Top 10 ABM Challenges and How to Overcome Them with Declan Mulkeen


In this presentation, Declan goes over the top 10 ABM challenges from a survey he conducted. He discusses how to overcome each one with Fes Askari.


Declan Mulkeen is CMO of Strategicabm, the Account-based Marketing Agency. Declan is an ABM advisor for B2B tech brands and host of the Let’s Talk ABM Podcast 


“ABM is more of a business strategy rather than just a marketing campaign” 

“ABM is all about prioritization. From the business strategy level and then all the way down to the execution level.” 

Key Points

Some solutions to challenges of ABM

  1. Prioritize your commercial objectives
  2. Researching and understanding how your customers buy
  3. Refreshing your cadence and ICP


Declan Mulkeen-Today we’re going to talk about the top 10 ABM challenges and
how to overcome them and I’m delighted to be joined by my colleague, Fes Askari
who’s our Director of Sales at the agency First, thanks for joining us.

Fes Askari-Nice to speak to ya.

Declan Mulkeen-So there’ll be a background for everyone, Fes and myself.
We’ve been running something which we call the ABM Lunch and Learn workshop for
about a year and a half now. And we’ve run about approximately 120 130 over the
course that period to b2b technology brands who are looking either to explore
ABM in the first instance or secondly, to enhance their current ABM program and
so we’ve got a wealth of information about what those programs are, what their
challenges are, what they’re looking to achieve, what they’re looking to solve,
etc. So we thought, for this webinar, it’d be great to share those kinds of
insights and give you some data and perhaps give you some ideas about how to
overcome some of the challenges that you will face. And so as a bit of a
roadmap really to kind of help you on your ABM journey. So let’s kick off. What
we’ve actually done is we’ve actually taken the data from all these ABM lunches
and learn. And one question that we asked every single guest was what was the
kind of the major concern that you had for what you’re trying to achieve? And
so let’s look at the top 10 in reverse order, starting with the number one. 22%
of the audience said that this was an issue for them is we are not sure which
are the right accounts to go after. So if there’s, how would you answer that

Fes Askari-Yeah, I think it’s a really good question. I think it goes back
to the crux of ABM being more of a business strategy rather than just a
marketing campaign. And really thinking about inviting all of the key
stakeholders from marketing sales, commercial products, to have a say in the
account selection process. There’s a number of considerations, and some teams
do some great work in terms of account selection. But for example, you don’t want
to build an ABM strategy around the product that might be going out of scope in
the next 18 months, right. So you need to have the product view of the strategy
there. You might need to prioritize your commercial objectives. So, you might
have certain products that the business wants to sell more of. In the next 18
months. You need to understand what those growth objectives look like. And
again, you know, everybody in the business will have their view of account
selection, but you also want to back this up with data that you have available
that could be internal first party data. It could be external, third-party data
and 10 data, things like that to help validate the thinking now, what’s your
view on that deck?

Declan Mulkeen-No, I was going to support you on that. Basically, I think
just trying to bring that data that set together from what you’ve got
internally in the organization through your CRM, what visitors you’re seeing on
your website, whatever the tracking, we use something called Lead feeder, which
is great to kind of track those kinds of anonymous visitors and try to
de-anonymize those visitors, which is a great tool to use. And then third-party
data, you know, intent data platforms that are out there. And I think an
important thing to bear in mind with this data and particularly the intent is
be a little bit careful. You need to have more than one source of intensity. I
remember one of the guests on Let’s Talk ABM, the podcast that we run, Danny
Nail, who’s over at Salesforce said, you know, always look for three sources of
data for intent. Otherwise, one source of data for intent is just interest. I
think that’s a key thing. Going up the rankings in terms of trying to find out
what the biggest concerns are for people launching an ABM program. The second
one in the list, which had 27%, was we need to understand how to pivot our ABM
program to deal with the climate that we are currently in. Any pointers on that

Fes Askari-Yeah, I mean part of this just goes back to doing good marketing
and doing your research and doing your personal development and understanding
how your customers buy today. Some industries have been more impacted than
others. Some industries are currently going through a bit of a flux period in
terms of offline activities and events. And so you just need to be really aware
of your customer buying behavior over the last few years and coming out of this
pandemic period. We’re not out of it yet. But we’re coming a little bit more
out of the severe lockdowns and so you know, the way buyers buy has changed the
way sellers sell has changed in the way marketers market needs to change and
adapt as well. And there are different channels and considerations that we
should think about. Teams are becoming more digital, buyers becoming more digitally
savvy in terms of the resources that they can tap into. But there are
differences in industries, slightly more traditional or field based versus more
SaaS Type companies. So, you just need to do your research and do your homework
and update that insight on a more regular basis. You know, monthly or quarterly
build those calls like you aren’t accurate and some of the calls may need to be
on those customer conversations and hear it from the voice of the customer.
What’s your view? 

Declan Mulkeen-Well, I think I just echo what you said really, I think
always looking at your account selection was looking at your ICP and having a
regular cadence of looking to refresh it. Because you know, we learned from two
years ago with the beginning of the pandemic that certain industries literally
turn the tap off overnight. So those industries actually are coming back very
strongly now in terms of tourism and in terms of restaurants, hotels, etc. So
always be aware of what’s going on and just keep a refresh option. Always
reviewing a three months or six months review is very, very healthy. Now
obviously we’re going from the 10th through to number one, so number and number
eight we’ve got that we need to change organizations’ perception of a BM so I
think I think I could probably answer that. We talked about that in the most
recent edition of dash dot the monthly newsletter that we released I think the
key thing there is obviously Account Based Marketing perhaps the M is a little
bit unfortunate for some people because I think the depending on the perception
that marketing may or may not have in the organization, but I think if you talk
about it as an account strategy that makes a lot more sense. Our advice to our
clients always is to use the language of your business. Whenever you’re talking
about any marketing strategy. So, you don’t use so much the acronyms and the
terminology that you use within your own marketing group, which is great and
that’s fine. Focus everything around the business outcomes that you’re looking to
achieve. Try to align with the business outcomes that the organization is
trying to achieve. And if you can talk in that language around accounts, around
account pipeline, deal, velocity, acceleration, sales cycle length, you’ll be
on to a much better course in terms of how you get a bit better perception of
what you’re trying to achieve in organization.

Fes Askari-Absolutely. I mean, I’ve mentioned before the call now, we were I
was listening to the let’s talk ABM interview on my run yesterday I was listening
to it on the podcast and really interesting to hear from Karina at gong talking
about you know, removing the jargon removing the acronyms and just talking the
language of business because ultimately, you need to be able to speak to the
other stakeholders in the business in a language that they understand. Just
like you speak to your buying personas in the language that they understand. So,
you know, do research on the stakeholders that you’re engaging with internally,
and learn to adopt the language that they speak just like you would an ABM
campaign. Learn to adopt the language of your customers. 

Declan Mulkeen-Yeah, it’s the internal customer essentially, absolutely,
internal marketing and effect. Coming in at number seven in the top 10 ABM
challenges is we don’t have the internal resources to deliver on ABM and this
had 32% of the 130 art attendees to ABM Lunch and Learn said that that is a
challenge for them the internal resources.

Fes Askari-So what’s your answer there first, I think you know, for me, ABM
is all about prioritization. So you know, at the business strategy level and
then all the way down to the execution level. It’s all about prioritization.
You can’t do everything to anyone and you know, working with billion dollar
companies, everybody has a bandwidth limitation at some level, right, depending
on how your business is structured, and how mature you are in your
organization. There are limitations everywhere, right? So, you need to
understand what those limitations are. You need to look at your strategy, and
then you need to optimize well, how do we create the biggest impact towards our
goal, and you know, three hours of ABM, reputation, relationships and revenue
to identify where the blockers are in those three, three areas and then you need
to figure out where you can make the most impact. You know, some clients that
we talked to are very customer focused, other clients are focused on net new
acquisition, and then you might have middle of funnel opportunities. Just
prioritizing a little bit around where the opportunity is to make the biggest
impacts in terms of supporting your business objectives supporting the sales
team and then obviously, you can work with external partners, like agencies,
technology partners, and you need to understand how they add value to your

Declan Mulkeen-I think that’s a great answer. And I think just to add to
that, I mean, we tend to find with our clients that they come to us for one or
two reasons. Either they have a resource issue, as we’ve mentioned here in the
survey, or they have a knowledge issue or a combination of both. So that’s
where we as an agency have maybe an agency come in, we help people we can, you
know, help to move things quicker, sometimes and then companies can do them
themselves. But I think ultimately the way that we think is the way of working
is to work in partnership, and honestly, I think the most successful
partnerships that we have with our clients is where we’ve actually ended up
training many of their team internally to become ABM advocates and ABM
champions. And then we can kind of move into a more of a consultancy role or
creative role or some of the kind of more specialized areas of ABM while they
do the orchestration. So I think it’s I think we always say that ABM is a
journey, and that’s the same for the teams that are actually looking to run
ABM. So, I think just bear that in mind. And also, the last thing I’ll say is
try not to bite off more than you can chew. So starting small with four or
5,6,7,8 accounts as a start is always a good way. So coming in at number six in
terms of the most challenging parts of launching ABM is we need to drive more
sales opportunities through our existing programs. And 41% of our people said
that this was a major challenge for them. So how do you drive more

Fes Askari- I think for a lot of marketers, it may be a bit of a mindset
shift with ABM and really understanding what these sales opportunities mean.
And I still haven’t spoken to a lot of teams. Obviously, there has been a lot
of promotion and demand internally around lead generation and that concept of
leads right? And actually what the sales team’s value is more meetings and
which converts into opportunities. Meetings really start with conversations.
And it’s all about how do you trigger more conversations with customers who are
maybe not sales ready, but in that buyer journey, right? And starting
conversations can happen in so many different ways in different channels,
outside of somebody downloading an eBook and that kind of thing. That is all
part of a broader campaign strategy and mix Absolutely. Kind of content
generation and showing thought leadership and building education within your
audience. Actually where I feel the tipping point is that opportunity development
is that starting point of how do we start a conversation with this account or
the teams in this account? And that can come through a number of different
channels. It can come through podcast strategy, it can come through social
selling activities. Often what we see is driving towards some sort of value
exchange like a workshop offer, and that can unlock some missed opportunity in
the pipeline because teams are very often focused on bottom of funnel high
intent conversion CTAs like book a demo inquiry, which absolutely should have
that in your strategy and funnel but there are opportunities earlier in the
programs, you know, where you can get engagement with buyers when you’re
helping to educate them around the proper proposition, which is the very early
stages of the opportunity cycle. So that’s what I’d be thinking about in kind
of an ABM context.

Declan Mulkeen-Yeah, I just have two quick points on that. Number one, I
think the workshop you mentioned that many companies that we talk to tend to
kind of lead with that. Contact us book a demo, very kind of, as you said, much
more bottom of the funnel, high tech and very little when we speak to them and
we kind of do an audit of their sales process, we find that they haven’t really
gotten much more of a quality conversation startup, which is less threatening,
less kind of like, you know, we wanted to talk to your sales team and much more
about we’d like to talk to your experts. So, kind of bringing that kind of peer
to peer play in with a workshop offer. Higher in the funnel, you’ll actually
end up building a higher pipeline and a big pipe further down. And then the
last thing I’d say actually, is working really hard. The numbers in terms of
you look at your data, looking at your engagement. So, if you’re running demand
gen ones I’m looking at which accounts would warrant going from a demand gen
play into your ABM play. So then therefore into your funnel you want to view
and indeed look at which accounts you want to make. We run this ABM framework
where we’re constantly promoting and demoting accounts looking at which
accounts in your one to many perhaps, because the level of engagement goes onto
one too few plays, which will then accelerate the deal stages as well. So I
think that’s worth looking at. 

Fes Askari-I think some of what we’re talking about is really specific to
enterprise and where ABM sits, you know, targeting enterprise organizations.
This isn’t so much of an issue when you have, you know, a freemium product
growth strategy where lead generation absolutely makes sense, right. So, you
know, you need to understand the context for the strategy that you’re running
aligned to your products.

Declan Mulkeen-Yeah, absolutely. So, we’re moving down to the top five ABM
challenges that people are facing and then number five we need to understand
the right sales and marketing tech for ABM, and 60% of respondents. a major
challenge for them so, tech is something that we talk about a lot. A lot of
people believe that the tech vendors created ABM, they didn’t, apologize to
tech vendors watching this ABM has been around now for 19 years in its current
way devised by Beth Burgess back in 2002 2003. So, what’s the answer that we
need to understand the right sales and marketing tech for ABM? 

Fes Askari-I love technology. I worked in the technology sector, we sell
synergy companies, we work with some great technology partners. Good technology
doesn’t add value unless you have the right strategy. And you can insert the
right technology to meet those strategic goals. And you understand the adoption
roadmap, you know that it’s great to bring in technology, but you need to
understand where the key drivers are for that technology. For example, you
know, I talked about the value of video in sales and bringing in a video
platform you need to have some considerations for the sales teams around
perhaps a level of media training, a little bit of how do you use video at
different stages in the buyer journey from top of funnel to customer conversion
and beyond Right? So, there’s a number of different things that you can
consider there. And working with the right stakeholders and business, having
the right conversations and setting the right expectations is key for
technology. You know, I always say you know put crap in you’re going to get
crap out with technology has to have the right strategy and the right process
to get value out of it. And we’ve done some great work in the agency working
with partners like Turtle and intent those partners that sign this value out of
those platforms for our own agency marketing and you know, our audience see
that value all day, every day in the campaigns that we run. And there’s some
great experiences that you can create, but I know that you’ve done a lot of
work, looking at what the capabilities are and have created that experience in
those types of platforms. Maybe you can talk about that for a second.

Declan Mulkeen-Yeah, I think just my kind of slogan is, you know, strategy
first technology second, and I think if you go that way, lead with strategy
first, then think about processes and the technology will always follow up with
something that’s really what I found really, number four in the top 10
challenges is we need to understand how to get started with a pilot ABM
program. And that came in with 62% of respondents. So we talk a lot about Pilots.
Our advice to clients is to always start with a pilot. So very briefly, Fes,
what would you say that?

Fes Askari-Yeah, I mean, pilots can mean different things to different
people. Depending on the maturity size of your organization, right. A pilot for
some companies can be very small and tactical. And a pilot for other
organizations is much more scaled, but in the context of their organization.
It’s still a small program, right? So they think about the pilot in terms of
your organization, your maturity, what resources you have available to you,
some companies have an existing technology stack that is amazing, right? So you
can take advantage of that. In your pilot program teams are doing very
rudimentary ABM activities just to build up their learning and knowledge about
the process and really building that process without a lot of technology. So
it’s great. There’s loads of education out there like the let’s talk ABM series
and other partners are doing some great content. And I think, you know, what
I’m seeing is people are taking advantage of the resources out there, and
they’re you know, coming to our lunch and learn session with some insights and
funding and then we just help them refine their thinking, and whether they run
a pilot with us or not, whatever. They’ve almost validated a little bit of
their strategy before they start to implement and if you can take advantage of
that, then I think that’s a really good opportunity.

Declan Mulkeen-Okay, great answer. First, let’s move down to the top three
challenges that people are finding. At number three, we need to understand the
right budget, to allocate to ABM. And no surprise here that 66% of the
attendees to our ABM lunch and learn said that that was a major challenge for
them. So, let’s talk about the budget.

Fes Askari-Yeah. Again, I think this depends on the size and shape of your
organization. But ultimately, ABM is designed to engage when retaining your
highest value account. So you need to set that expectation in the business from
day one, right? This is where we need to put on our best show here. So, these
accounts and things to think about how we’re going to add value to their
business, and what does it really take to get to that level of engagement with
the teams at the enterprise executive level that we want to engage with? So, I
think there’s different ways that you need to evaluate your budget across
resources, people in teams, external resources, partners, and technology and thinking
about how you can get the right blend of budget across all the different areas
to meet your objective and, you know, again, the budget allocation will depend
on your objectives, whether this is an existing customer strategy or new
acquisition focus. Existing customers, you might not need to spend as much but
you might want to go a bit broader internally within that account. It’s new,
you’re going much earlier into the buyer journey. So, you know, there’s a
completely different program that you need to run there at some level,
depending on what your objective is.

Declan Mulkeen-But if we’re going to give some numbers, some broad numbers
around the kind of numbers that they would need to spend, I suppose the answer
is there’s two answers. The fact is if you’re running it in house, you’re going
to have your personnel. You’re going to have your team, you’re going to have
your technology that you may or may not add into your budget, you’re going to
have the media spend and the creativity etc. If you’re using an agency, for
part or all of your ABM strategy, what kind of budget are we looking at?

Fes Askari-Well, I would say, you know, there’s some numbers out there that
talk about market level in terms of pilot programs that can be up to $300,000
for a program, but that might include some of your people technology and
content creation, media, spend all that kind of thing. So you know, you have to
be realistic about it.

Declan Mulkeen-And I think just to add some one final point about this,
obviously, when we talk about ABM, we’re always helping our clients to
understand whether ABM is a good fit for them or not. And generally speaking,
we kind of have this rule of thumb, which is you know, you need to have an
average contract value or an annual contract value of somewhere north of 30, 40
$50,000. Towards IBM motion. You need to be selling a complex long lifecycle
product or solution into mid-market or enterprise. You need to be trying to
influence a kind of many people in the organization. It’s not like just one
person that buys your solution. You’ve got you know, finance involves, you’ve
got operations involved, you’ve got, you know, CTO involved, etc. You’re trying
to influence many, many people, so that you can bear those in mind that
obviously then that the price that you’re looking to achieve obviously warrants
the investment so it’s always that kind of balance, really. Okay, so we’re
coming down to the top two. Now, challenges at number two. We’ve got to
understand how to measure the success of ABM. 73% of respondents said that that
was a major challenge for them. And obviously, measurement reporting is huge,
and it’s the people that launched ABM motion that don’t actually put enough
time into and then they then have a problem with justifying what they’re doing.
So very quickly, what would you say in response there?

Fes Askari-I would say there’s essentially two types of reporting that you
need to consider. There’re executive level dashboards and then there’s
operational dashboards. So at the executive level, you need to understand
what’s important to your internal stakeholders, depending on your strategy and
objectives, and you need to design the right dashboard that talks the right
language, and that they can understand and see value at the operational level.
Again, you need to think about the three R’s of ABM, reputation, relationship
and revenue, and getting down into the more granular details around how to
track the engagement across those phases.

Declan Mulkeen-Yeah, just to add, just to add there Fes, if anybody wants to
move in a bit more about measurement, we’ve done some publications that are on
our website, please message us and we’ll happily share them. So there’s a lot
of great thinking there about how to do that measurement and how to show that
dashboard. And here, number one, concern that many people face when they’re
trying to launch an ABM strategy is around sales, sales teams and enablement.
76% of respondents said that that was a major concern. So, this is obviously
huge. We always say this is where many ABM programs you know, succeed or fail.
Fes what’s your what’s your take on that?

Fes Askari-A few things really find the advocates and sales team that are
willing to work with you on the program and, you know, interested in trying to
do things differently. I also think learning to speak the language of sales is
really important and talking about, you know, opportunities and having
conversations. I think that aligning on the right objectives with the sales
team and agreeing what those objectives look like at the outset is key to this
and making sure that everybody’s driving towards that goal is one team. And
there’s a number of different ways that you can do that, depending on you know,
what type of sales team that you have in house STRS with AES or full funnel,
sales reps or whatever the structure of your sales team is, understand where
there challenges are, understand what the blockers are for them, understand how
you can help them open the doors to conversations with their best accounts with
their top accounts. And what can you do to pave the way? How can you build that
from a marketing perspective? How can you create offers for customers that will
engage with how you can create content that follows up from a great sales
conversation? What happens next after that? So don’t, just focus on top of the
funnel, think about the whole experience from the sales perspective.

Declan Mulkeen-I would just very quickly add a couple of things really, I
would say number one with sales. You need to make the intangible tangible. You
need to show that to your sales colleagues, your VP of sales, etc. What does
the journey look like? What’s their part in that journey? What do they have to
do as part of the ABM journey? That’s number one, we create playbooks which we
use for our clients to help them actually kind of, you know, show that journey
in terms of email templates, social media templates, showing them all the
assets that are going to be created showing them the account experience that
each account is going to go through and when I think also, over communicate
with your sales colleagues. One message, one Slack message, one email, one
launch is not enough. Do more than you would actually think is necessary
because they’re very busy people. They’ve got their own priorities. They’re
doing their own sales, they’ve got their own issues to deal with. So over
communicating, more is better than less. Share success. Success is contagious.
People in sales love to see success, so share successes, and share early wins.
Share those early wins on this ABM journey. You know, we say our ABM is a
marathon of 26.2 miles. So, share those wins. Share those milestones that
you’re going through on that journey with them. And you’ll get them on board
and you’ll find that actually it becomes a success just saying it becomes one
team. And then you’ll look back and think well, this has changed our business.
So hopefully, looking at those 10 key challenges that people are facing when it
comes to launching an ABM program. We hope you find that useful. And if you
have any questions, please contact us and we’ll be happy to help you. 

Fes Askari-Great stuff. They really enjoyed that. Thank you