ABM in practice: Louis Fernandes interview

Written by Sean Fleming

With more than 15 experience in the IT industry, Louis Fernandes is Director, Demand Generation at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), with responsibility for all demand generation activity across all sectors for the Services division of HPE in UK & Ireland. Here, Louis talks to Enigma about his views on account based marketing (ABM) and how it works for HPE.

What’s your view of ABM, and what does it mean in the context of your job?

The way I see it, ABM can be a great way to grow pipelines and drive opportunities with senior stakeholders outside of your normal comfort zone.

Traditionally, IT services organisations and systems integrators have tended to sell to and interact with the IT function of customer and prospect organisations. What I’m trying to do is move those relationships along so we’re talking to people in line of business roles.

That doesn’t mean turning away from IT, but coexisting with it. After all, that’s where we see demand for a lot of services come from; people may not say, “I need a new widget, I need a new piece of technology, I need a new bit of software.” But they’ll talk about it in business terms: “I have an issue around driving revenue here, I have an issue around costs in this area, I have a challenge around process efficiency over there.”

What have been some of your biggest challenges so far?

Access to CIOs and the time they have to talk to suppliers. Although they may be interested in advances in technology, they have so many other things in their in-tray that, frankly, innovation takes a bit of a back seat.

They’ve got to maintain the business-as-usual aspect of IT: make sure it’s secure, that the organisation is defended, keep the lights on for the day-to-day business of doing business. Therefore, when we try and talk to those guys about some of the things that could be fundamentally affecting their industry and might be very important, they just haven’t got the time for it.

That brings us back to the objective of ABM. It’s about getting in front of line of business contacts, explaining to them why these IT services are relevant to them, in a way that resonates with them in a language that they understand, as opposed to bits and bytes.

What advice would you give someone starting out with ABM?

I believe that there are three key pillars. Firstly, collaboration is really important. By that I mean collaborating up and down your internal value chain; so everything from product development to marketing, sales, pre-sales, commercial and legal, and then actual delivery. If I start marketing something that can’t deliver on the brand promise I’ve just made, what’s the point?

I believe there then needs to be convergence around project goals. There’s a danger with ABM that marketing can act unilaterally, without having the buy-in of the sales team or the account teams or any of their other colleagues. Those colleagues then don’t understand what their roles are within the ABM campaign process you’re running, or what will be expected of them when it gets going. It’s a team sport; it’s not an individual contributor situation where marketing goes off and does its own thing.

The third pillar for me is around disruption, which is something a lot of people talk about, we’re going to be disruptive about this, that and the other, blah, blah, blah, but it ends up being pretty vanilla and not differentiated from the competition. You need to be always thinking of it in terms of what you’re doing for the customer - are you helping their business, and not just furthering your own?

You have to be 100% committed to your clients’ outcomes and their objectives. You have to go away and do your homework, and really understand what it is they’re trying to achieve, otherwise you might as well not bother.

ABM is about applying the basics, but applying them in a focused way to a single account, with a clear goal in mind

What are some of the factors that can determine success or failure in ABM?

When it comes to identifying critical success factors, there are, again, three considerations in my mind.

The first is being 100% aligned internally to the account objectives. Then you need to ensure that everyone involved is committed to the execution plan. The last thing is you have to be human. That might sound a bit trite, but the way I interpret ABM, is that it’s all about supporting a sales process, which means it’s important to remember that people still buy from people, and it doesn’t matter how esoteric the proposition is, actually it’s still a people business.

Let’s say I’m asking somebody to make a decision to part with £50 million; there’s more than just a business transaction taking place. They’re potentially putting their career on the line. It’s personal.

If I’m selling something that’s very commodity based and I have to sell a number of units of this thing, it’s just product. That means I can get away with using a more generic message. But as soon as you move beyond product to service, and you need to differentiate yours from all the other things that people are buying, the paradigm changes completely.

This is quite an extreme example to illustrate my point, but I don’t really need to have a high level of personalisation if I’m buying a biro. But if I’m about to spend £20 million on a new ERP system that’s going to be the backbone of how my organisations does business, I’m going to want to ensure you and the organization you represent are 100% aligned to my objectives before I engage with you. That requires a genuine focus on things like segmentation, targeting and so on.

But I don’t believe any of this is completely outlandish or rocket science. If I were to say segmentation, targeting, or positioning to anyone in marketing, it’s not exactly revolutionary – it’s kind of Marketing 101 stuff, isn’t it?

Where ABM is concerned, none of it involves anyone being particularly ingenious or even particularly original; it’s about applying the basics, but applying them in a focused way to a single account, with a clear goal in mind.

Which means you should always be working to understand the challenges facing a customer, and that means doing your research, then translating your proposition or capabilities, into something that resembles an answer to those challenges.

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