Marketing Strategy
Executive Insights: Account-Based Marketing (ABM) with Eric Martin of SAP Marketing

Executive Insights: Account-Based Marketing (ABM) with Eric Martin of SAP Marketing

August 10, 2020
5 min read

When I recently interviewed Kathleen Schaub about the changes in marketing over her long tenure as both a CMO and the lead of IDC’s CMO Advisory Practice, she commented on what had changed most for marketing professionals.  While digital clearly topped her list, it also included Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and the way we manage the Customer Experience (CX).

We have come a long way from the “one-size-fits-all” and “spray-and-pray” marketing tactics of the past. Modern marketing demands that we thoroughly understand our audience and use targeting and segmentation for optimal demand generation. We have seen a steady rise of ABM, an approach where we align demand generation efforts against a predetermined and strategic set of accounts.

The concept of one-to-one or one-to-few marketing is hardly new. We leverage ABM to focus on a specific set of accounts determined collaboratively by sales and marketing to deliver end-to-end programs at the account level with specific objectives and goals for targeted accounts.

While participating in the fall 2019 ITSMA Marketing Vision conference, I attended some informative SAP sessions discussing their innovative use of ABM. Eric Martin, Vice President of Account-based Marketing at SAP and a long-time SAP Marketing colleague and friend, led SAP’s Marketing Excellence Award-winning entry “SAP: Taking Market of One to the Next Level,” adding to past awards SAP has earned showcasing a high level of ABM leadership.

Eric highlighted very impressive results and tight alignment with sales – a key determinant of ABM success.   I recently had a chance to sit down with Eric and discuss what has transpired since last fall, and where he sees ABM and marketing at the account-level heading and more.

Q: Eric last fall you highlighted an ABM program targeted at private equity companies that not only provided impressive results but showcased creativity in using ABM in new ways. What is the update on the program and what direction has it and your team taken in the interim?

A: That was a fun case study. Since then, we have continued to creatively market to that PE firm and their portfolio of companies. As stated in the case study, the sponsorship of senior leadership at the parent firm has been key to our ability to market to all 300 of their portfolio companies as a market of one. We’ve since taken that model and started a similar ABM program with another large PE firm, and there are other “communities” where we’d like to apply ABM in order to reach a large group of potential customers, but some of that planning has been delayed by the very different kind of year we’re having in 2020 and the resulting shifts in our marketing focus.

Q: ITSMA, a leader in the formation and expansion of ABM has discussed having levels of ABM programs. How do you define those at SAP, and has this changed and evolved over time?

A: Yes, our program has evolved over the past 6 years. We have always had a heavy focus on 1:1 ABM, or what ITSMA refers to as “strategic ABM.”

In the past couple of years we’ve reduced the number of accounts in 1:1 so that we can add in 1: few ABM and touch many more accounts over the course of a year. We now have what ITSMA calls a blended model, with about 10 customers still getting 1:1 and about 5 times that number of customers getting shorter-term, opportunity-based marketing that supports decision cycles this quarter and next. As those cycles come to completion we add in new accounts in their place.

Keep in mind that I am talking about a program that covers heritage SAP sales opportunities in North America. Colleagues within SAP are doing other types of ABM, including scalable 1: Many, based on the characteristics of the market or the product areas they are supporting.

Q: Modern Marketing requires “measurements that matter” and ABM is certainly not unique. What type of measurements do you have in place and how is that supported by regular governance and reviews with stakeholders?  Have you successfully measured the return of marketing investment (ROMI) of your ABM programs?

A: We measure new pipeline created, progression of pipeline, deal velocity, and stakeholder feedback. Measurement is a continual challenge for us because of issues around attribution and timing.

If we’re supporting a deal cycle for 2 quarters, and there are plenty of other sales touches during that time and also the customer attended an SAP event that was funded by others, how much credit should we in ABM take when the deal progresses or closes? For that reason, our reviews with stakeholders are largely qualitative and customer-focused, and there is much less attention paid to metrics.

If I was managing a wider-scale 1:Few or 1:Many program I’d be much more focused on metrics and leading indicators.  We measured ROMI early on when we were piloting and building the case for ABM but have since moved away from that because the funding for ABM tactics comes from a number of sources, typically, rather than just Marketing spend.

Q: Scott Brinker revealed the “MarTech 8,000” this past spring and despite some “churn” YoY the number of MarTech solutions and vendors was up again this year.  How does MarTech support ABM, and are there classes of innovative solutions in the marketplace that people looking to leverage ABM should consider?

A: We use a variety of MarTech – some internally-developed, some external – to track customer intent and engagement.  We use marketing automation to support nurture streams.  But with our emphasis on 1:1 we tend to do a lot of bespoke activity for individual customers, and most of that activity does not rely on MarTech.

Q: Eric, we have seen unprecedented change during a COVID19 global pandemic and everything from accelerated digital transformation, physical events moving to virtual and people working from home. How has this impacted ABM and what are the key learnings from this “new reality”?

The phrase, “Man plans and God laughs” has never been more true than in 2020. Whatever plans we had in Q1 were overtaken by the new normal for sales and marketing during a time of social distancing. Our customers are making big technology bets when they buy SAP software, so our sales cycles are long and high touch.

With our customers and our sales professionals all being tethered to their home offices, we have had to move away from direct interactions at events, customer dinners and executive briefing center visits.  This has provided us with an ABM opportunity, though: we have taken that short-term ABM motion I discussed earlier and spread that to twice as many accounts.

To do so, we had to “deputize” some of our colleagues in Field Marketing and give them a crash course in ABM with a limited menu of tactics that support custom marketing but do so from a distance. Virtual roundtables, custom micro-sites, individualized videos and other tactics are now being widely used across SAP North America in order to help our Sales colleagues maintain regular, individualized touchpoints with their customers in order to safeguard 2020 revenue and pipeline. That has been our biggest change this year, and as we consider what comes after Covid-19, I believe we will maintain some of this wider use of ABM moving forward.

Eric thank you for your time today and a highly informative discussion of ABM and it is always great to see the progress that you and your team at SAP have made in this area. We look forward to hearing more in the future as ABM continues to both transform and increase in importance.

Eric is Vice President of Account-based Marketing at SAP and is a results-driven leader working closely with indirect and direct sales teams to hit revenue and pipeline goals.
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Fred Isbell

Fred Isbell is a B2B marketing veteran with expertise in Thought Leadership, Marketing Analytics, and Marketing Strategy Execution and. He was formerly Associate Director, Portfolio Marketing and Thought Leadership for Wolters Kluwer. Fred was formerly a Research Director for Dresner Advisory Services. He was with SAP Global Marketing as Senior Marketing Director & BMO Lead, SAP Services Field Engagement and led Thought Leadership Marketing. He led SAP North America Services Field Marketing and Channels Marketing for SAP Small and Midsize Enterprises (SME) Solutions. Before SAP, Fred held a variety of senior solutions and services marketing roles with Compaq and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). He is a graduate of Yale University with honors and has an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business where he was a Fuqua Scholar and received the Fuqua Alumni Exemplary Leadership Award.

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