So Hot Right Now: Why ABM is Back in Fashion for B2B Tech Marketers

In this episode of Plugged In, Switched On, our host, Barrie Seppings asks why Account Based Marketing is the tactic du jour amongst B2B Tech Marketers right now. Joining Barrie in the ‘conversation that matters’ are Jess Littlewood, Strategy Director at Splendid and Felicity Theobald, Client Services Director at Splendid, two agency leaders who spend most of their time deep in the very fashionable trenches of ABM with some of the world’s biggest B2B Tech brands.

In this discussion, they explain why patience is an ABMer’s most valuable skill and why many B2B Tech brands are once again committing big budgets (and their best people) to this approach.

“I think what, as a strategist, gets me most excited is that we are talking to very specific audiences and how you connect that to those audiences and what they need. When you do ABM, you do that by its very nature. You’re talking to a specific group of people, group of companies, and you need to really get down and understand what the drivers are in those industries, what’s making them tick, what is going to actually make a difference to them.” – Jess Littlewood

We love it because as an agency, we are basically really nosy. You can’t work in an agency and not just be nosy.” – Flic Theobald

This ‘deep dive’ special edition of the Plugged In, Switched On podcast puts the focus on one particular skillset or format in the B2B Marketer’s armoury to find out:

  • Where the approach originally came from
  • Why it’s back in vogue right now 
  • The skills and attitudes a marketer needs to develop in order to succeed 
  • How technology is changing and accelerating the field
  • What role creativity can (or should) play
  • Why brands are committing significant funds to this approach
  • How is it likely to evolve in the coming year

About our guests

Jess Littlewood is the Strategy Director at Splendid, having honed her skills at developing insights for clients while leading teams at specialist agencies in Sydney and London. Connect with Jess on LinkedIn.

Felicity Theobald, Client Services Director at Splendid, has years of experience cultivating both relationships and talent at agencies in London and Sydney. Connect with Flic on LinkedIn.

About our host

Barrie Seppings is the Executive Creative Director of The Splendid Group and the host of Plugged In, Switched On. Connect with Barrie on LinkedIn.

Listen to the podcast episode 3

Full transcript of the podcast episode 3

Jessica Littlewood (00:02)
I think what, as a strategist, gets me most excited is that we are talking to very specific audiences and how you connect that to those audiences and what they need. When you do ABM, you do that by its very nature. You’re talking to a specific group of people, group of companies, and you need to really get down and understand what the drivers are in those industries, what’s making them tick, what is going to actually make a difference to them.

Flic Theobald (00:26)
We love it because as an agency. We are basically really nosy. You can’t work in an agency and not just be nosy.

Barrie Seppings (00:34)
Welcome to Plugged In, Switched On, where we pull you into the conversations that matter in B2B tech marketing. If account-based marketing is what matters most to you, I think you’re going to really enjoy this episode. I’m your host Barrie Seppings. The quotes you just heard were from a conversation I had in London with Jessica Littlewood, strategy director at Splendid and Felicity Theobald, client services director, also at Splendid. More from Jess and Flic in a moment. Now, if you are new to the pod, let me show you around. We do three things here at Plugged In, Switched On. Firstly, we get some of the most interesting people in B2B tech marketing to tell us how and why they do what they do. That’s our 20 questions interview episodes. Secondly, we look at some of the core skills a marketer needs, pull them apart to see how they work, a bit like a curious kid with a toaster, and see if we can’t make some improvements.

Finally, we also pull back the curtain on how these teams and leaders operate. Look at their day to day and see if we can’t steal a few ideas for our own operations. You are more than welcome to listen in and steal a few ideas for yourself. We don’t try and do all those three things at once. We like to focus here at the pod and at Splendid. Today’s episode is a deep dive into a marketing skill that has resurfaced in a big way in the B2B tech world over the last two to three years. That skill is account-based marketing or ABM. On a recent trip to spend time with our European clients and our UK team, I sat down with Flic and Jess from Splendid to interrogate the topic of ABM, and I started by asking them what exactly is account-based marketing and why is everyone so interested in it right now

Jessica Littlewood (02:21)
It’s back in fashion. It’s been around in some form since the ’90s. At its core, it’s targeting account-based marketing, but that means a lot of different things to different people. We look at ABM as a long-term planned strategy that brings together marketing and sales so that you’ve got a shared objective and shared goals around doing this. So there actually is an integration of two different functions within your business and actually sometimes more revenue operations and sales development. There’s lots of different parts within these organizations that actually can come together and work together to find the best opportunities within an account. But the key thing is the account. You’re looking at one business, it’s a market of the account that the people within the needs of that business that you’re targeting. So we’re really focusing on particular high opportunity accounts, finding what their needs are and how the solutions can be positioned to help them and to solve their needs. So it’s done in quite a different way.

Barrie Seppings (03:18)
Where did it grow out, originally? You talked about it maybe originating in the ’90s, maybe earlier. Did it come out of a direct marketing division of advertising, or was it something that emerged at a client organizations?

Jessica Littlewood (03:30)
In marketing, we’ve been talking about personalization as the key for a really long time right message, right person, right time, all of the different… and ABM has been around in some form since then. Perhaps, what’s given at the resurgence recently is a number of different things. The rise of data, the information we can find out about different people within those organizations and what their needs are and things, but how to target them and how to measure what impact you’re having on those, and also the need to do more with less. We hear from all of our clients, all of the time and being really focused, really focusing your efforts on the opportunity accounts is back in vogue in a big way. We perhaps don’t do that in a lead based way where we’re talking to different individuals, but we look at it far more at, a number of individuals within an account is clearly a better opportunity than one person from this business, one person from this business in terms of where you can grow them and what the sales team will see as a good opportunity.

Barrie Seppings (04:29)
Are you seeing that people in the client organization marketers need to have specialist ABM skills or is it something that people find themselves in that role?

Flic Theobald (04:41)
I think the core skill for that, an ABM, is to be able to be really collaborative and bring people along the journey with you because the account is at the heart of what you’re trying to do. If you’ve got a sales team who are up for having some support, then nine times out of 10 you’ll get really strong results because you’re working in partnership and in tandem. So you do need to be a people person, I think, and to be able to bring people along the journey with you. But also to be able to probably break down some barriers as well because sometimes there is still that old school traditional view of marketing or what do you do? You might just produce a brochure every now and again.

Actually, to be integral to the sales team’s approach, to work with them on their initiatives, to be able to support them when they’ve got specific deals going through to really prove and show that they understand the sales team’s business as much as the sales team do, is really paramount skill from a marketer’s point of view. I think we’ve been really fortunate that all of our ABM clients have got that skill in buckets.

Barrie Seppings (05:42)
But beyond those soft skills and the human skills collaboration, is it a data style role, or is it more of a strategic role or-

Flic Theobald (05:51)
I think it’s a mixture of all of them, to not answer your question, because a lot of it does depend on the account and how it wants to be serviced. So I think if you’ve got a lot of data and information, obviously it’s brilliant a starting point to determine how we can be tapping into some of those individuals who we should be looking at. But we have a mixture with the accounts that we’re working with. Some people prefer to be a bit more scientific and use the data upfront and help that form the strategy. Therefore, you do need those people who’ve got that kind of data literacy and that comfortable nature with understanding where information is coming from. But ultimately, I think strategically, it is about understanding what those drivers and what those levers are for each of the accounts and what are going to be those things that make impact.

I think also something that we’re seeing, as much as you can have a program that’s fed by data and set up, and obviously we try and plan at least 12 months in advance. But unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball. So you need to be able to be flexible. We need to be able to be adaptable.

Barrie Seppings (06:51)
Just on that 12 months timeline though, most marketing is still funded quarter to quarter. How do you reconcile that? Does that ABM need to be pulled out for a separate stream of funding? Is that what you’re seeing?

Flic Theobald (07:03)
We’re seeing that. Yeah, definitely. There’s a ring fence of an ABM budget, of a pot of money that’s sat against an account over that time period. But what we’re certainly seeing is we’ll start at the beginning with a plan, here’s how we expect to be able to spend that budget and here’s the activities that are going to deliver on these goals and needs for the account. But as the nature of the business changes, there might be a win, there might be a renewal or something that comes in urgently. You need to be able to adaptable and flexible to be able to repurpose that budget to be able to maximize it.

We’ve certainly had instances where we start the year with a vision of what we expect the account to be and actually, we’re coming to the end of a lot of them, and we’re thinking, “Actually, we didn’t do some of those things that we talked about.” But actually because we’re in constant conversations with the sales team, with our ABM leads, there’s been a real gear switch to some other initiatives that have made impact because they were topics of interest that needed marketing support at that particular moment. So we diverted funds.

Barrie Seppings (08:02)
Yeah. I thought I was being cynical.

Jessica Littlewood (08:04)

Barrie Seppings (08:05)
Yeah, I’ve been known to.

Flic Theobald (08:07)

Barrie Seppings (08:09)
Yeah. It’s not really that different from industry verticals, or is it?

Jessica Littlewood (08:15)
No, it builds on industry verticals. I think in a lot of ways, ABM is something that… In its purest form we talk about ABM in a one-to-one account. We are very much focusing on a market of one, and it’s very deeply in the details of that account. However, that’s not the only type of ABM. When we are working with our clients, some of them operate very much in this one-to-one ABM approach where there are some big strategic accounts that they focus on in that way. But we deliver services for ABM in quite a modular way because we see quite different demands and quite different needs across a mix of accounts. You can’t have… Sales teams usually have enough time to do many, many of these one-to-one accounts. You end up needing to group accounts, and you need to find some scale and some opportunities to broaden it.

In that case, often similarities between accounts comes down to they share the same challenges within an industry. Things like a massive regulatory change that impacts an industry obviously impacts quite a few of your big accounts and therefore you can draw them together, draw parallels. Ideally, we operate a cluster in that way where we can say, “Okay, we understand that there’s been a big ESG regulatory change that’s impacting manufacturing companies in this way and supply chains.” We can now talk to those challenges that they’re facing. We also would like to layer on top of that some personalization about the company, specifically the language that they talk in, the priorities, the way that they will tackle it and how our technology client solutions help them to show value in their own business and to build that out. So it’s a bit of both. Industry is definitely valid, and it’s often the starting point for the strategic approach. But then we layer the personalization of both the account and the individuals within it on top of that.

Barrie Seppings (10:00)
Are you enjoying the work as a strategist.

Jessica Littlewood (10:04)
Yeah, 100%.

Barrie Seppings (10:05)
Right, right. What’s appealing, because I see you get lit up by the challenge.

Jessica Littlewood (10:10)
It is, I think because we are a company who work with tech clients. Now technology clients, there’s a huge range of companies. As people who are passionate about technology, there’s a huge range of companies delivering different types of tech. But I think what, as a strategist, gets me most excited is that we are talking to very specific audiences and how you connect that to those audiences and what they need. When you do ABM, you do that by its very nature. You’re talking to a specific group of people, group of companies, and you need to really get down and understand what the drivers are in those industries, what’s making them tick, what is going to actually make a difference to them. That means there’s always variety. There’s always interesting challenges and new approaches, even though we’re working with tech companies day in day out. We’re helping them solve really different challenges in different places, which I love.

Barrie Seppings (10:58)
It feels like the area where that holy grail of being a strategist, which is finding that insight…

Jessica Littlewood (11:05)
Yeah, absolutely.

Barrie Seppings (11:06)
… is really key. When you are just operating at that industry level, that’s not enough, right?

Jessica Littlewood (11:12)
There’s often some really nice things you can find about an industry, but they’re not unique. And then the deeper you dig, the more you understand the context that a particular organization is in, whether they’ve had a tough year and some difficult things have happened and they are now building themselves back up. If they’re on a growth curve and have brought in a whole load of new people, that really changes the dynamics of the way an organization operates and understanding that and building that into our marketing approaches and our insights is really valid and really helpful. It means that what they receive at the end, what our sales teams are equipped, empowered with and able to go out and talk about is hyper relevant to the people that they’re talking to, which I think is where the power of ABM comes in.

Barrie Seppings (11:56)
For client services. Flic, this sounds like the opposite because you’ve got so many more people to deal with and so many more people to wrangle if you are going to get sales involved.

Flic Theobald (12:05)
I think that’s the joy of it because I think just too long, there has been this… Obviously, the stereotype is there for a reason that sales and marketing, it’s a bit of a battle, and it’s a fight. It’s my lead. No, it’s yours, or whatever. But actually, ultimately what you are all trying to do is make the sale at the end of the day. Yes, your targets as a marketer aren’t going to be based on the actual sales number, but they’re still going to be really relevant, and it’s about your KPIs that you’re setting. I think that being able to break down those barriers, being able to work together as a team between sales and marketing is what we’ve seen. Jess and I were at a Global ABM Conference a couple of weeks ago in London, and actually what was fascinating to hear in lots of the keynote speakers was that tension is still there, and it’s not necessarily disappeared.

ABM, actually, in lots of case studies was a little bit of a nugget that was able to try and break down some barriers and some silos that might have been there and change those expectations of what the sales teams might have thought of marketing. Similarly, marketing might have thought, “Well, sales, they never listen to me,” or whatever. But actually, ABM unlocked the ability for the teams to have regular catch-ups, to be able to feel like they’re a bit more involved from a marketing side on what the sales teams are doing and sales guys to be able to go actually, “Hey, can you help me?” Which I think that marketing really liked being asked, not just you’re supplying something for an event I’ve got or that kind of… I suppose that the strategic intent of what marketing can provide was much more prevalent, and it was obviously much more of quality that marketing can deliver the goods. It’s all about hearing from the sales teams.

“Right, okay, so you’ve had this meeting. You’ve had this conversation. How did it go? What did they say? Oh, they didn’t like that? Okay, why do we think that is? Let’s unpick that. Right, if we went and talked to them about this thing in this way again, probably not going to work. Is it? Right, okay. Let’s recognize that. Let’s think of a different tack, and let’s try something new.”

So you feel like you are all coaching each other on how to maybe break down some of those silos and have some of those conversations and-

Jessica Littlewood (14:17)
I think a lot of the conversations that you’re talking about as well is where the magic happens because really, it takes a team working together that, as I said at the beginning, is a multidisciplinary team, but trust is the absolute backbone of it. Those conversations build trust. Those conversations between all the different people involved and the understanding and showing that you are listening to each other’s needs out of this. It’s not just, “Oh, we’ve got a presentation, can you make it pretty?” But we start to see how the sales team respect the marketing team, and they want to… “This is the challenge we’ve got. What would you suggest. I’m not the expert,” we hear sometimes from the sellers, which I don’t think I’d heard before working with ABM teams.

Barrie Seppings (14:57)
What’s the functional role of the agency in that… Are you referee, you’re mediator, you’re-

Jessica Littlewood (15:03)
Kind of.

Barrie Seppings (15:03)
… a ring leader? How would you describe that?

Flic Theobald (15:06)
We help facilitate those conversations, I think, because our clients in marketing, they do have relationships with the sales guys, and they’re inviting us in to be part of that relationship. We find, I think sometimes hearing it from the horse’s mouth and being objective, we can step away. We’re not in the thick of the organization like those individuals are. We can see it objectively and maybe just paint a picture slightly differently or in a way that they hadn’t necessarily thought of it before. Actually, that energizes them, which then energizes us, and we get excited. I think also, that that trust is there definitely between us as an agency and the sales team.

We will have instances if our ABM, the guys, are so crazy busy. They can’t be on every single call that they need to be. So they trust us to just be able to pick up the phone to the sales guys and say, “Hey, can we just hear about this? Can you fill us in on this conversation? How’s that gone? Okay, do we need to rethink about how we’re approaching this next thing?” It’s very fluid. We do work together and I think it’s probably quite difficult to pick out who’s who sometimes in those calls.

Jessica Littlewood (16:09)
That’s the key. It is the team, and we join the team basically when we’re in those conversations.

Flic Theobald (16:15)
Well, you love it because as an agency, we are basically really nosy. You can’t work in an agency and not just be nosy.

Jessica Littlewood (16:21)
Sometimes, the sales team don’t realize the relationships they have. Some of the magic in those relationships, they don’t realize that.

So-and-so said they’re struggling with this,” or whatever.

It’s like, “Oh that’s interesting.”

And then they realize that we appreciate their knowledge and understanding of the customer. There is no one who’s got better understanding of those people and the customer than the people who are actually dealing with them face-to-face on an ongoing basis.

Barrie Seppings (16:45)
It does however sound like it takes a lot of time.

Jessica Littlewood (16:48)
It has to be not rehearsed, but it has to be prepped. We go into any conversation, we run workshops that are specifically designed to… Sales team, as flex. They Don’t have loads of time. They’re not… got all the time in the world for chatting. The workshop process we go through to onboard a new account is quite intensive because we run a couple of workshops where we get quite deep into the account and to understanding what the account team have been doing with them, where they see the opportunities, discuss why this has been bought onto an ABM program and why we see it as a key account.

Barrie Seppings (17:24)
On that, do you see much of the internal mechanisms of who decides which accounts?

Jessica Littlewood (17:30)
It varies. It varies. Some of our clients we work with are quite mature ABM practices, and they have very set criteria for defining where they will put their investment for one-to-one ABM and around where’s the opportunity, where’s the business opportunity and-

Barrie Seppings (17:30)
And is it up to-

Jessica Littlewood (17:47)
… sales teams and all of the things that go around with that.

Barrie Seppings (17:50)
Yeah. Is that up to the sales team to lobby because I assume they would all-

Flic Theobald (17:56)
That’s interesting, I think-

Jessica Littlewood (17:56)
I know.

Flic Theobald (17:57)
… that perhaps maybe if you’d have looked five years ago, you wouldn’t have had so many cheerleaders saying, “Please, please, can I have some ABM in my life?” But now, they’re really fighting the door.

Jessica Littlewood (18:08)
Yeah. At the mature places where it’s been proven, then definitely. I think sales teams are-

Flic Theobald (18:13)
No brainer.

Jessica Littlewood (18:14)
… keen majority. If they’re not keen, if they were on a shortlist and approached as an account team, that would be a criteria. If the account director is not biting your hand off to join this and be part of it, then they’re probably not the perfect one to put on. Leave them off for another few months, and they can see how it works for different accounts.

Barrie Seppings (18:33)
Is that a marker of how collaborative they’re going to be and how-

Jessica Littlewood (18:36)
If they come on skeptical, then they’re not straight away on the team and working with you and things. So at least open-minded and keen to explore, it is the best starting point and happy to work together.

Barrie Seppings (18:48)
Yeah. And then beyond that, it’s just the numbers, like how much money do they think is in an account, what the opportunities are, or are there other factors that you see that are joining?

Jessica Littlewood (18:57)
Maybe what they need, and there’s a range of different core objectives. Sometimes, it’s a new account that they’ve got beginnings of a relationship with and they want help to accelerate how that relationship builds and to get in deeper with core stakeholders within that business. Sometimes, it’s about cross-selling. We’re really strong in, say, the IT team area, but our technology is a business changer and not just an IT enabler. We’d really want to be talking to other people from that C-suite and broaden our expertise, or we want to be solving problems for HR, can you help open the doors for that? ABM can be quite useful as a cross-sell. It can be quite useful for new people coming on board and helping enable relationships with movement on the account and things like that. We see quite a few different triggers for putting them in.

Barrie Seppings (19:43)
There’s a new… Or it’s new to me, a new term that’s getting bandied around, pursuit. Sounds sexy. Sounds like we’re going to chase something, doesn’t it? Full of intrigue.

Flic Theobald (19:53)

Barrie Seppings (19:53)
Action pack.

Flic Theobald (19:54)
Off the start as blocks.

Barrie Seppings (19:55)
What the hell is going on?

Flic Theobald (19:56)
Pursuit is essentially where an account might have an opportunity that’s upcoming, normally ring-fence within a three-month time period. There’s a set objectives. There’s a set goal. It might be, there’s a particular meeting happening with a certain number of individuals that we need to land this message, or we’ve got a deal that’s about to be made and we just need this fun little nudge to help get it over the line. Pursuit is a short sharp opportunity to understand what is happening on this particular deal or moment in the account from the account teams. And then we work with the ABM to essentially come up with, what do we think the most appropriate output is going to be to help solve this problem? And then we go away and create it very quickly. But we work with the teams to try and, I guess, work out in a bit more detail how this piece of material is going to be used.

Rather than it’s an asset that might be generated for a sales team to just go and fire out willy-nilly, not that they would do that. But to say, “Actually, this person is going to send it to this person at this particular time because in two days’ time, there’s going to be an event and then we want them to be able to go and see them at that event and follow up to it.” It’s really, really, really targeted to almost the minute of, what time bus are you getting to this event and basically be at the bus stop with you with the asset.

Barrie Seppings (21:24)
If that’s true and it’s happening very fast, how do you find the time to be strategic and find the insight on that compressed timeline, or is it not enough time to do that?

Jessica Littlewood (21:33)
There is an insight. There’s always an insight, but what we do with that is a much-accelerated process, quicker. We’ll have a meeting, and it’s a workshop/briefing where we talk to the account team and really understand the deal, the moment. So we don’t do the full background on all of the account, the nuances and where they might want to grow it over here and in different areas of the business. But we focus very much on the objective that we are sharing around. If there’s an RFP and we want to close this RFP, who are the players? What do we need to make a difference? Who’s likely to block it? Who’s likely to be an ally? Who’s on board? How can we use the relationships and situation that they’re in already to make a big difference in the… close the gaps on that pursuit, make it more likely, achieving the outcome.

Flic Theobald (22:21)
I think because we do so much in the tech space, we’ve got a really good foundation of what’s happening in that arena anyway. Even if there is a specific ask, we know the context often that that ask is being made in. So we don’t have to get them to explain, “Oh, there’s this great big shift from this tech platform to this one, and that’s going to cause a big load of upset.” We know that that’s happening in the background. They can just say to us it’s happening. That is a shorthand for all of the things that we know. Right. Okay. Well, they need to hear about efficiencies. They need to hear about cost savings. There’s so much that is unspoken because we do this in detail for a lot of tech clients.

Barrie Seppings (23:02)
When we talk about putting ABM stuff in markets, we’ve heard about strategy. We’ve heard about the different types of it in this collaboration. What are we actually making? How is it different? Is it to any other lead gen campaign or other sort of campaign? Clearly, you’re not going to do billboards, or maybe you are doing billboards.

Flic Theobald (23:17)
We’ve talked about doing billboards actually. Funny you should say. It really needs to be nurtured down to what the right thing for the account is. But ultimately, we produce a whole… What we’re trying to do is get cut through. Anything that’s going to get in that, and people notice, is going to work. Sometimes, it can be a tool which the sales team can use as a guide to walk them through a particular set of problems that we know that the account might be facing, so a white paper, or an infographic, or something like that that helps tell a bit of a story but all the way through to just getting a message out there. Video is a really strong medium to obviously tell stories, and we can do that in a number of ways, whether that’s also an introduction to the account team too.

Often, we’ve had instances where we might have had a new account director join, and they haven’t had a chance to meet all of the team, all their clients yet. But actually sending out a video, which is them fronting it and introducing themselves and obviously what the opportunity is, it’s a really nice way before a meeting to have that meeting before the meeting. It’s a real mixture of outputs that we do. There is no set formula of, “Oh, we only do these things, or that thing.” It’s about what’s the right thing for the account. In some instances, we’re talking about billboards. We might have awareness issue with some particular accounts. We have considered, let’s just do a whole billboard takeover around their campus office.

Barrie Seppings (24:40)
Do you think there’s much scope for creativity in ABM-

Flic Theobald (24:45)

Barrie Seppings (24:45)
… compared to above the line campaigns or traditional advertising necessarily or even lead gen? Surely, if we know more about who we’re speaking to, we should be able to do something more with that.

Jessica Littlewood (24:56)
Yeah, absolutely. There is more scope potentially and depending on how you look at it, it needs to be quite clever. The creativity needs to be understanding the executives that we’re trying to target and the needs that they have and so on. Often, I feel harsh on creative sometimes. I’m like, “There’s this massive amount of information behind what I’d like you to show in something really creative.” But there usually is a really nice way to bring that to life and that the creative team can help to really add the kind of garnish that makes you go, “Oh, interested,” sit up and listen. We have a tool that we use across our accounts to try and create a unification around all of the different things that we do. Because when you look at an account across a year or even a cluster of accounts, we create quite a few tactics and support account teams in different ways and materials that appear in meetings and so on, to make sure that everything hangs together.

Creativity and an idea that hooks it all together is really important because that, we bring to life from the value proposition of… The strategic work does the looking at, what can our client’s business or technology company working with bring to this particular account, these groups of accounts? But the creativity on top of that says, okay, I understand this unique value proposition but I’m going to make this something that really talks to them, that speaks in their language that will resonate with them and really picks up on those needs that we’ve found in the workshops and the conversations with the sales teams and makes it interesting. I think one of the nice thing is that in those tactics, where everything hangs together, and Flic mentioned video, and we talk about, we put a video together and so many times the reaction from the customers is, “You made that just for us?” And they see it’s just for them, and they know it’s just for them. There’s a lot of strength in that because they know it was entirely designed-

Flic Theobald (26:49)
I think as well, it is that age-old thing of people think, “Oh, B2B. Oh, it’s a bit dull.” But actually, a lot of what we do is so emotive and video particularly is a way to be able to tell a story and show that alignment of visions.d it is really powerful stuff, and that is the stuff that makes people go, “God, actually yeah,” because that’s not the stuff they’re seeing every day. They’re getting 1,000,001 PDFs or Excel spreadsheets or bits of information. Actually, tell me a story. Tell me how you’re going to change my life or change my work life. I’m all ears. I’m interested, and I haven’t heard someone offer me that today. So let’s talk.

Barrie Seppings (27:26)
If you’re a marketer or if you’re in agency land, and you’re thinking that ABM as a growth sector or what you’re hearing here sounds interesting, what’s a good way to learn more and get into it in terms of your own career? Can you go do courses in it? Can you go get certification? How does it happen?

Jessica Littlewood (27:46)
Well, there are courses, there’s various. And then we obviously, in Splendid, are operating from different markets, and it’s different in each of the different markets, but there is a global ABM community. As we are calling them ABMers, but that’s what ABMers call themselves. It’s a bit of an-

Flic Theobald (28:03)
It’s …… work term.

Jessica Littlewood (28:04)
Yeah. There’s a lot of people talking about ABM. There’s a lot of materials out there, and things you can read, and example shared. Flic mentioned, we went to the Global ABM Conference here in London. There’s a few of those things around, and it’s a really inclusive community. People want to talk about ABM and share their ideas and things. I think the nice thing about ABM is you are rarely competing and judged, and perhaps in a way, it feels like you can be in a community because each person’s objectives are so specific that there’s no competition between.

Flic Theobald (28:33)
No one’s hiding their cards and saying, “I don’t want to tell you.” Everyone’s very proudly saying, “Well, do you know what? We tried this, and we did this.” Also what’s really refreshing that you don’t ever expect those things is people saying, “Hey, you know what? We did some stuff, and it didn’t work. It’s still got us an in.” That’s what’s fascinating, is people saying, “We went and put a load of information out there, so this is what we can bring to your business. We see that you’ve got these goals.” Actually, in some instances, CIOs have been picking up the phone saying, “That’s actually not our goals. That’s actually not how we would approach it, but if you want to hear how, come talk to me.”

Jessica Littlewood (29:06)
Painting a picture of how things could be. And then sometimes, they’re like, “Well, that’s not quite how we’d want it to be, but actually you’ve sparked a thought.” And then it opens a conversation between them that they wouldn’t have otherwise had. So perhaps not shooting for perfection is something that… being unafraid to have a go. The long-term nature of ABM means that not everything works perfectly every single time, or it takes a long time to see the impact of what you’re doing.

Barrie Seppings (29:31)
Do you need to be a little bit patient then if you are a marketer?

Flic Theobald (29:34)
100%. I think you can’t… We are all a little bit obsessed with numbers and metrics and data, but some of the, I guess, successes I think come from the much softer measures of relationships kicked off or relationships deepened that may not initially, within a specific time period, result in a financial deal or anything. But you’re sowing the seeds and the foundations for that potentially a bit later down the line.

Barrie Seppings (30:05)
Do you think then your marketing clients are feeling pressure further up the chain, because broadly the organization is still driving quarter to quarter, and they’re asking for more time and more money? They’re still feeling that pressure or-

Flic Theobald (30:19)
I think it depends on how mature ABM is within the business. I think those clients that we work with where it’s pretty mature, there is an understanding that the soft measures are as important as the hard measures. But I think for some of our clients who are a bit more in the earlier starting point of ABM, it’s hard for that ABM or marketer to be able to stand their ground and say, “Just because it hasn’t given you that-

Jessica Littlewood (30:47)
Whole thorough-

Flic Theobald (30:48)
… hold tight guys.”

Jessica Littlewood (30:49)
We do try and put some structure around it because this is a challenge for our industry, understanding that measurement is going to be a fairly long-term thing, but we make sure that all of the… When we do our plan, we create a plan off the back of… with the accounts or account we’re working with that we track what are the measures. Obviously, for something like pursuit, there’s a clear metric. There’s an RFP in two months time, did we win it? There’s a number-

Flic Theobald (31:15)
It’s attached to it.

Jessica Littlewood (31:15)
… attached to that. It’s not black and white like that on an ongoing basis, but we’ll look at… And we talk about the Rs within ABM quite a lot. We’ll look at the relationships within the business. We’ll look at the reputation of the organization and whether you’d even be on the short list for that company and opening those doors.

There are measures and metrics that we can use that may not be the bottom line, might not be a deal has been signed on the line, but it might be they’ve expressed an interest in this part of our offering, and they’ve invited us in for a conversation to talk about how we might help with their HR solutions or whatever the product is. Opening a one-to-one relationship with a particular name stakeholder or X number of people have engaged with communications. We’ve had things where we’ve sent out to the head of a department, but then we’ve heard through all the conversations between the sales team that that’s being shared, that people are engaging with it, they’re having conversations.

If you start to see a big crowd of people within an organization know about what you’re talking about, you’ve successfully ignited conversations. Not just between you and them, but within their organization. I think that’s where there’s some really nice ways if we can catch some of its feedback. What did they hear? What have the customers said?

“Oh, yeah, well I heard about that because so-and-so in this department was saying they’d spoken to you.”

Those are things that we should catch because they are usually connected back to what we’ve done in the first place.

Barrie Seppings (32:40)
Yeah. So Splendid does look after mainly B2B technology clients. This is getting a bit better. Is there technology you can use to run your ABM accounts?

Jessica Littlewood (32:52)
Yeah, that’s probably part of the revival of where we are in ABM because those technologies have really come on. At every level within ABM, there’s technologies to support you in how you do that, from tools that help you profile executives and troll the internet for what they like and what they’re interested in and whether their employment history and when they move jobs and things, that’s-

Barrie Seppings (33:14)
Weeping’s great-

Jessica Littlewood (33:15)
……………… else that tell you-

Barrie Seppings (33:15)
… stalking.

Jessica Littlewood (33:17)
Yeah, exactly. Stalking them around the world-

Barrie Seppings (33:18)

Jessica Littlewood (33:18)
… basically. But through to the more ABM systems that are a bit more specifically account based focused, things that are a bit like the CRM systems we used 10 years ago, which are helping you to track the people you’ve sent out to the accounts, the engagement and how many people have come back to look at content you’ve shared, for example. That gives us some of that. I mentioned earlier on, if you get multiple stakeholders from an account start to engage, you start to see this is how buying groups work. It’s not one person making a decision. It’s multiple people. If you start to have these technologies in place, they can see that.

They can start to say, “Okay. Well, someone from sales has someone from there. Their IT team has had a look at this. Yeah, they haven’t consumed everything that we’ve shared, but they’ve each come in from their own angle and looked at stuff.” Then you start to see that’s a real opportunity. So what do we do next? As a team, how do we enable sales to go in and talk to those people and those things?

Barrie Seppings (34:15)
What’s next thing to do? You were recently at a conference?

Flic Theobald (34:19)
I was.

Barrie Seppings (34:20)
A Global ABM Conference?

Flic Theobald (34:21)

Barrie Seppings (34:22)
What are they talking about?

Flic Theobald (34:23)
There was a really interesting thing from us as a learning, around helping support, around pilots and how people can kick off ABM and start to sell the dream. But also the huge part of it, which I’ve touched on already, is that idea of that collaboration between sales and marketing and really trying to break down those barriers and how this can be a really fantastic tool to enable that and just how hard it is for people to get that traction. I think, sometimes when the pressure’s on, like I was saying, it’s hare and tortoise. It’s send more, send more, do more with less. But actually, stopping, waiting, being more strategic, being a little bit more controlled, being a bit slower in how you are having those communications with your potential targets is brave, but it does pay off ultimately in the end.

Barrie Seppings (35:14)
And then should marketers be putting some thought into how they merchandise what they’re doing back to their organization?

Flic Theobald (35:21)
Absolutely. So much of it is about optics internally and how you can show the strength of what programs have been delivering. Yes. Ultimately, there will be a number of… Every ABM program will have its own set of metrics that you’ll be able to prove back to the business. But I actually think from hearing a lot of the case studies, some of the biggest wins have been where you’ve actually had marketing and sales together, going back to the business and saying, “Look what we’ve achieved. Look what we’ve done. We’ve done this from a marketing point of view. We’ve done this from a sales point of view. We’ve done it together, and we couldn’t have done it in isolation.” That’s the power of the business, suddenly going, “Wow, not only are you guys smashing it in terms of targets, but you are all now really working as a combined team, and it’s fascinating to see.”

Barrie Seppings (36:09)
Talk to me about the future. What are you thinking you’d like to try, to explore or do more of in the ABM work that you’re doing with your clients?

Flic Theobald (36:18)
I think seeing how the success of programs can mature over time as well. I’m really interested in… We’ve made some real great inroads with some of the accounts that we’ve been working on over the last 12, 18 months. I want to see the next level of that deeper personalization. How far can we go? Let’s try some different channels. Let’s try some different approaches, and just try and see what new we can bring to the table that hasn’t necessarily been done from a channel point of view in ABM before, but actually, if you’ve got that right opportunity, it might be something that you could consider. So creatively new ways of telling more emotional stories in this space is what gets me excited.

Barrie Seppings (37:00)
That was a deep dive. This special episode of Plugged In, Switched On, where I sit down with B2B tech marketing specialists to learn everything I can about a particular skill or approach. Today’s insights into the world of account-based marketing came to us courtesy of Jessica Littlewood, strategy director at Splendid and Felicity Theobald, client services director also at Splendid. But before they left our interview in London, I asked them to tell me about their all-time favorite movies.

Jessica Littlewood (37:33)
Cool Runnings is great, and it still stands up now. When we went to Canada, we went and sat in a Bobsleigh, and we made the kids all watch-

Flic Theobald (37:33)
Did you sing the songs?

Jessica Littlewood (37:40)
… Cool Runnings. We went and sat them in… The Vancouver track is at Whistler. We went to Whistler, and we put them all in, and my husband went down the Olympic Bobsleigh Track.

Flic Theobald (37:52)
Emily. Yeah, I love it. I actually wrote my dissertation on it, but yeah, I just love it. I just think the story is adorable. I find the charm and the cinematography of it just really fun, and I just love it. I wish I was a bit French.

Barrie Seppings (38:08)
Before we unplug for this episode, I need to tell you a little bit about Splendid Group, the Pure Play B2B tech agency where I am the executive creative director and where we make this particular podcast. While this episode was recorded in London where our European team are based, I can’t say it was recorded in our London office. That’s because Splendid has never had a physical office. We attract the best B2B marketing talent from around the world, and we allow them to be creative and productive from wherever they’d rather be, which includes at the moment, Amsterdam, Hobart, Bangkok, Sydney, and yes, right here in London.

If you want to learn more about Splendid, see some of our work and meet any of our people, including Flic and Jess. Point your interwebs at We’ll see you there. I have been Barrie Seppings, and I was talking with Jess Littlewood, strategy director at Splendid, Felicity Theobald, client services director, also at Splendid in what has been a special deep dive episode of Plugged In, Switched On, a podcast series about the conversations that matter in B2B tech marketing. Hit subscribe in your pod helmet, and you’ll hear us again automatically next month. Thank you for having us in your ears

Plugged In, Switched On is generated by Splendid Group. Thanks to our executive producer, Ruth Holt, and our CEO, Tim Sands.

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