Why SAP went with an account-based marketing approach

SAP's North American digital marketing leader shares how the tech giant is tapping ABM to drive better B2B marketing activity


With technology now underpinning most functions within business, it’s not surprising to see functional leaders taking an interest in their organisation’s technology purchases.

For technology sellers, however, this has created significant complications in the sales process. Sales teams are now engaging with buying committees comprised of representatives from multiple functions, each with their own specific needs. Sellers have responded by adopting account-based marketing, where they treat key clients as a specific market and then target audience groups or individuals within that client.

While the concept is sound in theory, account-based marketing (ABM) has not been so easy to execute, especially given the heavy emphasis on the creation of tools for B2C organisations. For B2B marketers intent on implementing the latest strategies, the theory has often run ahead of the tools required to deliver it.

Read more: What you need to know about account-based marketing

For the North American operations of German software giant, SAP, the shift to ABM earlier this decade and the resulting emphasis on personalisation threatened to place a heavy burden on the marketing team. As a mature business focused on 26 industries, SAP North America needed a solution that could readily cater for the needs of its various audience segments. So in 2014, the company sought a tool that could assist by taking the manual processes out of customisation and allow it to personalise its content at scale.

“We have a diverse set of customers with diverse needs, and that is only at the account level,” SAP head of digital marketing for North America, Nick Robinson, said. “When we start drilling in the buying committee for various solutions we offer, it is not just IT - it is IT and HR and finance. And all these different functions need to come to some kind of consensus.”

One of the tools investigated was Demandbase, and a quick test proved its value.

“We got three times the amount of engagement by developing personalisation,” Robinson said. “That was really the moment where we realised we had to now design for scale. So fast forward four-and-a-half-years and Demandbase is all over the place.”

SAP North America has subsequently gone live with Demandbase’s Company-Targeted Advertising solution, which Robinson said is allowing his team to more easily create the number of segments needed to reach different audiences. One feature that has proven especially useful is Demandbase’s intent signal monitoring capability, which uses artificial intelligence to identify the most relevant buyers within targeted accounts by monitoring more than 150 billion B2B intent signals every month.

“Instead of us trying to force the message towards the account, we can use the technology to listen to who is showing intent around key words related to those solutions, and only then do we serve up ads to people inside those accounts that showed interest,” Robinson explained. “So we are using intent-based targeting not only at the account level but at the department level, whereas in the past we would target everyone in the account at the IP address level.

“It’s not just ads. It is ads in support of the integrated marketing campaign which will help sales get more conversations and meetings.”

Robinson said this capability has been especially helpful when chasing dormant or net new accounts.

“These are very hard segments of the market to acquire or reacquire, because there is not that level of trust built, especially with a strategic purchase like and SAP solution,” he said.

Robinson said the goal is to more readily meet the needs of buyers who are much better informed than ever before, and the use of intent signals is a critical means of reaching those buyers who are definitely in the market.

 “With the use of data-as-a-service products like Bombora and Dun & Bradstreet, they are all developing these data solutions that will help us better predict what is happening outside of our four walls,” he said. “That is the exciting part of B2B marketing I believe is really starting to align sales and marketing. Because every time we talk about this type of technology to sales, they get really excited. Half the battle in sales is in really knowing what is going on inside an account or set of accounts. And if they can know early that some kind of research is happening, they can get ahead of it.

“The technology has finally caught up to the needs of a B2B marketer.”

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