The Ecstasy and Agony of Account-Based: Q&A with Eric Wittlake

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Some of the B2B industry’s best and most relevant account-based marketing (ABM)T research and insights are coming out of TOPO, and Eric Wittlake in particular.  With the recent release of their latest ABM benchmark report as well as the upcoming TOPO Summit, I asked Eric to dig deeper into his research findings plus share additional insights that can help ABM marketers at every level of maturity.

MATT:  Does the maturity of account-based programs really have to be coupled with an increasingly complex account-based martech stack? 

ERIC:  No, it really doesn’t. Many companies today invest in more technology than they have the resources or maturity to justify.



That said, as a company’s account based efforts mature, they often recognize opportunities to scale or improve process, and that can lead to incremental technology investment.

MATT:  Not surprising that the most successful account-based program have a dedicated leader, but do you see the future continuing to be a dedicated account-based team & leader or will this discipline be more fully subsumed as a natural part of an evolving “core” B2B marketing function & department?

ERIC:  Account based leaders will be better integrated into the “core” B2B marketing function, but there will still be a distinct leader. Most organizations need that leader to drive alignment and facilitate change management. But this doesn’t mean a large team – execution is often driven by existing teams, including marketing ops, digital, advertising, event and content teams.

The more interesting structural change will be as more of these teams become shared services or centers of excellence to effectively support the range of capabilities and programs they execute.

MATT:  Many companies struggle with the throttling of account-based targets.  Why is it so important to pursue only a percentage of your ideal target accounts at any given time?  How do you convince clients that this isn’t leaving pipeline on the table, but in fact is helping them increase conversion and velocity from those they do proactively target?

ERIC:  You CANNOT target all of your accounts all of the time! Seriously. You don’t have the people or the budget to create the experience you really want to for every account, all the time.

When companies that try to target everyone see the results that a focused effort can create, it quickly becomes clear that a thin approach to all accounts simply isn’t accomplishing what they could. For context, our benchmark shows companies create new opportunities with 21% of the accounts they target.

MATT:  For those companies we talk to that are currently implementing account-based programs, one of the biggest questions we get asked is how to scale what they’re doing more efficiently and broadly.  What in your research have been the key blockers to accelerating impact and scale of account-based efforts and results?

ERIC:  We just talked about account selection, this is one of the keys. If I can select similar accounts, I can create more effective programs for those accounts, and then repeat that process for additional segments of my account list.

Another key step is to align resources to accounts – this is where account tiering is critical. If I scale my efforts to additional accounts, often I’m expanding from, say, top strategic accounts into broad enterprise or commercial. These accounts don’t justify the same investment.



We need to identify, via the resources we will commit, what it actually means to extend our account based investment to these accounts. Once you specify the resources that are and are not available, taking messaging, content, events and more and extending their application through a broader list becomes significantly easier.

MATT:  Is there any evidence that companies investing heavily in account-based are seeing a decline in mid-market and/or “commercial” deals due to lack of focus?  In other words, is there any evidence that account-based increases target account sales but decreases commercial business thereby giving a “zero sum” impact to the company’s overall sales and revenue?

ERIC:  It is important for companies to approach account based as a complimentary go-to-market strategy, not a replacement.

The vast majority of companies will continue to have an inbound or demand model and an account based model, with account based efforts shifting the customer mix and becoming a driver of incremental growth.

I’ve seen a couple instances of companies shifting so much of their effort to target accounts that the balance of the business contracted, but this certainly hasn’t been the norm.

MATT:  You smartly point out that account-based is more than just marketing, but glaringly missing in my point of view is post-sales teams.  Where is the role of customer success and account management in account-based success – either now or in the future?

ERIC:  Both large organizations overall, and the best performing smaller organizations, are far more likely to focus on customer retention and growth as a part of their account based strategy. I expect to see the focus of account based efforts shift to include customers across all but the smallest companies in the coming years.

We do cover some elements of this in the research. For instance, 39% of companies do include account management in account based programs and 48% of top performing organizations include expansion plays as part of their account based strategy.

MATT:  What does Craig do, exactly, at TOPO?  It seems like Eric and the other analysts do all the work these days.

ERIC:  You’ve seen him on Twitter. Imagine what TOPO Slack looks like. Frankly, I don’t know where he finds time for the real work he does gets done.



Use code Heinz20off for a 20% discount to the TOPO Summit 4/17-1/18 in San Francisco.  Check out the agenda here.

Eric Wittlake

Eric Wittlake studies the account based market in TOPO’s marketing practice. Prior to joining TOPO, he spent more than 15 years creating and executing demand generation, marketing, and advertising programs for B2B (and a few B2C) companies.

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