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Account-Based Marketing for B2B Tech

What is account-based marketing (ABM) and how can industry 4.0 companies leverage some of the strategies that are working at enterprise technology companies? In this episode, Alex Embling from Strategic Internet Consulting has joined the podcast to discuss:

  • What is Alex's definition of account-based marketing
  • Common misconceptions people have about account-based marketing
  • Who should consider an account-based marketing strategy?
  • The different tiers you need to use when doing ABM
  • Why invest in expensive ABM tech, and do we really need it?
  • Strategic IC's process for implementing ABM for clients.


[00:00:00] Thorstein Nordby: [00:00:00] Welcome to the customer acquisition podcast. My name is Thorstein. If you are in marketing or sales and you want to increase demand, build more pipeline and acquire more customers for a B2B product. This podcast is for you in this podcast, we will mix together webinars. Live streams, interviews and everything else in audio format.

[00:00:29] I also recommend registering for weekly live sessions on one stays at one central European time. Share, recover a different topic related to customer acquisition, such as content marketing, advertising, sales, and much more. You can sign up at natalie.co/life. Now on to this episode

[00:00:53] today, I am joined by our guest Alex Embling, managing director at strategic internet consulting to talk [00:01:00] about account based marketing for B to B companies, Alex, welcome to the podcast. For the listeners who are just meeting you for the first time, could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do at strategic internet consulting?

[00:01:16] Alex Embling: [00:01:16] Yeah. my name is Alex Embling. I'm the CEO of Strategic Internet Consulting. We're a specialist technology marketing agency focusing purely on account-based marketing programs, working with global technology brands. Really our job is to help those technology brands selling to the highest value clients to win new logos or retain them.

[00:01:36] Thorstein Nordby: [00:01:36] On your LinkedIn profile, it says that you have run strategic internet consulting for close to 25 years? 

[00:01:47] Alex Embling: [00:01:47] Yeah. In some form or another. Google is becoming a thing back in this sort of mid to late nineties self-employed and running a very early form of a marketing agency back then. Through the peaks and troughs with [00:02:00] the industry and how everything's become so specialists over the years. So it's been an interesting ride. 

[00:02:04] Thorstein Nordby: [00:02:04] I have read your content for a while and you have done several talks, a lot of case studies. you have, the “Let's talk ABM” series and you are really in the trenches when it comes to actually doing account based marketing versus just talking about it.

[00:02:23] Alex Embling: [00:02:23] There's a lot of academics out there on the subject of ABM and we definitely have dirt under our nails. Everyone has different levels of understanding about what ABM is to them and what it means to them. I guess we'll talk about that later, but it's an interesting thing because there's a lot of hype around the topic of account-based marketing. And I don't think there's a lot of misconceptions in the market about what it actually means to run an ABM marketing program and actually define what it means for the business in town. 

[00:02:50] Thorstein Nordby: [00:02:50] If you ask 10 different marketers about what ABM is, you will probably get 10 different answers. Some say it's just a targeting tactic with some IP-based advertising and some expensive technology on top of it. Others say that account based marketing is essentially what B2B marketing should be, but what is your definition of account based marketing? 

[00:03:16] Alex Embling: [00:03:16] Yeah, it's an interesting question. And, everyone has their opinion on this, but my opinion is it's a lens. It's a targeting lens to look through. I think if you think about it as a sliding scale, where you have persona based marketing, over to one side where you're actually targeting maybe your smaller value accounts, less complicated sales cycles, or maybe you only got a single decision maker on one side of the scale and then brought across in the other side of the scale, you have your highest value accounts.

[00:03:43] Those ones can provide the highest value ROI to you and maybe have the longest life cycle. And we define account based marketing as an approach or a lens or a filter to target your target accounts. And it all comes down to [00:04:00] how much time investment you're willing to make, to win an account and also to how complex it is to win that account.

[00:04:06] And everyone knows that the staff that kind of throws around at the end of this six people involved in a modern B2B buying decision. And that's obviously at the highest scale, typically we see the threshold or the minimum entry point for a proper personalized account based marketing program at no more than $50,000 annual recurring revenue.

[00:04:25] So if your clients are spending with you that as a minimum, it typically doesn't make sense to treat that single account as an individual market, which is basically what we're talking about with proper ABM, where you're really saying to your business internally, look, we want to go after this account and win it because it has all these benefits and we're going to justify an additional level of time and investment.

[00:04:48] Personalization as well to try and win that account. So that's how we look at it. As markets have one at the extreme end complicated sales cycles, [00:05:00] more decision-makers and obviously higher value deals. So it's where your highest value deals. 

[00:05:05] Thorstein Nordby: [00:05:05] This leads me to my next question, which is, what do you think most marketers misunderstand about account based marketing?

[00:05:13]Alex Embling: [00:05:13] I think people think just by targeting a specific list of accounts and then running banner ads into them that they're doing ABM or just doing a direct mail campaign into a set of accounts for doing ABM. Those are just channel tactics. Yeah, everyone has access to the same channel tactics and online or offline, account based marketing is that up in the low level of personalization, it's about having a deeper level of insights and data on an account and the people who are making the buying decisions within that account.

[00:05:43] So it's getting much more personalized rather than just your messaging targeting up a fictitious persona, where you're talking to a CMO with ABM programs that have multiple decision makers. She was talking to me. Thorstein, who's the CMO of X business. [00:06:00] And we get to know what is important to you, not just from your job perspective, but also from your business's perspective and at the extreme level to you personally, potentially.

[00:06:10] And then the message and the proposition, and you specifically is contextualized to you rather than just a CMO of a fictitious technology business. 

[00:06:15] Thorstein Nordby: I think an account based marketing quickly devolves into becoming outbound selling to a more targeted list of accounts. Another good example was from a prospect I was talking to last week and they said that they were doing account-based marketing, but when I dug a bit deeper, they were paying for a software and this software helped them to do banner ads on some of the major business websites. And this is something you can do natively through the. Advertising features on Facebook or LinkedIn anyway. 

Yeah. Yeah. the whole program, I scaffold sizing piece upstairs, a lot of tech technology in that space, but then there is a place for it, but out of, I have a rule [00:07:00] program, I'm sure we'll talk about it later at the different types of ABM programs there are, but you have to be clear about who it is.

[00:07:05] You're trying to target. I am making sure at the extreme level of ABM that you understand those accounts at a much deeper level than you would just probably running the focus demand gen program, which absolutely has their place for the lower value deals for our agency that is set up to help clients when they're most complicated high value deals.

[00:07:24] So we work with a lot of technology brands that maybe had. No series A, series B investment who have grown, built amazing businesses off the back of targeting SMB. there's more productized commoditized services where you've got three columns on the SaaS page, and now the investors saying, you've now got to the SMB space.

[00:07:43] Now we want to want you to assign during the mid-market and enterprise space, those higher value deals, which require a different mindset, a different internal skill. And quite often the tech club comes to work with half. How does that rule, scan and house and be able to work with them, to train them or provide them the strategy plans for [00:08:00] them, or they want us to fully orchestrate a full program over a long period of time.

[00:08:07] But ultimately, there's technology businesses that are moving out of an SMB into enterprise is typically where ABM really has its family. 

Thorstein Nordby: So who should consider doing ABM? I read from serious decisions that 92% of B2B marketers cite ABM as extremely important. But do you think that most B2B companies have the deal size and the target market that justifies doing ABM?

[00:08:35] Alex Embling: I think the main one of them, there's a few main blockers to getting into ABM while doing it in the purest sense of the lead. One is budget. And having the budget available to target a single account or a cluster of accounts at a much higher, a more personalized level. Secondly, is the insight and data on those accounts that quite often is a blocker.

[00:08:56] Alex Embling: So they end up just promoting a more generic content [00:09:00] into an account and calling ABM, hoping that it will resonate. There's the whole sales and marketing alignment piece as well, which is a very overused sort of message. But it's absolutely true. And in fact, it's not just sales and marketing. No it is, account-based everything you need.

[00:09:15] Alex Embling: Everyone in the business at some level needs to buy into that. And obviously that's a big internal sales job or PR job to do Quite often, you'll see the marketing team dipping in that dipping in the toes to the IBM space and trying to build a business case, to get more investment, to increase the volume of accounts that can be targeted more than the additional sort of investment from the business or the blockers include, or other reason campaigns fail quite often, the sales team might come up with an aspirational.

[00:09:45] This is a council they want to try and win. Without any real sort of intent or idea about why they should be buying from them. They just think that their services are, they warrant the purchase from that account. And quite often, [00:10:00] those accounts aren't in an active buying journey.

[00:10:02] So they, those campaigns can tell quite fast for that reason. So there are various reasons why. People set out to do ABM, but quite quickly they can stumble because they haven't got an internal buy or they haven't got the data and insight from the counseling. I'm trying to ask them, or they haven't allocated enough budget or, they just don't have that level of personalization required to cut through the noise because it's a very noisy marketplace.

[00:10:26] And quite often everyone's talking to the same people. 

[00:10:28] Thorstein Nordby: [00:10:28] You said you need buy-in to get the budget. So how do you get the buy-in? 

[00:10:34] Alex Embling: [00:10:34] Yeah. and that's the tricky thing, right? So when we're talking to clients who are just starting to think about ABN, we totally talk to them about a blended program, which is, that's at the extreme that you, we might cluster, 10 to 15 accounts that all have a common sales trigger or common pain.

[00:10:53] And that aligns with the product or service at the time it was trying to sell. And we might combine that with a more programmatic ad. Can pay, but the [00:11:00] ones that many programmatic play is purely just for branding the West. So we'll go through, toting your client's ICP, their ideal customer profile, which is one Oh one.

[00:11:10] You have to get that ideal customer profile. It has to be more than just a LinkedIn industry category and number of employees. Then a couple of job titles thrown in and the ICP. An ICP needs much more nuanced data points to it. For example, we are tech specialists, so our clients need to be in the B2B space, be B2B global B2B technology brands. We have three tiers of account that we go off to this extreme. We have two ones, which are these. Big technology brands typically founded pre 2000. Those are the ones that tend to stay with us much longer. And that's largely because their in-house marketing teams are incredible at understanding their own market.

[00:11:55] They're fantastic product marketers, but they wouldn't necessarily have that modern [00:12:00] digital marketing DNA that's required, not necessarily data driven or had the experience with the modern tech stacks. So they have both a non-general resource issue, which we help. We got a set of services that fully orchestrate the programs.

[00:12:11] And then we have a tier two set of accounts, which is modern high growth SaaS businesses who have very modern in-house teams typically found in post 2000, but they have a short-term knowledge issue about getting into the enterprise space. So trying to win their highest value accounts that come out of that space.

[00:12:28] And then we have a tier three who maybe have. Yeah, just below series A investment high growth businesses, much more marketing teams, but I have this hunger to win big accounts. So the point is there is a new onset of data over and above the typical firmographic and technographic type data points, which format an ICP.

[00:12:49] And that's where the really important information sits. if you look at an ICP, they have to be more complex. Typically some of these third party data sources can automate. So yeah. [00:13:00] Getting your ICP right. Is really important. And then yeah, after that, it's about product market fit, understanding what starts a sales conversation, how do you link an action in the marketplace with your product or service, and then what's that right level of personalization, to really engage that account. And ultimately everything manifests itself in some really cutting edge, world-class creative. What we're seeing in the market is where you get fantastic data with great insight, which then in the form of a really strong value proposition into that smaller subset of accounts, and then manifest itself in a, an incredible piece of creative.

[00:13:40] That is engaging and talks to the key decision makers at a personal level. You get all of those elements together, and that's when these really high value sales conversations get started. And you can, you can start to win and accelerate really hard in the high deal values. So getting all of those, the jig set up, some clients have some of it, but [00:14:00] very often there's one or two points missing from it.

[00:14:02] Thorstein Nordby: [00:14:02] You did mention the blended approach, where companies who have been doing inbound and produce a lot of content for the last few years. And now maybe in the last three, four or five years, ABM has become more of a hot topic and more marketers want to invest indoing inbound and doing ABM.

[00:14:23] Alex Embling: [00:14:23] Yeah. When inbound is absolutely. So this sort of strategy where you have. Yeah, an active, organic or social market, or who are actually looking for help put it, if you don't have, if you're a new technology brand, trying to break into a new space or trying to forge a market, then you have to enable it outbound, And create awareness for your brand, align that with some pain that you need. So the blended programs help create that brand awareness into a specific set of accounts where quite often we might advocate using some intent data. He's a technology that we use in a lot of cases and that intent data then [00:15:00] highlights the active market so that the accounts to meet your ICP that are in an active buying journey around some topics that our technology clients care about.

[00:15:08] And then we can connect the dots between the intent and the actual proposition and what we're trying to sell those active accounts. This always on a layer of one-to-many programmatic ABM, where you have a set of accounts, could be two, three, 400 accounts where you're literally just drip feeding in some high value content that aligns with the 10.

[00:15:32] You can see in the data, but with no other objective, other than just creating brand awareness. That's all you expect from those programs. And the personalization is literally at the sales trigger level or the topic level that you're monitoring and templates. And then the additional area for blended programs is one to few where you're either siphoning off accounts from that one to many programs that are showing high levels of intent around the topics and the highlights.

[00:15:59] And we'll turn it around to a [00:16:00] brand and you might build a business case to up the level of personalization to that smaller subset of accounts. And you might think that these guys are absolutely engaging with all of the stuff we put in front of them. they're are loving value prop. Now let's get more personal with these guys.

[00:16:14] Let's move them into a one to few program where we have that level of personalization. We understand the accounts at a much deeper level, maybe to a total of 30% level. And we're up in that level of personalization to try and start sales conversations with them. Yeah, further down the line. So that's typically a good starting point for our technology companies to then start building the business case internally to then maybe think about one.

[00:16:37] So one-to-one programs and the one-to-one programs where you're literally just targeting a single account. And I've all recommendations for people who are new to IBM, normally hard to, if you wanna, if you want to go one to one, we typically reserve those for existing clients that they have that maybe they're working in a specific region.

[00:16:56] So they might want a client in EMEA. But they know there [00:17:00] are other cost centers globally that they could tap into. So we typically recommend for new clients to IBM to start off with that one-to-one program, but only with existing clients and the next ARCA expand type agreement, not for new logo acquisition.

[00:17:16] Thorstein Nordby: [00:17:16] Technology is a big part of ABM. You have mentioned intent data. You have different ABM vendors, such as Terminus, Marketo, Demandbase who just acquired Engagio or Rollworks. There's tools for account engagement, advertising, IP tracking. Do you think we really need all these tools? What's the value of all these different tools and technologies?

[00:17:45] Alex Embling: [00:17:45] Under this without doubt kind of value in these tools, because I get asked this question a lot. ABM is new and the technology highlights why it's different from others, such as key account marketing, whatever you want to call that into, the concept of having high value accounts has existed for as long as the industrial revolution has.

[00:18:06]And, to corner the HubSpot analogy, the customer, the sales person, the sales rep in the business that was doing the selling used to be the information gatekeeper, right? They're the ones that the customers used to look to for education on what's new, what's up and coming new ways of doing things.

[00:18:23] But obviously, as we know all of that, self-education by the client. The prospect is being done before a brand is engaged.. So the concept of treating accounts, the market of one isn't new, what is new though is the amount of data and insight that we have on the accounts and the buyers before even putting pen to paper or engaging, I have to face in that campaign.

[00:18:46] So technology plays a really important part in that when we talk to fan 10 data, but obviously there's other third party data sources. The second party data where you obviously can see who's visiting your brand already isn't necessarily inquiring [00:19:00] or converting on content. And then it, obviously your first party data where you have technology announces the mind, that data and finds the first part in 10 that you weren't necessarily aware of combining all those data sources, incredibly powerful to focus any technology, businesses, sales, and marketing budget on.

[00:19:17] So using all this technology, you can do an incredible job and focus your budgets in the right place. Whereas, as we all know, The days of spraying and praying and checking it off, hoping someone will stick up for the long gone. So the tech and the data and the insight before you start activating campaigns is incredibly powerful to, as I say, I texted him, which is quite a lot to run zero waste marketing programs, where it has the highest chance of delivering value back to the business.

[00:19:48] Thorstein Nordby: [00:19:48] And as consultants working with, companies who are implementing ABM, what kind of tools are you recommending them to use? Yeah, finds have a mix of tech. Our clients see on [00:20:00] HubSpot and HubSpot do some great work in the ABM space. Now. But then, they're typically on Marketo or Salesforce Pardot.

[00:20:08] Alex Embling: [00:20:08] A lot of our clients are investing intent. So we work with a partner called Cyance. They have a platform called nexus and they have, we also work with clients from DemandBase, somewhere on Terminus. So a lot of there's a lot of interim platforms coming in.

[00:20:30] We are seeing a lot of evidence of technology that are trying to masquerade as ABM platforms when they're really not and tech, but, our clients have all the usual tech stack and they've always some consolidation in the next few years, as some of the less valuable ones just fall by the wayside.

[00:20:48] Thorstein Nordby: [00:20:48] I want to end with, going through the process of implementing an account based marketing plan. So say you are helping a CEO or CMO implementing and creating a BM [00:21:00] plan. How does it look like that one? 

[00:21:02]Alex Embling: [00:21:02] you need to know your product market fit. You need to, you have to have a really solid understanding about who you are, your products are designed to talk to and why.

[00:21:12] And then as I said, developing the ICP is absolutely fundamental. So making sure you understand who your ideal customer profile is, that's a deeper level than just what in Australia and how many employers do they go to? So having a nuanced sort of view of that, and also the types of people that are buying, and most importantly, what the key messages into those buyers are.

[00:21:33] So that's absolutely getting those data foundations right. Is absolutely fundamental. And then on top of that data, you plug in the insight. we were starting to go deeper on an industry or vertical or on a set of accounts and have that level of personalization to the account level. And then obviously having a detailed insight on the people that are physically buying the platforms.

[00:21:54] So you've got the, getting the data foundations, right? Understanding your RCP, [00:22:00] overlying, overlaying the insight. And then possibly activating all the campaign channels that everyone is aware of both digital and offline is obviously harder to activate nowadays, but some really clever plays around that.

[00:22:11]as soon as incredible results started working with a couple of our tech partners to help pull offline distribution like direct mail or, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. This is a really interesting tech in that space. yeah. Obviously success criteria is getting that right test. So understanding your RCP, getting the data foundations around a really strong value proposition, as we all know, people are time poor.

[00:22:33] So having an incredibly strong value prop that is correct as in the right format and tips and resonates, fast. And then creative, you've got to get that creative, right? You've got to think out of the box and be really innovative when you're trying to engage these sort of high value decision makers, because these guys will just tune you out.

[00:22:57] As soon as they see the email or the social selling message [00:23:00] or whatever point of sending it. So you have, and you can't get a creative, right. Unless you have really strong insight on the accounts and that Value proposition. That's typically the success question and the process we go through. 

[00:23:13] And you mentioned that one of the problems with most ABM strategies is that most companies just promote generic content to their target accounts.

[00:23:23] So the us creating content in an ABM strategy differ anyway from other strategies. You're you have that's where your insight comes in. This is where you have to understand. That's why you have to reduce the volume of accounts to no more than 15 accounts, once a few stages.

[00:23:41] And you cost them around a set of criteria that isn't just their industry. It's that level of that increased level of personalization is really important. So that it does resonate at a much higher level because ultimately there's too much automation going on in the sales and marketing space at the moment.

[00:23:58] And the sales [00:24:00] messaging and the marketing messaging that is having the highest success rate. So those that are more personal and just by definition, that's very difficult to scale meaningful personalization. And a lot of people interpret personalization in different ways. Just inserting someone's first name into an email and a company isn't meaningful personalization, At scale does sound a bit paradoxical. And I think that will change this incredible tech out there that knows a lot about people and they can translate that into elements that can be personalized at scale, but really the meaningful personalization is one to few in the one-to-one that will, and it's that stuff that really stops success, concessions faster.

[00:24:41] Thorstein Nordby: [00:24:41] And lastly, when measuring success, what kind of KPIs do you use to report to clients? 

[00:24:48] Alex Embling: [00:24:48] Yes, that's a good question. So just because of the, the longer sales cycle length by definition of, so you're going off to your highest value deals, right? So the sales cycle length will be longer. therefore you [00:25:00] have to have, we used the three R’s, which is reputation, revenue, and relationships to monitor.

[00:25:06] You know how well we're penetrating and account brand awareness and relationships. We're building with the account. And ultimately, obviously the revenue, which is the most important one, but depending on the complex nature of the business that we're trying to tie me, because if you're going off for Oracle, you've got a million marks as you could be talking to 2 million, it people, depending on who you're buying you're trying to target, you need to break down the success criteria into smaller chunks.

[00:25:33] Which is why we use reputation's relationships with revenue to categorize those subset KPIs. And obviously you can't close them revenue until you've developed relationships from that account, build your reputation and trust. And then ultimately that should convert into revenues. You've got that, the timing and the context of your messages, right?

[00:25:52] So we use the three Rs to build up to pipeline revenue. 

[00:25:59] Thorstein Nordby: [00:25:59] Okay. I think [00:26:00] this has been a very insightful conversation about a BM. So if people want to find more about you and what you do as strategic, where can they go? 

[00:26:09] Alex Embling: [00:26:09] Yeah. you can go to strategic-ic.com and anyone who's new into the ABM space that is looking to educate them.

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