Partner ABM – What is it and is it right for you?

Whether you are a vendor or a partner…

Account Based Marketing (ABM) is certainly not new in the B2B Marketing world – it’s growing exponentially, and more and more marketers are getting on board. Although some dismiss it as just the next ‘big thing’, there’s good evidence to suggest that ABM is here to stay.

In our recent Channel Drop-In, CEO Glenn Robertson caught up with Gemma Telford, founder of She/Her Ltd. Discussing all things channel, marketing and ABM they explored how vendors and partners can reignite relationships and potentially find new ones through exploring the principles and approaches of ABM in the channel.

The 2021 Gartner CIO Agenda Report testified that 20% of accounts are still responsible for 75% of revenue and the average B2B purchase requires input from 6.8 stakeholders. At the same time, The CMO Survey (June 2020) highlighted ‘building brand value that connects with customers’ as the top focus for CMOs, ‘retaining current customers’ ranking second and ‘acquiring new customers’ third. B2B organisations in which sales aligned closer with marketing achieved 24% faster three-year revenue growth (Sirius Decisions) and 84% of businesses surveyed said that ABM delivers a higher ROI than other types of marketing (ITSMA). According to Forbes, ABM “focuses on a few large and important accounts that hold the greatest promise of adding to your bottom line”.

Show us a vendor or reseller that wouldn’t want that.

So, what does that mean for the channel, and is there an opportunity for ‘Channel ABM’ or ‘Partner ABM’? Some may say that marketing through partners in the channel is difficult enough without introducing something as complicated as ABM, so why would it work? But in fact, this may be something we have been doing for years and years, especially in partner recruitment. The covid-19 pandemic has forced the channel to work smarter and transform like never before. Many marketing activities previously relied on by larger organisations to build close relationships with targeted accounts have been rendered ineffective giving way to the rise of more digital and social media marketing to deliver smarter, intelligence-based campaigning.

ABM is built on the very same foundations as the channel itself and the reason it exists in the first place – Partners can sell vendor solutions (more often than not) more successfully to more customers than the vendor themselves. They bring added value with bolt on services, managed or otherwise, expertise in building and delivering systems as well as strong relationships with their customers. These are all powerful reasons why ABM can work when a vendor and partner approach it together as a true partnership. We recently published a blog exploring the relationship between vendors and their partners, taking them from the selfish lover into a committed relationship. The sentiment echoes true here. Vendors should speak to their reseller partners, discover what works for them, where their sweet spot is and how they can best support them before they start to look elsewhere. The principles behind ABM help to pave the way to winning the hearts of channel partners – especially those vendors want to specifically target – either in recruitment or uplift.

Much of what we see (and it is getting better!) in the channel is that partner marketing activities are rather stuck in the rut of squeezing MDF approvals through in the second month of the quarter and expecting the campaign to be delivered quickly, with new leads coming in by the end of the month. We all know from experience that that simply doesn’t always work. More so now than ever before when we are faced with a digital centric outlook and it just doesn’t work as a quick fix. MDF quarter by quarter is becoming less and less relevant as digital doesn’t work overnight. It doesn’t work for the partners who have to jump through hoops to get the funding and it doesn’t work for the vendor, who in reality know the sales cycle is 6-12 months. So, let’s stop doing it shall we? And try something that does work.

Vendors need to look beyond the short-term process of MDF and allow for partners to think long term in their sales and marketing activity. Whatever we call it, Channel or Partner ABM is a great way to invest in partners, to support them and demonstrate a joint commitment to PX (Partner Experience) because long term focus brings better results. Let’s stop throwing MDF mud at a wall and hoping some of it sticks.

Sure, ABM isn’t for everyone. It’s a serious, long term commitment that will take time and effort on both sides – often with external help – to get set up. There’s work to do in identifying target accounts, building insight, working out the delivery process for content, campaigns and much more. The part which is often the hardest to deliver is creating a proposition that combines the value and messaging of both the vendor and the partner. It’s not a case of just slapping the vendor’s logo on some emails (partners hate that by the way) it’s about addressing the needs of the customer from their point of view, not yours. So, based on the insight you gather, you need to tailor the messaging, combined with the strengths of both parties, to really meet the needs of the customer.

All sounds really complicated, doesn’t it? And that’s not all – it’s can also get pretty expensive. You need to be prepared to invest for at least a 12-month period. Then again, you already know your sales cycle is that long, so maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise!

But, if you’re a savvy, forward thinking vendor with some great products and solutions, support and looking to optimise partner experience, using a partner relationship built on trust and mutual appreciation, why wouldn’t you want to take that relationship to the next level? It’s in your mutual interest to shorten sales cycles, increase deal sizes, drive activation and adoption whilst winning clients that will become long term advocates – so, take a leap of faith! Just make sure you take it together.

Reminiscing about her time as Global VP of Partner Marketing at Sage, Gemma talked us through how she pioneered a through-partner ABM program – “We worked hard as a team internally, with our partners and with an agency, to make sure that the partners we selected for the program were bought in, ready and committed to make it work. It definitely wasn’t just a case of handing over the cash – there were weekly progress calls and lead follow up and work to do on both sides. But each partner got bespoke collateral and assets, based on their own value proposition, their chosen markets and with their own branding on, to help them succeed. And these assets had a life way beyond the first 12 months. Ultimately, it was about teaching those partners to do ABM themselves – teaching them to fish for their own business in the future.

Not sure where to start? Here are 6 questions to help decide if Partner ABM is right for you – whether you’re a vendor or a partner.

    1. Are your customers and deals high value, with decision making units made up of several key buyers and influencers?
    2. Do you tend to have a smaller number of larger customers who stay with you for several years?
    3. Is what you sell into those customers complex, or hard to replicate?
    4. Do you have specialist experience or expertise in a particular sector or niche?
    5. Would winning more business from your best customers, or being able to attract new customers like them be valuable to your business?
    6. Are you prepared to invest in your structure, systems and partnership to make number 5 happen?

If the answer to most of those, but especially number 6 is yes, then Partner ABM could work really well for you.

The first vendors and partners in the channel to really leverage and adopt ABM will be the winners. They’ll be along the line, securing the best customers and the biggest deals while others will be left catching up, scrambling around for quarter-by-quarter tactics, wondering why things aren’t happening. There is a huge opportunity, but like everything that’s worth doing – it will take some thought and effort to get the best rewards.

Glenn Robertson

Glenn Robertson

CEO of The Channel Agency: Purechannels
Founder of Nuzoo and Viewpoint | Channel Chief | Agency Leader | CRN A-Lister