ABM: Account-Based Marketing, with Josh Dougherty

November 11, 2020
PRODUCED BY POLLY YAKOVICH

Josh Dougherty is the CEO and a co-founder of A Brave New, a Seattle marketing agency focused on helping businesses accelerate their growth through inbound marketing, branding, and web design. He specializes in working with clients to identify barriers to their growth and overcoming those barriers with strategic content and marketing tactics. He has a decade of experience in digital marketing and branding.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How account-based marketing (ABM) can help B2B reach high-value, long sales cycle targets in a smarter, more focused way and integrate with your overall marketing efforts
  • Why you don’t need a big team or budget to start ABM, and how your existing content can be a powerful way to start testing an ABM approach
  • How ABM helps you more precisely target prospects
  • Why strong, well-researched data and clear insights are a vital background for an effective and productive ABM program
  • How to use both qualitative and quantitative data to inform your process, and why creating your ideal customer profile (ICP) is the necessary first step
  • Where to focus your efforts during the initial research phase, and what key considerations to keep in mind
  • How to build a program for each of your ABM targets, and how the global pandemic has impacted outreach methods and cadences
  • How to find the right balance between sales-oriented messaging and personal interactions through social media to create a 360 approach for prospects
  • Why approaching people with the intent to be helpful is always the best way to generate goodwill and make yourself memorable - whether it’s through an account-based or an inbound marketing approach

Resources:  

Show Transcription:

Intro:

Welcome to A Brave New Podcast, the podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your marketing expert and host, Polly Yakovich.

Polly Yakovich:

Welcome back to A Brave New Podcast. Josh, excited to have you back on the show.

Josh:

I'm excited to be here.

Polly Yakovich:

Are you ready for this?

Josh:

So ready.

Polly Yakovich:

So, Josh, and I wanted to come back to you today for those of you who haven't heard his voice before or listen to some of the brilliant episodes that have featured Josh. Josh is my co-founder at A Brave New and sometimes we like to come and chat with you about things that our clients are talking about or that we're seeing happen in the marketplace, trends, things like that.

 

So today, Josh, and I wanted to talk with you about account-based marketing, ABM. I was giving a webinar and I always use the acronym ABM and then somebody on the webinar asked what it was and the name of it just flew right out of my mind and I was like, "I have no idea. It's ABM." But it's account-based marketing and if you've heard of that before, and maybe you're doing it but you're not sure if you're doing it right, which is pretty much everyone, or you are thinking about it but it feels daunting, we wanted to give you a one on one about how to think about account-based marketing. I think that this is a topic that you could go super deep on for a long time, but we wanted to do a little bit of a primer, and give you an introduction, and a little bit of our perspective. Ready, Josh?

Josh:

So ready. I mean, I think this-

Polly Yakovich:

Any more preamble than that?

Josh:

My only other preamble is I think this is where everyone is leaning as we've headed through the pandemic, as people have sought to cope with what is, I don't know, a really extended closed cycle in their business. They're moving towards things that are more bottom of the funnel, which is where account-based marketing lives rather than things like inbound marketing, which are more of a long-term play. And I think as we talk, you'll see that we believe that both of them are symbiotic and work together, but it's really important to understand how to dial in this tactic, especially as you need to close business faster in a cash crunch.

Polly Yakovich:

And I would say all of our larger B2B, large scale, long sale cycle clients are pivoting into ABM. I am seeing a lot of people pivot into ABM and really just integrating that as part of their marketing mix. So if you have been thinking about it or haven't dipped your toe, you probably should start. I think the first thing to think about with ABM is that really, it's a mindset. It's not a standalone tactic. You really have to be thinking about, like Josh said, how to reach these accounts that have a longer sales cycle, especially for B2B, have more people that are buying or have a buying committee and it's not just like you selling to a person that can decide. It involves people making decisions over time or getting into their biz dev, depending on what your product or service is, how large it is how impactful it is to business development. So really, I would say it's a mindset.

 

And then the other thing is that some people are really going as far as to say ABM is B2B marketing now. And I think the way that Josh and I are thinking about it, that wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration, but like Josh said, we're thinking about the blending of classic inbound and all the content that that provides you with an ABM approach.

Josh:

I think the good news about it is that the background work or foundational work needed for either are so symbiotic or they're so similar. A lot of people, I think we talked to even prospect sometimes and they say, "ABM is just sending a bunch of emails to my prospect list," which is not really true. Really what we're trying to do is say, let's use the same intelligence that we gain when we're doing an inbound program, understanding specific needs, understanding how a person sits in an organization, the problems they're trying to solve, even the political fights they may be facing as they're trying to push for change in their organization and then let's develop really targeted content for those people. Really, when I think of account-based marketing versus inbound, we're more talking about a change in how we're delivering that content. And then also, an account-based marketing, maybe we're adding a little more of that direct response discipline that both Polly and I came up in to speed up the conversion.

Polly Yakovich:

And for all of you who cringed when we said direct response, we're going to prove you wrong by the end of this episode. I would say let's start with a couple definitions. We're obviously going to borrow heavily from HubSpot here because that's the platform that we're typically using. But HubSpot says that ABM is a focused growth strategy in which marketing and sales collaborate to create personalized buying experiences for a mutually identified set of high value accounts. So we're going to unpack what that means a little bit later.

 

But I think one of the things you need to think of at the offset with ABM is how integrated your sales and marketing team need to be. And this is, I think, the biggest challenge for most organizations trying to execute ABM and why often ABM can turn, even for our clients, into a marketing driven effort trying to get intelligence out of sales, trying to get them to follow up, but really executing a lot of the program themselves to those high value targets.

Josh:

Yeah, and I think, at the same time, while it's really difficult to get sales engaged, this is a huge opportunity to build bridges into sales because if you think a lot about a sales team, probably typically in the past, it's always how their top accounts that they're targeting. So really, all a marketing team needs to do, and I say this so simply because it's much harder in real life, but a marketing team is just saying, "Hey, let us come alongside you and targeting those top accounts and let us add some of the power of marketing to it." Now, it's not that simple because marketers and sales people think differently, et cetera, but there is a basis for collaboration, I think, that can be built on.

Polly Yakovich:

In the best case scenario, I think the marketing and, we'll talk about this, versioning some of the marketing specifically to those targets and their pain points, it can really just fuel the sales effort with content and take some of the heavy lift away from sales team into marketing automation with really smart insertions and times where the sales team is coming and popping in. So hopefully, in a best case scenario, it's actually exponentially expanding what the sales team can do and smart collaboration with marketing tools.

Josh:

And as you look at budget and those types of things, all we're saying here is a lot of times, marketers get a lot of crap from people for just focusing on this vanity, I don't know, metrics that we're pushing. And this is just saying, you know what, we're going to take some of that money that you're already frustrated we're not spending efficiently and we're going to designate that towards a very specific group of people so that we can convert them but that also, so that we can create something that really works symbiotically without the salespeople already having conversations.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. HubSpot has another quote, I think, that helps us position what we're talking about here and that is that account-based marketing is just a smarter way to do B2B marketing. It's choosing to reserve your budget for high value prospects most likely to convert, instead of throwing your budget at a large group of people with less insights into their chances of becoming a customer. That dovetails really well with what Josh just said.

 

So we want to talk more about how you do this. But really, ABM enables you to start with higher fit accounts. There is more targeting and research involved up front. It may even involve leads that the sales team is already working or pursuing. And then tailoring how you engage with them with the goal of having more of a fast-tracked funnel, right? So they're already a better fit. We'll talk about the steps to create it a ABM program, but they're ideally already a better fit. They're pre-qualified, maybe not in the way that they actually know you yet, but from a perspective of you've done the research to say that they'd be a good fit.

Josh:

Yep. And the one thing I would say to counterbalance this, because we're going to go deep into ABM, but I would say that none of this is to say, and I feel obligated as a branding person to say this, that you shouldn't invest long-term in your brand. We were just at inbound a few weeks ago and a lot of what they talked about there was go hard into ABM, but you should probably have a 50/50 split on your brand spend because while ABM is going to shorten your cycle, any brand marketing is going to create fertile ground for future ABM efforts. So you need to have that mixture, so you have to do less work upfront.

 

Part of the reason this is relevant is I think about [inaudible] Forrester that said fewer than 1% of all leads turn into customers. This means that 99% of what businesses are doing to do outreach your marketing isn't working, which we often accept as like, oh of course. But if we can create more fertile ground with branding and branding awareness upfront and then be smarter about how we're closing using account-based marketing at the end, we should be able to up that. And you think about if companies can be successful with 1% of their leads turning into customers, what would happen if they could get to even two or 3%, which wouldn't be that significant of an increase, but would have a massive impact on the success of a business?

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, that's great. So before we get into it, let's talk a little bit about what you need to be successful with ABM. So the first thing we talked about, and we'll get much more in detail about this, is the alignment of the sales and marketing teams. Now, one of the things that I think people always get caught up on is they think they need these huge budgets and huge teams to really execute ABM. You may want ABM to become your new way of doing marketing as an organization, but you don't have to start there. Small lean teams or experiential tests, it depends on how you're set up, but if you were perhaps to put like a single person on your marketing team, and pair them up with a single sales person, and run a test, that would be a really effective way to do ABM. And you really can design a program that's very tightly collaborative and that is designed to think about like, "Okay, how would we roll this out to the broader group?"

 

So you don't have to go big right away, but you do have to have really close alignment and you have to be willing to try things, experiment. I mean, marketing is going to be learning about what doesn't work or what's working with this or that. And so if you bring the sales and marketing team together in a spirit of we're going to learn from each other, and we're going to trial this, and we're going to figure out how it works for our organization and ourselves, that's really important. One of the things that we talk about a lot is whoever is working on this needs regular times for interaction. HubSpot calls them smarketing meetings where sales and marketing come together, but you need real-time feedback from the sales team. Otherwise, marketing can't adjust how they're creating materials or people are not engaging with this and that, but they really like these other resources. They need a lot of that feedback so they can better calibrate what they're doing.

Josh:

I think another very important part about those types of collaboration meetings are that there is inevitably, especially as you're get-going, there will be conflict between the two teams. And one of the things that I think back, I can't remember who was on it, but I heard on the Harvard Business Review Idea Cast podcast, great to check out if you haven't checked it out before, but they talk about how the most innovative organizations create opportunity for conflict in a structured way. Otherwise, it happens in the halls and it's not productive. And I think this is especially true in this type of effort. If you create those collaboration meetings where that conflict can be out in the open and can be productively solved, it's going to push the effort forward, rather than if you move it out into the hallways, it's going to actually scuttle your ability to be successful.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. I am very much a proponent of duking it out. But if you have the same goals in mind and you set up your objectives to begin with, then those conversations are really productive, right? Also, I had a boss who always said this and I love to say and now, but facts are friendly. So if you set up your ABM program to be looking at hitting certain KPIs, then you really just follow the data. It's not a personal preference. The sales team is going to get a lot of one on one feedback and marketers just have to be open to hearing that, but then also be very firm about the data. You could have a couple vocal people, but if the data doesn't agree with them and the bulk of people actually do like the thing that the two vocal people didn't like, you're going to want to continue it.

Josh:

Fully. So the next big piece that we should be thinking about as we think about fundamentals for an ABM program are content or is content.

Polly Yakovich:

Is/are content.

Josh:

Is/are can be content. I think it's really intimidating to get into content if you haven't been doing it in an inbound perspective or in these other places. One of the things that I would encourage people to think about again is, as Polly said about the collaboration, you don't have to start grandiose, you can start small. One of the things that I find really helpful is thinking about Marcus Sheridan's Big Five when I'm thinking about content and starting small. There's five topics that almost everyone's going to look at no matter what type of product you're selling.

 

Certainly, the first is cost and pricing. This is hard to write about if you have a really expensive product, but you can talk about how you price your product even if you're not going to give a price upfront enough in content. The next is this idea of in answering the problems, both the ones that you face as an organization to solve things and the ones that your prospects face. Then you could do some comparisons with other solutions that are out there, you can create some best of lists, and you can do reviews. Any business can do that those five types of content. And you can do them as simply as five blog posts and start using that as your foundation for your ABM work.

Polly Yakovich:

That's great. The other thing I would say for most people who have been running a marketing program for a while or an inbound program is you have a ton of content and that's going to be great fuel for ABM because something that we're going to get into that's super daunting for people, and we've struggled with this when we've started ABM programs for clients that don't have content, is that you're going to want to do a crazy amount of versioning. And we're going to talk about this too because we're really going to be laser focused on who we're talking to and what they need. So if you have, for example, a white paper that you've written about your product or your approach that does really well, you might want to version that into four different one-pagers that talk to each of your buying personas that you're going to be interacting with and you're going to send separate versions to each of those folks.

 

So we're going to get more into that, but that's a great way to be thinking about content, because you are going to need a lot of it. So best case scenario is you can look through your library of content, you could do a good audit, and create, essentially the backbone of your ABM program. So you can make smart choices about which pieces are going to be versioned and to whom, which pieces are really good. You could break a white paper up into three to five one-page PDFs, right? The point of ABM is you're going to be talking to people in a much more sales conversation one to one way. So you want to give them pieces of content that they're going to make it through. Maybe they would read a 10-page eBook, but maybe they won't. It depends on your persona.

Josh:

And I think the other thing in this content question is to remember that you don't have to create all the content. The one thing we talk a lot about in marketing is this idea of third-party proof. So if there's someone like, not to mention them again but I will, the Harvard Business Review that's talking about the same thing that you're talking about and your brand isn't as well-known as them, you can leverage their brand and send it as a useful thing to your prospect.

 

Another thing that comes to mind just thinking about this as we tend to get really mechanical or inhuman when we're sharing this content and we'll probably get into this a little bit more as we go on also. But I think it's super important to remember that the people you're marketing to are humans and so you should talk to them. When I send Polly something over Slack during the week and say, "hey, check this out because it's cool because of these five reasons," there's no reason you can't do something really approximated to that in your ABM program. In fact, it's probably going to be more successful than if you spend this time composing this symphonic, highly articulated marketing email that sounds like it's coming from a robot because you've removed all humanity from it.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. So another thing that I think would be really smart to build off of what Josh said is to upfront build that library of articles, right? And we're going to get more into the buying personas. But typically, you're going to have different people that you come across when you're selling a big product or service that play different roles. You may have heard some of these before, but they are labeled things like champion or influencer or budget holder or even blocker. Some people might include blocker in their core buying personas that they're talking to because they always encounter them and they want to satisfy some of the objections up front.

 

So when you're thinking about what articles you might share with those different roles, if you're very clear about those roles and you're gathering your content in the beginning, you can gather different articles for those personas that are going to solve their needs. You might send the blocker, an article from a third-party source that is really respected in your industry that proves the point that you're wanting to make, that they may prove better than you and have the authority of being this respected source. So that's a really good way to build off of what Josh was talking about with that content gathering.

Josh:

And I think the key piece there is empathy, especially when you're thinking about blockers, because typically, we get into this thought process as we're sitting in our marketing ivory towers and we start thinking that most negative things about each of the personas that we're marketing to. They always do this or they always assume that. It's really important for us to take a step back and say, "They're a well-meaning person who's trying to do their job well."

 

Certainly, we have to overcome the things that will turn them off from working With us, but we need to do it in an empathetic way. We need to shift that mindset to sit in their shoes for a second and say, "Why are they hostile?" Say if we're coaching someone to make a technology switch, why is IT hostile to switching technology? What stressors does it bring up? What concerns does it cause? How does it risk their ability to succeed in their job? How does it risk their ability to look good to their boss? And these are all common things that all of us have in our day to day work lives, so we should be able to put ourselves in those shoes. But that empathy is super important because until we can get beyond being defensive about the things that frustrate us about those people and really speaking directly to them, it's going to be hard to have a meaningful conversation.

Polly Yakovich:

I think that empathy piece is probably the most important thing you can do. It also helps you talk to them like a real person too. If you can understand their motivations and their stressors, you can actually find a way to help them and find common ground. I think that's great.

 

The last thing I would say to be successful, and there's many, many more, so please don't take this as these are the only three or four things, but you really need both data and insights for a successful ABM program. And that's because you really want to, as best you can, make sure that you are building your program off the right targets and that you are understanding your audience.

 

So the best place to do this is to actually look back at your data and this is where it's going to be very important to have a collaborative sales and marketing data picture because you want to see, okay, what's worked best in the past? How have people move through the sun funnel best? what people are sales encountering as part of this buying committee? How many people are involved? Who is referring people to buy? Who are the purchasers? What does that look like? What's the lifecycle of this inside an organization? You want to first look to what's worked most successfully. Where have your customers come from? What's common about them?

 

And then just like we talked about with persona generation on the inbound side, you want to make sure your audience insights are as accurate as possible, that you've spent the time to actually talk to customers and prospects, you're not just speaking for them. This gets into the empathy piece as well. You can assume things about them that they may not actually share or think when you talk to them about their role and how they make decisions. You want to hear from them how they do research, how they find out about whatever it is, a new technology, what they're looking for, what voices they respect, things like that, who's making buying decisions, how long do they take.

 

So as much as possible, you want to build those audience insights off of real data and you also want to keep in mind for your program that data and insights are never going to be a set it and forget it. You want to be open to learning about who you're talking to all the time. And this is where I love marketers, I love us because we're curious, right? So I think always coming to those sales meetings with curiosity to hear about like we thought we had this great insight, so we went this direction. Did it work? Is it resonating? What are you seeing? What's the data show? What is the sales team hearing in a more qualitative way, maybe not quantitative? And adjusting your programs all the time for that real-time feedback?

Josh:

That is so smart because a sales teams, essentially, are a focus group every day. That's all they do. They talk to people. I think the only other thing I would add from Polly's brilliant exposition of data there is that the-

Polly Yakovich:

Free latte on me.

Josh:

Be smart about... I'm gunning for some free alcohol, actually, but that's okay.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, that's better.

Josh:

Be smart about how you're managing your quantitative data and your qualitative data. So quantitative would be data that you're getting from marketing results, how people have interacted with your content doing those types of things, even maybe survey data that can be measured and analyzed using a regression analysis to get to some clear insights versus qualitative data, which is that in-depth interview type content.

 

Typically, as we think about constructing something, and this is going back to the direct marketing route so we'll mention it again, is we want to construct the tactics and how we're approaching a campaign based off that quantitative data because what people have actually done in the past is most predictive of what they're going to do in the future.

Polly Yakovich:

A hundred percent.

Josh:

And then the qualitative data can be used to add in that color and that empathetic wrapping around the quantitative, really cold, hard facts. So be smart about doing that. You don't want to infer that because you hear in an in-depth interview that one person liked, I don't know, this type of content that everyone in your prospect group loves that type of content, that's probably a false assumption to make. But if you can hear from six or seven people in interviews or you hear from your salespeople that the one thing people always say that they like about our company is XYZ you can probably use that to inform the flavor of how you're communicating in your campaign.

Polly Yakovich:

Yep, absolutely. So moving into how you execute ABM, if you're still with us and you didn't block out when Josh said regression analysis, this is sort of loosely how it works.

Josh:

I have no idea how to do a regression analysis, by the way.

Polly Yakovich:

My stats class was a long, long time ago.

Josh:

I studied history in college, so I didn't have that class.

Polly Yakovich:

You're not use.

Josh:

I'm useless.

Polly Yakovich:

So here is a one on one way with some off-ramps and on-ramps that we're going to talk about and how to build ABM. I mean, I want to reemphasize that this is a mindset. This is going to look a lot of different ways, depending on who's executing it. Again, you can start small, you can start big. There's lots of things that you can do, but these are some of the core building blocks if you're thinking about how to get started.

 

So the first thing we do, and we've alluded to this along the way, but you really need to create an ideal customer profile. You probably already have something like this, but it's going to be vital for ABM because it's the core of who you're aiming at. Now, we're marketers, so everything's an acronym. We call these ICPs. So rather than use your best guess, again, rely on your CRM, your data, your website traffic, analyze the traits of your best customers from the past, and then create that ICP. Who is buying? Who do you want more of? And then build a target list.

 

So this is going to be best fit accounts and there's lots of places you can go for a target list. But also, I just want to recognize that this is one of the most daunting parts of an ABM program because if we knew where all of our best fit targets are and who they were, then we would go talk to them and sell to them. So this is tough because where do we find best fit accounts? So there's a few places that we suggest doing this.

 

One is really, honestly, using a third-party resource. Lots of our clients use ZoomInfo, we use ZoomInfo. Using a database, whatever that is for your industry, in which you can search for people that could be a good fit for you. This is where your ICP, your ideal customer profile, is going to be very important because you need to put into, whatever that database is, some key factors to help you look in who those people are. And then you may need to do further research from there to identify really, if they're a best fit and then also to build out the buying committee.

Josh:

Yep. So with that ICP, as you can imagine, if you're going to go into ZoomInfo that has millions of companies in it or if you're going to look at Sales Navigator, if you want to use a slightly cheaper version of a research tool out of LinkedIn, you are going to need to include some pretty specific stuff. You're going to need to include maybe like the revenue that a company has. You maybe need to include the industry. You maybe even need to include what type of decision makers exist at a company and say, "We know that we work best when we can sell to a CEO, a CMO, and a director of product." If they don't have the three positions at their company, most people are going to have a CEO, but if they don't have those others, you might say, "We're going to just skip it because we can't talk to the right people."

 

So I think getting really dialed in there is important because there's a temptation as soon as you do research to stop doing research because it's tedious and you need to have that discipline to really say, "You know what, if we're going to focus thousands of dollars on 50 accounts, these need to be the absolute best accounts." They can't be like these guys fit 50% of our criteria. Let's go for it. It's too much of an effort to waste your time on that.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. And one of the things that we alluded to but maybe skipped over in the ideal customer profile is also building out that buying committee. Who are the roles? Are there two roles you always end up talking to? Are there four? What are the best roles within that buying committee that are right for your organization? Like we talked about earlier, is it a decider? Is it a budget holder? Is it a blocker? Is it somebody who's going to influence the conversation? Deciding how many roles you're going for.

 

So as you're getting into this research phase, for each account in your target list, you're going to have two to four people that you're targeting within that. This sounds small, but if you decide to go for a hundred accounts in your MVP, minimum viable product, or your tier one, that's likely 400 people you're reaching out to. So then you need to think about the volume when you're thinking about how your setup to do that. Are you doing calls? How often? What's your sales team like? Can they handle that? Stuff like that.

Josh:

Yeah. And then the other thing to really think about, once you've identified that committee, is how do we find those accounts that are demonstrating intent? Well, I think the easiest way to think about it first is to unpack what does that intent look like for your business. Does it look like consuming content? What are the trigger moments that's going to make a company actually start thinking about buying your product or your service? What are the challenges that are going to be pushing them to move quicker or slower? And then using tools like you can use the intent tool within ZoomInfo, you can use Bambora, other tools to actually go through and start thinking about how people are consuming content, conducting searches, doing those types of things, and how is it demonstrating that there may be going through one of those trigger moments that you can be speaking to them at the right moment.

Polly Yakovich:

Another thing you can do in this research phase, as you're building out your target account list, is you can look in your CRM or your database for sale stages that could be reworked. So these are closed lost opportunities. People who requested a demo in the past. People who didn't show up booked, but didn't show up for a meeting. Those kinds of folks. So there could be some good prospects that are sitting in your database that you've talked to in the past, but have gone cold for a number of reasons. It may be smart to throw them into an ABM program, particularly because you've interacted with them in a different way, and so now you can engage them with some new activities.

 

One of the things I sometimes encourage people to think about as they're thinking about this target account list, typically, organizations can't reach everyone and it depends on how big of a team you have, and how integrated you are, and whether this is a test, but sometimes we encourage people to think about three different tiers of activity. So tier one would be your top prospects that you're going to do a very integrated sales and marketing effort and you're going to think about this as a one to one. So you're going to think about I'm only going to put enough people here that my sales team can call, that they can offer a demo to, that they can do more personalized outreach and this is the scale that we can do that at.

 

Tier two could be some combo of one to many. So maybe heavier on the marketing automation, a little bit more of an outbound approach with some key punctuated sales team interactions. Maybe you're only going to call people after they've taken a couple actions. Maybe you're going to only call people to follow up with them after they went to your webinar. And then tier three, you can think of as more of a outbound marketing automated approach. So you're essentially using inbound principles and content and talking to people, but you're doing that in a more targeted way. You're not waiting for them to come to you and fill in a resource before you start emailing them, you're researching them and putting them on a prospect list. But then you're doing outbound emails to them that are very nurture like, very inbound like, very helpful. But you've sought them out, they haven't sought you out, if that makes sense.

Josh:

And the way you can break up that effort, I think that's really smart to say let's take a tiered approach, but let's also then think about, for each of those members of the buying committee, how do they move through the buying journey? This is a little bit of foreshadowing to when we talk about engagement, but we want to think about and map before we start just sending stuff. What does the awareness stage of the buyer's journey look like for each of these members of the buyers journey? What does consideration look like when they're actually dialed in and looking for a tool or a product? And then what does decision look like? How are they going to make their final decision so that before you move into sending stuff, you're really getting a firm grasp of the concepts behind how you want to communicate with that target and that ICP in mind.

Polly Yakovich:

I think too, what Josh is talking about is important, and I'm going to use some cliches here just to prove my point, so forgive me.

Josh:

I love a good cliche. That's great.

Polly Yakovich:

I know. Who doesn't? It's like it's in your body committee you actually included a blocker and that blocker sits in the IT department, so this is very cliche, but they may actually hate getting phone calls from your sales team. That may be a turnoff to them. But you still need them to be getting some information, third-party proof, et cetera, about your product service, et cetera. So as you're mapping out what you're doing, they could be a tier one account, but it's really important to know that your blockers are going to be gagging and running away from you if you're trying to reach them by phone.

 

So it's very important that those roles are very well developed because they might want to be interacted with in a different way and your blocker may not be sort of the key stakeholder that's making a decision, so they just need a different level of information. So being really smart about mapping that out, again, hopefully based on real data, if not, second best, based on what your sales team experience is on working with them or selling to them or pitching them, I would really definitely make sure to ask the sales team who's in the room at a pitch? What kind of questions do they ask? What perspective are they coming from? What are the commonalities?

Josh:

That's really smart. The entire buying committee, I think, is important. One other question I would ask the sales team is, of all the deals that you've closed, which person has stalled them behind the scenes? So oftentimes, it isn't even that person in the meeting, but it's someone that you forgot to communicate to proactively and that person should probably be in your buyers committee.

Polly Yakovich:

Maybe it's illegal, another cliche, but it's probably legal.

Josh:

Or it could be designed because designers are the worst.

Polly Yakovich:

And the best. We love them.

Josh:

Yes.

Polly Yakovich:

So hopefully, you've figured out who you're talking to. You've identified your targets. You've found some research. You're at least starting with a smart list that you feel good about. You're going to be researching all the time. This isn't meant to be daunting. This is a cyclical process that you're going to repeat, and learn from, and iterate. We're marketers, so it doesn't have to be perfect, we're just going to get out there, and we're going to start doing some stuff and see what sticks in a branded message way that's not going to harm anything. So it's really time to engage.

 

I would say, as part of this prep process also, hopefully you've done the things we talked about with like you have a library of content, you are adjusting that content, you're going to build a program for each of your targets. So it's by tier, maybe it's a tier one target and it's the decider. It's the person who's going to be making the decision. So they're going to have their own journey map. This is where ABM is very interesting in the age of pandemic because typically, in the past, ABM efforts became famous for this multi-channel, multi-touch approach. You might mail them a book. You might send them an iPad. You might send them something very key. You might say everyone who comes to this webinar can get a chance to win a trip. I mean, these are lots of different things that people have used-

Josh:

You're getting pretty old school here, watch out.

Polly Yakovich:

I know, but these are really great direct response tactics that people have used for engagement and depending on how valuable your product is, some of these may make financial sense and the ROI. Some of the challenges with that is that everyone's at home now. You probably don't have their home address or you could ask them for it, but that's going to have to come much later in the journey when you have been talking to them or you've earned the opportunity to ask that. So some of the things that initially people used to do with ABM to capture attention up front that need to be shifted online or into the digital space and so this makes it a little more challenging.

 

At the same time, some people run ABM programs that are just primarily digital outreaches punctuated with calls, sales team calls. Again, most people are going to be reachable by phone because they still have to do business, even if they're working from home, but there are just some adjustments to be made. You're not going to be inviting them to an event. You're not going to be going on a trip. You're not probably going to be even meeting up for dinners and things like that right now. And so really thinking about... I don't want you to feel like you can't do ABM because we're in this time. Things may open up again later and you might be able to send more... direct mail is new again. People hadn't been getting the mail and then direct mail started working again because sending something in the mail became a thing of a novelty, especially in B2B. That might be more of a challenge or be moved later into your journey after you've gotten people's permission.

Josh:

Yeah, I think the key here is all of those in-person touches were special because they created this wraparound effect of everywhere I look, this company is engaging with me and they're doing it in a meaningful way. So now, the way I like to think about it, and we do this to varying degrees of success on the campaigns we execute because we're still learning how to do it in a digital-only space, is how do we up our game of that relevance and all the content that we're communicating? Maybe it's not just communicating to the persona, but if you have enough time to put in the effort on your top 25 or top 50 accounts, you could even personalize the communication around the specific needs of that company if you've had enough time to do research around that. That's going to be less scalable because you essentially have like 50 separate emails that you're sending to a decision-maker at each of the different companies, but that might be a way to approach it.

 

The other thing to think about might be how do we leverage some things, some channels that we would think are traditionally more in the demand generation space, but in a broader demand generation space, like digital advertising on LinkedIn or even the blogging that we're doing on that on our site, different things, to create that at least brand awareness that may not be there due to the fact that people can't get interrupted at their desk with something that you've delivered to them, but you're creating more of a subliminal background canvas where people have seen you around before they hear from you? It's a lot more challenging, I think, without the ability to interrupt as accurately or as effectively as you could before. But it just ups our responsibility as marketers to be more helpful and to be more human.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. I think as you're building the touch plan depending on who it's for and what tier they're in, et cetera, you want to think about, don't get stuck on the number of touches. You might build a 20-touch plan. Maybe that's once a week, maybe some of them are multiple times a week, but you want to provide this 360-wraparound as much as possible, like Josh was saying, and you want to do that in a really kind, empathetic, smart, human way. We've all gotten those LinkedIn messages that are a little bit too salesy or a little bit too cheesy or they actually haven't spent the time to learn about what I do. You also probably have gotten some messages that are like, "Oh, hey, your three-year-old dressed up as a dinosaur for Halloween, so did mine," which are a little too creepy about having gone deep down people's social channels. So I think you really need to find this in-between where you can provide this 360 approach, but in a really super, super helpful way.

 

So we suggest doing a variety of things. We suggest in the beginning making sure whoever is going to be the sales contact on that account be assigned to them from the beginning. And then you're going to want to do things like really make a very smart, pointed, important introduction on LinkedIn that's not too far in either of the directions I just mentioned. So connect with them in a place where it's going to be businessy and important. Don't friend them on Facebook, don't follow them on Instagram, that's weird, but in a place where you expect to have a business interaction, which is LinkedIn. Invite them to follow. Your touches are going to be very mixed. You might send them a LinkedIn message that's like, "Oh, hey, I noticed you're in the space. I read this really great article in McKinsey, I wanted to share it with you. If you're ever interested in connecting, I'd love to be connected." You're going to ask them for appropriate touches in the beginning. Or I wanted to see if you'd seen this conversation, I'm really curious how that would make sense for XYZ business.

 

You're going to experiment with this to see what's right for your prospects, and what's right to share, and the right perspective. Your touches are really going to be a mixture of you might email them, you might give them special access. This is a really good option for people right now who maybe have a high value thing. You might get a speaker for a webinar or a Q&A that you give a really super exclusive access to only your ABM list of somebody they'd really want to hear. Think about what's really valuable for your audience and then think about how to give them some of this information and access that they might not have. And even if these have had to move into a digital realm, that could be okay. If you get a great speaker that's important for your industry and it's an exclusive Q&A to invite only people on your ABM list and then one of your touches is to follow up with a phone call asking if they had any questions or if they learned anything or what their business challenges are, et cetera, that could be a really smart cadence.

Josh:

And the really important thing here If you're bringing an expert in is don't focus just on closing the sale. That expert should be super helpful and be valuable. And if they never come and work with you, in this one campaign, that's not the end of the world. I think something that we think about a lot is we're working with a lot of companies that have a 12 or 18-month sales cycle and they think by executing an ABM campaign, they can suddenly magically move their sales cycle to three months. That's pretty unrealistic. I shouldn't say everyone thinks that but that's like the aspiration, right? The promise of ABM, we're going to close things so much faster. Yes, you are going to close things faster and yes, it will make a meaningful difference if you move your sales cycle from 12 months to nine months, but don't jump ahead in the process. Be helpful.

 

The other thing I was going to talk about was even before you do your ABM campaign, it might be helpful to align if you know who your targets are and spend three months following, commenting, liking, doing things on social media and not just jumping straight into that sales experience because you know, I get those messages on the day when it's just out of the blue connect you with me and I know you're going to sell me right after. If someone's been liking my stuff on LinkedIn for a year-

Polly Yakovich:

And commenting.

Josh:

Or even a month and commenting and having meaningful conversations, I know. That's crazy. Prone to hyperbole. But for a month, I'm more likely to accept and realize that you're going to be a meaningful part of my life, not just another piece of noise.

Polly Yakovich:

Especially if they send you a LinkedIn message after they've been liking your stuff for a month or so and they're like, "Oh, hey, I noticed I've been really liking some of the things that you've been posting and I thought we should be connected." Be real. Be a real human. Don't rush it too much. Yes, ABM, I think, does shorten your sales cycle, but also, we're carrying through these principles of being radically helpful, providing value, and building trust. We want to stay true to our brands in a differentiated way. We're going to bring them help and then they're actually going to make the decision at the end of the day anyway, so you're just introducing them to a solution, product, service, et cetera, that you think can really help them.

 

For those of us who come from way, way, way back, some fundraising background in the nonprofit space, this is major donor relations stuff. You're really talking one to one to people and trying to help them to find what's best for them. It could be your product, it could be your service and that's going to be great. That's the hope, right? But really, if your intent is to help them, then you're going to get there.

Josh:

And if you don't, karma is a great friend.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, a hundred percent.

Josh:

You can give something out positive to the universe not to get too out there and it'll probably come back in a good way in the future.

Polly Yakovich:

We embrace the woo here, Josh.

Josh:

Yeah, exactly.

Polly Yakovich:

But the other thing too, just to be practical, I mean, karma or not, if you are really helpful to somebody, very helpful in this industry and it's not a fit for their corner organization, they're going to go to their next organization and remember you or they're going to refer you to a friend. There's lots of ways that you get this back through word of mouth, through goodwill, all of that kind of stuff. And so I think just the reminder, whether you have a 20-touch program that's built, however it's built, LinkedIn messages, emails, webinars, digital events, whatever that is, phone call follow-ups, make sure that it's a radically helpful, and very personal, and empathetic.

Josh:

Yep. And then, at the end of that touchpoint, we talked a lot about being helpful here, you need to get super intense about making an ask. So another thing I see a lot on LinkedIn, lately, there's a few people, which is probably the algorithm serving something to me for some reason, but they're talking about calls to action are never effective. You just need to wait for people to take action, which is wrong. It's flat out wrong.

 

And so I want to get to the decision side, so maybe you have a 20-touch engagement plan, you get to the last five, it should be very specific and then we get down to like actual direct marketing principles where it's like I'm emailing you today because I would like to work with you. Here's the benefits of you working with me. Here's the consequences of not. You should schedule a call. And then maybe I ask like four times in that email, probably four is a little much, but a couple times for them to schedule the call, and reiterate things, and don't be worried about maybe even being slightly repetitive and those last few touches. It's fortune or the future favors those who are bold enough to ask for things and a lot of times, people are just waiting for someone to push them over the edge, so you should be the person who pushes them over the edge to doing something.

Polly Yakovich:

And make it easy. Send a link to your calendar and be like, "I'd love to give you a demo, it takes about an hour. Here's a link to my calendar." Do not send these emails that are like reach out if this sounds good because then you put all the labor onto them and they have to be like, "Oh, it sounds good. What are the next steps?" I mean, walk them through it as easily as possible, especially if you've had a relationship with them. Be very crystal clear about what you're trying to do and make it very easy.

 

So then, from here, really what we want to say is get back into that method of activating sales with actionable insights. Tell them what's working, share your data, do those smarketing meetings, get their feedback, adjust, iterate, adjust your program again. You'll be adjusting it forever. You'll be adjusting it when the pandemic is over and we can go back to some of this other stuff. And then measure. Really make sure you're measuring nothing is good unless you can measure it, right? Organizations are moving to ABM for lots of good reasons that involve a lot of measurement, faster sales, shorter cycles, more people saying yes, but you need to make sure that you have your key performance indicators, KPIs, that you're shooting for, and that you are measuring against them so you can prove that the program works because it's going to take a lot of labor and it might be pricey, so you need to make sure that it makes sense from an ROI perspective.

 

Any last thoughts, Josh?

Josh:

Well, the only other thing I would say is make that measurement a game. Marketers are competitive, salespeople are competitive.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, great idea.

Josh:

How can you create transparency and what everyone's doing so that you can look and I can look over at Polly's board and say, "Damn, she's doing so much better than me. I need to up my game here and here," so the next meeting, I can brag about what I did. I shouldn't say we're fundamentally selfish, but a game is fun.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, make it fun.

Josh:

Competition is fun and it helps overcome some of the harder things. Not a lot of people like to call someone that they've never talked to and say, "Hey, do you want to talk about my product?" So if you can create some other motivators to doing that kind of stuff that's hard, then it's good.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. The other thing I like about that, if you have a few people on your sales and marketing team is you could set people up in pairs, so it'd be a marketing and a sales person, which helps break down some of those silos of the sales team versus the marketing team and instead, you've really integrated people, and they're competing in their pair, and they're really learning from each other because it's going to benefit them. Give them an incentive too. Reward them. Reward the winner and then set up the next competition. It's all a cycle.

 

Well, I think we've given an overall primer. We haven't gone super deep into all the things you can do. Maybe that'll be part two someday. But go ahead and check out the show notes. We're going to put some resources there. We have a great blog post on ABM as well that we'll link. Josh, any final thoughts?

Josh:

I mean, I would say just be bold and do things. I don't know if there's much more to say.

Polly Yakovich:

Just do it is my thought, yeah. Just get started.

Josh:

Don't wait for perfect. Yep, get started.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, and you can do it. If you have two people on your team, you can do it. If you have one person on your team, you can probably do it. You don't need a massive team. You don't need a massive budget. You can start smaller.

Josh:

And don't worry about getting everything done ahead of time. I think when we started doing ABM as an agency, I was literally writing the emails the week I was going to send out the email to the people and we did that that way for a little bit because that's all we could do. That's better than nothing.

Polly Yakovich:

Set up your workflows, add stuff in batches. You don't have to have all 20 touches prepared up front. Set a batch up for two at a time and go from there. That's great. That might be even better too because as you learn as you go, you'll adjust your cadence and what you're saying. All right, thanks so much. Thanks for listening. Don't forget to check out the show notes and our resources on ABM and talk to you next time.

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