These days, it’s hard to cut through the content marketing noise…
That’s where ABM comes in.
But what’s the best way for brands to get started using ABM?
In this episode, Jeff Loeb, partner and CMO at Chief Outsiders, is here to share his expertise on ABM.
- Why companies should use ABM as part of their growth strategy
- The components required for an ABM initiative
- Finding alignment between sales and marketing
- The best way to scope an ABM pilot
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst.
In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about getting started with ABM. Here to speak with me is Jeff Loeb, who is the partner and CMO at Chief Outsiders, the nation’s leading executive as a service firm who help CEOs and their organizations identify the fractional marketing and sales executives they need to accelerate growth. Jeff works with SaaS and technology leadership teams to accelerate growth, create brand awareness and buzz, and build high performance marketing teams.
He’s a hands-on, customer-centric growth marketer, with significant experience leveraging ABM to scale SaaS businesses. Jeff also helps companies grow from startup to $300M and become category leaders. He is a master at developing winning go to market strategies, building growth engines and acting with urgency to drive rapid results. Jeff, welcome to the show.
Jeff Loeb: Thank you. Great to be here.
Steffen: Now, Jeff, before we start talking about how a company would get started with ABM, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career and what led you to Chief Outsiders?
Jeff: Sure, sure. Well, I’ve been in technology for my entire career, and really kind of started off on the engineering side of the house. Then I very quickly got into software and the implementation of software, like ERP systems, initially kind of on the company side. So I pivoted to software companies working for software companies probably 25 years ago.
And then when the whole SaaS movement came along, and the movement to the cloud, that was a natural next step for me. So I’ve been working in the SaaS software space for 20 plus years, really since the beginning. And then I moved on to the marketing side, and spent a lot of time with SaaS businesses kind of driving growth.
And then about five years ago, I had an opportunity to become part of Chief Outsiders, which is a consulting firm focused on helping companies with their growth strategies, which was a very natural fit for me. So I spend my time working with clients really around the world, on growing mostly SaaS businesses, but other technology businesses as well. And then over the last few years, have begun to do a lot of work with companies that are interested in Account Based Marketing.
Steffen: Interesting. What drove this stronger focus on ABM over the last couple of years?
Jeff: Well, you know, I think in general, there’s been a pretty significant trend around inbound marketing for 10 or 15 years now. Really initially driven by HubSpot, but now really kind of accepted, you know, as the norm and a typical motion for a b2b company. So, like many things, I think the pendulum swung too far towards inbound. And now, I think we find ourselves awash with content and content marketing.
And it has become really as a marketer, and a sales organization, it’s become really hard to cut through the noise and kind of connect with prospects. And I think that’s where ABM comes in. Because it’s super focused, and provides a more targeted way of kind of attacking your target market.
Steffen: Now, when I talk to prospects here at Symphonic Digital, I quite often hear that well, we tried ABM, but it just didn’t work at all. Could that be a function of them not spending enough time with it? Not setting it up properly? Not thinking about the channel in the right ways? Because let’s be realistic, you know, there are marketing solutions like paid search, which is more an intent channel. People go there if they have a need for something, and you can serve them ads based on that.
When you do display advertising, which is more awareness focused, that has a different goal than paid search, right? Awareness, you’re looking for people to get educated on the product or service that you offer, while when you’re in the intent space, you’re trying to, ideally sell them something or get them to book a demo, you name it, right? Could that be the same thing for ABM that people just think of it differently? Or that they don’t think about it in the right way? What it can achieve?
Jeff: Yeah, I think I think you’re onto something there. The way that I think about it, is that, you know, as a marketer, you have, there’s the bag of tricks, right? There’s the tactics and the channels that we all use. And we’re all accustomed to the idea of experimenting, and always trying something new, some new channel, some new technique.
And I suppose it’s really tempting to think of ABM in the same way as okay, it’s another tactic that I should try. And, you know, in all the ideas around failing fast and trying to get some experience, you know, kind of makes sense. But the way I think about it, ABM is a little different. Because I think you really have to think about it as a core go to market strategy, rather than as a tactic.
It’s not something that you can dip your toe in, you know, throw a little bit of money in and see if it works. But rather you have to treat it as a multi dimensional strategy. And I’m sure in this conversation, we’ll get in depth into all the components of it. But I think that’s the main challenge up front of reasons for ABM to fail is that it’s treated as a tactic rather than a go to market strategy.
Steffen: Interesting. Now, a while back, I had your colleague Carol Eversen on the podcast to talk about ABM more from a top level perspective, obviously. If the listeners are interested in finding out what Carol and I talked about, just head over to Episode 133. But you know, as we just started the conversation for this podcast episode, why should companies engage or use ABM as part of their growth strategy? What are the benefits compared to you know, using paid search, paid social, display and all the other solutions that are out there?
Jeff: Yeah, that’s the fundamental question. And I think it starts, by the, you know, there’s some people refer to ABM as zero waste marketing. And that’s kind of an unattractive concept, right? You know, how can we eliminate all the stuff that doesn’t matter and doesn’t achieve our goals? And how do we focus all of our energy and our investments to the place where we get the highest ROI. And that’s kind of the purpose behind ABM.
Really kind of eliminating waste, and being super targeted on the folks that we think are our best prospects or our ideal customer profile. You know, in fact, it’s all of our energy. And all of our focus is 100%, dedicated to our ICP, to our ideal customer profile. Another kind of core benefit and probably a topic that you speak about frequently in your podcast, when you’re talking about challenges, go to market challenges.
There’s the age old problem of alignment between sales and marketing. It’s a big challenge and problem for many organizations. And ABM is really a joint effort between sales and marketing, and often the customer success team as well. So it drives really high levels of alignment around who we should go after.
The whole question of you know, is this a quality lead, you know, is marketing delivering quantity over quality, all that goes away? Because the marketing and sales team are working jointly to define what the target market is. To define the content that’s needed. To define the messaging that’s needed.
So you get this beautiful alignment between sales and marketing. And maybe just to kind of finish, if you look at it more quantitatively from a metrics perspective, ABM programs tend to shorten sales cycles, to increase win rates and to drive larger deals. Which are all kind of core things that sales and marketing organizations are keen to do.
Steffen: That is interesting. Why is that? Is that because, you know, you plan engagement from awareness all the way down to action, and then you kind of envision what the journey is for that prospect that you’re after?
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, you know, it starts with targeting. So you put a lot of energy into identifying your ideal customer profile. So the folks that companies that you’re going after, are in your sweet spot. They’re the people that are going to benefit the most. You typically surround the buying team. And instead of in a more traditional sales cycle, some individual from within the organization will identify you, and you’ll have a conversation with them.
And your goal then is to find the champion, and to be introduced to all the buyers and influencers. In an ABM program, you’re consciously mapping out the account, and understanding who the buyer, what a typical buying team looks like. And then all of your outreach, whether it’s through advertising, or email, or phone calls, or whatever, is touching all of the members on the buying team.
And then you’ve also really thought through what the buyer’s journey looks like. So you have this very coordinated set of touches and activities, where you’re delivering the right content at the right time. And maybe the last thing I’ll mention here is that ABM, done right, follows a lot of the core principles of consultative selling.
Where it doesn’t feel like you’re selling, but it feels like you’re an advisor that is trying to help and be a guide to the prospect, to help them achieve their goals. So the whole program feels very good from the prospect’s perspective, because you’re getting educational content, you’re learning about industry trends, and you’re getting help and solving your problems.
Steffen: So from what you just said, to me, it sounds like what an agency should do anyway, working with a company, right, they should identify who is the ideal customer, what content is required to engage with that customer or excuse me, the prospect throughout the funnel, right the marketing funnel, so that you can first educate them then when they are in a consideration space, provide the relevant information when they’re ready to book a demo, or whatever it is that conversion point to engage with them.
The difference to me is the platform at the end of the day. The ABM platform, right, because as you said, in the beginning, it’s a zero waste marketing activity. Everything is geared towards effectively engaging with the target audience. While you know, I can do programmatic advertising. And obviously, I can use kind of third party data providers to target the same companies that I want to target from an ABM perspective.
And I can target people too on specific seniority levels, etc. Or within the decision makers, whether it’s finance, procurement, marketing, you name it. But it’s probably that everything is in one platform kind of nicely works together, I believe is probably the difference. Would you agree?
Jeff: Well, I partially agree. And I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you why. And I’ll tell you where I may have a different spin on it. So there’s an orchestration piece, which is key to ABM. And perhaps orchestration is the most important word. More important than ICP, even when you think about ABM. Because what you’re really doing is orchestrating all of those touches. So there are different tactics, whether it’s programmatic advertising, whether it’s email, whatever website, whatever the tactic is.
And there’s all sorts of tools that can help in all of those areas. But where ABM really is different and really shines, it’s the orchestration of those activities. So you’re creating really this beautiful experience for a prospect that goes seamlessly through sales and marketing. So everything is on message, everything is consistent. And it’s starting with the idea that your brand may not be known. You may not have a relationship with a prospect.
So it makes the assumption that I’m starting way at the awareness stage and thinking through well, what is that journey where I can provide some air cover through advertising because people like to buy from brands that they’re familiar with, right? So if we can expose our brand, through advertising, using messages that then tie directly into the subsequent stages of the campaign, it just all feels very kind of natural and powerful.
And the reason maybe I push back a little bit is that a lot of folks, and this maybe goes to one of your original questions around why ABM projects fail, is some companies, a lot of companies think of ABM primarily as a technology project. I need an ABM platform or I need these various tools. And a lot of the solution providers kind of feed into that. You know, ABM is the tool. And of course, ABM is hot.
So every solution vendor is talking about their solution in terms of ABM. And while you do need some foundational technology, you need to have a CRM system, you need to have a marketing automation system. I actually advocate that you start off pretty light on the technology side, because technology represents kind of risk and complexity.
And we’ll get into talking about getting started with a pilot and those types of things. But for me, the place to start is not okay, what’s the right ABM platform that we need? But rather let’s put the pieces together. And then we can strategically insert the technologies that we need.
Steffen: Now ABM platforms. You know, that’s not the starting point. But once people go through what you just said, and they have to select an ABM platform, whether it’s Demandbase, Sixth Sense, Terminus, you name it. They’re not cheap. So when does ABM make sense for a company?
Jeff: Yeah, so I think there’s two ways to answer that question. Kind of two conditions that have to be right for ABM to make sense. One of them is more focused on the nature of the market and the solution itself. And the other one has more to do with the maturity of your sales and marketing team. So there’s two elements. From a market and solution perspective, I think ABM programs are best suited when certain conditions exist.
So typically, it’s a more complex sales process. Deal size is larger, you know, exactly what that number is, can vary, but, you know, maybe $25k, you know, is kind of a starting point and up. And that there’s a buying team. So you’re not selling to an individual, but you’re selling to a buying team, where multiple influencers and decision makers are involved. And they tend to have longer sales cycles.
So those are some of the conditions that are necessary from a solutions perspective. But there’s also a perspective around the maturity of your go to market function, both on the sales and the marketing side. And kind of getting to technology. While I don’t advocate that the starting point is by purchasing a big ABM platform, that’s not a necessity to get started.
A company does have to have a CRM system in place and a marketing automation system in place as kind of a baseline to get started. They need to have good content. So strong, best practice content, because remember, we talked about the ABM motion is one of education and being a guide and an advisor.
So we want to have some good best practice content, industry trends, studies, customer case studies, thought leadership content, right? So you want to have that, some maturity, and have that content. You want to have a sales team that’s in place that understands how to prospect and has good maturity and discipline around prospecting. And you want to have a marketing team that can support some level of campaign personalization.
There’s oftentimes, ABM is broken down into three flavors. One to one, one to few, and one to many. And one of the big differences is how much personalization, and even in one to many, you want to be able to have some level of personalization at scale. So you want your marketing team to have enough sophistication that they can do some level of personalization.
Steffen: Now, is the cost ever a factor? Because again, I mean, you know, you could go with an ad roll, for example. I think it’s probably the most affordable solution, you know, if you want to access ABM, but then if you go to the likes of Terminus, DemandBase, you know, that could cost you quite a bit if you sign up for that solution.
Jeff: So, you know, again, there’s, in my view, right, this is how I look at it. There is no such thing as a platform that has all the capabilities that you need to run kind of an end to end ABM program. Now, there are some platforms that kind of are the leaders in this space. You mentioned, several of them, Sixth Sense, Demandbase, Terminus, et cetera, that kind of have the most functionality.
And they tend to have functionality around advertising. At their core Terminus kind of started there as an example. And then, though, I add other components to help identify your ideal customer profile, and to do reporting and to help with intent, as well. So you have these, these platforms that start to have, you know, a bunch of these components. In fact, in most of the engagements that I get involved with, which is often is introducing ABM to an organization, it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Again, you’re starting, you need to have a CRM system, you need to have a marketing automation system. But most, at least in my world, in the SaaS world, you know, those are table stakes, right. Ao those those exist. And then, you know, you need to layer in appropriate technology. So there’s, in the programs that I run, there’s always an advertising component.
But often you can get started with LinkedIn. You know, advertising on LinkedIn, so you don’t kind of need a platform, you know, per se. There’s various ways of getting at intent data, that is helpful, but it’s not necessary to start with. From an ICP and a contact discovery perspective, you need tools like zoom info, you know, or others. And then you layer on additional layers of technology.
Reporting is an interesting one, because you want to be able to report engagement at the account level, which typically has not been the focus of traditional marketing automation systems. So, tools, whether it’s a Sixth Sense, or RollWorks, you know, have those kinds of reporting capabilities.
But again, you can kind of get started and you can kind of hack some of that stuff together. You know, and then there’s other technologies. I’m a big fan, for instance, of personalized video. So cutting through the noise is one of the challenges and objectives of an ABM program. And I find that sending personalized videos using a platform, like Vidyard, you know, or Loom, or Wistia, kind of makes sense.
But those are relatively, you know, there are free versions of those, and they’re not that expensive. So, I would not let cost be the thing that slows you down. Because I don’t think that you should get started by investing in a big platform, anyhow. You can work up to that, in my opinion.
Steffen: I think now that statement makes a lot of sense to me, because, you know, when you talk to companies, they think about ABM is like we need to get a Sixth Sense, Terminus. You know, that’s what ABM basically is. But throughout our conversation so far what I hear more is like it’s not the system.
It’s kind of the approach that you’re basically taking in engaging with your target audience and all the steps that you put together to be as successful as possible. And that’s why you also said we could start on LinkedIn. There’s a lot of information there. You can target people very precisely there as well. But you don’t need to have the companies or the solutions that I mentioned a second ago.
Now, throughout the conversation, you already talked about a few components that are required for an ABM initiative. Can we just kind of pick them altogether? And just just, you know, pump them out? I think you talked about content, you talked about strategy. What are the other things that are key components for an ABM initiative?
Jeff: Yeah, the way that I view an ABM program is that there are really six core components, and these are the six things that you have to think about when you launch your program. Really starting with a really profound definition of what your goals are for the program, and the strategy that you’re going to use. So you want to have clarity, and you want to know what success is.
And you want to understand what is the appropriate ABM flavor and strategy based on those things that we talked about earlier. Based on the nature of your solution, and also the maturity of your team. Because based on where you are in that little two by two matrix, it affects your strategy. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is, as we’ve been talking about, your ideal customer profile. So having a really good definition of who those ideal targets are.
The third has to do with the channels that you’re using to reach your audience, the definition of the various touches, and the orchestration of those touches. And this is perhaps, you know, the most, you know, it’s kind of when the light bulb goes off. When I’m introducing these programs with my clients is it’s where the rubber hits the road.
And we say, okay, so this is really kind of the series of touches and exactly how we go from the highest level, the start of our engagement, you know, down to booking meetings. And then the fourth element is the definite is the having the content, and the nature of the campaign. So the messaging that we use, as well as the level of personalization.
The fifth is the technology stack, which we’ve talked a lot about. So what are those pieces? And you can again, get started with a very minimalistic stack, or as you get more mature, and if you’re a larger company, and you have more sophisticated needs, you can have a very, very sophisticated technology stack.
And then the sixth element is really around the reporting. So the ability to understand and report on who’s in your ICP? How are they engaging? What are they engaging with? And the ability to kind of tune your program kind of based on that engagement. So those are the six kind of key components.
And, going back to the very beginning of the conversation, you know, once you start thinking about those things, you can understand why ABM should really be thought of as a strategy rather than a tactic. Because you need to align all of those elements in order to be successful. And if you pull just any one of them, say the technology stack in isolation, the project is probably not going to succeed.
Steffen: Makes sense. Now, why is it important to take a more crawl, walk, run approach, and start with a pilot rather than kind of diving into the deep end?
Jeff: Yeah, you know, it has to do with you know, how do you mitigate risk? And how do you prevent programs from failing? And, you know, programs, ABM programs fail, because of lack of alignment between the sales and marketing team. Oftentimes they collapse under their own weight. Just because you loaded them up. You said oh, we need to implement the most sophisticated ABM technology on the market.
And that’s a prerequisite to getting going and we need all this stuff. And it just collapses under its own weight. And often, you know, organizations unfortunately have short attention spans and are looking for things to succeed quickly. If a program takes too long to show results, executives are going to lose interest, investors are going to lose interest, etc.
So for all those reasons in my world, in the way that I look at driving success, is that if we can define a minimum viable pilot, and we can get going quickly, it’s going to lead to success for a lot of reasons. And we’re going to be able to avoid those failures. It’s going to reduce a lot of the risks that we talked about, it’s going to allow us to build a strong foundation, and then that we can optimize based on experimentation and real world insights.
You know, when you get into these programs, I mean, it can become pretty overwhelming. There’s all these different elements. And if you have a team that doesn’t have a lot of experience with this, they can kind of really get lost thinking through things in the abstract. Oh, okay, I know, I need to do intent. Well, what does that mean? Well, I know I need to create a high value offer. What does that mean? Well, I need to do all these touches.
So if we can pare it down, and then start seeing what works, and then optimize based on those real world insights rather than subjective opinions, it can help. And then also, you know, at the end of the day, people are implementing these programs. And human nature is such that if you get wins, momentum starts to build. So if you can get some, start small, get some wins, build momentum, build positive energy. All those things, you know, are super important. So I’m a big fan of crawl, walk, run. Start with a minimum viable pilot.
Steffen: That makes a lot of sense. Now, before we come to the end of today’s podcast episode, one last question, Jeff. What’s the best way to scope an ABM pilot?
Jeff: Yeah, so it’s a great question. And, you know, again, going back to this idea of, you know, it’s humans that are doing the implementation. And, thinking about what’s the timeframe that works for these kinds of initiatives. And in my experience, if you can launch a program, an initiative, within three months, you get a lot of advantages, right? So three months is enough time, where you can do something significant.
It’s not, you shouldn’t give yourself two weeks and, and say, okay, let’s launch this thing. But it’s not so long that you either you lose focus, or people lose interest. So I always start with, okay, can we get this going in three months? And that’s a good, sporty objective. And then other kind of elements more tactically, it’s like, okay, what part of the business of the team are we going to include? So how many sales reps are going to be involved?
Because the number of sales reps is kind of the gate to capacity. You know, how many accounts we can manage. So defining the number of accounts, or reps. Defining the number of accounts to target. And usually, I’d like to start with anywhere, depending upon the nature of the business. Businesses vary. So sometimes you have big multi million dollar deals. And, you know, if you’re going after those, maybe you start with 10, or five target accounts.
But if it’s a, it’s a more higher velocity business, you know, maybe up to 50 accounts, right. So how many accounts you include. The number of market segments or use cases that you focus on. You know, I typically like to focus on one, maybe two, initially, because we want to be able to hone our messaging, and personalize it and have content.
So we want to have a small number. The number of channels and touches in the outreach. So you know, if you think about this orchestrated set of touches, as we mature, we may have 10 different channels that we use. But maybe it’s enough to start with three or four. So that’s a way of scoping. And then the last item is really around content. So content is still king. You know, it’s still super, super important.
And to launch, we can develop some new content but we want to largely leverage existing content. So that’s another kind of dimension of scoping is okay, let’s scope it to take advantage of the great case studies and testimonials and best practice information and avoid the temptation of saying, okay, let’s use the ABM program to maybe do something completely different. That’s another big dimension.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, Jeff, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast, and sharing your knowledge on how to get started with ABM. If people want to find out more about you, and what you guys do at Chief Outsiders, how can they get in touch?
Jeff: Yeah, so you can find me on the chief outsiders website. So chiefoutsiders.com. And just, you can Google me, Jeff Loeb, CMO. I’ll come up. I’ve got a lot of great information on LinkedIn as well. And I’ve got a lot of resources on ABM that you can find there. I have an ebook that I’ve written. There’s some other kind of case studies and testimonials, etc. So that’s what I would suggest.
Steffen: Perfect. As always we’ll leave that information in the show notes. Thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
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