Put down your net and start spearfishing

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As one of the founders of Marketo, Jon Miller helped make marketing automation a mainstream approach for b-to-b companies. And in his role as chief marketing officer back in 2011, few were better at creating content to drive inbound leads. In our interview back then, Miller noted that "our marketing team generates 80% of the sales pipeline" and that Marketo was spending 3 times more on content development than other b-to-b companies—all the while deploying their software platform to its best advantage.

But three years ago, Miller took the bold step of starting a new marketing technology company, Engagio, based on the recognition that one approach can't solve all challenges. Specifically, Miller became obsessed with reaching executive decision makers and tracking these activities. And once again, he is "drinking his own champagne," using Engagio's software to sell the service. In our interview below, you'll soon discover why Miller's continued success is no fluke and why it is probably time for your company to consider "spearfishing" via account-based marketing.

What's the primary role of the CEO?

I got some great advice early in my career, when I was thinking about being a CEO, which is that there're really just three jobs of chief executives: to set the vision of where the company is going, to build the team to make sure you've got the right people, and to ensure that that team has the resources they need to execute. And if you can get those three things done, as a CEO, you're doing well.

As CEO, what's your expectation of your CMO?

I encourage everybody, other chief executives, to not look for what I call 'the unicorn' CMO. If you think about marketing broken roughly into corporate marketing, brand demand generation and product marketing, you're not going to find somebody who is world class at all three. My expectation is that I'm going to find somebody who's world class at one of those and can then hire effectively to support the other two.

What's your definition of marketing, and has it changed along your career?

To create awareness and preference at every stage of the buyer's journey. It hasn't changed dramatically. If anything, I think marketers today are putting more and more focus on the later stages of the journey, not just top the funnel, but how we actually create preference in the sales cycle for customers and beyond.

How do you define account-based marketing?

I think it's easiest to define ABM as an analogy. I was at Marketo, running marketing, and we created a lot of pipeline for our sales team by using content marketing and inbound demand generation tactics and then using marketers and products to do lead nurturing and lead scoring. That kind of marketing, is, I think, like fishing with a net. We would cast a wide net, and we didn't care who specifically responded to our campaigns, we just cared about if we got enough. But then over time, we started moving up-market and selling to larger companies and trying to go after specific companies that were in our ideal customer profile. And, lo and behold, the right people from these big companies didn't just happen to swim into our net, so we needed to find new ways of reaching out to the right people. The analogy here is fishing with spears. Finding the big fish and going after them proactively. ABM, to me, is fishing with spears by putting more resources and more energy into going after the right people, the right accounts.

Can you give some examples of ABM in action?

We've got to remember, the B2B markets are competitive and they're noisy, especially if you're going after executives at the big companies. Because so is everybody else, right? These execs are not easy people to reach, and they've got their barriers up. And unlike inbound [marketing] these people haven't raised their hands. They haven't, for example, expressed interest by downloading a white paper. And so, we have to find a way to stand out from all the noise and , frankly, to be different as a way to reach out to these executives.

So, how do you do that?

Well some people do that by being really creative or just finding ways to delight the person. If a prospect loves wine and chocolate, because they said that on their profile, maybe you send them a very nice bottle of wine and some quality chocolate. That's OK. I think I saw another example of a company that makes cartoons where they embed the person into the cartoon as the hero of the story and you send them the cartoon. And that's well and good, but I also think it can be gimmicky and it's easily copied.

What's the alternative?

An even better strategy, in my opinion, is to deliver business value. The executive's job is to try to find ways to move their business forward. So, they're seeking this. I think the best spearfishing is when you can challenge the executive's thinking by bringing business insights that are new. And to do that right, means that you're really tailoring that insight to that specific person, and business, and/or industry. Those words I just said should be really familiar to anybody who's read The Challenger Sale.

Is there a common mistake people make with ABM?

I think the single biggest mistake that I see people make when they embark on an ABM journey, is not aligning the organization around the fact that the metrics are going to change. Marketers have spent the last ten years tracking MQLs (marketing qualified leads) and we've almost taught the rest of the executives that the number of leads is an important metric of marketing success. But the metrics need to change. Part of it is budget. There's no CEO in the world who has ever gone to their CMO and said, "Would you like some more budget and more people to do this ABM thing?"

How is this affecting the metrics?

Marketers are having to do ABM with the teams and the budgets they already have. It's basically always a reallocation of resources, which means almost by definition, you're lead-based metrics will go down. Your quantity-based metrics will go down. You're focusing more resources onto a more defined set of accounts. And so, you need to make sure people expect volume metrics will likely go down. But that's okay because we're going to have these other leading indicators of success at the accounts that we've all agreed really matter.

What actionable advice do have for marketers?

Your first "do" is to really think about your data foundation. The reality is that the stuff you have already, your Marketo or other marketing automation, even your Salesforce, they're primarily lead-centric systems which are going to make it really hard for you even to know what's happening at the account level. So, first of all make sure you have the ability just like literally look at your data with an account-centric lens.

Is there a "do" number two?

I think "do" number two, we've talked a little bit about, is to really make sure that you and your organization understand that you're going to be measuring quality more than quantity.

How about a "don't?"

Don't be seduced by the easy button like account-based advertising. It sounds pretty easy. It's not nearly as hard as all the sales and marketing alignment that we've been talking about. Oh, I can just buy some ads. And, again there's nothing wrong with that, but don't think that that's sufficient to really deliver the benefits of what ABM is all about.

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