May 6, 2022
Lessons in leadership: the future of account-based marketing
- Thomson Reuters tapped a team of marketing experts to find and scale the best ABM strategies.
- Among the findings, the team discovered how to convert field marketing engagement.
- Early testing produced accelerated revenue in Q4 and Q1 and the closure of a six-figure deal.
Adam May is laser-focused on being a change agent for the future of account-based marketing (ABM). From top to bottom, he’s fundamentally rethinking business-to-business (B2B) marketing strategy—and you might want to think about coming along.
“We stood up a new team called the Testing and Incubation Team,” May says, describing his newly established role at Thomson Reuters. “We’re really focused on, ‘How do we look at our overall marketing approach and modernize it?’”
A veteran marketing expert, May’s career spans more than 20 years focusing on everything from graphic design to digital marketing strategy to demand generation.
Even his job title implies the new territory that May is helping to pioneer. He is the Senior Manager of Marketing Incubation and Testing at Thomson Reuters. As one of the premier providers of professional expertise and business resources for corporations, Thomson Reuters is well-recognized and admired globally. May and his team want to use that stellar reputation to encourage original thinking around marketing campaigns.
Pioneering new ABM territory
“Are there strategies that we’ve never done before or are there channels we’ve never explored before?”
“Are there combinations of the above?“ May asks as he describes the challenges of his role.
“Maybe it’s a little bit harder [of a] lift, or it’s something we have to coordinate with central partners a little bit more. My team has that dedicated space.”
May works with a team of eight marketers who operate with an agile approach. They are encouraged to think beyond typical methods and make them scalable.
Despite being a multi-purpose and multi-discipline group, May’s leadership has pointed the Incubation and Testing Team toward a strong set of goal initiatives:
- Expand ABM in a scaled approach
- Convert engagement in field event marketing
- Champion repeatable pilots
“Because we’re so divided across these different business lines, that means we interact with different sales teams daily,” says May. “[On a] project-by-project basis, we can come in and provide support.”
His innovative strategy allows the team to respond dynamically and repeat the account-based marketing playbooks that work to expedite wins.
Repeating the ABM’s direct mail wins
Talking with May, you explicitly understand that he’s squarely concentrated on streamlining and duplicating. He’s looking for an ABM approach that can be repeated and scaled.
The team focuses on building account relationships, not pipeline.
One of their more successful tests included direct mail by running a lightweight promo to incentivize accounts on the edge. May combined Sendoso with the 6sense integration and Adobe Audience Manager to create paid social ads and an email campaign.
The goal? To use a corporate gift, or small incentive to push prospects over the edge.
The direct mail strategy worked and tripled conversion compared to their previous average.
Land and Expand
The Incubation and Testing Team has seen success in rolling out a “land and expand” technique. It utilizes personal connections and identifies champions within an existing customer’s organization. It’s designed to foster further product trials and sales outreach.
May describes it as a mix of relationship-based tactics. The land and expand approach takes an ABM strategy and personalizes it by turning it into an account-focused campaign.
We have to understand the upsell value proposition and what message the audience wants and needs.
It’s why sales and marketing alignment is crucial. May suggests that marketing teams should be making space for sales to engage with prospects. He believes ABM outreach is most effective when sales teams relay the message because they’ve developed the 1:1 approach.
Launch and Learn
May’s team employs a combination of data-driven usage stats and close work with sales development representatives to gauge the organization’s interest.
May focuses on a group actively using a Thomson Reuters product. He then digs into their product usage, back-end data, and collaborates with reps to identify power users. They then focus on engaging these product champions, sometimes with direct mail touchpoints, to expand their relationship.
May calls it “launch and learn.”
The team uses this approach to influence interest in additional product trials. Eventually, these product super users start making internal recommendations for subscriptions or license expansions.
The strategy has been working too. May tested the initial pilot on 20 accounts and saw revenue increases. Thomson Reuters has the ability to expand the strategy to 1,700 accounts which aligns from a strategy and data standpoint.
Testing ABM’s best practices
The program is being tested now but has already shown it can be scaled for pipeline acceleration and closed deals.
The early success means they can repeat the strategy with other potential clients.
May’s testing shows every successful ABM campaign should contain several important elements:
- Sales and marketing alignment
- Avoid over-tailored messaging
- Followthrough at all touchpoints
The team found that effectiveness suffers when teams over-complicate their ABM campaigns. A lack of understanding or assuming that ABM can fix all pipeline problems are the biggest pitfalls.
Converting engagement in field marketing
Virtual is here to stay. Because it has become so well integrated into marketing it won’t fade away as people go back to the office. May points out that virtual is collaborative and relatively simple.
I don't think virtual goes away because it scales so well. We can get customers together that would never be in the same room together. We can have somebody from the East Coast, somebody from the West Coast.
Virtual meetings and webinars put a lot of decision-makers in the same space to have a critical conversation about direction. It’s why Incubation and Testing is reassessing not just virtual field marketing, but also the return of big, in-person events.
“The sales team is eager to get back in-person; marketing is eager to get back to planning in-person events,” says May. “But virtual will be a part of our strategy going forward now because we figured out how to do it.”
In-person events are a driver behind lead generation, marketing strategy, and conversations that close deals. So May is having his team fine-tune the process to clone and scale.
“We have done field events for years, but we’ve had one person running them for our whole business unit,” explains May. “Now we’re building out the function.”
That function critically relies on a central theme: making sure the momentum and interest generated, gets converted into action.
In May’s eyes, receiving swag or branded merchandise simply for registering for an event or webinar does not guarantee a connection. No connection equals a missed opportunity.
Plus, it wastes money that could be devoted to other campaigns.
I think the trick is to continue to drive engagement. Keep people engaged once they get into the experience.
He suggests add-on experiences at trade shows can help to move clients further down the funnel.
It’s experiences, not swag, that led to one of their more popular marketing campaigns, May says. Thomson Reuters recently offered Airbnb eGift cards. Prospects were able to choose between several eGift cards, including a charity donation using an automated direct mail feature.
Now, his team is sharpening their plans for creating memorable field events that inspire clients and advance decisions.
May adds, “We have a handful of field marketers across the globe that are on the team and rolling out process; repeatable, scalable, personalized.”
Return to fundamentals with pilot projects
Tapping into their creative mindset, a big focus for the Incubation and Testing Team is pilot projects. They want to explore new ways of reaching customers, but always keep the processes repeatable and scalable.
“Are there pilots we’ve never been able to do because we’ve never had a dedicated headcount to support that activity?” questions May as he considers new opportunities.
He refers to it as fundamental, but May knows that identifying simple efficiencies can smooth the way for an entire project.
“There’s a lot of identifying efficiencies and even just documenting and changing processes,” says May. “We get a ton of value.”
By streamlining processes, May’s team not only improves their workflows but also for teams in other departments—breaking through silos and making collaboration happen.
“Here’s an opportunity, let’s find out what the right or the best way, the most efficient way is,” May adds about their process.
Looking toward the future of marketing solutions
Watching the progress of his team’s development, May says all of his strategic goals are a challenge to modernize because teams are constantly evolving.
“Every year the territories change, and reps change, client managers change,” he says. “There’s lots of turnover every year.”
That can translate into lost time when sales and marketing reps try to pick up old connections and identify decision-makers.
“Our big thing is how do we work more closely with sales to deliver and engage and figure out where marketing plays best in ABM and where sales teams need to take over?” May says. “How do we make sure those handoffs are working well, and how do we create the communication that’s necessary to identify those opportunities?”
May points out again that in high-touch scenarios, sales should be the go-to to execute compelling outreach.
“They have a relationship,” he says. “[They are] the holders of those opportunities for our customers.”
Though he emphasizes putting repeatable marketing solutions to work, May says there’s always going to be a high level of exception for personalization.
“Where personalization gets interesting is, how does marketing create a space for the customer to have their own journey within whatever marketing ecosystem you’ve created?” May asks when considering the creativity of personalization. “It’s like choosing your own adventure all the time.”