What's New in ABM?: A Conversation with Matt Senatore, SiriusDecisions

At this year’s SiriusDecisions Summit, our CEO Thad Kahlow sat down with Matt Senatore, Service Director of Account-Based Marketing at SiriusDecisions, to discuss all things ABM. Check out their conversation below and find out everything you need to know about ABM marketing as a B2B marketer.

Thad: What is ABM?

Matt: There are so many definitions. But, I’ll start by saying what it’s not. It’s not a technology, it’s not a tactic, it’s not a one-off program or campaign—what is it? It is a strategic mindset. It’s a change in discipline around how we go to market and it really requires a different way forward, so we have to take our finite resources of budget, people, time and we have to apply those against specific accounts in a way that makes most sense. ABM can be used for net new acquisition, it can be used for cross sell/up sell; it can be used for retention, but when we take those resources against those defined accounts and we begin to understand the needs of the customer and the sales leader and find a symbiotic relationship with those and then use that to develop our outreach, develop appropriate messaging and relevance into that account engagement that’s what brings the personalization into it…. so that’s kind of a long answer, but important to say what it is and what it isn’t.

Thad: No, no I like it. And you know what I heard there, if I can just distill it down into one word, which is focus…

Matt: Yeah, I think that’s a really solid starting point for a one-word answer!

Thad: So, you know, with that notion of focus, personalization, being very intent on what you’re going after and how you’re thinking about it, how you’re setting it up, and where you’re spending your time, energy and effort. You know I feel like we talked about this subject like 5 years ago, when it wasn’t hot, right? What the heck took us so long? What was the mental framework blocking us from saying, this is about the customer, this is about being specific and relevant and driving a level of personalization and focus, what was in our way?

Matt: We had to rewire thirty years of B2B Marketing, right? And so things that people have always done and are comfortable with doing….like setting annual plans of outbound activity that is not always relevant or that is not driven on consumer insight or lack of sales planning input is what we’ve always done. So in order to change that paradigm, and get outside their comfort zone, they needed to see other peers begin to start getting traction and doing it and doing it successfully. For the past 3-4 years, we’ve seen so many clients of ours at Sirius Decisions, doing a really good job of it, telling their stories at things like SDSummit and other marketing events, being recognized for their contributions in this community, growing and building, and so when they see other people doing it they’re like “I want to do that too!” So then how do we embark on that? That’s one thing is the successes of their peers.

Thad: Social persuasion…

Matt: Exactly. And FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. The second thing is over the past 5-10 years there has been a tremendous increase in the amount of account and contact information that drives personalization along with technology and tools that allows us to really understand customer need, what they’re doing, when they might be in market – and begin to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help us determine what is the next best offer, when do I reach out and how do I engage in a personalized manner – that’s really accelerating a lot of this as well.

Thad: The uncapping of all of this data has been a type of fuel to enable us, to become better account-based marketers.

Matt: Yeah, and I think the other thing to is the understanding by sales to say, “I now want to partner with marketing differently than we ever have. I want that level of support.” Because now they’re hearing about the benefits of ABM and they’re saying, “I want this as well.”

Thad: For sure, and you know you mentioned sales as part of this and I come from the marketing mind set which is supporting marketers, showing their impact to business, but let’s talk about sales for a second. I think one of the things that I’ve seen when we work with our clients in the mid-market enterprise is when they get into the process of selecting what approach they’re going to take to account, named, criteria based, size, whatever it may be. It’s very sales driven. So before I interject my opinion on that, have you seen the same and is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? How should we be thinking about it from a marketing perspective?

Matt: Yeah, so I think, very often, and I’ll speak through the lens of my clients, they often have a set of territorial accounts through the sales planning process that’s the starting point, right, and the sales leaders will say these are the accounts were going to focus on.

Thad: Sorry to interrupt, my question there is why? Why do the sales leader pick those accounts?

Matt: Yeah, okay, so the reason why they’re doing that, is often because there are logos that they want to win or because sales may think that they have a good chance of winning for a variety of reasons. There could be people that they’ve sold to in the past that have now moved to those accounts and they got relationships and they’re trying to carry those relationships. There is a variety of factors of why sales thinks those are the right accounts. Now when you take sales ops, and sales ops takes a more data-driven approach to that now you’re getting a little bit more scientific. That’s a starting point I would say, and some marketers are never going to change that, and they have to deal with that. But what we suggest is having a meaningful conversation between marketing leadership and sales leadership around are these the right accounts? So if we do two years of post-deal analysis and we know that there are 5 or 8 or 10 or 12 key factors as to why people buy, I am going to understand the fit and now we can go find the other companies that look like that.

Thad: Yeah, now you’re talking my language, looking back through CRM, what worked, what didn’t work and then layering in some level of market intelligence which is hey, these markets are growing, they have the wind at their back and spending money here for these reasons. And sometimes that can ultimately, significantly shift who you’re going after. And I think a lot of folks miss that because it just comes down to a list that has been dictated.

Matt: Well again, in some situations you need to then try to create the case that says why we should think differently and sometimes sales is willing to hear that side and sometimes they are not.

Thad: When you think about the clients that you’ve worked with and you’ve seen them go through that maturity process, what are some of the fundamental top 2 or 3 mistakes that we are typically missing at the onset of this?

Matt: Not being completely aligned with sales; not establishing and communicating the strategy for ABM and what success looks like. I think a lot of the time people start with saying, “Okay, we’re going to select the right accounts” and then go through that process, but if we haven’t taken a step back and said “What is our ABM strategy? What is the scope of our effort? And who needs to be involved in this from a marketing and sales perspective and I’m talking marketing sub-functions, sales sub-function, so BDR, sales ops, marketing ops, content teams, etc.. If they haven’t thought through that and then worked to build alignment, well first the education around that is who needs to be involved and then what they plan to do and what is in scope and what is not in scope, you’re doomed. If I don’t have the rest of the ecosystem lined up then that’s one big mistake. Another big challenge is not knowing what success looks like and not having alignment on that in the beginning, because if I’m developing an ABM program, where I am trying to grow my existing customer base and I’m looking at cross sell programs, but sales territory planning and sales planning and forecasting really is driven the share by net new acquisition and there’s a disconnect there, I need to again, be aligned, in terms of what the objective is for my program and how that cascades back to forecasting and planning.

Thad: Okay, I love it. So you hit on another topic, which I think is a hot one, especially within the world that we come from, which is performance and defining what is a successful campaign and with that, I’d love to get your thinking on what are some of the most important metrics marketers should be thinking about? I know every strategy is different, the approach you’re going to take, but give us some guidance around how we should be thinking about setting up the right metrics to say this did or didn’t work so we can understand success or lack there of.

Matt: You know, it’s so funny because I just came out of a session here at SD Summit where I presented on ABM measurement. The answer, of course, is that it depends. It depends on what is your measurement objective? There are really two key objectives with ABM measurement. I’m going to demonstrate the overall impact of the program that I am running in its entirety and how it’s impacting the business. The second thing is I want to optimize my execution. I could be in market with a program against ABM accounts, see what is working, what’s not working and it’s going to help me reallocate resources in a campaign. Those are two distinct measurement objectives and depending on what I am trying to do is to communicate to my leadership = why we need to scale and invest more to show business impact against this other audience. How do I get rid of some programs or tactics or remove accounts or add accounts but those then will have a different set of measurement needs underneath those?

Thad: Fair enough and do you have any fear? Because I’ve seen some of the ABMs early on, focus on vanity metrics or softer metrics, which is lift and engagement which is an important indicator to a degree but not being able to see that, being pulled through to revenue or pipeline.

Matt: Absolutely. So, I’m going to drill down on these two key measurement objectives areas a little bit more, so the one around the demonstrating performance, we absolutely have to get to those business impact metrics. How am I impacting pipeline and closed deals? Am I influencing a greater degree of these than I was in the past? Am I sourcing a new amount, if that’s part of my strategy and objective, and by the way, how am I doing against those ABM accounts and how is that different from a set of control accounts? So what we will say is look at things like average deal size for ABM accounts versus similar non ABM accounts, look at average conversion from pipeline to opportunity to late stage to close. Let’s compare those against non ABM accounts because the notion is if I’m getting the right accounts at the top of the funnel, if I am developing and personalizing, activating, and validating and nurturing those in an ABM way, I should get better pull through down through the funnel, so when you start to think about pipeline, acceleration, closed deals – you look at conversion from ABM to non ABM accounts, so those are some key things we tell our customers to look at.

Thad: I think that is super critical because if you don’t do that pull through from revenue to pipeline at some point marketing is the first thing to get cut. I have a thousand other questions, but I think what I want to end with is, outside of the obvious, what advice would you give folks as they embark upon ABM as they’re look to optimize? And number two: what resources do you turn to in order to continue to grow your sophistication in this area?

Matt: There is a growing community of ABMers and just like I said in the beginning of the conversation, I think that is why this is picking up more momentum. Right now, if you go to do a Google search on ABM best practices you’re going to see tons and tons of client successes, so get up to speed on as many of those as possible. The other thing is, I think, in this community whether it’s our event or other events, start attending those. Start making those connections, so that you gain some knowledge. I think the other thing is, you need to be a fearless marketer. If you want to embark on this, you need to go and create. You need to create the business case for why this is going to make a difference and why you should move forward and the second things is, start small, talk to a couple sales people and try to build a guerrilla approach and pilot and get some early traction and then go to create more momentum if you can’t get the initial sign off.