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How to Optimize Account Based Marketing

Olin Hyde

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In this episode of the Green & Greene Show, the LeadCrunch B2B podcast, seasoned marketing experts talk about account-based marketing.

Host: J. David Green

Guest(s): Erik Archer Smith

Topic: Account-Based Marketing

Subtopic: Account-Based Marketing

Duration: 26 minutes



Account-Based Marketing Versus Lead Generation

The Account-Based Marketing Journey

Measuring Account-Based Marketing Effectively


Podcast Transcript



[0:00:51.6]DG:Hello. I’m Dave Green. My partner, Jonathan Greene, is traveling. I’m here today with Erik Archer Smith. Erik is a Director of Marketing at ARM and does a lot of ABM. He also has a great background with sales and marketing alignment. He actually came out of the sales organization. He had an inside sales team which he grew from 30 to 80 people and ran enablement for channel sales covering a thousand reps.

There, he was always meeting with leadership and individual reps to get their input on their approach. The bottom line is he increased average contract value by 4X. More recently, he has had a big focus on account-based marketing, which, I think, is something that most B2B marketers are either doing or need to do.

Erik, thank you so much for joining us today.

[0:02:13.0]EAS:My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

[0:02:16.9]DG:I think most of the people in the audience are doing lead generation. How would you say that account-based marketing is different from lead generation?

Account-Based Marketing Versus Lead Generation

[0:02:27.6]EAS:Sure. I’m happy to dive into that. I do want to set expectations, though, that regardless of your stage of ABM, lead gen doesn’t really go away in the traditional sense. There are a lot of overlapping processes or functionalities between ABM and lead gen. I don’t draw a hard line, and I think maybe we run a hybrid model. With that as my expectation setting, when I think about lead gen, there are a few things that come to mind.

I think about a martini-glass-shaped sales funnel, very wide at the top and quickly gets very, very skinny at the bottom. This applies to ABM as well, I suppose, but some things I think about include search engine marketing (SEM), landing page optimization, content syndication. Depending on your vertical, how popular it is, or your solution, there may be lead aggregators out there you can work with, and they market on your behalf, sending leads to you and probably your competitors as well. In doing that, it’s typically a volume-based approach. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think that model works really well. If you’re selling to SMB or mid-market, I think that that’s a pretty effective method.

Then, I think “lead gen” is usually being supported by an inside sales organization and there’s likely an enterprise or account executive organization working with the inside sales. Sometimes they are a closing role, so it depends on the size of the deal. I’ve seen multiple models. That’s what I think about with lead gen.

The thing I really try to avoid with lead gen, and when I talk to traditional demand gen folks today, especially if they’ve got a digital marketing background, they oftentimes will be very focused on MQLs and the top of the funnel. That’s just a pattern I’ve seen throughout my career. I think that’s part of the reason I really leaned into ABM when I was given a chance, just coming from the sales world. I never liked that. It just seemed like marketing was like, “Okay, well, we’ve got a big top of the funnel and we’ve got a bunch of MQLs,” and then they dust off their hands and say it’s sales problem.

That’s not true of all demand gen and “lead gen”. That’s the impression, especially from a sales perspective, they get when they think about marketing, “Oh, yeah. Those folks, they do a lot of top of the funnel stuff, but they don’t really care about how it progresses through the sales pipeline.”

When I think about ABM as opposed to this martini glass, you might have more like a pint glass, right? It’s wider at the top, surely, but not nearly as narrow in the middle or bottom because the top of the funnel is really going to be constricted to a set of target accounts. Instead of trying to hit everybody in the world, you might have 4,000 that you’re trying to talk to. It’s a very, very defined scope.

The processes you use through the marketing funnel, I think of supporting it largely through outbound efforts as well. We can get into tactics, but I also think it’s still a work in progress.

I think part of it is how we started to measure down the funnel to through SQL, depending on how you define that, pipe ads, and even to close. To give that final example, I’ve had some assets that were super converters, wildly popular last year.

Our SCM team was happy, because our cost per click went way down. Everyone was like, “High five. Yeah, we finally got something that trended.” You know what? It led to zero sales, so who cares? I had other assets that were mid-pack performers from a “lead gen” perspective, but we can associate three or four sales to it and that’s a big difference in how deeply you look at the sales funnel. If I draw one fundamental difference between “lead gen” and “ABM,” it’s how deeply you look into the sales funnel where lead gen tends to be focused mostly on the top and middle, but ABM is focused all the way down the close.

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[0:07:21.6]DG:Yeah, that’s interesting. I have a hypothesis that a key measure of marketing maturity is where you are in the funnel. I found that people who are early in their journey with marketing are looking at traffic and MQLs and inquiries, and people who are a little bit later are doing what you’re talking about. You go where the money is, because there are a huge number of false positives at the top of the funnel, and you can really delude yourselves into thinking you’re being successful, cheering and raising your hands in victory, but the sales team is crying because they don’t convert and it’s time-consuming to work through them. I think what you’re doing is really great. How would you describe the process you use to do ABM campaigns? Can you walk us through the playbook that you have?

The Account-Based Marketing Journey

[0:08:21.9]EAS:Sure. It’s funny. I was just thinking you’re probably hoping I’m going to say that I have a playbook and I’m going to list out 20 things to do, and here’s your life granular decision trees, but I don’t have that.

I’ll absolutely walk you through it. I just want to reiterate that we really look at ABM as a work in progress. For all things I’m going to talk about, we take a six-month focus with a 12-month rough plan. We’ve been doing this maybe 18 months now, probably 12 months with a really deep focus. We learned that we need to incorporate that. We have longer sales cycles. Usually, it takes us about six months to see if something’s really working and then incorporate those learnings into the next.

We always have like, “Hey, here’s what we think the 12-month plan is going to look like. Let’s not plan too deeply after six months, because who knows what we’re going to learn?” That being said, I really credit a lot of the work we did at the beginning to how we execute today. I talked to other ABM leaders and a lot of times, I find that they’re over-engineering their process, and a lot of times, we’ll talk about that

What we did in the beginning was good, old-fashioned marketing, lots and lots of market research. We looked at our groupings of case studies. We identified where we thought we had the strong messages. We have a number of verticals we support, but from an ABM strategy, we chose three of them. In doing that analysis, it’s not like you say, “I’m going to come up with a plan with every single vertical at every single use case.” We said, “No, these are the clusters.” Then you look at the overall target, the TAM, Total Addressable Market, you do a bunch of qualitative research, read the trends, read what leaders are saying, see if there are things that you can identify in what they’re talking about that you can apply your message to.

From there, we made what we considered a rough cut of the accounts. I think we came up with about 4,000 across roughly three target verticals and then there were two that we’re not going to focus on them, but if they come in, we have answers; the demand gen hybrid. Then we sat down with sales and we said, “Hey, sales. This is what we think. What do you think?” That was critical. We wanted them involved in the process. We wanted them to prioritize with us and for us. At the end of the day, sales needs to be bought in.

This isn’t account-based marketing. I’ve heard about it also as account-based selling. I’ve heard arguments that even putting marketing in there can sometimes put salespeople on the defensive. I don’t really have an opinion on that. All I can say is we work with sales and we even asked, “What verticals do you think you’re good at, salesperson A, versus salesperson B.” That way, they got to select, “I’m really good. I’m really comfortable with these use cases.” “Great. We’re going to assign those to you.” You’re bought in. They self-selected, they self-identified.

We’ll take that with a grain of salt, and we’ll start approaching them. That foundation, that alignment, I think, was critical. As we get down to tactical campaign planning now, we don’t over engineer. It’s fundamental. We look at a combination of field marketing or trade shows supported by deep thought leadership around vertical.

We look at retail and CPG, so we want to do some original research there: entertainment, gaming, blah, blah, blah. Then we spin that around conferences, and we support that with sales outbound tactics and sales follow-up, etc. I don’t have some 20-point playbook that says, “This is exactly when you send direct mail. With this account score, you do these things.” You have to trust your salespeople. You just talk to them and work with the right material, and the rest seems to figure itself out.

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[0:12:45.4]DG:You alluded to this at the beginning but let me ask you explicitly. How do you measure ABM success, especially given the long sales cycle you have?

Measuring Account-Based Marketing Effectively

[0:12:58.4]EAS:I think there are a couple of things you need to think about. There’s account-based scoring. There is customer journey. You need to have a methodology for both of these things. Then there’s multi-touch attribution and content attribution for measuring the effectiveness of programs. Then, there’s intent data, and we can get into that, too. Account based scoring was pretty simple. We just went with Engagio. I think there are a number of other solutions out there that offer it. I can’t say that one’s better than the other. I just really like the Engagio team. The solution was easy to set up.

It provided very little time to value. Within a week, I had reports going to my salespeople, to my marketing execs, “Hey, here’s what it is.” ABM takes a while, so engagement was really good at showing, “Okay, well we’ve added more contacts to the target accounts. We’ve seen some clicks. We’ve seen them visiting our webpage.” Before pipelines happen, through Engagio, at least I could easily show awareness increasing in our target accounts

That bought us time. In transitioning to ABM, the execs were impatient, very impatient for results. That helped. From there, we wanted to look a little bit more granularly, so we built our own account-based scoring model. We still used Engagio, but we started blending in some other intent data to say, “Okay, with Engagio, we’re seeing that this many people are engaging with our actual content,” but we can pull in data from other vendors, like TrustRadius, some of our media partners with whom we have a data share. We can say, “We know that these companies are also on these properties outside of our own,” and now we can blend those in and aggregate an account score. We use Treasure Data for that.

The one I’m most proud of is the customer journey map. Let me ask you, Dave. Have you ever seen this chart? It looks like a sine wave, a weird-looking W, with awareness at the top and then it dips down. It’s like consideration by the managers and then evaluation.

[0:15:13.0]DG:Oh, yeah.

[0:15:14.7]EAS:I wanted to see if that was true. We built this chart where we said on the Y-axis at the top, we had decision-maker. In the middle of the Y-axis, we had influencer. At the bottom of the Y-axis, we had user. Then, the X-axis is time. We actually took every channel that we use; live events, phone calls, e-mail, advertising, third-party content syndication, blogs, whatever. We started plotting it across this chart, across any known contact that we had.

I wanted to see, “Did we actually get a W?” The short answer is no, but the long answer is sometimes. It actually provided really cool insight, because we could see, “Oh, is it a target account? Engagement score is really high. All right, let’s look at our persona graph here, our account journey graph. We are seeing a lot of this, but we’re really seeing a lot of users at the blog level, or influencers downloading a white paper. We have not had any executive level touch points. Let’s engage our salespeople and have them try to get that to start happening.” Those are the measurements of success, but I forgot the most important part.

The first thing we did was to look at all our successful sold accounts, and we made that map for all closed one accounts. That way, we could say, “Okay, this is what a map probably looks like.” Then, in open opportunities, we could say, “Okay, if you’re in this vertical and we’re looking at these plot points, see what’s missing here versus the successful ones. We’re missing a bunch of executive touches and/or we aren’t seeing the users actually digest the blogs,” which means they’re not actually evaluating us. That stuff is super helpful. Then, multi-touch, obviously.

[0:17:08.0]DG:You mentioned the Engagio platform. Are there any other tools you’ve found to be really helpful in this ABM journey you’re taking?

[0:17:17.9]EAS:Yeah. This is not a sales pitch for Arm Treasure Data, but we really do rely on our own technology. What I want to say is that I have evaluated a number of vendors out there that are excellent, excellent vendors. I can think about uses for Bombora, Demandbase, 6sense, Sendoso, or even Marketo. There’s all kinds of good stuff out there. Part of the reason we didn’t go with a lot of them is we are able to solve a lot of these problems ourselves.

I select vendors with very specific and best-of-breed solutions. For us, Clearbit and Kickfire are really important. They help us recognize IP addresses of companies or people coming to our website. If we can recognize an IP range, then we can trigger website personalization before they even engage with content. Those are critical for us in terms of segmentation and personalization. That’s the very, very front end of the sales process, the top of the sales funnel. Then, Treasure Data is supporting that.

Engagio is great as well. I really like some of the intent data providers we’ve talked to. We just haven’t put any in place, because with our media partnerships, we put our own pixel on some of the media and we’ve built our own intent signals. I think I’ve looked at DemandBase, at 6sense, and there are a couple of others in that space. I think they’ve all done really, really good work. I think those are pretty critical tools.

[0:18:58.9]DG:That’s interesting. I just want to understand that a little bit. You’ve gone to media companies, and they’ve let you put a pixel there. As a byproduct of that, you’re getting intent data, right? You’re seeing that they’re on some page or other. Is it all over the site, or just articles that you have paid to play in?

[0:19:18.5]EAS:Yeah, just articles that we pay to play it.


[0:19:22.0]EAS:Some you can buy, some we do as a data share, and we actually help their own reporting. Personally identifiable information is a very touchy thing, so we want to make sure that it’s defined within the scope of terms and conditions that make sense for our own content. It is helpful

We haven’t gone to the broader intent providers yet. I want to, but again, we’re in the process. We haven’t really fine-tuned the outbound process enough that I feel it’s worth getting an intent vendor. I think that’s one thing that, when I talk to people about ABM, what’s the first step? What are the right first steps? For me, intent is one of the last things you get.

You get intent after your scoring models are built, after you’re able to do account-based scoring, and after you’re proactively taking action on engagement with your owned properties. Again, Engagio is good for that. Once you have that process just nailed down, then intent data becomes really valuable. It requires a more sophisticated and subtler outreach. You don’t want to be super direct, because that’s creepy. I think it’s really important, and we’re getting to that now.

[0:20:33.3]DG:As you look back at this journey that you’ve been taking around ABM, what’s the one thing you’ve learned that you wish you had known from the outset?

[0:20:45.3]EAS:I think the power of original research and large paid programs. What I mean by that is, coming from a lead gen background (and I think a lot of us have come from a lead gen background), there’s this focus on pay per click, cost per lead, all that stuff, and optimizing funnels at volume. Without naming names or figures, we spent a fairly reasonable six-figure sum on a program for original research, including some lead gen and dedicated landing pages on this media site and all this stuff. I mean, it was 10X as expensive as some of the lead gen programs I’m used to funding where, “Hey, we’ve got this thing coming out. Do you want to sponsor it for X amount of dollars?” You’re like, “Sure. I’ll get 200 leads for this little sum of money, and I’ll get my logo on a white paper and my sales people will go for it blank.”

I could do 10 or 12 of those for what it costs for this one report, but that one report pays dividends throughout the entire year. That was a brand-new lesson for me, how to take deep enterprise research and spin data out of that into blogs and into our own white papers and into webinars. The backlinks we got from the media partner actually wound up with SEO. We wound up ranking organically for certain keywords because of this. If you think about it on a traditional demand gen side, we might be spending tens of thousands of dollars on SEM and SEO per month trying to optimize these funnels. If you multiply that out across the year, it can easily be six or seven figures, depending on size of your budget

What we did with this one really big package, which was a total shock to me, something for which I never would have considered spending that much money, not only did we get the lead gen, but we got the thought leadership. We spun two dozen pieces of content out of it and we wound up ranking organically on the front page anyway. It was like, “This is such a good idea. I wish we had known this before.”

[0:23:09.6]DG:That is an interesting thing. I used to work for MarketingSherpaand we did tons of benchmark research. I’m really familiar and a big believer in both qualitative and quantitative research that you do as a content marketing strategy. I think that’s a great thing. I’ve had a similar experience. It feels risky, because you’re putting such a large pile of chips into one hand. If you do it well, it really can have a big payback.

[0:23:47.1]EAS:Can I add one thing on to that?


[0:23:50.5]EAS:It made sense for us because of the measurement, the account-based scoring models, the customer journey maps that we built, the content attribution. As an example, we landed very large enterprise deal, and it was a 12-month sales cycle, very long. Interestingly enough, I was able to show that the last thing this customer did before going into a paid proof-of-concept for us was on to this partner media site and download our content there. I actually just looked at our content. I didn’t even download it

Those would have been invisible signals to us. With the fact that we could measure it across different types of properties, I was able to actually prove the ROI and say one month of this customer’s contract paid for the entire program if we used this media partner.

[0:24:47.7]DG:Wow, that’s awesome. That’s totally awesome. Erik, is there any other wisdom you would like to share with the audience?

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[0:24:58.4]EAS:Get to know your sales people. I just can’t stress that enough. I mean, people talk about sales and marketing alignment, but I have lunch with my sales people. I like to listen to calls, sales recordings, not because I’m trying to be creepy, but I learned so much just by listening to the objections that they handle on phone calls. Communication with sales team is important, getting their feedback and having them tell you what content they want. What do you need to sell? That and creating that closed loop between product marketing and sales and marketing. We have a weekly meeting with them where we talk about this stuff.

The other thing I would say is get your data together, whether you use a customer data platform like Treasure Data or whatever. Making sure that all your sources are talking to each other is going to be critical. With ABM, you’re not just looking at traditional lead funnels anymore. You need to be able to look at data in multiple ways, and that’s going to be impossible. Like the story I just told, if we had been unable to do that, that money I’d spent probably would have looked a waste, or I would have had to justify my existence multiple ways. I could just go in to say, “Here, we won this deal and I can absolutely prove it without a shadow of a doubt.” If you can get your data together, then you can run analysis and choose vendors that fit your tactical purpose. You’re going to win with that. Again, talk to your salespeople, be qualitative and get your data together. If you do those two things, whatever path your ABM journey takes you on, you’ll probably be successful

[0:26:36.4]DG:Yeah. Great words of wisdom. I have a hypothesis that the genesis of ABM is people like you who’ve had either a background in sales or a tight relationship with sales. You don’t have to do that for very long before you start to see, at least in a larger company, that sales organizations have been doing ABM forever, right? The very top sales guys are assigned to the biggest companies and the junior newbies are signed to the smallest ones.

They stratify the sales resources, because they know most of the money is in the top of the of the pyramid. It’s finally made its way over to marketing. I think this is really going to be a big part of the future of marketing. Well, Erik, thank you so much. You’d be welcome back any time. I really enjoyed having you.

[0:27:29.7]EAS:All right, well, getting me to shut up is the trick. I appreciate your good time and consideration.

[0:27:48.6]DG:You give a lot of good tactical insight for anybody who’s trying to do this.

[0:27:53.5]EAS:Yeah. I’m happy to be a part of these things anytime, Dave.

[0:27:56.3]DG:All right. Thanks so much.

[0:27:58.0]EAS:All right. Thank you.