Ad agencies are notoriously poor at applying their craft to their own brands, but martech companies don't have that problem. Marketo and Hubspot are masters of inbound marketing, in which brands draw potential customers to them with tactics such as content marketing and search optimization. Salesforce is really good at using Salesforce to sell itself. And Demandbase, a leader in so-called account-based marketing, or focusing on key prospects instead of industries, is particularly adroit at creating campaigns that apply all of the tactics it advocates.
In my conversation with Peter Isaacson, the chief marketing officer at Demandbase, he shares many of the lessons the company has learned as it grew. They include involving sales from day one, proving effectiveness with a pilot effort, appreciating prospect "anonymity" and ultimately nailing down the signals that suggest customers' intentions. And just in case you shared my fear that ultimately all of this precision tech could lead to the death of ideas, Isaacson offers hope—if not evidence—to the contrary.
A lot of b-to-b marketers are rushing into account-based-marketing, and when that happens there are usually some stumbling blocks, right?
The first mistake is that marketing teams think that an account-based marketing approach is a marketing strategy alone and don't engage their sales counterparts in it. And just like anything else in marketing, if you operate in a silo and only at the end of the quarter inform sales, you're certainly going to be less effective than you could be. So, engaging with your sales counterparts right from day one is critical.
What's the next-most common mistake?
Next, I'd say just aligning against the right target accounts. Too often marketers and sales folks are saying, "We're always focused on these verticals, so let's continue to focus on it." There is so much technology and data, intent-based and predictive analysis that you can bring in to make sure that the accounts you're chasing are the right accounts. Making sure that you're aligned on a great target account list is critical.
Is there a third common mistake when adopting ABM?
And then the final challenge that I see in getting an account-based marketing program off the ground, as with any campaign, is too often folks try and bite off too much all at once. At that point, the ABM effort kind of drowns in its own inertia, because you're just trying to move too much across too many fronts.
How should one get started with an ABM strategy?
One of the things that we recommend is finding that one salesperson that leans in and is aggressive, really wants to try new things and wants to partner with marketing. Work with them to take an account-based approach for their set of accounts. Once you start showing success, the other sales folks want to jump onto that so quickly. It's a great way of getting a program up and running, showing success, and then expanding throughout the organization.
Piloting makes sense. How does that process get started?
It's about identifying where you are having the most significant challenges with your marketing. Selecting the right accounts is job one and making sure that you're taking a very informed and data-based process. Once you do that, most companies that we talked to have a big challenge at the top of the funnel.
Can you explain that more?
They have identified their accounts, but they're not making it over to their website, they are not engaging with their content, they're not taking that first step and doing the investigation on your company. Using account-based advertising and using advertising to specifically target those accounts that are in your list is a great first step for most companies. This gets them engaged, it gets them over to your website where you can start customizing a web experience specifically for those companies that are part of your target account list.
What does an intent signal look like in ABM?
For us, intent signals happen by understanding what companies and the individuals within those companies are researching that relates to your products. We want to know the companies in our target who are searching for account-based advertising, account-based marketing, website personalization—things like that. And it's that kind of research and their engagement with content that maps to our value proposition and our messaging. That shows us the earliest signs of intent that we can then use to target those people at the companies that we're going after. Intent for us is that first flinch in our direction that we can use to market to them.
The old notion of capturing a lot of names and then marketing the heck out of them seems to be not what ABM is about, right?
One-hundred percent right. Someone on my team participated in a webinar that was called the "Great Gate Debate." I think the dominant point of view across the different panelists was that gating content and creating that hurdle to engage with you as a brand is a very outdated model for marketing. To me, it's just one of the many reasons that the old way of demand gen doesn't work for so many different reasons. Steve Casey from Forrester who did the Wave study, says it very succinctly: "You've got to get comfortable with anonymity." The anonymity that your target customers or prospects want to maintain because they don't want to fill out a form, they don't want to identify themselves, they know that they're going to get spammed to the ends of the earth if they do. So, it's incumbent on marketers to be able to identify interested parties even while they are "anonymous" and to market to them either by serving them ads or customizing your web experience the first time they come to your site. Things like that become important with all marketing but certainly are even more important with an account-based approach.
Is this the death of branding creativity?
I hope not. My background is in advertising on the agency side. I still think that that's incredibly important and quite often an overlooked aspect of b-to-b marketers' jobs. At one of my CMO counsels, we hosted a panel discussion. All three of the panelists said five years ago, all that b-to-b companies were looking for was a demand-gen expert. Now, that's the table stakes, they expect that, and what they're really looking for is a great brand leader and storyteller; someone that can shape the narrative of what we stand for as a brand. In the age of data and the age of papering the world with content and that type of thing, brand became something that was a lost art. I think more and more companies, more and more CEOs, more and more leaders are coming back to that as being fundamental to the success of a CMO, but also the company.
So, this notion of brand can inform some of the content that is being used in ABM?
Definitely. If you're developing content that doesn't tell a consistent story and doesn't establish how people should think about you as a company, about your value proposition, then you're missing a really important part of the story, and ultimately, you're going to hamper your long-term growth as a company. If you're just randomly creating different ebooks and white papers that are just focused on generating leads, then you're ignoring how people engage with you as a company and as a brand.