B2B lead generation has had to reinvent itself over the last decade.
Sales have always used an account-based approach. Now marketing is getting on board by with account-based marketing. But it’s not an easy road.
Here’s why: In B2B, you’re never selling to an individual. He or she is almost always part of a buying team. Moreover, the bigger the potential deal, the more people, departments, and functional areas get involved.
For this reason, many B2B marketers using a leads-based approach hit a wall with their account based marketing efforts.
ABM isn’t just about marketing. In fact, ABM works best in companies where all revenue-generating areas are closely aligned as one team.
So how can you improve your account based marketing results?
To help, I interviewed Jon Miller (@jonmiller), CEO and Co-Founder at Engagio. Jon and his team just released the Second Edition of The Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Marketing. He brings a fantastic perspective on how you can complement a leads-based approach and adopt account-based marketing.
What inspired you to start Engagio?
Jon: Great. I’m excited to be here and to have a chance to hang out with you again. It’s been a while since we talked.
So, my background: I’ve been in marketing technology almost my entire career. My undergraduate degree is actually in physics, and when I was coming out of college, I ended up doing a lot of work with companies that were trying to take advantage of all the customer data they had [in order] to make decisions.
Because I came to marketing with that quantitative and analytical background, that led me into a series of marketing technology companies that were basically all about really trying to use all that data to drive better customer decisions and one to one interactions. You know, very much inspired by the Don Peppers and Martha Rogers book The One to One Future.
So, I worked at the company called Exchange and then I was an early employee at a company called Epiphany, which was probably the leading marketing technology company of the mid-’90s.
After we sold Epiphany, I co-founded Marketo along with Phil Fernandez. And I think that’s arguably, or maybe not even arguably, the leading marketing technology of the last ten years or so. Recently, it was sold to Adobe for just under 5 billion dollars.
I had this long career in marketing technology, but one of the trends I think is always true is marketing is changing all the time, and the underlying technologies are changing all the time.
I just felt about four years ago that Marketo wasn’t, frankly, moving fast enough to kind of keep up with all the new trends and changes in how marketing was done.
And I was inspired to start a new company that would be seeking to build out the next generation of marketing product; that could really take advantage of all these new trends.
One of those significant trends is what’s now known as account-based marketing. And so, that’s where I decided to start, to focus, to have Engagio be a platform for account-based marketing.
How do you define account-based marketing?
Brian: Well, there’s a lot of definitions out there about account-based marketing, and I’ve talked with CMOs and VPs, and they see account-based marketing as just good marketing.
But I’d love to ask you: you just had this new book come out, The Clear Complete Guide to Account-Based Marketing and you’re on your second edition, so how would you define it?
Jon: Yeah. So, first of all, let me just say, really excited about the book. You know, it is a second edition; I wrote the first one about three years ago. I’ve learned a ton more about ABM in the last three years.
I’ll start with a colloquial definition of ABM then I’ll give you my formal one. I think the colloquial one I like to use is a comparison back to the kind of marketing that we did with Marketo. And that is the marketing that I like to describe as fishing with nets.
When you’re fishing with nets, you run your campaigns, and you don’t care which specific fish you catch. You just care – did I catch enough? That you can then do lead nurturing, and lead scoring to kind of run it through the system.
But when you’re going after bigger or more strategic accounts, or maybe because you’re going after your existing customers for expansion, or you’re in a narrow industry.
Any time you have a specific list of named accounts, you don’t want to wait around for those big fish to swim into your net. You’re going to find ways to reach out to them proactively. It’s much more like fishing with a spear. And so, to me that’s the simple definition of account-based marketing: it’s spearfishing as opposed to net fishing.
A breakout of account-based marketing
Jon: My formal definition is that account-based marketing is a go-to-market strategy that will coordinate personalized marketing and sales efforts to land and expand at target accounts. Can I just explain what some of those words mean?
Brian: Yeah. If you could break that out that would be great.
It’s a strategy
Jon: First of all, I’m very precisely calling it a strategy. ABM is a way of running your go-to-market. And how your sales and marketing and customer success teams work. It’s not a campaign or a tactic. So, you really do need to kind of say, “We use ABM as our go-to-market strategy or at least one of our go-to-market strategies.”
Personalized to the right people and accounts
Jon: Second, ABM is really all about being personalized. There’s so much noise in the market today; if you’re spearfishing and you’re trying to reach out to the right people at the right companies, somehow you’ve got to break through all that noise and the best way to do that is with relevance, resonance, and empathy, which I know we’ll talk about.
ABM is a misnomer because we’re saying it’s account-based marketing but right there, in my definition, I’m talking about marketing and sales. And let’s talk about that a little bit later.
Landing and expanding revenue
Jon: ABM is about landing and expanding. I think that, especially today, so many companies earn their revenue through subscription models and recurring revenue models.
Just focusing on that new business, which is what the net fishing is all about, is a minimal myopic focus, and ABM expands, or changes, the marketer’s mindset to focus on the entire revenue journey:
- landing/creating new pipeline
- accelerating existing deals
- expanding and retaining existing relationships.
ABM plays across all that. So, that’s why I chose that definition.
From leads-focus to account-focus
How is ABM different from demand generation?
Brian: Well, it makes sense, and I appreciate what you’re talking about, just the overarching trend.
CEOs focus on lifetime value (LTV) and CAC (customer acquisition cost). And so, ABM is providing answers to that.
There still is so much confusion out there, and you say, ABM isn’t just about marketing. How do you mean?
How is it different from demand generation? Because I still think people out there, even though we’ve just talked about the definitions, yet are getting confused.
Jon: Yeah. Well, so I always thought it was ironic that we called the category Marketo played in marketing automation. People think marketing automation means that you have fewer humans doing less work. The reality is the exact opposite.
When you buy a tool like Marketo, or any marketing automation platform, it requires work. People have to do stuff.
ABM is not just about marketing; it’s about everything
So, in many ways marketing automation is a misnomer in the same way that ABM is a misnomer because ABM is not just about marketing.
If you’re focused on the entire revenue journey (creating new pipeline, accelerating existing deals, expanding and retaining relationships) that can’t just be marketing: it has to be an orchestrated business initiative between the different functions.
And frankly, if it’s just marketing, it’s not a strategy; it’s a campaign.
At Engagio, a lot of our customers have their strategies, and they’re not called ABM.
They call it something like account-based everything. Or the account first initiative, or something as simple as account-based sales and marketing.
I’ve seen all of those at play, and I think it really is the right way to think about it because otherwise, as I said, it’s just a campaign.
Unteaching that it’s about leads
Brian: Well, I think that’s a vast distinction, especially as people are considering the future. I liked in your book, as I was reading it, you have a quote, “Salespeople never talk about how many leads they close, they talk about how many accounts they closed.”
Salespeople never talk about how many leads they close, they talk about how many accounts they closed.
And do you find that marketers see this differently, and why?
Jon: Well, yeah. I mean this is my fault, and a little bit your fault.
Jon: We taught marketers to talk about leads.
Jon: Literally, we called it lead nurturing, and so on. And the technologies that we use, like Marketo for example, they were built to be really lead-based systems.
Marketers focus on leads. Salespeople care about accounts.
You can’t even log in to Marketo and look at an account, for example. So, we created this world where marketers talked about leads, and salespeople talked about accounts.
Which, almost by definition, meant they were not on the same page. And that’s not the only reason marketing and sales have trouble getting along, but it certainly didn’t help.
I think a big part of ABM really put is merely just marketers, frankly, adopting the language the salespeople use. And just, again, being on the same page.
Brian: Yeah. I think salespeople have practiced, in some ways, the very things that you’re talking about in your book.
They may have called it strategic account selling, major account selling, and target account selling.
But they did focus on these accounts, and as you talked about, now marketers are coming alongside salespeople and working on these accounts together. So, we’re going to talk about some process steps, but I wanted to step back to something you said earlier.
How does customer empathy fit together with ABM?
We have more channels, content, and technology to reach customers than ever before, but connecting with customers has never been harder.
I am of course a big proponent and fan of customer empathy.
How do you see building empathy for our customers to bridge that gap of connection and trust and account-based marketing fitting together?
Jon: Yeah, in ABM, once you identified the accounts you want to go after, and the people at those accounts you want to reach, you’ve got to kind of find a way to reach out to them and engage them.
It’s such a crowded, noisy market and people love to ignore unwanted marketing and unwanted messaging. I think at the core if you want to cut through the noise you have to find a way to delight your prospects, educate them, add value to them.
I think empathy and relevance are just two sides of a coin. If you empathize with your prospects, the people you’re trying to reach, it means you understand their pains.
And if you understand their pains, you’re going to be in a much better position to teach them something about their business and create content for their specific economic motivators, their particular pains and that is how we stand out.
Jon: I think it’s just very much like The Challenger Sale, which is so popular on the sales side of the equation, that’s what the best salespeople do: they teach, and they tailor, and they do that by having empathy with their customer. So, very much these things go hand in hand. I’m sure you have additional thoughts on that because you’re the empathy expert.
Brian: Well, I certainly do, and for our listeners, we had Brent Adamson who is a co-author of The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer, so we got Brent’s thoughts about this on empathy and sales, and I’ll share my perspective.
At a deeper level, neuroscientists have shown is that all our decisions are based on emotion. So, what we need to do is connect to, as you talked about Jon, the pains. But also what are the results people want?
The purchase journey is like climbing a mountain
Brian: And we have to think about when they’re making a purchase where it’s a complex sale and ABM is oriented to that what causes us to change is that we see something in it for us and what causes us to stay stuck–it’s like trying to climb a mountain.
If I want to climb and I’ve got to take other people with me, some of them don’t want to go.
Or I’m concerned about how do they feel about doing this?
How will my team see me?
Am I’m going to be concerned about–is this going to add ten extra hours to my week, and I’m already maxed out?
So, there’s this personal stuff that’s happening inside your customer because we’re all customers; we all make decisions emotionally.
We think B2B buying is less about emotion, but the stakes are higher, so it’s even more emotional. So, that’s the thing I find is that we’ve got to tune into every stage of the journey with what’s happening.
B2B tends to be more about avoiding negative emotions
Jon: That’s a great point. The only thing I’d also add is I think the emotions in B2B tend to be more about avoiding negative emotions.
Whereas B2C might be about kind of seeking aspirational emotions. Because in B2B there’s such a disconnect between the–if you make a good purchase your company is a little bit better off. You make a bad purchase, you can lose your job.
Brian: Yeah, and often people start journeys by, “Hey I’m learning about…and I feel inspired and hopeful we could actually do something.”
And pretty quickly after that, it goes to despair. Like “Oh my gosh is this even worth it? I want to try to get this into our company; it’s so hard.”
For that person, they’re really saying, “Do I want to do this? Is it really going to be worth it?” And as you talked about the pain, just changing is painful and there’s so much there.
ABM process steps to follow
Brian: I loved that you laid out a process based on what you’ve seen that has been a proven approach–these seven ABM process steps.
We probably don’t have time to go through all of them, but I was just going to ask, where do you see marketers getting stuck, or need to put more attention in those seven ABM process steps?
Jon: Sure. So, just for the listeners, I’ll summarize the seven steps down and keep it simple, which is it’s only really about who, what and where and then measurement.
- Who do you want to go after? Which accounts? Which people?
- What are you going to say to those accounts that are actually going to be empathetic and relevant?
- Where is how do you actually get that message in front of them?
- What channels? And how do you orchestrate those interactions?
- And then the last piece is the measurement of the whole thing.
Where do people get stuck in ABM?
Jon: So, regarding your question, where do people get stuck?
The ABM maturity curve
It’s really a maturity curve. Obviously, to start, you need to pick your accounts. That is a process that has to go hand in hand with sales.
The companies that are less mature can get wrapped up right around the axle right there. They just can’t find a good process for how do marketing and sales actually collaborate around an account selection process.
Picking too many accounts
Once they’re past that stage, I guess the best way to describe it is sort of the next area I see people get stuck is; frankly, they pick too many accounts to really be able to deliver the level of personalization and relevance that’s indeed required to be successful with ABM.
I’ve seen people pick, they have 200 tier one accounts. And having 200 tier one accounts means that you are not creating a bespoke customized interaction with in-depth account-relevant research at every one of those 200 accounts.
So, there’s a set of interconnected challenges there. But it starts with recognizing that you’ve got to be able to break through the noise and stand out. That requires being more relevant, and you have to right-size the number of accounts you pick to your actual abilities to be able to be relevant.
Scaling ABM and automating it
Jon: And then the third challenge that the most mature companies run into is then scaling the whole thing.
So, great, you’ve identified some accounts, and you’ve identified things that you can do that are going to really help you stand out and it worked great in your pilot.
Now, how do you really start to automate some of those steps to bring it to the next level and make sure that any time a target account’s doing something interesting, your sales team knows about it, you’re following up appropriately? It’s really started to become a machine and not a whole series of one-act heroics.
I’d say those are probably the three if you look across the who, what, where, the three areas where people kind of get into trouble.
Checklist for building an ABM foundation
Tips to do ABM better
Brian: That’s really good, Jon. do you have any tips or actionable advice that you would give to someone just, like, over coffee, and they said, “Hey, how do I do better?”
Jon: Yeah, a couple tips. I think the first is that I see a lot of companies start their ABM journey with display advertising.
First, don’t start with ABM advertising
And I think they do that because it’s really easy; it’s an easy button. You just have to spend some money, give them your account list, and hey, you get to say you’re doing ABM. But I’ve also seen that lead to disillusionment with ABM quite frequently because the reality is, I don’t care if you’re doing account targeting or not. Ads are ads.
I don’t click on ads. I don’t even notice ads, and I’m sure that’s probably true with a lot of other executives. So my first tip is don’t get seduced into thinking that you can really just start with ads. I think of advertisements as a nice thing you layer on top of an existing program. But, not your first step. That’s my first piece of advice.
Second, you can’t be account-based if you can look at accounts
Jon: I think my next piece of advice is that you really have to think about your technology infrastructure.
At Marketo, I started trying to do ABM with Marketo and Sales Force and the systems that I had, and it was hard. It was hard because those are lead-based systems. The data in those systems don’t roll up into your account. I made my market operation team crazy just trying to kind of set up the processes so I could even measure whether we’re also having an impact at the account level.
So, again, if you’re looking to start, I really think it’s worth considering what is your account foundation? And how do you look at data at an account-based level?
It’s kind of obvious when you say it that way.
What’s your favorite chapter in your book and why?
Brian: That’s very good. As I was looking through the book, this is a 175-page book that you’re offering for free to people for providing information. You put a lot of effort and energy into it, it’s very well done. What’s your favorite chapter in your book and why?
Jon: I’m not going to pick one, I’m going to pick two here.
Brian: Okay, sounds good.
Different ABM styles and ABM entitlements
Jon: So, I think first, the whole part two of the guide, which is all about the different styles of ABM, and the concept of ABM entitlements is entirely new in the second edition.
I think I like it a lot because when I go and talk to our customers about how they take their ABM program to the next level, this concept always comes up.
The different styles and the entitlements. And it’s related directly back to the problem I talked about earlier which is people tend to have picked too many accounts, and therefore aren’t really able to deliver enough wood behind the arrow. So, I think part two about the styles of ABM entitlements is one of my favorites.
ABM metrics and measurement
Jon: And then probably the other one I like a lot is this whole section on ABM metrics and measurements, partly because I’m a quantitative measurement numbers guy. But it’s really struck me how different the metrics in ABM are from those in traditional demand generation.
In a nutshell, the metrics in traditional marketing primarily focus on quantity, and back to the net fishing, it’s all about how many leads did I generate? How many opportunities did I produce? How many people attended my webinar? How many people showed up at my event? And so on. It entirely misses out on the much more fundamental questions around quality.
First, are these the right people from the right accounts? It’s not about counting the people you reach; it’s about reaching the people that count. And so, are you measuring that?
And even furthermore, it’s about understanding the depth and the quality of the relationship. How engaged are these people with you?
Most salespeople would rather have meaningful engagement from a decision maker at a target account than a hundred random leads and ABM metrics really kind of embraced that concept.