Welcome, and thank you for listening to B2B Marketing and More with Pam. My guest today is Tracy Niehaus. Tracy is the board member for MPro, Marketing Professionals in MHI Association and MHI for Material Handling Industry Association. She is also a Senior Marketing Director for Vanderlande, a Dutch company with a 75-year history.

In this podcast episode, Tracy shares important steps to help you create an account-based marketing strategy.

In this episode:

  • What makes ABM important for B2B companies?
  • How to use the ABM approach and the marketing tactics to reach customers?
  • Who is the executive sponsor, and who should hold that position?
  • What are common account-based marketing strategy success metrics for communicating with sales?
  • How can marketers include sales and create an account-based marketing strategy?
  • How can marketers avoid making mistakes when creating an ABM strategy?

Quotes from the episode:

“For B2B marketers, the sales cycle is very tedious. Therefore, the whole marketing cycle becomes very tedious, and Account-Based Marketing can expedite that. Because you eliminate the need to narrow down from a very large pool into a very small pool.”

“Marketing qualified leads that’s what we’re in the business of. Right. We wanna drive those marketing-qualified leads. Every organization has a different meaning based on the type of lead they need to drive to sales, but keeping track of that, as well.”


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To expand your knowledge and create an account-based marketing strategy, check out some of my previous podcast episodes, blog posts, and video.

Podcast episodes

What You Need to Build ABM MarTech Stack

How to Scale Your Account-Based Marketing

What is Account-Based Podcasting and Why Your Company Needs It

Blog post

Complete Guide to Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

The Hidden Side of Account-Based Marketing


Next-Level Marketing Strategy Guide [Step-by-Step]


Thank you for coming to B2B Marketing and More with Pam. Today, we have a special guest: Tracy Niehaus. Tracy is the board member for MPro, Marketing Professionals in MHI Association and MHI for Material Handling Industry Association.

So I had a chance to do a webinar with their marketing professionals, and I had a great time and got to know Tracy. So Tracy, welcome to my show.

Tracy Niehaus: Thank you, Pam. I’m excited to be here.

Pam Didner: Tracy is a Senior Marketing Director for Vandelanda. So Tracy, can you tell us what type of company Vandelanda is?

Tracy Niehaus: Sure. Absolutely. So Vandelanda is a Dutch company with about a 75-year history. We are a systems integrator in the supply chain’s material handling space, working mostly with retail, eCommerce and fulfillment customers, helping them inside the four walls of their distribution center. So not only hardware but also software, aftermarket support, and lifecycle services.

Pam Didner: Wow. So you’ve been managing like a supply chain for many companies.

So what was the supply chain like in the past two and a half years?

Tracy Niehaus: It has been a bit crazy. I think, as everybody knows, COVID accelerated eCommerce. Um, it jumped about five years within just the year 2020 alone.

Pam Didner: I’m not surprised.

Tracy Niehaus: Right. And that’s what most of our customers do. So it’s been a busy couple of years helping our customers serve their end customers.

Pam Didner: So, with that being said, you work very closely with your sales team, and sometimes they have unhappy customers, or you have to acquire strategic accounts or companies. And I have heard that you’ve been working on ABM, an Account-Based Marketing type of effort. So can you share with us your definition of ABM and why you think it is important for B2B companies?

Tracy Niehaus: Absolutely.

So for us, Account-Based Marketing is a B2B marketing strategy based on our high-value customer accounts.

In account-based marketing, you’re treating that account as. A market of one. So you’re creating highly personalized one-to-one experiences and tailoring that for that specific account.

And what I’ve seen at Vandelanda and in past experiences is that for B2B marketers, specifically, the sales cycle, as we know, is very tedious. So therefore, the whole marketing cycle becomes very tedious, and Account-Based Marketing can expedite that. Because you eliminate the need to narrow down from a very large pool into a very small pool, right? Right away, you’re starting with a direct-to-one approach. And that speeds up the entire process.

And I also think another benefit of Account-Based Marketing, specifically in B2B, is that it enables us to generate better-targeted content cause we’re not creating something that has to be consumed by the masses.

Pam Didner: That’s true. There are many benefits.

Number one is you get a chance to work closely with sales. You compliment their sales strategy. And number two is you target it for strategic accounts, which are bigger dollars. And then, you use that account strategy as your marketing plan and customize content accordingly to support these accounts.

Tracy Niehaus: Exactly. And I mean, I’ve talked to many people who say, “oh, we don’t do Account-Based Marketing,” but if they have key strategic accounts, they’re already doing forms of Account-Based Marketing.

Pam Didner: I 100% agree with you. Even way before the digital, if you have customer-specific events, in the way, it is Account-Based Marketing because you tailor your event for that specific account.

So obviously, different companies have different ABM approaches, or I can call that methodology, and you can call that marketing plan. Can you share your ABM approach and the marketing tactics you use to reach out to customers?

Tracy Niehaus: Yeah. So, um, for us, we have an eight-step approach. Before we even start that, though, I think something important to note is that getting executive buy-in for an Account-Based Marketing program is the number one thing you have to do.

And, often, it makes sense to pick a sort of executive sponsor, if you will, somebody who can be your champion. And this requires a lot of time, especially with the sales and marketing alignment. So it’s great if everybody’s on the same page.

Pam Didner: So, okay, one quick question, Tracy; you mentioned executive sponsor. I 100% agree with you. Do you have any recommendations for listeners or people watching the video?

Who should be the executive sponsor? Should that be the marketing side? Should that be on the sales side? Should that be sales ops? Do you have any recommendations on that?

Tracy Niehaus: So that’s a great question. And in my experience, if you have someone in a sales ops position, that’s ideal because a lot of this lies within their responsibilities anyway; but not everybody has sales ops. So if you don’t, my next recommendation would be to go with a senior-level executive in sales. Because that’s who the sales reps are going to listen to. A CMO or a marketing director could do it, but I think that to have the most cohesive strategy, it makes the most sense to have someone in sales be your executive sponsor. 

Pam Didner: Yeah. And I’m just surprised you say sales op can be a potential candidate, too. In general, what seems to be a VP of sales or senior director on the sales side? But I agree that it should be somebody from the sales side.

Tracy Niehaus: Well, and that’s a valid point in my experience, not all companies, um, are mature enough to have a sales operation sales. Right. For me, that’s always been the arm of sales, responsible for all the lead flow processes. And that translates to us, to marketing leads, as well. But not everybody is sophisticated enough to have that sales op in place. So then defer to somebody at the head of the sales executive channel.

Pam Didner: Great. So I interrupted you. Apologize. You mentioned you have eight steps. Please continue.

Tracy Niehaus: Okay. So, the first step is selecting those target accounts and, for me, that’s where sales and marketing start working together in that first step, right? Because sales are gonna help identify those target accounts, define those prospects and provide insight into the sales cycle.

The second thing we do is take the buyer personas we’ve already identified, ideal customer profiles, and the buying journey and apply that to that account. Because even inside one account, different targets, buyer personas, and ideal customer profiles could be part of our Account-Based Marketing strategy.

Pam Didner: So you make an effort to know that. With the account, you gather enough intelligence about who the decision makers are and what is their buying process. Try to understand, within that specific account, before you create your tactic terms of what you need to do.

Tracy Niehaus: Right? I work for a company that is a full-cycle provider.

From the consultation through the aftermarket, we may have different targets inside of the same company; the person who’s deciding on the aftermarket support or the maintenance programs, et cetera, is not gonna be the person who has the buying authority to give a thumbs up for a multimillion-dollar sale.

So we have different targets sometimes inside those same accounts, which is why it’s so important because depending on your persona, your journey’s gonna be very different. You’re gonna interact with different pieces of content. Right? The company’s president will probably not be diving into a white paper.

Pam Didner: Or the how-to, or you are certain features.

Tracy Niehaus: Yeah. Right. Exactly. Exactly. So that’s why that’s important to do that. And anybody listening closely will realize we’ve got a lot of setup going on before we even get to the meat of the program, if you will.

So our third step is creating personalized content. And that can be a variety of different things that will flow into the tactics. So email, social campaigns, website, content, things along those lines. You go away from creating that content that’s like broad sweeping lead gen content that I think most B2B marketers are accustomed to creating. You start to create that content that’s very personalized for that one-to-one approach, an important part of creating this content is finding a place where you can curate the content. So you don’t have pieces of content all over the place. Right? There is one portal.

Pam Didner: The way I use it is what’s the specific destination you want to place that content.

And from your perspective is how you curate that content. You need to know where that content needs to be. Not everywhere. Yep.

Tracy Niehaus: Because a lot of times sales wants to take the extra steps to educate themselves, and you know, you don’t wanna be like, oh, okay, I’ll email you this or go here. If you create a SharePoint portal or even a team site or something, whatever your company supports, everyone has access to the content. And particularly as you’re sending content out and you’re alerting sales that you’re doing that, they’re like, “oh, okay. Right. I know I can go to this portal and refresh myself on what this piece of content is.” So very important third step.

The fourth step is the planning of the campaign or the marketing plan. I know you talk a lot about that. As I mentioned before, you might have different level accounts and tiers. You’re trying to reach different people. So different touches, right? You might have different ways you’re trying to reach them, so you create a mini marketing or account plan for how you’re going to activate this account.

Pam Didner: I like that. I like how you call it a mini marketing plan, specifically for that account. Yes.

Tracy Niehaus: Yeah. So the next step, I think, is a big stumbling block for people. Our fifth step is integrating the appropriate technologies. And when I say that, what I mean is marketing automation. And I truly believe if you don’t have some marketing automation, you cannot successfully execute Account-Based Marketing because sending out emails is great. If you’re not doing that through a marketing automation program, there are a gazillion of them, from the gold elite down to something that is just helping you send emails.

Still, it’s keeping everything in one place- you’re just not going to be successful because you can’t do the tracking you need to. And that’s so important. And I’ve had multiple conversations with people, you know, especially in our MPro group that want to get started on it but don’t have marketing automation in place. And, uh, you know, I just encourage them. You need to do that.

Pam Didner: If you want to do any digital nowadays, you need to make sure you have a backend, and they are integrated.

Tracy Niehaus: Right, exactly. Then you get to the fun stuff, right? You get to start executing the campaign. Right. Whatever the tactic you’re doing, whether it be some type of advertising on LinkedIn or Google, pay-per-click, website enhancements… If you’re driving people to your website and you have, increased exposure there, you might wanna work on that part of the campaign, personalized emails; you might be sending those out. Whatever the touches and tactics you will use in this sixth step, you just let it rip; it’s time to start and get it going.

And then another really important step is regularly communicating that. So that’s our seventh step. And by that, I mean, not just saying, “campaign’s going great. We’ve been doing X, Y, Z.” We alert our sales team with an email. “Today we sent this email out to this target customer” and give them a copy of what we send, give them a link to what we send so that they have 100% visibility into what’s going on in that campaign.

Pam Didner: That really, that’s very helpful. Let them know what you are doing and say it multiple times.

Tracy Niehaus: Right. Right. And then, um, you know, you empower sales, right? Because you’re showing them, “Okay, here’s what we’re serving up to this customer. Here are the insights we’re seeing,” right? And so if you need to pivot, it’s really important to have that information and make that decision together jointly; keep them in the loop on everything that’s going on.

And then, our final step is to measure the results. Look at your campaign. When you’re doing that initial structure, you will decide our metrics. What are we gonna be tracking? And make sure that you track those metrics, and then you can optimize from those. Or, as I mentioned before, pivot if you do not see success in certain areas,

Pam Didner: Thank you so much. Love it that you lay them out so clearly step-by-step in terms of what a marketer needs to do if they try to implement ABM.

So you mentioned success metrics. Do you have a common success metric for communicating with sales? Or is it different like from Campaign to Campaign?

Tracy Niehaus: So, yeah, there are several metrics that we look at, and these aren’t going to be foreign to anyone that’s in B2B marketing, except for the very last one that may likely be.

So the first one that we look at is ad engagement. So whether that be LinkedIn ads, pay-per-click ads, or whatever type of advertising you’re doing as marketers, we want to look at the quality and quantity of those ads. So from a quantitative standpoint, what’s our click-through rate? How many are we getting? Like, are we tracking to where we think we wanna be? But an important thing to look at in Account-Based Marketing is the quality, right? What are the comments people are leaving? What are the engagement’s logos or titles, particularly at a LinkedIn campaign? And you know, what are they saying about it? That’s important and can help you if you need to track differently, pivot, or what you have.

The second thing is website traffic. And this sometimes gets lost in the mix for Account-Based Marketing. I think most people in marketing know now you can attach those UTM codes, the tracking codes onto any URL, so you’re able to track how somebody’s getting to your website, uh, which campaigns are driving them there.

Pam Didner: I agree. That’s very useful for tracking attribution.

Tracy Niehaus: Right. And, then, you’re looking at which campaign is driving people to what area of my website? And are they sticking, right? Are they engaging with the content there in more than one place? Or are they just coming because they clicked on something bouncing and leaving? So pay attention to that. Marketing qualified leads that’s what we’re in the business of. Right. We wanna drive those marketing-qualified leads. Every organization has a different meaning for that based on the type of lead that they need to drive to sales, but keeping track of that, as well.

The last one, I think, is one that often gets lost but is important in Account-Based Marketing strategy; how many meetings did sales book?

What opportunities are in the pipeline? What’s the win rate? So what’s the total percentage of the pipeline that marketing has contributed to? That’s important. And if you have a good marketing automation tool, it can track all of that, especially working with your CRM.

Pam Didner: Yes. I think there are several more sales-centric metrics–the number of demos, number of sales, qualified leads, and the number of meetings. I like that one a lot and opportunities if you can quantify the opportunities. And then lastly, it’s even better if you can also quantify/articulate your contribution to the win rate. 

Tracy Niehaus: And it helps us in our budget justification.

If you can say, “Okay, we put this much into the revenue of the company, the bottom line,” like that, that will help you justify your budget and ask for more.

Pam Didner: I love it. Love it. So the next question is whether Account-Based Marketing complements the companies that go after strategic accounts or any important accounts to tackle from a sales perspective. And I also encounter working with the different clients that the salespeople would like marketing people to do account-based marketing, but they kind of want to, you know, make a hands-off approach and say, “you know what?

Do your ABM and do as much as you can. I don’t need to talk to you.” What is your thought on that? Do you have any recommendations for marketers who have requested from the sales to do the ABM, but the salespeople’s engagement has been really warm, or they don’t want to meet with the marketer in the middle?

So what is your thought on that? Can ABM be successful if salespeople are not actively engaged?

Tracy Niehaus: Yeah, well, uh, no, I don’t think it can be successful if sales aren’t engaged. I think it’s probably one of the most important attributes of the entire strategy because that’s where it starts. As I mentioned in our eight-step approach, the first step is working with sales to allocate those target accounts and their buying cycle, et cetera. And this is where having the executive sponsor can be very beneficial; if you hit those stumbling blocks, we’re asking sales to do something that’s not in their normal day plan, right?

Um, and this is an extra step in cultivating that relationship. So that’s when it helps to have somebody that’s a member of the sales organization as your executive sponsor; because there will be pushback, but I believe that you can’t go forward with an ABM strategy without it.

And I also think that, on the flip side, one of the most significant selling points of an Account-Based Marketing strategy is that you’re empowering sales and marketing to team up and work together and be successful.

Statistics show that the organizations, when their sales and marketing teams are aligned, can experience a revenue growth of 32%, which is pretty amazing. Right.

Pam Didner: Yeah, it’s very high.

Tracy Niehaus: Right on the flip side, those organizations that don’t align, start losing that percentage. So, it’s so important and starts at the very beginning. Right? You don’t want to bring sales into account-based marketing after you’ve gone through a couple of steps, because then you’re making decisions about their accounts that they should be involved in. Because different accounts are gonna need different resource allocation and who’s gonna have what role and what responsibility so that there’s, you know, more of a seamless transition for the customer, right? So they’re not, you know, it’s not disjointed with them. And, um, together, I think you determine what the success of the program will be.

We know what to do to make it successful on the marketing side. But when we spoke earlier about win rate, et cetera, well, On the sales side, right?

Pam Didner: That’s that has to come from the sales side. Yeah.

Tracy Niehaus: Right, right. You need to have that walking step; being aligned is one of your first steps. For the organizations that can successfully do that, they’re fostering and growing new relationships within those accounts that they have and can be financially beneficial for sales in the long run. So, if you set all of that out in advance of the program launching, I think that you get much more buy-in from sales from the start.

Pam Didner: Amen! When my clients or I do workshops, people say, “you know what, we want to do this. Sales want to do it too, but they don’t want to put in their share of work. Can we implement that?” And I always tell them, “you know, don’t even start because it’s gonna fail if they are not meeting you halfway.”

But at the same time, I also make a suggestion. You know, ABM is one. It’s one of them.

I would say the best ways to engage with sales and build sales and marketing alignment. Tracy, you have done a fantastic job, which is a testament to that. But there are other ways to engage with sales. If you don’t do ABM, for example, if they only care about leads, can you qualify their leads a whole lot better, you know? So they don’t come to you and say, “you know what? This lead is no good.” And, uh, things like that. If you know social selling well and how to use LinkedIn, you know how to reach out to the prospect, and if your salespeople are not so digitally savvy, contribute your learning to them.

Tracy Niehaus: No, and that’s a great point. Account-Based Marketing strategies aside, we meet weekly every Friday morning with our sales team and go through all of the broad sweeping marketing campaigns generated leads to determine, um, you know, what’s the best action for them? Are they ready for a call? Do they still need to be nurtured? We touch on those by one and also allow sales to kick back a lead if they got it and it’s not quite ready.

In the end, if they’re gonna be ready to buy, if they’re not buying from us, they’re buying from our competitor.

So we might as well keep ’em in one of our nurture streams until they are ready. Just that open dialogue with sales, so they don’t think you’re throwing leads over the fence without vetting those leads before you give them to them. I think that creates a really good strategic partnership.

Pam Didner: I love it. So sounds like Tracy, you’ve been working with sales for a long time and in multiple companies, especially in the manufacturing segment. If you have one piece of advice for aspiring B2B marketers working with sales, what would that be? Based on some of the mistakes you made, you wish somebody had told you when you started.

Tracy Niehaus: It is that um, alignment with sales and marketing. I think that I was careful not to make that mistake so much. And I harped on it probably in excess at times. I think we made other mistakes in some tactics and the execution because we didn’t know better.

You know, we’re used to doing these, you know, broad sweeping campaigns, as I mentioned earlier, to generate all these leads, right?

Pam Didner: Top of the funnel. Yes, exactly.

Tracy Niehaus: And so, I think people hear all the time. You say Account-Based Marketing flips the funnel. Right. We have to flip our thinking. We’re used to creating all this content, putting it out to the masses, you know, getting all these leads back in, um, and Account-Based Marketing takes a bit of marketing patience, if you will, because, you know, the successes are measured a little differently. And I think on that side, the biggest mistake we made was not paying as much attention to the personalization of the content.

You know, personalized email. I think that’s an easy one, right? Yeah. But there are other things I touched on on the website earlier. There are many opportunities for us to touch people along their journey on the website, with popups, engaging them and chatting. Things that were not available many years ago but now are, you know, commonplace on many different websites. And by engaging someone when they come to your site and track where they’re going and, um, you know, all the algorithms and everything that take that into account, you can serve up a better experience for them.

You can do the same thing when you’re doing advertising digital advertising, right? With retargeting, putting ads up for them.

That’s directing them in the manner that they wanna go. And so I think when we first started this, I was like, “well, we send an email with somebody’s name, and it wow. Like that out of all the daily emails, we have something right in their inbox.” That’s like, “dear Tracy, blah, blah, blah.” And, I think we were slow to adopt the other types of attribution and that personalization is necessary for Account-Based Marketing.

Pam Didner: Well said, Tracy. Well said.

Tracy Niehaus: Thank you. Thank you.

Pam Didner: Thank you so much for coming to my show.

Tracy Niehaus: All right. Thanks, Pam.

Pam Didner: Bye-bye.

What can Pam Didner do for you?

Being in the corporate world for 20+ years and having held various positions from accounting and supply chain management, and marketing to sales enablement, she knows how corporations work. She can make you and your team a rock star by identifying areas to shine and do better. She does that through private coaching, keynote speaking, workshop training, and hands-on consulting. Contact her or find her on LinkedIn and Twitter. A quick note: Check out her new 90-Day Revenue Reboot, if you are struggling with marketing.