ABM myth busting with Zoe Hominick, Head of Business Marketing and CEX at O2

As more and more B2B tech marketers turn to ABM to achieve their growth goals, more and more myths are starting to arise. 

On this episode of the FINITE Podcast, host Alex sits down with a special guest who has been doing ABM in their B2B marketing for a decade – Zoe Hominick, Head of Business Marketing and CEX at O2

Zoe holds firm beliefs around what ABM really is, how B2B marketers can do it well and tips on how to start on the right foot. 

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And check out more of the FINITE B2B marketing podcast here

Full Transcript

Alex (00:06):

Hi everyone and welcome back to the FINITE Podcast. As you can probably see from the episode title, we’re talking all things ABM today. Account-based marketing is a very popular topic within the FINITE community at the moment. And we’ve got an ABM expert on the podcast today to do some ABM myth-busting. 

Zoe Hominick is Head of Business Marketing and Customer Experience in the business division of O2. Zoe has been in B2B marketing for about 20 years and so today I’m excited to unlock some of her insights and bust some ABM myths. I hope you enjoy.


FINITE (00:35):

The FINITE community is kindly supported by The Marketing Practice, a global integrated B2B marketing agency that brings together all the skills you need to design and run account-based marketing demand generation channel and customer marketing programs. Head to themarketingpractice.com to learn more.


Alex (00:54):

Zoe, welcome to the FINITE Podcast and thank you for joining me.


Zoe (00:57):

Thank you very much for having me. It’s great to be here.


Alex (01:00):

Looking forward to talking. We’ve got a hot topic, anything ABM related, as I mentioned before is always a hot topic for our FINITE audience at the moment. It won’t be any surprise for you as well that ABM just seems to be surging and the interest from all directions seems to be strong. 

So I think this should be a good episode in terms of some ABM myth busting that we’ve got lined up and getting your perspective on all things ABM. Before we dive into that, I’ll let you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background, experience and your current role.


About Zoe and her team at O2 

Zoe (01:29):

Great. So thank you, Alex. Great to be here today. I’m Zoe Hominic. I lead the business marketing and customer experience team at O2 Business. I’ve probably been in the B2B marketing world for about 20 years now. So I’ve seen a huge amount of change over that time, a really exciting place to be. 

And I think B2B marketing is really having its moment in the limelight where it’s basically across technology, telco, organisations in that space, really at the leading edge of marketing right across the board. From demand generation brand into more specific tailored areas like account based marketing, which is obviously what we’ll be talking about today.


Alex (02:13):

Cool. Sounds good. And tell us a bit about current team and role and the marketing organisation within the business side of things where you work now.


Zoe (02:22):

Yeah, absolutely. So, the team that I lead are responsible for our growth within what was the business division of O2. We recently formed a joint venture with Virgin Media to become Virgin Media business. So a really exciting time as we start to explore the possibilities that that can bring both for our people, but also in terms of what that can bring to the market and to our customers. 

So my team are responsible for building the reputation of our organisation out there in the market, in building demand and those relationships and deliver that, as well as looking at the overarching customer experience to make sure that that really fits hand in glove with the brand promise that we put out there to the market. We are a team of 25 strong roughly.


What is pure ABM? 

Alex (03:16):

Cool, awesome. And I guess ABM is obviously a big part of your day to day, and I’m sure over the last, as you mentioned, 20 years or so. I guess the best starting point I think for this conversation is just almost defining ABM because I think depending on who you talk to, people have somewhat different perspectives on even actually what ABM is. 

And I know there are some ABM purists who view it as an existing account growth tool, not necessarily something to gain net new accounts. We’ll come on to talk about that, but I’ll just hand it over to you and you can just set the scene, tell us what you think what your definition of ABM is.


Zoe (03:52):

Yeah, definitely. As you say, there are lots of technical theoretical definitions of account-based marketing out there. I think as the name suggests it’s really about taking a strategic and insight driven, personalised approach to both retaining growing and indeed winning accounts. But it’s really driving that from an account-out perspective rather than from a market or a product-in point of view. And that for me is the difference in ABM. 


Should ABM be one-to-one, one-to-few or one-to-many?

Alex (04:28):

And what about the scale side of things? I guess it may be driven by a lot of technological changes in the digital revolution. Now there’s a lot of one to many ABM solutions out there, technology platforms we’ll come on to talk about and how big a role technology has to play in order to do ABM at all. 

I think that’s an interesting area, but do you view ABM as something that’s just one-to-one to meet that level of strategic insight and personalisation that you’re talking about and can it scale into the one to few, one to many from your perspective?


Zoe (05:03):

Yeah, so as you say, there are broadly said to be three forms of ABM. So strategic one-to-one ABM, cluster, which is very much a one to few, typically a small number of accounts within a vertical or broader one to many. I think for me, the first two from a purist ABM point of view is where you really maximise the value of the approach of ABM. And there’s probably a couple of reasons for that. 

I think first of all, ABM is most powerful when you really get under the skin of the customer. So that insight, customer led approach, really understanding their needs, their drivers is what gives you the platform to then deliver a personalised approach that really targets their needs. That allows you a stronger platform for creativity to create cut-through to build those personalised relationships. 

And therefore naturally the wider you take that, the thinner your insight becomes because you’re generalising it much more and therefore at some point you will start to cross that line from where it’s ABM to where it’s actually just good marketing and there is still a role for that. 

I think the second element actually then is to ABM, which is what makes it what it is, is that ability to personalise. And again I think the wider you go as you start to get into one-to-many again, the ability to personalise is lost and therefore for me, it still has a role, but it’s good marketing. It’s not necessarily ABM. 

And the third element I would draw out, which I think certainly in my experience has been really critical to the success is actually the collaboration and the relationships you need to build internally. Particularly with sales, ABM, can’t be something that’s purely a marketing focus. It’s got to be aligned with the rest of the organisation, be that sales, be that service. 

And again, as you go more widely, the interest that those people have, salespeople are quite rightly focused and selfishly interested in the accounts that they have to manage and where they’re going to be successful. And therefore your ability to focus to build that shared and common level of focus is really critical in the success of ABM. And again, it’s just about a dilution factor, that the wider you go, the less focus you can have, the less joined up those people can be. And the thinner you’re spreading your impact of what you’re doing.


Alex (07:49):

Makes sense. And I guess kind of sub-question related to that is then by definition, is ABM only appropriate for, obviously I think it’s relevant in the more enterprise space and above certain account sizes, but to take that truly one-to-one very personalised approach, we need to be working in areas where it adds up commercially. 

Whereas I think a lot of, maybe driven by technology and some of these digital marketing tools that exist ABM. I felt like I see ABM being used more and more for lower value sales. And as you say, it’s maybe not even ABM, it’s just good marketing, which I think is a good way of describing it. But how do you see account size aligning with one to one to few clustered approach?


Does account size affect which ABM approach to do? 

Zoe (08:37):

Yeah, so I think the commercial view on it is a really important lens that people look through. I think the size of an account will definitely dictate the level of focus, the level of resource, and then the level of money and budget that is invested in that account. But I think what you can do in an example where perhaps the revenues and the return don’t justify an entirely dedicated approach is actually find a model that is repeatable. 

So actually there are elements that you can drive efficiency through, but actually you’re still really getting under the skin of that individual customer, but you’re doing that in a way that is repeatable. Then you’re reusing or reworking content and things like that. So you’re looking to drive efficiencies in a way that are appropriate for the return that you can see in those customers. 

So things like a sales challenger methodology, or a particular approach to understanding, particularly in existing customers, the current footprint that then you can tailor and look to drive drive out within customers is one of the things that work. Or it might just be that actually a clustered approach or that one to few is the right methodology, given the commercials and the return that you’re looking at. 

But I think it’s a really important consideration to work through before committing yourselves. And I would always recommend starting with a trial, start with a pilot to really understand how ABM works within your organisation and make sure you’ve got the buy-in to that approach at a senior level.


How should a B2B tech marketer start ABM? 

Alex (10:22):

Makes sense. I was going to ask you a bit later on tips for getting started. As I said, I think so many of our community are exploring getting underway with ABM in some form or another, and looking for advice on how to go about it. 

I think your point of doing a pilot and making sure you’ve got the right buy-in is a great one, but anything else that you think is relevant or I guess based on your own learnings? If you went back to the beginning, you were a new organisation that hadn’t done ABM before, what learnings would you bring with you?


Zoe (10:51):

Yeah, absolutely. So I think as I said it’s very much about starting small. So don’t start with a huge long list of accounts that you’re trying to target. I think, secondly, make sure you’ve got the buy-in as to say, do you need an exec sponsor? Who the appropriate person for that will be. 

Across your organisation, make sure you’ve got the buy-in and commitment from sales. And I think people need to recognise, ABM is not a silver bullet. It’s not a free lunch for sales. And I think that’s sometimes how it can be seen if it’s not positioned correctly. And therefore putting in place the appropriate levels of engagement, but also requirements from a sales perspective to be part of an ABM program is important to make sure that they’re truly willing to make the commitment, put the effort in to making ABM work. 

I think the third piece is really making sure you’ve got the alignment around the goals. So what is it you’re trying to achieve? You know, there’s a key part about driving revenue, but it’s also about building reputation. It’s about building relationships within accounts and therefore make sure you’ve got that alignment around. What is success going to look like through that trial and make sure you’re celebrating that and some of those early successes and that you’re doing that in a different way. That’s really demonstrating the shift you’re trying to create in your organisation.


Should ABM be used to gain net new accounts or grow existing ones? 

Alex (12:20):

Those are all good things to consider. You talked a bit at the start that you recognise ABM can be a valid tool for winning net new accounts, not just growing existing ones. How do you view that split between growth of existing accounts and net new logos, or just more generally?


Zoe (12:40):

Yeah, so I think I would say always a strong starting point for ABM is with your existing customers, the level of insight that you can gain is always going to be greater in the existing accounts, knowing the relationship we have, knowing the services they take from you, you’ll hopefully be starting with some strong, solid relationships within that account. 

But I think ABM absolutely has a place for prospects. And that can either be in a bid scenario where you’re looking to tailor and really demonstrate additional value and personalisation in what you’re doing in the targeting there, but also more widely in starting to open the door to accounts. So really finding those nuggets. And this again is where I think looking at the insight and the clusters and picking the right accounts to focus on from a prospect point of view is really critical. 

So to make sure you’ve got a clear rationale for the accounts you’re putting in the program, who are the similar accounts you’re working with, where actually is the target market that you think you can really go and win and then make sure that sales and marketing together are identifying and putting some empirical evidence behind why you’re selecting those accounts rather than it just being a list that sales have come up with. 

But actually try and build that on what you know about your existing customers and build out from that. And that’s where ABM, I think, could be most successful within prospect accounts.


FINITE (14:19):

The FINITE community and podcasts are kindly supported by 93x, the digital marketing agency working exclusively with ambitious fast-growth B2B technology companies. Visit 93x.agency to find out how they partner with marketing teams in B2B technology companies to drive growth


How has the past 18 months shaped ABM? 

Alex (14:41):

We’re at the end of July, it’s been a strange 18 months or so. Lots changed in a lot of respects from what I’ve been hearing within organisations. That alignment between sales and marketing has had to become stronger for a number of different reasons and I think ABM ties in there in some respects. But how have you seen the last 18 months or so with everything that’s been happening to shape or change ABM, if at all?


Zoe (15:04):

So as you say, it’s certainly been an interesting business environment over the last 18 months. And if anything, I think it’s brought ABM into its own. It’s certainly demanded the sharpening of those skills within the marketing community to really bring about the impact and change, but it has demonstrated the value of approaches like ABM. 

And if I give you a couple of examples of that, that the first one for me is really around agility. The ability to respond to the context of the customer is critical for ABM in that personalisation, understanding their dynamics was changing and therefore being able to adapt to those. And that’s obviously been paramount over the last 18 months as many organisations have changed their situations. 

To be able to keep close to that as a marketing team and help customers in that situation, provides a great opportunity. And that really builds onto that point around relevance. ABM is really about finding your relevance to the customer’s problem, and therefore being able to deliver that using insight that ABM should be able to deliver is critical. 

Next for me is really around that commerciality. So as we talked about understanding the return you’re going to deliver, and therefore the appropriate ABM formula to use is key and therefore really sharpening the focus on the commercial value that you can deliver. It’s been critical. 

And probably the last piece I would pull out is I think over the last 18 months, there’s a lot of talk generally about this in B2B marketing around creativity and therefore really a challenge for marketers to be able to cut through, to be able to create impact and pull in attention from customers is really important. Particularly when everything has been done and done in a virtual world. So pulling that and seeing the value in that creativity has been really important as part of ABM.


Alex (17:17):

As you say, I definitely agree that B2B is having its moment, I guess. And I think a lot of B2Bs have thrived or at least survived pretty comfortably and everything that’s gone on in the last 18 months. And suddenly everyone’s realised that, and there’s a lot of strength there. 

Where do you sit on that wider creativity point? I mean, it comes up in pretty much every B2B marketing discussion and conference and everything that we see or hear in terms of you having to play catch up or being braver, or always lagging a bit behind the B2C world on the creative side. What’s your perspective on that more generally?


Alex (17:52):

Yeah. I think there’s certainly a shift. Historically there’s been a bit of a bland-scape within B2B marketing, but I think there is some validity in that challenge. 

But I think also across the board, there’s some great examples of real creativity and it definitely feels like there’s a shift taking place in B2B where there is a recognition that at the end of the day, we’re marketing to people and therefore they will respond in a work context and in a B2B context in exactly the same way with emotions, the same thought process in many ways as they will as a consumer. And therefore the role of that creativity is important and is strong.

And just going back to the last 18 months or so what about the relationship with accounts specifically? You mentioned everything being virtual, having to cut through the noise a bit more. I guess there’s also the, as I mentioned, relationship with sales. I guess relationships generally have all shifted slightly or changed. What’s your experience been of those types of relationships?


Zoe (18:56):

I think what’s interesting is the last 18 months have been a true task as to what is the relationship and how is the relationship you have with your customer valued by your customer? So we can spend a lot of time testing and measuring relationship as we do, but actually that moment when you know that global pandemic hits, which are the customers that pick up the phone and want your help, that see you as a partner, is the truest test of those that really see you as a strategic partner, as someone they turn to. 

So it’s been a great barometer actually to define and understand that relationship, which helps them in terms of those that are perhaps stronger than you thought they were, that you play a more critical role. So how can you leverage that and those that perhaps where you weren’t top of their list to call and therefore, how do we reevaluate and then start to address that, particularly where there are large accounts that perhaps need to be protected as much as they need to be grown.


Should ABM lead or sit under a wider marketing strategy? 

Alex (19:59):

Makes sense. It’s something I think a lot about recently, is how account-based marketing sits alongside everything else that we do as marketers day-to-day. And whether ABM is really an umbrella over everything else, almost like a… Channel isn’t really the right word, but I guess any ABM strategy can incorporate so much these days in terms of content and even paid and display advertising and all these different, what we would refer to as individual channels, can support an ABM campaign.

And I guess if you’re an organisation that’s got an enterprise division or offering, and you do ABM there, you might do an ABM approach and then you’ve got a different approach as you described it, just good marketing for everything else. But do you see ABM sitting alongside the rest of the marketing mix or as an umbrella that sits above everything else? How does that look for you at O2?


Zoe (20:57):

Yeah, I think ABM is very much a part of the wider marketing mix. I think it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And therefore it’s important that there’s a strong brand being built, that there are no wider influencer relationships being managed, that reputation is being managed in the market and that customer advocacy is there. 

But also as we talked about at the beginning, ABM is not infinitely scalable, and that there becomes a point at which the return for that level of personalisation is not there. And therefore it’s appropriate that wider demand generation, and they should all still be targeted and smart and creative, et cetera, are all there to serve the wider needs of the organisations and the growth within them.


What tools do you need for ABM? 

Alex (21:50):

Makes sense. And we’ve touched on from a variety of angles now on the technology side of things. There are a lot of ABM specific platforms out there. Now some people are of the view that frankly you can get started with ABM with some LinkedIn and a spreadsheet. Others are investing thousands in some very enterprisey tools that kind of cover the full ABM landscape. 

And I think it’s a common question not actually just within ABM, but across marketing generally is you want to get started with something new. And I think sometimes as marketers, we fall into the trap of looking for the tool or the technology first, rather than thinking about the people in the process and all the other stuff that really should lead the way. 

And then technology should come last. I think in a lot of cases, what’s your view on that with regards to ABM and how technology fits in and then do you need to be spending big dollars on powerful tools or can you get started without those?


Zoe (22:40):

Yeah, so my view would be technology has a role to play. It definitely has a place, but it’s not the starting point. I think technology can help industrialise what you’ve created and help drive some scale to a one to few on that, but actually it’s not the starting place. And actually if you’re starting with a pilot, with a trial, as we discussed, then you can do that with very limited automation required. 

And therefore it’s really about the insight. It’s about the understanding those customers. And that’s going to be about really getting under the skin. You don’t need technology particularly to help you do that. Now it can play a role, particularly with areas like intent. 

So you start to understand what are the right times to target your customers, where have they engaged with you from a tracking point of view, but it’s not a necessity and it’s certainly not a starting point in my mind.


Alex (23:38):

And so what do you think the bare minimum is? I mean, a well organised CRM, and I guess it depends whether we’re looking at this as prospects or existing accounts. What do you think you need to have in place at a minimum to really get going with it, maybe a one-to-one or one-to-few approach?


Zoe (23:52):

I think it can really be as minimal as we said with a spreadsheet, with using your existing CRM that I think probably most organisations will have in place now to understand the engagement, the relationship, the landscape. You have the existing customers and you can start with as little as that. A LinkedIn license and away you go. 

So I think sometimes actually a lack of technology can drive more creativity and drive more imagination and how to cut through and how to be noticed. It’s sometimes too easy to rely on these tools that promise the world actually stepping away from those and really thinking about what you’re trying to achieve and how can derive a more disruptive approach.


Alex (24:39):

No, I think that’s great advice. I guess nearly wrapping up, but looking forwards, how do you see ABM evolving? I think we’re all excited about the future of B2B marketing. I think ABM’s inevitably going to play a big role in that, but what are you particularly excited about? What do you see changing? How do you see countless marketing evolving over the next year and beyond?


Zoe (25:00):

Yeah, so I think you’re right. B2B marketing is having its heyday and I think ABM has actually been a key catalyst to that. So for me, ABM is absolutely here to stay, which is exciting and is great news. I think for me, I see in some ways more of the same, but I think I see that continuing to be sharpened, to be focused over the next 18 months. I think the success that needs to continue is very much about demonstrating the value. 

So bringing more of that insight around the attribution of marketing, really making sure they’ve got a voice in demonstrating the value that’s really being added by the role and the contribution they’re playing and being better at demonstrating that attributes value to that within an organisation and demonstrating the critical role that it plays alongside other functions like sales, not in support of them.


How does ABM increase sales and marketing alignment? 

Alex (26:01):

And I think that’s the beauty of ABM, is that it forces that relationship and that side by side with sales and in a great way. And I guess the attribution and all the connectivity between marketing and sales is more transparent hopefully, and some of the technology does play a role in that, I guess, but yeah, it’s, uh, it’s good that it kind of forces that, that relationship together, as long as everyone’s kind of in the same mindset and aligned. 

I guess on that final point, do you think that that just comes down to sales and marketing alignment? It does come up pretty regularly as a topic for us as well and is one of those things that everybody likes to talk about. Do you think that just comes down to genuinely good relationships with colleagues and everyone being aligned around kind of what the north star is, where everybody’s heading?


Zoe (26:46):

I think it does. I think it’s also making sure you’re leaning in. So first of all, leaning in and understanding the role and what it is sales are trying to achieve because really putting yourself in those shoes is important to building those. Second it’s investing the time in the relationship and appreciating the importance of that. 

And thirdly, it’s around not being afraid to have those difficult conversations and to challenge some of the preconceptions as to what ABM or marketing can or can’t do. So don’t be afraid to say no, because that’s where actually you’ll build credibility and people will understand the real role that you’ll play. You’re not just there as a support function.


Alex (27:34):

I think it’s been a pleasure talking. Thanks Zoe, I think you’ve shared some really great insights and thoughts. I think for anybody that’s in an around or getting started with or even on the ABM journey at the moment, there’s a lot of value there. So thank you again for joining and for sharing everything.


Zoe (27:48):

Thank you.


FINITE (27:50):

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