least a 12-month period. Then again, you already know your sales cycle is that long, so maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise! 😉

But, if you’ve got a savvy, forward thinking vendor with some great products and solutions, and a relationship with a partner built on trust and mutual appreciation, why wouldn’t you want to take that relationship to the next level? It’s in your mutual interest if you can shorten sales cycles, increase deal sizes, drive activation and adoption and win clients that will become long term advocates – so, take a leap of faith! Just make sure you take it together.

When I was global VP of Partner Marketing at Sage, I pioneered a through-partner ABM program. We worked hard as a team internally, with our partners and with an agency, to make sure that the partners we selected for the program were bought in, ready and committed to make it work. It definitely wasn’t just a case of handing over the cash – there were weekly progress calls and lead follow up and work to do on both sides. But, each partner got bespoke collateral and assets, based on their own value proposition, their chosen markets and with their own branding on, to help them succeed. And these assets had a life way beyond the first 12 months. Ultimately, it was about teaching those partners to do ABM themselves – teaching them to fish for their own business in the future.

Here’s 6 questions to help you decide if Partner ABM is right for you – whether you’re a vendor or a partner.

1.    Are your customers and deals high value, with decision making units made up of several key buyers and influencers?

2.    Do you tend to have a smaller number of larger customers who stay with you for several years?

3.    Is what you sell into those customers complex, or hard to replicate?

4.    Do you have specialist experience or expertise in a particular sector or niche?

5.    Would winning more business from your best customers, or being able to attract new customers like them be valuable to your business?

6.    Are you prepared to invest in your structure, systems and partnership to make number 5 happen?

If the answer to most of those, but especially number 6 is yes, then Partner ABM could work really well for you.

Both Glenn and I agreed – the first vendors and partners in the channel to leverage ABM will be the winners. They’ll be along the line, securing the best customers and the biggest deals while others will be left catching up. I think there’s a huge opportunity, but like everything that’s worth doing – it will take some thought and effort to get the best rewards.

To find out a bit more about what’s involved, what you might already have in place to help and where you might need some support, you can use the tool on my website on this page – www.sheher.co.uk/abm It will give you a full report of all the areas you need to consider for ABM and show how you rate against them. It’s free confidential, takes 5 minutes and I promise not to hassle you afterwards or share your information with anyone.

If you want to see the chat in full, and some other great speakers from the Purechannel Channel Drop In, have a look here:  https://purechannels.co.uk/drop-inhttps://youtu.be/3lQYa1hY8c4

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