August 17, 2018

Why B2B Brands Need an Account-Based Marketing Strategy

Finding the best ways to market in the noisy B2B world has always been a challenge, but Jon Miller, founder and CEO of Engagio, has found success with an account-based marketing strategy for his company. On this episode of Renegade Marketers Unite, he explains what account-based marketing is and why it can change the way you approach prospective clients. He shares practical ways you can authentically relate to company CEOs and why account-based marketing strategies are a business process, not a tech stack tool.

Click here to learn all you need to know about account-based marketing.

What You’ll Learn

Why choose an account-based marketing strategy?

Jon describes account-based marketing (ABM) as fishing with a spear vs. fishing with a widely cast net. It’s about identifying which accounts are most likely to work with your company, then putting more energy and resources into securing those accounts. B2B marketing environments are noisy and competitive, and ABM strategies allow you to stand out from the masses and attract the best clients with the highest ROI opportunities.

People seek authentic connection – that’s why they respond to the human touch in ABM

True account-based marketing strategies are multidimensional and go deeper than superficial attraction. CEOs are open to ABM strategies because they’re human and they want to work with people who truly understand them. Jon and his team at Engagio have a 26% meeting rate and a 60% human reply rate, simply because they’re not afraid to personally reach out to every prospect.

Practical ways to implement an account-based marketing strategy into your B2B company

An account-based marketing strategy can be implemented within your company in 3 steps: identify a CEO/company target, assign a team member to interact with them, and personalize your tactics for that specific target. Using face-to-face meetings as much as possible, targeted direct mailings and engaging emails are all useful when starting an ABM approach.


  • [1:14] Jon’s Renegade Rapid Fire segment
  • [10:39] What is ABM and why should you consider this strategy?
  • [15:10] How Jon is using ABM in practical ways at Engagio
  • [21:45] People respond to the human touch in account-based marketing strategy
  • [27:32] ABM is a business process, not a tech stack tool
  • [29:26] Jon’s “two do’s and one don’t” for marketers interested in ABM

Connect With Jon:

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Drew

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Jon Miller

Drew Neisser: Hey it’s Drew. I just recorded this episode with Jon Miller, the CEO and founder of Engagio, an ABM platform that is a lot different than you might think. I really encourage you to listen to the episode. In the first part, we talk about some of Jon’s insights and just what it means to be a founder of a company and a serial entrepreneur. In the second part, we talk about really what to think about when planning an ABM program. And then we wrap up with some key metrics that I think you’ll find really helpful and actually quite surprising in terms of things like response rates of 60%. I just ask you as you listen to this episode, when was the last time you did something that had a 60% response rate? Enjoy the show.

Drew Neisser: My guest today is Jon Miller, founder and CEO of Engagio, and we’re going to spend the next 30 minutes or so telling you everything you need to know about ABM, or account-based marketing. Now this is not my first time interviewing Jon. We actually chatted over seven years ago when he was the CMO of Marketo, another company he helped found. And it’s not a coincidence, because here we are standing outside and if you hear noise, you know that we’re standing outside of the Marketo Nation Summit and I’m really proud of the fact that Jon is in my book, The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing and he represents the element “marketing automation,” so he knows a little bit about what we’re talking about today. Welcome to the show Jon.

Jon Miller: Thank you very much. This is great.

Drew Neisser: It’s really great to chat with you again. And in this section, we’re going to play Renegade Rapid Fire, seeing how many of these questions we can get through in the next eight minutes. Are you ready?

Jon Miller: I’m ready.

Drew Neisser: Okay, here we go. What’s your definition of marketing and has it changed?

Jon Miller: The definition of marketing is to create awareness and preference at every stage of the buyer’s journey. It has not changed dramatically. If anything, I think marketers today are putting more and more focus on the later stages of the journey. Not just top the funnel, but how do we actually create preference in the sales cycle and for customers and beyond?

Drew Neisser: What’s the primary role of the CEO?

Jon Miller: I got great advice early in my career when I was thinking about being a CEO, which is that there are really just three jobs of the chief executive: to set the vision of where the company is going, to build the team to make sure you’ve got the right people, and to ensure that team has the resources they need to execute. If you can get those three things done as a CEO, you’re doing well at your job.

Drew Neisser: So that’s like 30% of your time. What do you do in your spare time?

Jon Miller: It’s funny. I have an executive coach that encourages me, like, “Yeah, yeah. That’s all well and good but you should also find the biggest bottleneck in your business and put a disproportionate amount of your energy to release that bottleneck.”

Drew Neisser: Interesting. That’s a great insight. What’s your expectation, as CEO, of your CMO?

Jon Miller: I encourage everybody, other chief executives, to not look for what I call “the unicorn CMO” i.e. if you think about marketing broken into roughly corporate marketing and brand, demand generation, and product marketing, you’re not going to find somebody who is world-class at all three. My expectation is that I’m going to find somebody who’s world-class at one of those, and then can hire effectively to support the other two.

Drew Neisser: That’s funny. I had Kristi Maynor of Egon Zehnder on the show and she talked about the fact that the ideal CMO today has at least five years of demand gen and at least five years of brand, but I agree with you. It’s very hard to find someone because they’re just different ways of thinking.

Drew Neisser: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Jon Miller: I love working on the product vision and strategy. I’m driven by trying to build the next great marketing platform and being able to articulate that and rally the company behind that vision is what really gets me jazzed.

Drew Neisser: Wat’s the least favorite part of your job?

Jon Miller: I think a lot of executives are going to say this is: dealing with all the people issues. those pesky people!

Drew Neisser: Well sometimes on the agency side we say, “Our business would be wonderful if it weren’t for the clients,” but that’s a short-term vision as we know. What’s your proudest moment as an executive or as a marketer?

Jon Miller: Marketo is still obviously a pretty important part of my career. Sidebar: one of the ways I’ll know that Engagio has really made it is when people no longer introduce me as the co-founder Marketo. But I think one of the first Marketing Nation summits. When we were at Moscone in that huge room with a big stage and Hillary Clinton was speaking, I’m able to say I helped to make that happen. That was exciting.

Drew Neisser: That’s very cool. Thinking about the most renegade thing in your career—how do you respond to that one?

Jon Miller: Well, a lot of people were surprised when I chose to leave Marketo. I was there for a long time; I helped build the company. I think that my personal brand and the company brand were, to be honest, a little bit intertwined. But I felt like the innovation was slowing down, and marketing doesn’t slow down. For me, I was really excited for the opportunity to go back to a small company and really start innovating for marketers by marketers again. But yeah, that’s not the easiest job to leave.

Drew Neisser: I imagine part of it is that you discovered you really are a serial entrepreneur. You like to build things.

Jon Miller: Well, it’s funny. I really love the early stages of growing a company and what you spend all your time doing to make that little small company you love into a big company.

Drew Neisser: And then it’s time to go and find the next challenge. What’s the brand that you admire most?

Jon Miller: I’m going to talk about Salesforce. I want to talk about B2B brands, first of all, and Salesforce has done something pretty impressive as a B2B brand. For a company’s primary product that is actually pretty cut and dry, people have strong positive emotions tied to Salesforce. Partly, it’s because the product just works pretty well, in most cases, but they’ve created a feeling around the brand that is pretty powerful.

Drew Neisser: I saw Benioff on 60 Minutes and it was just wonderful the way he was talking about how women weren’t getting paid as much. It surprised the heck out of him that women weren’t getting paid as much as men at the company. He figured it would cost him $3 million to correct it, he did. Then they did another survey and they found it was going to cost another $3 million and then they did. How much do you think the success and positive brand image of Salesforce has to do with Benioff and his one plus one plus one approach?

Jon Miller: I think that’s part of it. I think it’s far from everything. I’ll give you a simple, simple example. You walk into Dreamforce and there are DJs and there’s rock music playing. There’s energy to it. You walk into most other conferences and it’s kind of quiet. Even if you walk into the Salesforce offices, I think they pump in Hawaii smells. And obviously you can do these things when you have money, but they’re getting a lot of the details right.

Drew Neisser: That’s amazing. Is there a recent book that you’ve read that’s made you rethink something?

Jon Miller: I’m a big fan of almost everything by Patrick Lencioni. He’s a management consultant. He’s famous for writing fables like Death by Meeting, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and that kind of thing. He has a book called The Advantage, which summarizes and brings those all together. I really use the principles in that book to guide how I manage my company and my team, really striving for clarity more than anything else.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. I think he wrote Getting Naked. I think that was perhaps a book by him and I’m just listening to it on consulting and it was a fable too. But anyway, I could be wrong. We’ll double-check on that. Put it in the show notes. Will machines be able to do your job at any point in time?

Jon Miller: Any point in time is a very broad question, right? If you let anything go infinitely long enough, everything is going to happen. I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon, though. I mean obviously as a chief executive, theoretically, the value I’m bringing is in a lot of the vision and intangibles and, to be honest, the relationships that cannot be automated away.

Drew Neisser: Yes. Finally, as we wrap up this section—if you weren’t running a MarTech company, what would you be doing?

Jon Miller: Yes, so my wife recently launched a business that I’m going to give a little plug to. It’s a company called Bells & Becks and it’s a direct-to-consumer shoe retailer importing designer shoes from Italy. It’s going great so far, but if I weren’t running Engagio, I would be helping her with the marketing.

Drew Neisser: You’re probably helping her anyway.

Jon Miller: Nights and weekends.

Drew Neisser: I’m sorry, I didn’t want your board of directors to hear that! We’re going to take a break and when we come back, we’re going to spend a lot more time on what the heck ABM is and why CMOs should care. Stay with us.


Drew Neisser: We’re back, and my guest is Jon Miller who is the founder of Engagio. We’re talking about ABM, account-based marketing, which has gotten a tremendous amount of buzz. I want to start, Jon, let’s just define in your mind what ABM is.

Jon Miller: I think it’s easiest to define as an analogy. I was at Marketo, running marketing, and we created a lot of pipeline for our sales team at Marketo using content marketing and inbound demand generation tactics and then using Marketo’s own products to do lead nurturing and lead scoring. This kind of marketing, is, I think, the analogy is fishing with a net. We would cast a wide net, and we didn’t care who specifically responded to our campaigns, we just cared about if we got enough.

But then over time at Marketo, we started moving upmarket and selling to larger companies and trying to go after specific companies that were in our ideal customer profile. Lo and behold, the right people from these big companies didn’t just happen to swim into our net and we needed to find new ways of reaching out to these right people. The analogy here was fishing with spears. Finding the big fish and going after them proactively. We’ll get there in a minute, what that looks like, but fundamentally, that’s what, to me, account-based marketing is. It’s fishing with spears to put more resources and more energy into going after the right people at the right accounts.

Drew Neisser: Let’s dive into that a little bit. I’m a B2B brand. I’ve got 100 customers. I’ve done my homework at least and I’ve defined what my customer profile is, size, location, industry, all those good things. Now I want to go get them and spearfish, nail them. Give me a real-world example of how this works.

Jon Miller: We’ve got to remember, the B2B markets are competitive and they’re noisy, especially if you’re going after executives at the big companies. So is everybody else! Right? It’s not like these people are easy to reach, and they’ve got their barriers up. Unlike inbound, these people haven’t raised their hands. They haven’t even expressed interest by downloading a white paper. We have to find a way to stand out from all the noise and to, frankly, be different as a way to reach out to these executives.

How do you do that? Well, some people do that by being really creative or just finding ways to delight the person. If you know they love wine and chocolate, because they said that on their profile, maybe you send them a very nice bottle of wine and chocolate. That’s okay. I think I saw another example of a company that makes cartoons where they embed the person into the cartoon as the hero of the story, and you send them the cartoon. There’s delight. And that’s well and good, but I also think it can be gimmicky and it’s easily copied.

An even better strategy, in my opinion, is to deliver business value. The executive’s job is to try to find ways to move their business forward. They’re seeking this. I think the best spearfishing is when you can challenge the executive’s thinking by bringing in business insights that are new. To do that right means that you’re really tailoring that insight to that specific person, business, and/or industry. Those words I just said should be really familiar to anybody who’s read The Challenger Sale.

Drew Neisser: Right. Which I’ve had. We’ll link to that in the show and I’ll summarize that. The basic idea of a challenger sale is that you equip your sales guys with really important information about the category so you can walk in and know more. Which is funny, it’s very different than the naked selling approach where you actually just start consulting without doing the homework.

Jon Miller: There are two pieces to it. There’s the teaching. The challenger sellers, they teach, and then they also tailor what they teach to the specific business and industry.

Drew Neisser: As I’m thinking about the spearfishing thing, I’m thinking, “Ouch, that hurts.” Obviously, none of our customers want to feel like they’re getting speared, so here we’re talking about trying to cajole them and giving them something of value which we used to call marketing as service. But let’s talk real world now because I think some people think of ABM as this digital system of pushing information at them. I read another interview with you; you talked about multichannel and different points of engagement. Can we put this in practical terms? How are you using it for Engagio? And do you have an example?

Jon Miller: Sure. There’s a bunch of stuff wrapped up in that. First, let me just talk specifically about the fact that ABM has gotten over-connected and over-identified with digital advertising. The reality is, two of the biggest brands out there in ABM, that’s what they do. It’s not surprising that there’s a lot of noise around the concept of account-based advertising. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with account-based advertising. It can create some awareness at your target accounts, but it’s not what we were just talking about. It’s not going to deliver customized business insight to target people.

Drew Neisser: Let me jump on that for a second because I want to ask you this. I’m familiar with Terminus. I think what they do is really cool, but I think it is account-based advertising. It’s ads, it’s top of the funnel stuff, and I think what you’re talking about is marketing that is a lot more multi-dimensional.

Jon Miller: Yeah. If you’re going to stand out, if you’re going to connect with a decision-maker at a large company and this decision maker’s busy, well it’s not because they’re clicking on an ad. It’s because a human has done something that’s delivering business value. That more often than not is taking the form of a really good human email. It may not come from a salesperson; it might come from one of your executives. If you want to connect with the executive, what’s the best way? Executive alignment.

Now, the best strategies aren’t about any one channel. The best strategies might use ads to create some awareness. They might send a direct mail package to bust through the door and create some awareness. And they might have a sequence of other touches from different people, salespeople and executives and marketers, all working together in an orchestrated fashion.

Drew Neisser: So, maybe a touch on LinkedIn and some other social engagements along the way. I get it. I think I understand it. I’m going to recap it a little bit because I want to make sure. We’ve identified somebody on an executive level, we’ve assigned an executive at the company to engage with that individual. They have to know something about them. This sounds very personalized.

Jon Miller: 100%. I would argue, if you’re not customizing it at least down to the role and persona and industry, you’re not doing ABM, you’re just doing targeted demand generation.

Drew Neisser: As come to the end of this segment, is there a specific example of either that you’ve done or a client’s done? I’m a big fan of the high impact of direct mail pieces. I’ve seen at work with extraordinary response rates. What’s one that’s either worked for you or a customer of yours?

Jon Miller: We’re here at the Marketo conference, so I’ll talk about something we’ve done that works and that we do for a lot of conferences, and our other customers do, which is: When you’re hosting an event like a trade show, you don’t want to just have your booth. You actually want meetings. Meetings are where the magic happens, and you need some process of setting up the meetings.

Now if you talk to a bunch of marketers, they’re going to bemoan this process. Because you tell salespeople, “Hey, set up some meetings!” They don’t set up the meetings; they’re busy closing them up. And then you start panicking and you start “Oh, let’s just send a big e-mail blast to everybody and say, ‘Click here if you want a meeting.'” That doesn’t work.

What we do is we do a bunch of work to identify who we think is going to be coming to the event. That’s not using our tool. That’s like trying to a copy of the list and all that kind of thing. Then we run plays to those people. Sometimes we’ll send a package, but most of the time it’s just a series of very personalized, integrated e-mails that come from the executive. If the executive doesn’t respond, then they come from me. We use that to set up meetings with people at the events. So what we’re doing is, we’re using the human touch to maximize our impact at trade shows where we’re already spending money.

Drew Neisser: As we wrap up the section, what you’re hearing is that ABM is an idea where we’ve identified a target, we’ve identified an individual of the target, and we’re trying to figure out a way to get that person in front of a person, which is really interesting. We moved quickly away from the notion that this is a digital marketing thing.

We’re going to take a break and when we come back, we’re going to talk about some of the lessons learned and how brands are doing this right and how they’re doing it wrong.


Drew Neisser: We’re back for part three of my interview with Jon Miller, the CEO of Engagio. We’ve been talking about account-based marketing and it’s so different than some of you might have expected. You used the term “play” by the way. Let’s talk about that. What do you mean?

Jon Miller: Well, I like the word “play” because it makes me think of a football coach with Xs and Os on a chalkboard. In account-based marketing, first of all, there are multiple people at the target account we’re trying to reach. That’s a bunch of Os. It’s not one lone marketer or one lone salesperson, you have a whole team on your side as well. Marketers and salespeople and executives and all that. Those are your Xs, and the play is who does what, when. It’s just another analogy of how you orchestrate all these interactions.

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about your favorite play, someone really just killin’ it out there.

Jon Miller: We have a customer called Lingo Live. They make tools for a company that has a multilingual workforce and do HR for when your developers speak different languages. For them to really sell to a customer, they need the head of HR and the head of engineering both to buy off, and those two people don’t often actually talk to each other.

They, in this case, used high-impact direct mail. They sent a package to both of them. I think it has a gift card, but it’s sort of like, “Here’s your little mini gift card. But get together with each other and then we’ll give you another bigger gift card,” as a way to get them talking. It has the direct mail component and then, like many of the best of these plays, the direct mail is then followed up with a series of personalized human touches over e-mail and phone.

I don’t know their exact ROI stats, but this is very similar to a play that we run you which is direct mail, e-mail… Two interesting things we’ve seen from our version of this. One, on average, we have a 26% meeting rate. When we have identified an account and we’re on this thing, we get meetings 26% of the time. But, a very interesting thing—we have almost a 60% human reply rate i.e. even if they don’t want to take a meeting, people often reply. They say, “Hey, not interested right now. Maybe next month.” Sometimes they say: “No, but you should talk to Mike over there.” That’s the power of human e-mails over marketing e-mails—because nobody responds to a marketing blast, but people do respond to human e-mails.

Drew Neisser: There were a lot of good stats there and it gets at this question of: What are the metrics that matter here? Are those two that you mentioned—the 26% meeting rate which is amazing, and then the 60% some kind of response is also phenomenal. Are those the metrics that matter?

Jon Miller: Those start to be some of the metrics. I think the single biggest mistake that I see people make when they embark on an ABM journey is not aligning the organization around the fact that the metrics are going to change. Marketers have spent the last ten years tracking MQLs, leads. We’ve almost taught the rest executives that the number of leads is an important metric of marketing success.

Drew Neisser: Right. This goes to “If we have 100 leads, then we’re going to close at this rate, and we’re going to have business at the end of the quarter.”

Jon Miller: Yeah. We trained everybody. There’s no CEO in the world who has ever gone to their CMO and said, “Would you like some more budget and more people to do this ABM thing?” Marketers are having to do ABM with the teams and the budgets they already have. It’s basically always a reallocation of resources, which means almost by definition, you’re lead-based metrics will go down. Your quantity-based metrics will go down.

Drew Neisser: Oh, interesting. Okay, so because I’m taking money out of say, digital spend, or some other form of demand gen, in order to do this highly targeted initiative.

Jon Miller: Yeah. And instead, what you’re doing is you’re focusing more resources onto a more defined set of accounts. These are deals. These are also not hand-raisers. They’re going to have longer incubation periods, so you need to do two things: one, make sure people expect volume metrics will likely go down. But that’s okay because we’re going to have these other leading indicators of success at the accounts that we’ve all agreed really matter. Those leading indicators—you almost have to think about an account journey.

From “It’s a target account” to “It’s a target account who knows who we are” to “It’s a targeted account where the right people are starting to really engage with us,” to “It’s a target account that is actually now taking a meeting” to “It’s a target account that’s an opportunity.” People define lead journeys and lead waterfalls—what you need is an account waterfall. That way you can have those leading indicators to know that all the resources you’re putting on to these target accounts are moving them through, towards the outcomes you care about.

Drew Neisser: The lead journey. If I’m taking much budget out of here and I’m spending it against a smaller group of people, then in theory I better have a higher close rate.

Jon Miller: You should have a higher close rate and/or larger deal size.

Drew Neisser: When the marketer is about to engage in adding to the tech stack, investing in another piece of software, they have to find some sort of ROI in it. What kind of payback, how long does it take, where does this fit in in terms of rationalizing account-based marketing?

Jon Miller: First I should point out that account-based marketing is not a technology that you invest in. ABM is a business process. It’s a way of thinking about how you’re going to create awareness and demand and accelerate deals at the targets you care about. Technology then is going to help enable some of that. I do think it’s a big misconception that ABM is just a technology category.

To me, the thesis on investing in ABM technologies is: Can it enable or streamline your effort to make this move to this better account-based work. Put another way: at the end of the month, no salesperson ever talks about how many leads they closed. They talk about how many accounts they closed. If marketing is all hanging out talking about leads, you fundamentally are having a disconnect. A big part of ABM is just getting everybody talking about it and looking at the same thing. That’s a hard thing to put a hard ROI on, but we all know that it matters. Investing in an ABM technology stack like Engagio is the foundation you need to deliver some of that result.

Drew Neisser: As we wrap up—I’ve got a group of CMOs listening and other marketers— what are two dos and a don’t when it comes to ABM?

Jon Miller: Your first “do” is to really think about your data foundation. The reality is that the stuff you have already, your Marketo or other marketing automation, even your Salesforce, they’re primarily lead-centric systems, which are going to make it really hard for you to even know what’s happening at the account level. First of all, make sure you have the ability just to like, literally look at your data with an account centric lens.

I think “do” number two we’ve already talked a little about, which is really make sure that you understand your organization understands that you’re going to be measuring quality more than quantity. Number 3, don’t—don’t be seduced by “the easy button.” We talked about account-based advertising. It sounds pretty easy. It’s not nearly as hard as all the sales and marketing alignment that we’ve been talking about. “Oh, I can just buy some ads.” And again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t think that that’s sufficient to really deliver the benefits of what ABM is all about.

Drew Neisser: Jon, I just want to thank you so much for taking the time and being on the show.

Jon Miller: This was a blast. We should do it again.

Drew Neisser: All right. For all of you listening, as always, thanks for your time. I’m so grateful that you spend it with us. Don’t forget to write a review if you enjoyed this episode. And as always, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

Quotes from Jon Miller

There are really just three jobs for chief executives: set the vision of where the company is going, build the team to make sure you've got the right people, and ensure that the team has the resources they need to execute.
I was really excited for the opportunity to go back to a small company and really start innovating for marketers by marketers again.
ABM, to me, is fishing with spears. Finding the big fish and going after them proactively. Putting more resources and more energy into going after the right people, the right accounts.