Interview with Rob Leavitt



Interview Highlights:

ABM History: Accenture and other pioneers; ITSMA’s initial work developing ABM methodology and practice in the early 2000s

ABM best practices: Common approaches among leading practitioners, including:

  • End-to-end collaboration with sales
  • Focus on the clients’ key initiatives and C-level priorities
  • Multi-channel programs and campaigns, balancing digital and face-to-face

ABM accomplishments: Measuring success, including:

  • Repositioning within the accounts, moving from vendor to partner status
  • Land and expand, or just expand
  • No more RFPs, move to sole-source
  • Collaborative innovation for new solutions

Partnering with key accounts to accelerate business and digital transformation; working across the C-suite

The R&D of ABM:

  • Doing the upfront work of really understanding the account, where they invest, and the buying committee and how they buy different types of solutions
  • Conducting primary research with clients as well as with sales people and account teams
  • Tailoring research to different levels of opportunity

Measuring ABM success:

  • Focusing on the 3 R’s: Reputation, Relationships, and Revenue
  • Emphasizing outcomes and business impact

ABM technology:

  • Explosion of great new tools but reality of companies still building the basic martech foundation
  • Build the foundation first: Account-based data, marketing automation, integration with sales
  • Get the processes in place: Turning data into insight into action
  • Orchestration and alignment

Future of ABM:

  • Move to blended ABM strategies: ABM programs converging toward balanced approach with new and existing accounts with blended approaches for breadth and depth across different tiers of accounts
  • ABM and B2B marketing overall integrating more fully into corporate strategy; ABM with key accounts as bridge toward strategic innovation and leadership
Click here to read the Video Transcript

hi this is Bob Samuels founder tech
connector tech connector is a
marketplace and campaign management
platform of Best of Breed account based
marketing lead generation solutions
we’ve partnered with the b2b market
exchange to bring you wisdom from
leading account based marketing thought
leaders to that end I’m happy to
introduce you to Rob Levitt senior vice
president of ITSM a the IT sales and
marketing association Rob is their
leader of their thought Leadership
Council it’s particularly exciting to
speak with Rob because he was part of
the group who pioneered the concept of
account based marketing back in 2004 Rob
it’s a pleasure to speak with you how
are you today I’m good thanks Bob love
to talk I last week i spent a few days
at the b2b MX in scottsdale i think you
missed a good event I do maybe it was a
very large topic uh as part of my
interview series I got to speak with
about eight or ten different ABM thought
leaders some of them are vendors some of
them are marketers and some are both
some are hybrid I put you in the
consultant area the the experts if you
will and and I look forward to hearing
your your input and comparing it to some
of the other folks out there great so
ABM when I think of ABM I mean my
understanding is you’re one of the only
people I can speak with that can give a
full background of ABM from the
inception can you share a little bit
about how life was when this first came
about and and maybe throw in a little
bit about your background about where
you’ve been up till now sure oh no happy
to Bob appreciate the opportunity I
guess on the background and it’ll feed
right into some of the ABM history I’ve
been working on marketing strategy and
and organization and program development
in the tech sector for about
years now mostly with ITSM a which is a
research and advisory and community
organization in that space I’ve also
done some other things both in with with
large companies and also with a couple
of other consulting firms but we really
began to develop the whole idea of
account based marketing back in the
early 2000s when companies like
Accenture and IBM and hewlett-packard
began to think about how do we apply
marketing resources and talent to
support some of our largest and most
strategic accounts and do that in a more
disciplined and organized way because of
course you know companies have had huge
accounts and done huge you know large
accounts selling and had helped from
marketing for years forever but more in
an ad hoc way and often in a reactive
way and so we began and really in about
2002 2003 2004 working with some of
those companies that I mentioned to
create a methodology and a discipline
for how can marketing collaborate in a
structured way with key account teams to
apply marketing thinking and marketing
resources often to dramatically change
the nature of the whole relationship
with those accounts Accenture was one of
the first ones and I still can picture
an aha moment that I had this was
probably in about 2003 where we had done
a little bit of work with the high tech
practice at at Accenture to apply ITSM
A’s strategic marketing framework to an
individual account so how can we you
know what is the brand that we want to
have inside the account what are the
offerings that we need to develop so
that we can build this account in
significant way over the next few years
and they did a whole research project
and it was really collaborative with the
account to say we’re doing a huge amount
of business but there’s enormous
opportunity that we haven’t tapped into
what can we do over the next couple of
years to double our business and
literally put together a marketing
strategy and program hand-in-hand with
the account team to roll out over a
two-year period and in fact they did do
that they did more than double their
business with one of their largest
existing accounts and so that was one of
the early examples that we then began to
build out a methodology that they and
other companies could apply across a
wider range of accounts so you know it
it started it started there Bob in the
early 2000s with a lot of large
companies because it was very
labor-intensive and it’s been incredible
to watch especially over the last five
years or so as it has hit the mainstream
in b2b marketing and so now it has an
explosion topic and we did it first
start big label become labeled that as a
VMware account based marketing we
actually labeled it I want to say 2003
okay Oh literally account based
marketing and we began to we put
together a Council of people who were
beginning to develop programs we started
giving awards as part of itesm a
marketing Excellence Awards we started
doing research on you know what kind of
investments what kind of programs what
kind of tactics are working and so on so
it really goes back that far so do you I
suspect you’ve been exposed to quite a
few examples of success utilizing an
account based marketing do you have any
that you can share oh sure and you know
we continue to give Excellence Awards
every year to companies that are growing
their businesses with
account based marketing recent winners
have included s ap KPMG computer center
a uk-based company and you know programs
really range a lot but they all have a
few things in common one is a true
partnership with sales and that’s from
beginning to end
from which accounts are we going to
target and focus on and invest in
through what kinds of offerings or
solutions can we develop and support for
those accounts which people within the
accounts are most important who are the
decision-makers and then what kinds of
programs and campaigns are going to be
effective with those people to help
advance these specific solutions or
opportunities and so they all have those
elements in common and you know there
are a couple of best practices that we
see in the companies that are most
successful so one as I mentioned is this
real collaboration with sales and not
just like a check-in at the beginning or
every month or a quarter but really an
integrated approach another is focusing
on strategic initiatives within the
accounts you know we all know that the
biggest competition that we typically
face when we’re selling b2b products and
services and solutions is no decision
it’s not a priority I’m gonna put it off
another quarter or don’t have the budget
you know if that is close right I mean
that’s our biggest competition and so
with account based marketing we always
want to look at well what are the
priorities of those targeted accounts
what are they investing in what’s you
know what’s the focus at the sea level
you know where are they spending their
money because if it’s not on that
priority list you know your chances of
succeeding are
much lower you know so that’s really
important so the kind of customer
research client research into what are
they investing in is really important
one other thing that we find really
really important is taking a broad
multi-channel approach to ABM programs
and campaigns you know so a lot of the
excitement these days is of course
around digital and you know what can we
do online and we can look at buyer
intent and you know we can automate
outreach and customize and personalize
but at least for the kind of ABM that we
typically work on which is you know with
large companies in large clients we’re
talking about long sales cycles and
high-value decisions and so face to face
and personal interaction remains
incredibly important and so this
multi-channel approach where you’re
combining digital and offline events
meetings briefings workshops you know
executive connections is also incredibly
important so no you know those are the
few of the the ingredients that we see
the successes are dramatic I mean we’re
talking often seven eight nine figure
gut you know nine figure deals we’re
talking about dramatically elevating the
position of the ABM er within the chosen
account you know we were a vendor now
we’re a strategic partner we’re talking
about you know no more RFPs no more
competitive bids that you know we our
strategic advisors and partners and so
you know that’s what ABM can really
accomplish you know real innovation
helping develop entirely new solutions
with selected accounts that we can then
roll out more widely you know so revenue
of course but it’s some of those bigger
business strategic issues that we find
most important and most successful with
good ABM program
so most of your clients and most of
their clients are large yes so the ABM
aspect is that is that generally is that
a land and expand sort of approach where
the clients have their bit doing
business with maybe one department or
one group within their client but they
want to get into more is that is that
the typical use case um that is that’s a
very common use case absolutely so you
know there’s a couple of things that we
look at when we’re thinking about what
accounts to focus on you know one is
absolutely new and existing you know a
lot of the more recent ABM tends to come
out of demand gen and tends to focus on
new logo acquisition you know and that’s
great and that’s that can be really
useful but many most of the companies we
work with have enormous opportunity to
grow with their existing accounts yeah
and so absolutely that you know either
land and expand or we’ve already landed
you know how can we expand yeah I was
talking to someone the other night and
they’ve you know their sales person
they’ve been their tenure they have one
account mm-hmm and so they’re here
they’re you know their world is but but
they’re but there’s probably hundreds of
different Oh exactly exactly no I mean
you know a lot of the companies we work
with it’s not just that the salesperson
has one account it’s that there’s an
entire account team that’s working
full-time with just one account yes you
know if you’re doing you’re doing
millions tens of million sometimes
hundreds of millions of dollars of
business with the one account but they
are transforming you know we talked
about digital transformation all the
time so if you’re selling into you know
pick a company Citibank you know
BlueCross BlueShield Walmart you know
any sector those companies are
transforming in they’re looking for real
innovation from
tech companies and you know professional
services companies that we tend to work
with and so it’s it may be moving into a
new department but it may be literally
helping them change their business which
is often a board level you know
certainly c-suite level issue with many
people involved so you know we’ll work
with the CIO and the CMO and the CFO
because they’re trying to launch a whole
new business model you know so I’m at a
faculty market being put together a
program that positions us to win in that
very strategic opportunity yeah that’s
attend Domini interrupt
Peter Isaac sent from demand base talked
about you know needing to need to sell
to the buying committee there’s not just
one person out there there’s a whole
committee of different folks with
different a different personas right
that’s the same yes exactly exactly
exactly no it’s a huge you know one of
the things that we always emphasize Bob
with account based marketing is you know
what we call the the R&D of ABM and so
we have a you know itesm a has a seven
step methodology for doing ABM other
companies or consultants have similar
ones but the upfront research and
development you’re really understanding
the account really understanding what
they’re investing in really
understanding the key stakeholders and
decision-makers and and you know what
are they focused on what what’s gonna
resonate with them how did they decide
yeah how does the buying committee work
and it works really differently for
different opportunities or solutions and
so you know you may have the same five
people on a buying committee but the CFO
is driving it in one area and you know
the CMO is driving it in a different
area and in one area they’re looking for
low-cost and in another area they’re
looking for real innovation so you have
to really understand that when you’re
doing these kinds of
grams and so again it’s all that certain
yeah as part of the research do you
often see research research including
interviews you know calling and talking
yes visiting and so happens I have been
trying to guess you’re right
so two things on that one is we always
will interview the salespeople and the
account team and maybe delivery people
because they have enormous insight if
it’s a big account and a strategic
account they’ve got enormous insight
that they typically are not typing into
Salesforce it’s in their heads maybe in
their laptops and so we always will try
to do a round of interviews with who’s
working most closely with the account
but then ideally we do try to interview
the customer and a lot easier if it’s an
existing account and an existing
strategic account because you’ve got the
relationships in place and so we will
approach people at the client and say
look you know you guys are really
important to us you’re a strategic
account for us you know that we are
gonna make some additional investment in
looking at how we can help you even more
and so we’d love to set up some
interviews to talk about where we are
now what you’re focusing on and where we
might be able to do something new and
different and hopefully they’re a
champion yeah exactly exactly and and
often they are yeah it’s beautiful so
and then you were mentioned research you
need a few time you know what they’re
you know maybe what they’re currently
using so maybe like information like
from HG data for install based
information or or signals research I
mean again and it’ll it’ll vary based on
the importance of the account and the
potential for growth within the account
you know you’re not going to do a
three-month research project if you’ve
you know a five-figure deal at the end
of it right you know but for your big
strategic accounts where you’ve got a
lot of opportunity we will do a
multi-faceted research project we’ll
pull from whatever subscription services
whatever market data sources there are
from the existing relationship we will
do interviews there kind of qualitative
the way we talked about well sometimes
talk with third party experts you know
who maybe industry analysts or or
consultants or business partners yeah
and then you absolutely want to look at
any kind of relationship or engagement
data that you have either directly with
your company or if it is out in the
market in terms of buying signals and
things like that but typically you’re
you’re we’re combining qualitative and
quantitative because you’re trying to
get a richness of what’s really going on
and how people think as well as you know
just some of the actions they’re taking
that are more overt maybe some of the
infancy emotions behind those actions
yeah exactly exactly I mean here here’s
a quick example and and you know again
at the high end we’ll do personal
profiles in research you know until you
know look LinkedIn is one of the most
fantastic tools we have for ABM but it’s
you know you can get a lot from that but
you can go a lot deeper too and so
here’s an example of a company we were
working with that was really trying to
reposition itself within the account it
was a large financial services
institution was the client the end
client and they were having trouble
really getting with the CIO and we
helped do a deep dive profile of the CIO
and began to see that he was moving
towards the end of his career he was
beginning to think about his both
personal and organizational legacy and
he was beginning to spend a lot of his
personal time
looking at the next generation of IT
talent so getting involved with the
school that he had gone to and
scholarship programs and education and
training programs so we said oh ha
that’s a real opportunity for us to
connect and engage really outside of the
company itself you know taking a little
bit of a different approach I mean we’re
still working within the client but like
here’s another dimension another angle
that we can tap into because we had
really done that deep dive to understand
you know what this guy was all about you
know what he really cared about and I
assume that I’m just picturing the ITSM
a you know the the ABM pyramid so the
top of the pyramid deserves more
individual research and so forth and
further down it’s more generally less
see ya know that’s fair I mean and you
know the the beauty of today’s world is
we’re swimming in data and so even when
you’re looking at a one too few or a
one-to-many approach there’s a lot of
really good personal and account-based
data that we can pull together and learn
from but yeah but absolutely you know
you’re not gonna do the you know let’s
spend two weeks understanding this one
CIO if you’ve got 300 accounts that
you’re trying to cover and get a
campaign going in a month yeah sure yeah
so what do you see as the best ways to
measure success is it’s you know there’s
a lot of touches that’s it’s a it’s a
long sales cycle cycle typically and
what’s what how do you how do you find
the best way to measure sure sure I mean
we always start with the three hours of
marketing reputation relationships and
revenue and so typically with ABM we are
trying to change or improve reputation
within the account or the accounts we’re
trying to position ourselves better
higher so that’s one area and you can
measure you know just like you do with
brand and reputation broadly you can do
that at the account level you know so
how are people how do they view us you
can survey them you can do it
anecdotally you can look at are they
downloading or thought leadership things
like that
relationships are we moving the needle
with specific named individuals the key
stakeholders so you know good
salespeople and good account teams have
relationship maps already you know they
may be ad-hoc they may be just on a
spreadsheet you know but they understand
who are the key people in the accounts
that they need to reach and work with
and they all they also understand and
you know people have different sales
methodologies is this a champion is it a
blocker or they neutral you know
whatever and so we want to identify the
key people that we’re trying to reach
and literally move the needle you know
so if they’re neutral we want to move
them to advocacy and to champion because
it’s a long-term game and so these
relationships really matter
and then finally revenue of course we’re
looking at opportunities and and
pipeline acceleration and wins with all
of it we’re trying to look at outcomes
and business impact and so you know we
may need to be tracking clicks and you
know online conversions and things like
that but to me those are much lower
level kinds of metrics ultimately have
we improved our reputation within the
accounts have we strengthened
relationships with key stakeholders and
have we developed and accelerated
opportunities in the areas that we most
care about like these solution sets or
these parts of the business that we’re
trying to attack that we’re trying to
advance so that’s helpful so what are
some I know you’re not a you’re not a
technologist but do you come across
different technologies and solutions
what are some of the cool things
and then I’d like to get your take on
what you see as the future look what do
we learn about in a year from now or in
five years from now when I mention the
word AVM what about great okay so let me
talk on the technology front first and
you knows a little bit of a double-edged
sword these days around ABM and
marketing technology because there you
know there has been incredible
development of very sophisticated new
tools and systems and solutions to
support account based marketing and it’s
very very exciting and the vendors are
contributing in in both good and maybe
mixed ways to the hype around ABM
because you know they’re obviously
they’re marketing and selling their you
know their their systems and tools the
reality is that a lot of companies are
still building the basic foundations of
CRM and marketing automation you know
and sales enablement and so we always
say and the companies we work with you
know we always talk about get the basics
in place first and then you can start to
think about some of these you know super
exciting cool new point solutions which
a lot of them are and so if you don’t
have great account based data on you
know who are the companies what are they
doing who are the key stakeholders and
that’s not shared with sales and you’re
not in with the sales data you know
focus on that if you don’t have good
basic marketing automation get that in
place make sure you’re using it well
you’re getting the most out of it then
you can get into you know website
personalization and IP you know IP based
advertising and all of those things
which can be really helpful but you need
the foundation in place first figuring
out how to turn data into insight into
action is incredibly challenging as
for large organizations and so it’s not
that you know we need to focus on
getting more data we need to focus on
how do we build a process where we can
take data and learn from it and then act
on it you know act on those insights so
the process stuff is really really
so those are you know a couple of the
thoughts around technology and tools you
know having some kind of orchestration
in place I love engage EO for example
still kind of early for them but you
know they’re making really good headway
you know that aspect of of ABM is really
really important as people build and
scale their programs and move to more of
a blended approach where maybe you do
have some one-to-one ABM with your key
accounts and then you’ve got someone too
few and one too many so you know good
ways to visualize and help orchestrate
and keep everybody aligned around what
you’re doing is really really important
like an engage you is helping with
providing that structure that’s
necessary they are they are and and and
that’s really a good thing I mean demand
base you mentioned Peter I mean he’s a
you know demand base is doing great work
they’re absolutely a leader in this
space and the capabilities that they
have are extremely valuable again if you
have a strategy program team and Ammar
tech foundation in place so you want to
do it in sequence
ecology what’s what’s the topic gonna be
at the next year’s meeting or in five
years from now wouldn’t people are
talking ABM will the second a couple of
things and you know prediction in this
business is hard but you know one of the
things that we absolutely see happening
is as I just said this move to more of a
blended strategy
so there’s a there’s a funny history we
talked a few minutes ago about the
beginnings of a BM back in the early
2000s and it was primarily very large
tech and and professional services and
consulting firms the you know PwC’s and
Ernst and Young and you know those kinds
of firms along with IBM’s and HP’s and
they were mostly working with existing
very large clients so that kind of
classic one-to-one ABM the newer wave
which is often very tech based and
demand gen focused has been mid-sized
companies focusing on bringing in new
clients now there’s nothing inherent
about one-to-one ABM that says you got
to work with existing and there’s
nothing inherent about one-to-many ABM
that says you got to focus on new those
just happen to have been the primary
starting points for a lot of companies
and so over the next couple of years and
we’re already seeing it there’s a
convergence where companies that are
doing ABM are going to be moving to more
of a balanced approach between new and
existing clients and a more blended
approach of one to one for some of their
most strategic accounts one too few for
kind of a second-tier and one too many
for broader coverage and you know and
that’s something that’s very excited but
it’s complicated in terms of
organization and budgets and training
and strategy as a marketing leader so
it’s going to take some time you know a
lot of companies we work with that have
been at this for five or ten years are
still early and kind of figuring out how
to manage a blended ABM strategy yes and
I’m hearing that from others too that
one of the dangers of you know getting
too myopic on target
very superlative micro-targeted is that
you’re missing outs on some of the
broader aspects of again account based
marketing but at different different
levels and different dimensions but it’s
still aiming at the the key personas at
the key target accounts and giving them
something that’s relevant that speaks to
them and so to be able to do that you
need research so you know exactly
yeah a couple couple other very quick
looking ahead over the next couple of
years I think that marketing in general
and ABM in particular is increasingly
gonna be more integrated into corporate
strategy you know we’re all dealing with
so much change in our markets that you
know we always talk about marketing
being the voice of the customer and the
voice of the market but the reality and
b2b is that most marketing organizations
are still somewhat tactical and somewhat
execution oriented they’re not full you
know you don’t see a huge number of CMOS
really being a central driver for
business strategy what market should we
be in where should we be investing what
companies might meet we acquire and so
marketing in you know it’s been there
forever ins in b2c it’s beginning to
move in that direction and b2b and
account based marketing is a tremendous
bridge to that because especially if
you’re working with your most strategic
accounts those are the accounts where
you can innovate where you can really
get deep insight into how markets are
changing you can Co invest and
collaborate to build new solutions and
so you know again marketing b2b
marketing is going there anyway but ABM
can help it get there and we really want
to be thinking about ABM as a strategic
growth driver for the business
not just as a demand engine or you know
a renewals engine or even a land and
expand kind of engine you know it should
be bigger than that and more strategic
than that and I think that’s where we’re
going with it this has been very
informative and I went over my 15 to 30
minutes so I’ve enjoyed office has been
really good Bob thank you now really
appreciate the opportunity excellent and
unless you have anything else to share
I’m gonna wrap it up and I appreciate
your time Rob it’s been it’s been great
and I look forward to seeing you again
know likewise likewise and continue the
conversation the next time I look
forward to very good you too

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