June 2, 2022

What B2B CMOs Need to Know About ABM

Want more predictability in your pipeline? You just found your match in account-based marketing. ABM for short, these three simple letters are strapped with big implications for the organizations that get it right.

In this episode, B2B Fusion’s Founder and CMO Jon Russo shares his ABM expertise, covering how to go about launching your ABM strategy in a way that will align Sales and Marketing, optimize revenue growth, and help you forecast the future.

Tune in to hear the ins and outs of ABM, like how to measure a “marketing qualified account,” what red flags to look out for, and what you need to get your ABM program off the ground.

What you’ll learn:

  • How to get your ABM program up and running
  • How ABM can align Sales and Marketing
  • How not to get lost in the sea of marketing data

Resources Mentioned

– Intent data: 4 Use cases & definition

– *Renegade Marketing* by Drew Neisser on Amazon

CMO Huddles

–Jon’s ABM articles on CMS Wire

–B2B Fusion’s Account-Based Fridays


  • [02:35] ABM is a growth strategy
  • [03:13] The different flavors of ABM
  • [8:43] How to get the best ABM data possible
  • [12:16] ABM aligns Marketing & Sales
  • [16:25] What is a “marketing qualified account”?
  • [19:50] Intent & intent data
  • [23:16] Red Flag: Sales dictating the target accounts
  • [24:40] How to get buy-in for ABM
  • [26:40] Best outcome of ABM: predictable forecasting
  • [31:40] Bare-bones tech to get ABM off the ground
  • [34:06] Account-based platforms = Sales alerts
  • [35:40] How do I run ABM with a complex product set?
  • [39:22] How do I make the case to shift to ABM?
  • [41:26] What’s the ROI of ABX?
  • [43:30] Can we outsource ABM?
  • [44:31] Does ABM work for up-sell & cross-sell?
  • [46:00] Jon’s key ABM strategy takeaways

Highlighted Quotes

”By embarking on an account-based strategy, you're asking your sales team to go from a beat street cop to a private detective.” —@B2BCMO Share on X “The risk of introducing an account-based strategy without a quick win? It's going to die on the vine.” —@B2BCMO Share on X “Don't show up to that conversation and have sales dictate which of those target accounts to go after.” —@B2BCMO Share on X “The bottom line is you want to simplify and really focus on the marketing qualified account as the unit of measurement between sales and marketing.” —@B2BCMO Share on X “Is marketing contributing? Is your partner channel contributing? Are your sales or SDRs contributing to closed won opportunities? If you can answer that question at the board level, that's pretty compelling.” —@B2BCMO Share on X

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 295 on YouTube

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Jon Russo

Show Credits

Drew: Hello Renegade Marketers! Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, the top-rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing-obsessed individuals. Alright folks, you’re about to listen to a Bonus Huddle, a specially curated huddle that we run once a month, with experts sharing their insights into the topics that are most important to our huddlers. The expert at this particular huddle was Jon Russo, who shared expert insights into ABM. Let’s dive in!

ABM. Three initials that come up in many of your strategic goals. But what exactly is ABM? Our goal today is to demystify, ABM, establish a common understanding of what it can and can’t do for your organization and to help address the issues you are facing on your particular ABM journey. And in the poll that we already did, we saw the. Pretty big range between where some of you are and where others are.

So we’ll try to cover all of those ranges to do that. Our special guest is Jon Russo, who was the Founder and CMO of B2B Fusion, an agency he founded that’s helped over 100 other CMOs and marketing leaders with their account based strategy. It’s measurement and it’s technology. Interestingly enough, Jon and I met about 10 years ago at Pete Krainik’s CMO Club, as he is a former high-tech B2B CMO.

And he did that for both public and private companies. So we can definitely relate to the opportunity that each of you face as marketing leaders. So hello, Jon.

Jon: Hello, Drew. And thanks for having me.

Drew: Oh, I’m excited. It’s funny because we were together and reminded on a webinar just about ABM and some research that we had done with Conversica and Rashmi is here today, listening, so it’s very cool to see it’s such a small world, how these things add up. Anyway, you help marketers execute so many different ABM programs for the purpose of this discussion. Can you just define what ABM?

Jon: If I were to simply say it, it’s a growth strategy of really a land and expand of targeted.

Drew: It’s a growth strategy.

Basically, we are looking for a way to get new customers in the door, using a combination of technology and techniques and so forth. So rather than exist in this world of hypothetical, I thought it would be great if we could do a real-world case history and you don’t have to name the client, but share with us a quintessential engagement.

The client says, “Hey, we need ABM. We want to do ABM.” Just to describe the situation and how things get started.

Jon: There are a lot of different flavors here of ABM. So for example, you might be in the situation of a net new logo, acquisition, ABM, or a cross-sell upsell flavor of ABM. In addition, the other big vector that we see, and it was the poll question that we asked is, are you pre-pilot or post-pilot in terms of your adoption, the pain points that we typically hear are usually around the pilot process and the pre-pilot process is usually a question of how do I go faster? What do I do next?

The post pilot is more around how do I do better and being transparent. It’s usually after a failed attempt at a pilot and kind of a reset of, “Wow, we didn’t realize what this was like, so now let’s try to read it. And pivot from that point. But to answer your question, those are broadly the kinds of scenarios that we hear in the industry. When people either talk to us and directly engage, or just talk to us overall, to figure out what’s going on in the market.

Drew: Yeah. And let me interrupt you for a second because it, it makes a lot of sense. If someone gets a pilot going on their own and it’s working, they’re probably not going to call you. But I suspect that a lot of times there are a lot of surprises when you go to execute an ABM program. And I think for the purposes of this conversation, let’s at least start from a case standpoint on the net new logo.

There aren’t many CMOs in CMO Huddles who are saying, “Gee, I only want to grow existing customers.” Most of them have acquiring new logos as a fundamental part of their remit to the organization. So in that context of ABM, let’s just get into an example of how this thing rolls out and some of the challenges.

Jon: I think you’re exactly right. A lot of people or a lot of companies, particularly the SaaS-based companies are. Wanting to go more upmarket. They’re wanting to penetrate the enterprise in a lot of cases, going into the enterprise is a net new way of selling or approaching things where they might have a smaller ASP, call it 25 K year.

All of a sudden, they’re like, “Hey, we want to do six-figure deals” or “We’ve had success with a couple of these.” So they’re trying to swim more upmarket, the couple leading indicators of success or beginning to lay the foundation. One is the identification of the target accounts. There are kind of pros and cons on target accounts, which you can get into a little bit later, but there’s got to be some sort of agreement and focus on who you’re going after, why you’re going after, and then also a recognition of does that data exist in your instance of Salesforce or your marketing automation for you to actually go after and go to market.

There’s a bit of a process there. That process can take anywhere from one to three months time and a condensed time period of really shaking out the accounts, figuring out who to go to, who to go after.

Then, the second question is what exactly is the strategy? Is it a one-to-one, one-to-few, one-to-many, there are varying degrees of investment commitments, both in people and resources to reach those. But I think for the sake of our discussion today, let’s assume that it’s more one-to-many strategy because a lot of these companies that are embarking on an account-based strategy, we find already have a lead process in place.

So they’re going very broadly in reaching the market very, very broadly. And now they’re, they’re at the maturity curve of saying, “Okay, now that we’re doing that, we want to shift up to ABM and that one-to-many is a logical approach there.”

The next question that comes up is typically around technology, it really should be a business process. And this is where, correctly, a lot of people identified half the audience or over half the audience identified business process as being a major issue. But oftentimes what we find is companies are out shopping in and around the technology and they’re purchasing that technology or they’re in inevitable conversations with colleagues, with vendors, just trying to get educated because we’re all trying to get smarter in this area.

That’s the typical cadence that we go down at the same time, the company is producing content. They’re trying to figure out the right cadences and oh, by the way, there’s a whole sales process and a sales methodology to get involved with.

The last thing I’ll leave with you on the sales piece is good analogy that I sometimes use. By embarking on an account-based strategy, you’re asking your sales team to go from a beat street cop to a private detective, meaning they’re having to assimilate a lot of information and to sell into an enterprise, which is potentially a very different motion than what they’re used to like a singular motion or a singular outreach.

So it’s not a trivial ask sales, even though they’ll your head of sales will say, “Yeah, let’s go do ABM.” That’s the easy part. The hard part is that transition from beat street cop to private detective and how you enable that organization really matters on your ABM.

Drew: There were any number of things I want to unpack there.

The first thing I just want to, it’s almost always the case, if I put on my direct marketing hat, the data part, if you don’t have the right data up front, both the companies and the people in the companies… that’s problematic for sure. And that’s always true with any form of direct marketing like this, and I’m just wondering… These days, with all these resources available from third-party data in any first-party data you might have, I’m imagining that getting clean data is not that hard. It might take some scrubbing and some time, but it’s definitely doable.

Jon: I’d say your mileage varies. And I say that because we’ve got clients today that have really good data, and you’ll never be perfect on data.

You never ever want to be perfect. The big challenge today is everybody’s changing jobs. So trying to keep up with that and your database and oh, by the way, the other challenge is the buying committee, according to Gartner. And according to everybody on this call, whom I’m sure you’re expecting, the buying committee is expanding.

It’s a doable problem, but it requires some sort of leadership, some sort of measurement, some sort of attention. That’s paid at a detailed level of what to do with data and we’re marketers. I didn’t necessarily grow up in the day and age of really scrutinizing data. I’ve become very, very data savvy with the tools, but it’s a learned habit.

It’s not something that really comes natural to a lot of us. So yeah, it’s solvable, but you’ve got to put some elbow grease to get really behind it.

Drew: The thing that I heard that is really important, and it’s not enough to get your list, get it nice and clean. It’s the kind of thing that probably needs to be updated weekly and verified and given the amount of investment, ultimately, you’re going to be making against each of these targeted accounts.

It’s really important that you spend the time, and it is worth the time I’m hearing you say, to get that data as good, not a hundred percent, but get it to a pretty high level of confidence.

Jon: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Otherwise, you’re investing on things that aren’t going to convert, so yeah, you’re a hundred percent right.

Drew: So we’ve got the data and then one of the things you talked about is the one-to-many, and I’m just, again, I’m thinking in the context of just to frame it, this is because we have a bind, you’re going after an enterprise and you have a buying committee and there could be 15 of those people, right?

Jon: I would say on average and Gartner will say 12 to 15 or some somewhere in that order of magnitude, it has definitely increased pre-pandemic to post-pandemic.

And every year it just seems to be going up and up and up, which is why it makes it so convenient to own an ABM platform like Jon’s or others. Because if you think about the technology, the marketing automation is really designed at the person level. So as the spine committee expanded. You need insights around what’s happening at the account, which is the 15 people as opposed to the person level.

Drew: And just to clarify the listeners of the podcast, ultimately, the Jon that Jon was Jon Miller of Demandbase, who is with us and I hopeful and ask or answer a question in the second half. I will also say, note that this podcast will be to the extent that we can be neutral on technology, recognizing that it plays a pivotal role, but there are lots of choices in this.

But before we get to technology, it feels like there’s a fundamental change in process that you talked about going from the beat cop to the detective. There’s a mind shift and a relationship shift that ABM forces on marketing and sales. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that usually works out? And it seems to me that’s also probably one of those points where they come to you because it failed because sales and marketing weren’t aligned.

Jon: Yeah, and this is something even as a CMO, I was guilty of too. We tend to speak a lot in our own language. We use a lot of terms and terminology that really excites us. So for example, intent data, account scores, lead scores, MQLs. All of that terminology really resonates with this crowd. What we have found through a hundred plus experiences is you really have to simplify things for sales.

And so the key element that we focus on is one unit of currency, the marketing qualified account. And why we take this approach is it really simplified what sales or the SDR function has to focus on.

So let me give you a, for example, rather than showing how the sausage gets made, meaning the account score, the lead score, inbound intent, data engagement, all of that’s important.

But that’s how the sausage gets made. And so that marketing qualified account, what we’ve learned over time is if you produce the marketing qualified account and it’s agreed to by the sales function as to what that definition is and who is doing what to whom it simplifies things immensely for the salespeople to then take out.

Now they can unpack that marketing-qualified account and they can be the private detective that can begin to assimilate some of that information underneath the marketing-qualified account. And you can enable a rep and show them how to go do that. But rather than getting lost in a lot of the vendors, speak out there on the different capabilities and terminology.

Our thought process is, bring it all into the marketing qualified account, simplify it, and then present it over to sales. Now it’s very easy to say. There’s a fair amount of process that needs to go behind that. A lot of that process also maps to how your selling motion works, whether you have product-led growth, whether you have enterprise cold-to-close function, or if you have cold-qualified functions, or if you have partners, there are different ways that you have to think about that.

So the process piece becomes really important in that simplification of the marketing qualified account.

Drew: I want to make sure that—so it’s funny, when we talk about marketing qualified account, part of the upfront part of ABM is to identify a certain number of what you hope will become marketing qualified accounts. But to get to a marketing qualified account, these are definitions that I’m imagining each company would make. But for you, a marketing-qualified account is what they are actually shopping for this.

What does that look like?

Jon: You can unpack this a lot of different ways, but the marketing-qualified account could include a lead. So your lead-based process, which 7 out of 10 people on this call have an existing lead-based process that they’re measuring… It works.

So the lead might be an ingredient in that marketing-qualified account that you want to capture. Another part might be engagement. For example, we don’t have events like we once did, but you might have people engaged on a website on a webinar, perhaps in a virtual event in the aggregation of that engagement could also qualify that. For sales to go after and really rip into same thing on the intent side, whether it’s a known account or an unknown account, if you can identify the account and it registers a certain score or over a certain threshold that too could trigger into the account or combination thereof.

So any of those elements, we even had a client that had a strong partnership with a very large enterprise and automatically whatever they bring was deemed as a marketing-qualified account. So any one of those elements could trigger the marketing-qualified account.

What we do though is suggest that sales, your SDR function, and marketing, and we facilitate this kind of conversation are involved in the process of defining what that marketing-qualified account is like, what are all the inputs? Once you have all the inputs and then we’re producing the simple, you know, go after this aspect.

There’s some level of system configuration that has to occur in Salesforce, but it’s a light lift, and it makes it so the sales experience is very much simplified as part of going after that marketing-qualified accounts. So to answer your question, there could be a lot of different ways that you could feed into that marketing-qualified account.

Drew: So in some ways it’s going to be obviously dependent on the business and I’m imagining it, it goes like this, and I’m completely speculating, but you define this and you give it a score. And we’re just going to say for argument’s sake, if the score is 25 there, now what’s considered a marketing-qualified account. And then I’m also imagining that three months, six months later, those marketing-qualified accounts either become sales or they don’t. And then you go back and you redefine what really is a marketing-qualified account based on actual results. Once you’ve gone through a cycle or two or ABM, does that happen?

Jon: A hundred percent that happens. And I would go one step further with that. Drew, if I had time, I could show you an example of a dashboard we created in Salesforce on the tiering side of things. So, you know, we didn’t talk about this earlier, but as part of your target account focus, you’re also calibrating, not only the MQA, but who are the right companies in the right team?

Typically companies have a hypothesis, just like they have a hypothesis on the MQA, they’ll have a hypothesis on the tiering and we’re finding that you definitely need to go back and revise with updated information based on what you’re gathering. We had one client as an example that we tiered four buckets. One through three were the focus and forth was a hodgepodge.

We started collecting a lot of data in that hodgepodge tier and we realized there were two vertical markets that were coming in. With engagement type criteria, like they were triggering the MQA, but they weren’t part of the target account list for sales to focus on. So by unpacking it, we found that healthcare and financial services were the biggest contributors of that process.

So the company changed their strategy, their annual strategy, to go focus on those vertical markets based on the data that we were providing them in the dashboarding. And that’s why you never quite arrive at this. You have a hypothesis and you’re continuously improving upon that hypothesis.

Drew: Part of this has gotta be at some point in time, in the old days when we were just talking about marketing automation… I literally remember interviewing Jon Miller about this when he was at Marketo 11, 12 years ago and we talked about, and he talked about how somebody goes to a pricing page that says, “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! Signal.” And I’m imagining that through the process of ABM, similar signals of true intent start to show up. And I know there’s a lot of conversation ABM about intent and intent data. Can you talk about intent and intent data and what that really means?

Jon: There’s a good article or they may want to drop and shout if you already haven’t done. So I had written an article about the different variations of first-party, second-party, and third-party intent data.

Once again, I’ll go back to the, we try to simplify things. So what we found with intent data with sales organizations, it can sometimes go over their heads. And so we see that there are a lot of different use cases for intent data. We see intent with the sales side of an ingredient in that marketing-qualified account cake.

But if you go back to the marketing use case, you can do some really sophisticated targeted—both from an ad perspective, from an email campaign perspective, there are a number of things that you can do from a personalization perspective. And what you’re starting to see is some interesting times here with the whole privacy arena.

Arguably third-party intent data might be in a situation where it’s becoming more challenging to really have third-party intent data because of the privacy laws or the direction that. There are first-party providers, a company called Influ2, as an example, does a lot of targeting in and around a first-party approach.

So the data that you own as opposed to the data that you don’t own in your database, and then there’s second party data, a tech target. G2. G2 is really good for in the funnel we find or toward the bottom of the funnel. Tech target is more or less closed environment in terms of their approach. There are a number of different variations, but the article that Melissa just dropped goes into all the different definitions and variations of it.

Bottom line is we tend to simplify for sales and we try to take, actually, we tried to remove intent completely from the sales side. We just say, “Hey, it’s an ingredient in the marketing-qualified account. And if you want to go further and you want to dig into what the intent topic is, here you go.” Here’s how it’s presented. But our goal is just to present that marketing-qualified account because that’s ultimately how marketing is getting measured and how we can measure the business.

Drew: Interesting. That’s so interesting and also very insightful when it comes to. On a need-to-know basis. You don’t necessarily need to give intent data to sales.

I think that’s fascinating. I wanted to just for the listeners of the podcast, we will include these links in the show notes. So we’ll be able to get it as you’re talking. And we’re thinking about this a little bit. And I just want to make sure I get this clearly in my mind, ABM was always about, there are a hundred prospects out there that you think is your target.

And then earlier you said, no, no, no, no, through other means, other companies could or verticals could come into this and completely shift gears. That’s gotta be somewhat… and what am I missing here? That’s a little tricky, right? Because you’re suddenly, “We said these were the hundred targeted accounts, and now we’re going to wait. No, there’s five more over here.” How do you manage it?

Jon: Not an easy way to manage it. It’s something that over a period of time that has to be managed. So that data didn’t emerge for six to 12 months. And one of our engagements, when we started to really see that there was a pile up in the kind of the non-tiered account side, one piece, I should also mention as part of the tiering.

And this is red flag and marketers are probably aware of this, but I’ll just state it for the record. You don’t want to get into a situation where sales is dictated. Here are the target accounts that marketing we want you to go after. And the reason why is sales will give you the worst of the worst. “Hey, we can’t get into this. Let’s give it to marketing, see if they can get in.”

You as a marketer should come in informed with a point of view. And there are a variety of different ways that you can get to that point of view either through your existing data, through your intent provider. You should have your own hypothesis in that dialogue with head of sales and eliminate the risk of sales.

And I’m not saying every salesperson does this, but come on. We’ve all been around long enough where some of the sales teams do. They’re like, “Hey, don’t touch my accounts, marketing, but if you could touch these three cause I’ve never had any success with them.”

And then nobody’s set up for success in that way. So you gotta be really thoughtful about the hypothesis, the tiering, your involvement, that dialogue was sales. You want to go in with eyes open and a hypothesis going into it.

Drew: Okay. I want to step back for a second. Cause we had a question about this and it’s a good one. So because we know that the listeners in on our conversation are at various stages of ABM and some of them are still in the process of selling in the idea and getting buy-in from the organization, the question is, as you’re getting buy-in, how much process do you have to share in your experience?

Do you have to show that entire, as you mentioned earlier, having the sausage made you have to show every step, or can you just sort of focus on here’s the outcome and why ABM is going to be a really effective solution based on other companies like ours who have used it to great success.

How much of that process do you have to share?

Jon: It’s a fine line here because let’s put on our sales hats for a second. The salesperson or people, not only are they out prospecting, but they’re working in systems and how they work in those systems correlates to your ability to measure your impact. So there is some level of in-process involvement after you show them what the outcome can be.

And the potential can be that on the process side, you definitely want their engagement because you’re changing. Slightly on how they operate in their systems. And most companies are super sensitive around how salespeople operate. You don’t want to be the ones that slow down their productivity. In fact, you want to be on the other side, enhancing their productivity in Salesforce.

And what I mean by that is you want to be delivering the insight. The relevant information, be it the intent or the engagement, you want to be prepackaging that over in the MQA, but making it digestible from a process perspective, such that the SDR can then execute on that. And so there is some level of engagement that sales has to be involved with, but I think you bring up a really good point about, you really want to emphasize the outcome because nobody gets really excited about process, but that’s what scales.

If you don’t get the process, you’re not going to scale.

Drew: Which is a perfect segue into a question. What’s the best outcome you’ve ever seen as a result of an ABM program?

Jon: Best outcome is one where the CMO is confident and has business-level reports which channels are performing, why they’re performing, and I’d go one step further, where they’re enabled to forecast their MQA production. So it’s more, less. How is my channel performing versus inbound versus my SDR function versus sales? So in one funnel, they have the ability to have a business-level conversation to say, “Here’s, what’s contributing to the bottom line of the company where you can actually see from start to finish what the business impact is.”

That has probably been one of the most light bulb moments for us to say, “Wow, this is really game shifting.” It goes one step further in that, not only do you have that funnel, but if you have the ability to forecast what you’re going to be contributing to the business, that’s helpful too in the board discussions, or even at the C-Level to say, “Hey, this is what we think we’re going to hit next quarter, next year” to have that all in Salesforce without having to go through iterations and Excel. That is hugely powerful.

Drew: So if there’s a certain predictability that comes from this is that you can look at it and say, “Okay, we know this number of MQAs” that you described. And my concern with this is that we’re seeing, in the world of sourced and we’re not in the world of revenue. I want to understand that dashboard that you’re describing where they have this predictable thing.

Does it relate at some point to, “Oh, this MQA ended up being… one out of three of those ended up closing?”

Jon: A hundred percent. Yeah. You bring up a very valid point about the source and the impact. A lot of this depends on your culture too. Like we’ve had some C-level executives that say, “Hey, we don’t care what marketing sources, as long as the revenue is going up.”

And that is the right way to look at it from a business perspective. However, where do you spend that incremental dollar? Is it marketing? Is it an SDR? Is it in your partners? So to your point, and that unified funnel is what we call the ability to see from the very top to the MQA, which is that simple metric all the way down to the closed and to be able to forecast not only on the pipeline side, but on the closed one side. It takes some time to do that, right?

Like all of us here are in 6 to 18 months sales cycles, so if we built that kind of dashboard for everybody on this call, you wouldn’t see the closed one for another best case six months. So it does take some time. There are some leading indicators and some lagging indicators that you can kind of set up as part of that, but it absolutely correlates to the closed one side and the contribution. And that’s how you can forecast more effectively.

Drew: Got it. What you’re really saying and I’m hearing loud and clear is that with this dashboard, you then have a lot greater control on the levers. And that you can say, “You know what, we need to spend more here because we need more leads into the MQAs or we need to spend more here because we’ve got plenty of MQAs but we’re not closing it fast enough so we got to put energy there. Is that part of this decision-making process at a macro sense?

Jon: Yes. And when I say macro sense, what, in terms of an approach, a lot of people get focused on multi-touch attribution, single-touch, last-touch… We can all get lost in that very easily. And we can bend the numbers and a bunch of different ways to tell the story that we want told.

But at a macro sense is marketing contributing. Is your partner channel contributing? Are your sales or SDRs contributing to close one opportunities? If you can answer that question at the board level, that’s pretty compelling how XYZ campaign performed. Okay. It’s data. It can be. You can go through a lot of effort to get it.

But it’s not as relevant at the C-Level or board level to say, “Hey, here’s what marketing’s produced. Here’s what sales produced. Here’s what partners are producing. Here’s our average revenue by those channels. Here’s the average velocity.” We find that those are typically better conversations to be having at the C<O and board level than, you know, is my webinar performing?

Drew: Right. No, I completely get it there. But you did mention that part of this is when you have this information, it’s a lot easier to make the business case for marketing. Yes. So let’s talk about the technology here. We’ve talked a little bit about strategy in terms of getting alignment within the organization and figuring out what your metrics are that are going to get you to MQA, testing your way along the way.

If we were to say, what is a bare bones technological requirements to get ABM off the ground?

Jon: Bare bones? You could do ABM by hand manually. And when I say manually, marketing automation, Salesforce, you don’t necessarily need to have an account-based platform yet. And I say yet, because I think that puck will shift here in the next three to five years where it will become something that’s going to be required.

The downside on that is you’re throwing a lot of manual processes and people time and everybody’s strapped for time. Could you do it with a few accounts? Yeah, you could probably get away with it for a while. At some point in time, you reach a threshold of: We’re spending a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how to get this thing to hunt and to report on effectiveness, we ought to pull the trigger and buy something more sophisticated.

So it works to a point. So then the next bare bones would be, you’re adding on an account-based platform. Typically sales already has their own email platform, which they can orchestrate with whether it be a SalesLoft or Outreach, and you can do some integration, but that’s usually the cadence that we typically see.

And then a lot of other add-ons that go on to that direct mail, how aggressive you get with banner advertising, how deep you want to get with intent data. There’s a lot of levers that you can pull and push beyond that. But I’d say at a bare minimum, that’s where I would start.

Drew: I was just intrigued, to push this a little bit further, that I was reading one of the articles that you’re sharing on the list, and it talked about how one of the technologies really essentially sifted through the data and identified when a salesperson should make a contact. And so it showed up in their inbox in automation. And I can’t remember what the technology was, but like lean data now, anyway, just, it was something that I thought, “Oh, that would certainly simplify lives.”

There’s this handoff, right? It has to happen. But if it shows up in an inbox and says, “Hey, this lead is ready” and you all have agreed that when we get a lead like this, you’re going to respond in 24 hours. Can you talk a little bit about that? Am I getting way too fancy?

Jon: Yeah. Yeah, no, I think that’s a really great point because again, our goal as marketers is really to enable the sales level function. And one way to do that is through alerts and the platforms. Once you get to that beyond the bare bones, and you decide to make that investment of account-based platforms—I think when we looked at the data coming into this call, roughly call it 20% had those account based platforms. 80% of the attendees did not.

So a lot of you might be in that pre-decision-making mode right now of bringing those platforms on those platforms have varying degrees of capabilities in and around the alerting function, which would enable your sales organization. And that definitely should be one of many criteria to consider bringing a platform on because you’re enabling your salesforce to act on the MQA that you’re sourcing. So I think you’re right. It’s also a function of going back to that simplification of the definition of the marketing qualified account. If there’s enough engagement, then you’re popping over an alert over into the sales side to say, “Hey, focus on these accounts first ahead of the other accounts you’re spending your time on.”

Drew: Because these intent signals are there, get to what you may have your own lists, but this is one, and this is again, this notion of the SLA and this service level agreement. That’s so important to all of this, which we haven’t talked about.

But before we do that, we do have some questions from the audience and I want to make sure we have time to get to them. So here’s question number one. How do you execute an ABM strategy in a situation where there are specialized sales teams responsible for selling different products, but several of those products have overlapping ideal customer profile criteria and corresponding account lists? It’s a long question, but maybe you can break it down for us.

Jon: I would probably start small there instead of trying to, if it’s an option and whoever asked that question wants to come on, we could dialogue a little bit about it. That’s a bit of a tough question to navigate, but my sense is in this environment right now, depending on where you are in the maturity curve, we would suggest going after a quick win because the risk of introducing an account-based strategy without a quick win is it’s going to die on the vine. You want to figure out what couple of accounts to start with that have a high degree of success, where you’re known, where it may be existing customers that you’re going to be doing an upsell to.

You want to get kind of word of mouth and once word of mouth kicks in on the sales side, your account-based strategy goes up by an order of magnitude in terms of ability to get adopted. So I think as I heard that question, there’s a lot of variables and you’d probably want a pretty thoughtful question behind that and really unpack that data.

But I think I would try to really simplify that and go after the quick wins versus trying to boil the ocean.

Drew: And by the way, I think from everything that I know about ABM and the brief certification process that I went through, it’s almost always recommended that you put your ABM tests, and it’s almost always recommended that you pilot it with a sales person or two who are sympathetic to the cause. And already you’ve heard about it and buy into it so that you have these two positive things. You have a partner in sales who can make it happen and so forth.

Jon: I can maybe mention something on Chris’s question.

Drew: Okay. For podcast listeners, this is Jon Miller of Demandbase.

Jon Miller: This won’t be about Demandbase. This is just about how we practice ABM ourselves. Because we are in that situation where we have multiple products that we can sell to overlapping companies.

First off, our sales team has a commercial lead model within any kind of business unit specialist, second support. So just having that kind of commercial lead as the primary owner of the relationship is in this problem. So then what we do is the commercial leads pick their target accounts from their territory.

For us, each one gets to pick 5 tier ones, 30 tier twos, and about 100 tier threes. And we do that by giving them a bunch of scoring. The scores look at their fit across all four of our product lines, so they might choose an account that only is in the ICP for two or three or one of our products if other pieces of the score makes sense.

But honestly, usually, especially for their top accounts, their tier ones and their tier twos, they’re picking ones that seem like good fits for multiple product lines. That’s how we do our target account selection. And then as we’re scoring accounts and deciding, we give them a hint essentially about which of our product lines they seem to, that account seems to, be showing interest in. So that way, when it lights up, they can follow up with the right interest.

Drew: Cool. So there we have it. We had a couple of interesting… well, I was starting to get at the question related to just making the case. And Jon, maybe you could, Jon Russo could just jump in and say that—and you do this all the time.

The making the case to shift to ABM and the question, and this is interesting because it means that you’re going to probably in a zero budgeted way, taking money out of something else in order to fund the pilot, what are you dialing back and how are you making the case?

Jon: The way we’ve been able to make cases with our clients is we go in and we talk about what we’re seeing industry-wise and giving benchmarks around volume velocity improvements, improvements in ROI, the ability to measure and tying that to growth.

So ultimately if the company is trying to grow, it’s another vehicle to potentially grow. The other thing that we try to do and we would encourage regardless of whether it’s an engagement or not is really nest in with either how your team is talking about account-based.

ABX, ABM, ABS, there are a bunch of different ways that you can define it. So rather than marketing introducing a new definition and a new term for somebody to learn, if there’s a way to draft off of how people are already doing it—and most of your sales team is likely selling into accounts today in a highly probable case. So they’re probably already doing a little bit of account-based already, even though you’ve got your lead funnel or how you’ve been doing marketing the last decade.

But if you can draft off of that, you have the ability to use that language and use that initiative rather than introducing, “Hey, this is the latest and greatest from marketing. Here’s what XYZ company is doing.” We also typically bring in competitors to say, “XYZ company is using this technology, that technology.” So they’re already thinking about ABM and you might be a step behind. That also helps with the growth story as well.

Drew: The questions are flying in here, Jon, and we’re probably not going to be able to get to all of them. But you mentioned ABX and the question has come up and I’m just going to—how do you think about the spend to ROI on ABX?

So when you answer this question, you’ll also define what ABX is or the difference, but meaning if we spend X dollars on ABX marketing programs, what is the expected return on pipeline investment?

Jon: Oh yeah. I don’t know if I have a clear answer on that other than I can give benchmarks to say here’s generally what people see and it’s going to be too generic.

The generic thing is going to be, “Hey, there’s no waste in account-based investments” because you have to be really, really focused to drive a true account-based program versus kind of the spray and pray approach and hope that something sticks. Here you’re doing a level of customization. I don’t have a good number to be quite frank that I could just throw out there.

I could probably do some research and come back to you whoever asked that question, but I don’t have a solid number off the top of my head.

Drew: That’s fair. But what is ABX?

Jon: I think that’s another variation account-based experience. Increasingly the vendors, Jon, and others, are incorporating other parts of the organization. Customer experience, customer success, really making an experience at every level of the buying step and really thinking through like, what are those levels and what that experience is.

I would take a step back. I think that’s great in terms of vision. A lot of companies are challenged enough just to get sales and marketing aligned, to focus on what they need to do next. So bringing customer success, customer experience, aspirational. If you can get sales and marketing to start, then you’re doing head and shoulders above a lot of other organizations right now. Eventually getting customer experience or customer success involved… I think that’s the next level of maturity.

Drew: If we’re using a skiing metaphor, we’re not quite ready for the Double X diamonds of ABX. If you’re just getting started with ABM, try a green or blue slope first and get that pilot, no matter what it is, to prove performance. Here’s an interesting question related to—can someone outsource not just the help with ABM, but literally not have to buy the tools and work with somebody who actually has the tools themselves?

Jon: They can. It’s like an owned versus lease type scenario. And it’s funny, you mentioned this cause there’s a prospect that we’re dealing with here on the East Coast, very large prospect that has this scenario and the challenge is when the agency relationship ends, all the data stays with the agency.

And so it’s a cost-effective way at the beginning, but you don’t own the data. You don’t own it at the end of the day. It probably makes more sense for a company in the long run if they’re scaling and growing, to own as much of that infrastructure as possible and not necessarily lease it from a third-party.

Drew: Right. And my understanding is that all the ABM platforms, they’re very used to doing pilots and proof of concept type work.

Okay. Before we get to the end, ABM is a practical approach to upselling and cross-selling. You mentioned that at the beginning. And so one question that has been asked is what’s the best ABM outcome you have seen an organization focused on growing current customers?

Jon: So every week I run these weekly conversations called Account-Based Friday’s actually with Jon’s former head of marketing at Engagio. She was also the head of research at SiriusDecisions. And we interview leaders beyond just our clients. We interview anybody who’s had account-based experiences and the two that I’d share or recommend listening to for that question would be the Google Cloud one and Snowflake as well. Snowflake a little less because they’re doing a little bit more on the acquisition, but the Google Cloud would be a really good example.

And that also gets into the one-to-few domain and potentially the one-to-one domain versus the one-to-many domain. And that’s typically the customer upsell and resell. We see more focus, I’d say generally speaking, at the one-to-few or one-to-one type scenario.

Drew: We are getting close to the end of the hour and obviously we were never going to be able to answer all of the questions that everybody had or get a complete thing, because this is a wilely subject. This is one that clearly takes a great deal of time to become an expert on and you start small.

Rather than even talk about the future of this thing. Let’s just start to summarize. If we look at strategy and planning a few key takeaways, just, and we’ll go through our sort of checklist of people, process and technology, Jon, give us just a couple of experts tips as we head out.

Jon: Yeah. I think a couple of things that we talked about today that I would really think about in terms of where you’re at in the maturity curve really depends on every company here is going to be at a different point.

So broadly speaking, select your accounts and have a point of view on that. Don’t show up to that conversation and have sales dictate, which of those target accounts to go after.

Once you get past that stage gate, you may want to be considering an account-based platform, or you may want to wait until you figure out who you’re targeting, how you’re targeting, and what the definitions are between sales and marketing and figure out what you’re going to measure.

Once you get to that point, then you may want to filter in an account-based platform. The other reason to do that which we didn’t cover earlier is it avoids the question from the CFO of what’s the time-to-value we can expect on the platform?

And that’s going to be like nails on chalkboard to Jon, but we find that a lot of companies, that question gets asked right out of the gate when you start plunking down a lot of money on an account-based platform. There’s a certain amount of readiness that can have. In advance of then getting that platform. So when you get the platform, you shrink the time-to-value and you’re able to impact that much quicker.

I would say that’s where I would focus. And then the last thing I would focus on, and again, we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about this… 7 out of 10 of you have a lead-based model, I think it can co-exist with an account-based model. They’re pushing that everything has to go to an account-based model. I’ve been saying since 2000 that I don’t agree with that approach. I think both can co-exist.

But the bottom line is you want to simplify and really focus on the marketing qualified account as the unit of measurement between sales and marketing. I think if you can broadly think about those aspects, at least your mindset is in the right place. There’s a lot of work that has to go behind it, but those would be the nuggets that I would say would be the key takeaways.

Drew: And I think Jon, the thing that really struck with me, and this goes to some of the earlier questions… If you want to sell this in nothing will endear you more to your CFO than using language like shrinking time-to-value. We’re going to rev up this engine and these wheels are going to be spinning, press that turn, put it in drive, we are going to be able to drive. I think that’s such a really good observation.

The second thing is I know there are a number of CMOs in huddles that have double funnels and they’re making it work. And I think that addresses what you’re talking about, Jon. It’s not just having an ABM funnel. You can have an ABM funnel and you can have a second funnel. You just have to acknowledge and build the systems and measurements to do both. We are out of time. Jon Russo, I want to thank you. Really appreciate Jon being with us big round of applause for Jon and good luck with all these engagements.

Jon: I appreciate the Drew. And if, like you said, if there’s any questions, happy to follow up or have another session. This is a hard, hard problem to solve. And we are in tough, tough times right now, as marketers. It is incredibly tough to reach people from a buying committee perspective. So I feel for each and every one of us that is going through that process right now, because it is not easy.

Anyway, thank you for having me today. I really appreciate it.

Drew: If you’re a B2B CMO and want to hear more conversations like this one, find out if you qualify to join our community of sharing, caring, and daring CMOs at cmohuddles.com.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me. Audio production is by Sam back. Show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about my new book and the savvy is B2B marketing boutique in New York City.

Visit renegade.com. I’m your host Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.