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Hey, big hello from Raleigh, North Carolina. Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing and more.

Today, we talk about ABM and how to scale Account-Based Marketing with my guest Danny Nail, Account-Based Engagement Manager at Microsoft.

In this episode:

    • What is account-based marketing
    • Is ABM successful and effective if we need to do a more one-to-one approach or one-to-many?
    • How to choose the right marketing tactics for ABM outreach?
    • Where do ABM activities should belong to?
    • How customized content can support account-based marketing?
    • How to scale account-based marketing across different verticals?
    • What are the challenges, and how to resolve them?
    • How to scale account-based marketing on a small budget?
    • What is a sales responsibility during the ABM planning and implementation?
    • What are common success metrics or KPIs for ABM?

Quotes from the episode:

“There’s nothing wrong with having some kind of template guidance. But it needs to be guided, and it shouldn’t be something that’s set in stone.”

“Your budget needs to last at least the sales cycle, whatever your sales cycle is. And then, you need to make sure that that budget can cover the number of accounts you’re trying to cover. So if you’re only trying to cover one account for a quarter, you may have enough budget to do that.”

Hey, big hello from Raleigh, North Carolina. Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing and more. We talk about everything B2B related from social media, paid media, and even account-specific engagement and sales enablement. And that’s the topic that we want to talk about today, which is ABM, Account-Based Marketing. Danny Nail is Account-Based Engagement Manager at Microsoft. Danny is joining us to share some of the tactics and planning he has been doing for Microsoft. If I’m not mistaken, he also worked at SAP before, so plenty of knowledge on the B2B side of things, so welcome, Danny.

Danny Nail: Hey, Pam. Good to be here. Thank you.

Pam Didner: So let’s talk about your favorite passionate topic, Account-Based Marketing. So what is your definition of ABM?

Danny Nail: So the way I describe account-based marketing, there’s always the people that say one-to-one, one-to-many, one-to-few and one-to-many, right?

Pam Didner: Yeah. That’s a very typical definition in terms of classification.

Danny Nail: Right. But when I think about it, I add a little bit of a spin to it. I relate it to restaurants.

Pam Didner: Okay.

Danny Nail: You have a five-star to a six-star restaurant where you walk in the door, and the menu is made specifically for you. Everything the chef cooks is specific to your diet and your dietary needs and wishes. And it’s all about you. There’s that one specific customer. That one-to-one account-based marketing is the same thing.

When I think about one-to-few, I think about more restaurants where you can go in. You might be going in to get a subway sandwich, but you pick the different ingredients you want. So everybody that comes in there will get a subway, but they’re going to get different ingredients. So the sandwich given to them is tailored to them specifically, but everybody gets a sandwich.

Pam Didner: Sandwich, yeah.

Danny Nail: But that to me is what would be a one-to-few. One-to-many is the typical hamburger chain. You’re going to get a burger. It’s going to be the same burger everybody else gets.

Pam Didner: Same burger, yeah. Standardized.

Danny Nail: Same fries, same everything. And we all know who those chains are. They’re not bad. They’re just not going to necessarily tailor everything to you because they’re doing things in bulk. And that’s the one-to-many.

Pam Didner: Very good. With that definition, can I ask your opinion on whether ABM is successful and effective if we need to do a more one-to-one approach or one-to-many? Do you have any kind of like suggestion in terms of what should that be?

Danny Nail: If you can afford it and have the resources, one-to-one is the best way to go because your marketing can be tailored to each specific account. Suppose you don’t have the resources for that and, or you don’t have the budget for that. In that case, you might look at going at a one-to-few type program. At SAP, I covered 36 to 40 accounts across six industries with a fairly small budget doing the one-to-few type ABM. One-to-many to me is really good targeted account mark marketing.

Pam Didner: Yeah.

Danny Nail: But I don’t consider it account-based marketing because the content sent into those accounts is the same as other accounts are getting that is, maybe they’ve shown…

Pam Didner: It’s way too generic. It’s kind of like a washout.

Danny Nail: Yeah. They may be interested in the supply chain or have shown intent on the supply chain or interest in the supply chain. But that doesn’t mean that just because you send them a supply chain email that you’re doing ABM, it just means you’re targeting well.

Pam Didner: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And so may I ask another question? I know ABM is nothing new. For a longer time, many traditional marketers in the past when they support a sales organization and the way back now is not necessarily digital-driven. And they do a lot of customer or account-specific types of events. And that can be counted as ABM as well. And that is supporting sales. And I have people argue with me a lot of ABM type of activities because it supports sales that need to be part of a sales organization. And I also have people say it is a marketing activity. Therefore, it should be part of marketing. Do you have a strong opinion one way or another in terms of ABM, whether the activities or the roles and responsibilities should belong to sales or the marketing side?

Danny Nail: I wouldn’t say it’s a strong opinion, but it is my opinion. And I would say that account-based marketing needs to stay in marketing.

Pam Didner: Okay.

Danny Nail: Because if you think about it, there’s a lot of execution that happens with account-based marketing.

Pam Didner: True.

Danny Nail: Sales doesn’t do that type of execution. They don’t do paid social. They don’t do paid LinkedIn advertising. So there’s a number of things that happen with account-based marketing that don’t occur in sales. Now it is extremely, in fact, if you don’t have sales involved in your account-based marketing program, it’s not account-based.

Pam Didner: Yeah. It’s going to fail miserably.

Danny Nail: Yeah. They’ve got to be on board and engaged and be all in with it. But at the same time, they don’t have to execute at all. And there’s a lot of things that are done on the marketing side that just wouldn’t normally happen on the sales side but can be brought to the sales side from marketing. So I think it needs to stay on the marketing side. That doesn’t mean that sales can’t budget and help support it. Right?

Pam Didner: Yeah.

Danny Nail: They also give us their partnership, which is very important. But at the end of the day, it is a marketing function. It should be a company-wide function, and everybody should think about it. It should be an initiative, not just a marketing function, but a company initiative. It is at some companies. They’re doing well. Other companies are looking at it as a marketing one-off are struggling to get it moving because they’re not getting the buy-in they need from sales. So you got to look at it as a cross-company initiative.

Pam Didner: With that being said, I have another question we like to get your thought on. ABM comes in many different flavors. And just like you said, you can look at it in terms of a category, which is one-to-one, one-to-few, one-to-many. Can we also look at ABM from different combinations of the marketing tactics you will leverage to drive and do your ABM outreach? Do you have any recommendations and suggestions regarding when it’s better to use tactics? For example, when is the best time to use customer event marketing or planning? When is the best time to do programmatic ads?

Danny Nail: I get where you’re going with that. And what I would say is there is no right answer to that question, to be honest. There are several right answers.

Pam Didner: It depends, right?

Danny Nail: It depends.

Pam Didner: Situational?

Danny Nail: You’ve got to think about what your overall objectives are.

Pam Didner: Sure.

Danny Nail: What you’re trying to accomplish with the account. Suppose you’re just trying to accomplish something about covering reputation and relationships. In that case, different tactics will be coming into play than if you were trying to accelerate a sales deal. So it depends on the objective. It depends on the content you’re trying to get into them and which tactic you might use, or even the content drives the type of asset that should be created. Because if your content is a linear story that you’re trying to tell, you will use one type of asset. Suppose you’re trying to tell an emotional art of the possible type of story. In that case, Versus may use a video with some emotive music. And some things like that. So it just depends on the objectives of the account. And it also depends on the content you’re trying to bring to the account at that time and which tactics you’ll use to get into them.

Pam Didner: Yeah. I agree with you. I ask that specific question because I get that question all the time when I do ABM or sales enablement workshops. And the many B2B marketers would like to focus on how? They want to kind of get a template. In this situation, this is what they need to do. In that situation, they need to activate specific marketing channels or whatnot. But I do agree with you. Unfortunately, marketing is a little squishy, and it also depends on your objective. And also, marketing has so many different channels that you can dial up and dial down.

Danny Nail: That’s right.

Pam Didner: It depends not just on your objective but also the resource, your budget, and one marketing channel your company has.

Danny Nail: Yeah.

Pam Didner: So I do agree with you. It depends on the situation you are in. Most importantly, what are the key objectives you want to accomplish at that time?

Danny Nail: And there’s nothing wrong with having some kind of template guidance. But it needs to be guided, and it shouldn’t be something that’s set in stone. It could be like, if you’re trying to work on your reputation with this customer, these are some things you can do. That will also depend on the content you’re trying to deliver to them to help with that relationship.

Pam Didner: Sure.

Danny Nail: It could be an art of the possible video. It could be some other type of asset where maybe they just don’t know exactly what you do, so you’ve got to get that content into them in a certain way. Product brochures are not necessarily always the best thing.

Pam Didner: No, it’s not. And it’s also hard to customize that, certainly.

Danny Nail: That’s right, but you can pull content from them and repurpose the content that’s in them and make it customized. Just handing a product brochure to a customer without doing some sort of versioning or customization to it, it’s going to land pretty flat these days. Because they’re more educated, and they want to get more too. What does this mean for me? As opposed to what does it mean for everybody?

Pam Didner: You mentioned a couple of things, and I want to do a little deeper dive. And you mentioned content several times. And it sounds like there is a big correlation between account-based marketing and content. The purchasing cycle is long, especially in B2B marketing. You have to find a way to engage with prospects. And if you want to move the prospects alone, the sales cycles, and a lot of time, the conversation opener tend to be content. Can you talk to us about the content and customize content specifically for ABM?

Danny Nail: So, first of all, you go almost back to the beginning of the program. The insights that you gather about the account, the industry, and technology within the industry because those insights are what will inform that content. Suppose you have insights about the company and how they look at things. You have insights about the industry and how the industry is looking at the same topic overall. In that case, you can kind of take that and mesh it together. As I said, you can repurpose content or develop it. Either way, it’s got to utilize the insights you’ve learned about this customer to make it relevant to their specific needs and pain points. Or, as I said, it’s not going to land as well. And it’s not going to do what you want it to do.

Pam Didner: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Danny Nail: And the other part of that depends on what you want that content to do, how you introduce it to that customer, and the format that it takes, and all of that will affect the outcome.

Pam Didner: Got it.

Danny Nail: And if you’re looking to enhance your relationship and reputation with a customer versus increased revenue, two different approaches are going to have to take place there, because enhancing your reputation and relationship is a very different type of activity than speeding up, accelerating revenue.

Pam Didner: Understood. So, let me paraphrase what you just said.

Danny Nail: Sure.

Pam Didner: To customize your content for ABM, you need to do a couple of things before you even customize your content. Number one, you have to have some insight into the challenges of this specific account and what they are looking for. Their pinpoints, how the sales team is currently engaged with them, and what they want to get out of it. So you need to have some insight. And the second thing is, when you are looking into customizing the content, you have to think through the objectives you want to accomplish and find the relevant content for them. And before you even customize or repurpose the content.

Danny Nail: That’s right.

Pam Didner: Once you start customizing content for accounts is incredibly hard to scale. And just like you said, if you want to do it right, it’s better to do it one-to-one and also one-to-few, but it’s very hard to scale. Do you have any examples or secrets that you can share with us regarding how to scale that, especially across different verticals?

Danny Nail: Sure. So, first of all, let’s clarify the definition of scale, right?

Pam Didner: Okay.

Danny Nail: Because to some people, scale means taking something that you’ve done for one or a few customers and taking it out to thousands, right?

Pam Didner: Yes. Massive accounts.

Danny Nail: But then there’s all the scalability where you take something that you’ve done for one bank, and you take that same piece and do it for ten other banks.

Pam Didner: Okay. Cool.

Danny Nail: In our world, those banks are pretty big.

Pam Didner: Sure.

Danny Nail: So what they’re purchasing, there’s a high dollar value associated with it, so going from one to 10 can mean a significant amount of revenue just in their accounts. Right?

Pam Didner: Right, so they follow that 80/20 rules, right?

Danny Nail: Right.

Pam Didner: That 80% of revenue comes from 20% or even 10% of the accounts?

Danny Nail: That’s right. And so, if you look at it that way, scale is a whole different ballgame because you can go from one to 10 much easier than you can. And also, I’m not going to say you can go from one to 10 much easier than you can go from one to masses.

Pam Didner: One to thousand, yeah.

Danny Nail: But the difference is you can go from one to 10 where the ten are also getting versioned content for themselves. Whereas when you go one to masses, they’re not getting version content. They’re going to get the piece that was developed for this bank.

Pam Didner: It’s very industry segment-specific, right?

Danny Nail: Yeah.

Pam Didner: It’s very hard to go down to or have a personalized type of content down to that level. But what you can do is industry-specific, but it’s not necessarily 100% personalize it?

Danny Nail: Yes, that’s right. But the other part of that is you can take an asset built for one industry and repurpose it into another industry. A couple of ways, one, you take the base asset. So let’s say you’re talking about a digital asset and the way that digital asset was programmed behind the scenes to act, right?

Pam Didner: Yes.

Danny Nail: You can take that base asset and re-skin the graphics, replace the content and then all of a sudden you’ve got go from, and I did this at SAP, you go from an automotive asset to an oil and gas asset. And then you take that oil and gas asset, wherein that version, it’s an oil truck driving through an oil field. And then through a shipping yard and different phases of the supply chain.

Pam Didner: It’s kind of like adjacency?

Danny Nail: Yeah.

Pam Didner: You pick one content that’s related to probably the next industry and then morph that into another industry that’s more relevant to the industry that customer your content. I don’t know how to, what’s the best way to say it.

Danny Nail: Not being a morph. It’s just taking the base asset and taking the fact that it does tell a story a certain way. And then figuring out what other industries you can tell that same type of story to a linear story. It could be a supply chain story. So automotive deals heavily with the supply chain, retail deals heavily with the supply chain.

Pam Didner: Okay.

Danny Nail: Healthcare heavily supply chain challenges, so you look at who’s got those same kinds of challenges and how you can slightly repurpose some of its pieces. Maybe you change the photography or the background to look from automotive to healthcare.

Pam Didner: Change a little bit of opening and also closing?

Danny Nail: Yes.

Pam Didner: Yeah.

Danny Nail: And then also, you can change the content in the middle. You can always do a new voiceover or something, and that’s fairly easy to do on a video, especially if it’s not… I had consumer products one time, and I had six accounts. One was a shoe company. One was a chicken company. One was a drink, soft drink company. One was a beauty brands company. Yet we did a video that addressed all of those five different types of companies but could still be versioned for each one.

Pam Didner: So you are looking for that horizontal challenges or the pinpoint that can speak to all that industries?

Danny Nail: Yes.

Pam Didner: Okay.

Danny Nail: In that case, the video was made about how they interacted with their end-user customer. So we took the focus off of the company.

Pam Didner: Yeah.

Danny Nail: We talked about the experience they wanted their customer to have, and when you do that, the experience you want your customer to have, whether if it’s, especially if in this case it was a healthy experience. Healthy lifestyle experience. You can work that with chicken; you can work it with tennis shoes. You can work it with some of those different companies because they all have a way to approach their customer for a healthy lifestyle.

Pam Didner: Got it. You understand what the challenges are, and you also pick a topic. That topic is broad enough, yet it’s specific enough that you can relate to all the six different verticals.

Danny Nail: And that’s the importance of having insights that we talked about initially. You understand the industry, you understand the technology within the industry, and then you understand the accounts. And all of the insights that you gather help with that scalability.

Pam Didner: You just touched on that you have to understand the audience’s demographics. You also have to understand the companies’ technographics or their brands.

Danny Nail: That’s right.

Pam Didner: I have another question. This is budget-related. And we touched on customization of content. We talk about scalability, and it seems like ABM is not free. And what is your advice for teams who have a little budget? Can they still do ABM with a low budget? Honest answer.

Danny Nail: Honest answer. First of all, I’m going to say the low budget is relative, right?

Pam Didner: Yeah.

Danny Nail: Because to some people, if you’re used to having a $2 million budget or a $3 million budget, and you hear someone who’s got a $300,000 budget, that seems like a low budget. But to them, that might be a big enough budget. Right?

Pam Didner: Right.

Danny Nail: So it’s relative. But I would say, if you’re going to start an ABM program, you need to make sure that your budget will last for about six to 12 months. If you’re where your sales cycles are that long, right?

Pam Didner: Yeah.

Danny Nail: Your budget needs to last at least the sales cycle, whatever your sales cycle is. And then, you need to make sure that that budget can cover the number of accounts you’re trying to cover. So if you’re only trying to cover one account for a quarter, you may have enough budget to do that. And then you can prove out ABM that way and then hopefully get more budget. So my first reaction was don’t do it if you don’t have the resources simultaneously.

Pam Didner: I agree with you. If you have very little budget, my take on this is don’t try. Don’t even bother.

Danny Nail: Well put. And again, very little budget to some people could be a lot of—

Pam Didner: I hear you. I understand everything is relative. But when people say they have very little budget, that means very little budget.

Danny Nail: That’s true.

Pam Didner: Even though it means relative, you know what I’m saying?

Danny Nail: So, in that case, be smart about how big you try to make your program. And if you can do it, maybe you only do it for one sales cycle for one customer and prove it out that way. And then hopefully, if you prove it out, you can get more budget.

Pam Didner: Yeah.

Danny Nail: But if you’re going to try it, make sure you scale it to the budget that you have.

Pam Didner: I agree. ABM needs to be successful. You need sales buy-in if you want to launch a very successful ABM effort. You also need sales engagement. So can you tell us specifically, in terms of what is a sales responsibility during the ABM planning and implementation? A lot of salespeople don’t like to be bothered.

Danny Nail: Right.

Pam Didner: And so how do you engage with them, get the things that you need yet at the same time, you are not like constantly knocking on their doors?

Danny Nail: Well, a couple of things. First of all, you’ve got to understand the sales cycle, and you’ve got to understand what motivates the sellers. For example, I would never try to get a salesperson engaged when they’re in their fourth quarter because that’s the time of year they’re going to be busy.

Pam Didner: They’re trying to close the revenue, and the people are trying to close the book. Yes, I get it.

Danny Nail: Then make sure they understand what account-based marketing can bring to them and their account. If you don’t skip the sense that they get that or want that go to the next salesperson. Don’t waste your time with salespeople that don’t want account-based marketing because…

Pam Didner: Don’t try to persuade them.

Danny Nail: No.

Pam Didner: Don’t even bother.

Danny Nail: But you can try to persuade them to an extent, but after a while, you can tell if they’re going to buy in or not. And if they’re not going to buy in, they go onto the next account. But because it is so critically important and sales have to be engaged, we start looking at insights.

Pam Didner: Yes.

Danny Nail: So when their account becomes a part of the account-based marketing program, we start looking at the insights for that account. They have a function as part of that because they should be the ones who know the account better than anybody else. So their account plan will be very important as part of the overall content of the insights that we gather to create the program. So from the very beginning, we’re asking them about their relationship with the customer. We’re asking them about what we’re focused on with that customer. And does the customer want to focus on those things?

And then we look at where they are in the cycles of those things. Just because we started ABM doesn’t mean they’re on a fresh slate. They may be in the middle of a sales cycle, so we need to understand where they are and what’s happening with the executives they’re talking to. But once we understand all of that, it goes into creating different parts of the program. So we may do an engagement plan. We may do contact mapping and stakeholder mapping. They have to review those things and make sure they’re on point. Then we do the messaging framework. But once we have the messaging framework, they have to agree to that because that informs the content.

Pam Didner: Content are you going to create, yeah.

Danny Nail: It’s all about having their kind of approval and buy-in through the development of the program. To make sure that we’re still on target with what’s happening with them and the account. They agree to what we’re developing so that they will be happy to either use it or have it used with the account

Pam Didner: Very nicely said. Engage with sales from beginning to end.

Danny Nail: That’s right.

Pam Didner: Especially, I would say at the planning stage, get their input on the specific account you want to engage with and understand their sales stages. And also, leverage them and provide insights about the customers and use that information to develop your messaging framework and value prop. And that would guide the content creation.

Danny Nail: Absolutely. And you said something in there that was pretty important when you talked about the message framework and the value of prop. But it’s also the marketer’s responsibility to bring insights to the sellers.

Pam Didner: Yeah, I agree with you.

Danny Nail: So they can tell us about the account, but there may be stuff that we dig up in our research that they didn’t know about their account.

Pam Didner: You share that it’s a two-way street?

Danny Nail: That’s right.

Pam Didner: We talk about getting the sales engagement involvement during the planning stage before implementing. Now you implement ABM, can you tell us some of the common success metrics or KPIs for ABM?

Danny Nail: Deal acceleration.

Pam Didner: Okay.

Danny Nail: Is the average deal time 12 months, and ten months in these accounts? So have we decreased the amount of time to close, but also it depends on your objectives, right?

Pam Didner: Yeah.

Danny Nail: Because if your objective is all about relationships, how many additional executives have you engaged with at this company that weren’t previously engaged? So if you go from 25 executives to 75, then you’ve just increased your number of executives by 200%. That’s pretty good. It depends on your objectives, what you’re trying to accomplish with the account, what’s measurable around that.

A computer can’t do some of the things that we want to measure. They are subjective. And there are things that the salespeople have to tell us about. It’s kind of a loose bit of… You always have those objectives or those metrics that you think you can measure. But for example, you may have one person at an account that is the gatekeeper for a specific purchase. And if you create a video and the only person that sees that video is that person.

Pam Didner: And you have a massive breakthrough. That’s the only thing you need.

Danny Nail: That’s right.

Pam Didner: And all of a sudden, yeah. You can close the deal.

Danny Nail: But when you report on that, how many views did this video get? It was one.

Pam Didner: One.

Danny Nail: We closed this big deal that opened the door a little further. That’s why it makes it a little hard in some of the things that we do in account-based marketing because sometimes we have such a specific goal we’re trying to reach like that one that it doesn’t sound like a big metric. Still, it is at the end of the day.

Pam Didner: I think you brought up another good point. I think that’s also a dilemma that we marketers encounter when we set up a metric. Is that balance of equality versus quantity?

Danny Nail: Yeah.

Pam Didner: Yeah. Very good. I have one more question. I would like to ask you. What is the one place you always want to visit and always want to visit but never did? And why?

Danny Nail: I’m going to change that a little bit and say the one place I’ve always wanted to go to, but I haven’t yet.

Pam Didner: And I know you travel a lot, by the way.

Danny Nail: Yeah, it’s Iceland.

Pam Didner: Really?

Danny Nail: I want to go to Iceland, and I see Aurora Borealis and just see the… I’ve seen pictures, but I just want to go. That’s where I would like to go.

Pam Didner: Yeah. I was in Iceland for about three or four days, and I wanted to see the Northern lights. And so I chased it and went there in November and December, super cold. And no, I didn’t see anything. But the scenery is very nice, and the country is very small, but they only have a total population of 300,000. There’s no traffic if you go drive around, and it’s very scarce, yeah.

Danny Nail: Yeah.

Pam Didner: Yeah. So check it out, and you’re going to have fun.

Danny Nail: Sounds good.

Pam Didner: All right. Very good, Danny. It’s Wonderful to have you, and thank you for coming to my show and sharing your insight and experience about ABM. Again, if you like the video or audio, please subscribe and comment below. I’ll make sure I check and answer them. Take care.

Danny Nail: Thank you.

—————

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To expand your knowledge about how to scale account-based marketing, check out some of my previous podcast episodes, blog posts, and videos.

Podcast episodes

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

What You Need to Build ABM MarTech Stack

5 Steps To Work With Sales On ABM

Blog post

Complete Guide to Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

The Hidden Side of Account-Based Marketing

Video

How to Create a Scalable Global Content Marketing Strategy

 


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