Top 3 Steps to Optimizing Your ABM Contact Data



Brian Hession, President and Founder of Oceanos, joins host Renee Yeager to share his Top 3 Steps to Optimizing Your ABM Contact Data, including identifying target accounts, preparing contact records and strategizing.

Brian is a thought leader and innovator helping companies improve their demand generation and drive revenue. Since 2002, Oceanos has been helping companies design data management strategies that deliver smarter data, better marketing automation performance, and more revenue.

Brian and Renee discuss data scoring, data cleansing and contact acquisition strategies. They also explore account identification and how data is the fuel behind successful ABM programs.

Renee Yeager: We started doing these and recording them in November, and it was all geared around this content strategy that we have called, the big idea. So every month we put out kind of episode of the big idea where we are own issue. It’s almost like an online magazine if you think it of it, where we kind of take one topic and we break it down, and we go into detail about different areas. So, this issue that we’re talking with you about is called, the who matters, and it’s going to be focused on account based marketing and data and personas, buyer personas and things like that. So I thought having you on would be perfect, that you can give some really good insights on the data piece, which I’m sure you run into it too. But I continue to be amazed at how little emphasis is put on data by some of our clients, where they’re just pulling a scrappy list together and they want these amazing results from their marketing. It doesn’t always work that way. So, sorry.

Kristin Hege: Just letting you know I’m recording. So you’re going to start whenever.

Renee Yeager: Okay. All right. Thanks Kristin. So does that make sense for Brian?

Brian Hession: It does. And Morgan provided me a three topic areas that we’re going to discuss and have jotted some notes. So the first being identify target accounts and so forth.

Renee: So, I’m going to do an intro and then I’m going to introduce you, and then we’ll jump right in to the questions that I have, those things that you provided Morgan. So, that’s what we’re going to frame this around. So the first one is about identifying target accounts, the second one is about preparing contact records, and then the third one is about strategizing. And I took a look at your six steps to optimizing your ABM contact data ebook, which I thought was really, really great. Can I offer this to our listeners?

Brian: Oh, absolutely.

Renee: And download it?

Brian: Yeah, we can co-brand it. If you want drop your logo and the front cover, I can have my designer do that.

Renee: Oh Wow! So what we’ll do is we’ll just ask them to provide some basic info so we know who downloads it too, and we’ll provide that to so you can [inaudible 00:02:41].

Brian: Okay.

Renee: Any other questions for me?

Brian: No, I think it’s clear.

Renee: Okay. All right. So it’s Kristin that’s recording. Go ahead and jump right in. One more thing, and I’ve known you for a long time, but I just want to make sure I’m not mispronouncing anything. So say your last name for me?

Brian: Hession.

Renee: Hession. Okay, great.

Brian: Hession.

Renee: And I say Oceanos, but I’ve heard other people say it differently. So what is it?

Brian: We say Oceanos.

Renee: Oceanos.

Brian: But it doesn’t really matter. We hear it all the place, all time.

Renee: Okay, cool. And then one more. So is it MACCA, MOCCA?

Brian: MOCCA.

Renee: MOCCA. Okay.

Brian: MOCCA, yeah.

Renee: I’ll be thinking about a nice hot mocha coffee while I say that. Okay. Thank you. Take some water. Hello everyone. And welcome to the top three for tech marketers podcast. I’m your host Renee Yeager and today we’re going to be talking about account based marketing, but with a twist. We’re talking specifically about the data that fuels the success of your ABM program. It seems like ABM is being talked about everywhere right now as marketers are figuring out how to take what was formerly more of a sales approach and putting processes, standards and support platforms in place, to make it a key marketing strategy. But like all things marketing is the foundation of this success and failure hinges on the data. Joining me is Brian Hession, he’s the president and founder of Oceanos as well as a thought leader and innovator, helping companies improve their demand generation and drive revenue. Since 2002 Oceanos has been helping companies design data management strategies that deliver smarter data, better marketing automation performance and more revenue. The approach equal parts technology and hands on consultative insight.

A philosophy that has helped Oceanos earn the trust of hundreds of clients including my own agency, Yeager Marketing. Brian is also a board member of MOCCA, the Marketing Operations Cross Company Alliance, which is the leading professional association dedicated to operational excellence in digital marketing. And I hear that MOCCA just had an event in the bay area that drew a really large crowd including a bunch of analysts from serious decisions. So I’d like to talk to you a little bit about that Brian, welcome.

Brian: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Renee: Before we get started, if this is the first time you’re listening to the podcast on each episode we talk with today’s most innovative marketers and business leaders about a specific topic and narrow it down to three focus areas that they feel are most interesting or really important. And today we’re talking with Brian about his top three steps for optimizing your ABM contact data. And my marketing view there isn’t too much more important than good data. I’m really excited for our conversation today. And if you’re ready Brian, we can jump right in.

Brian: Sure, let’s go.

Renee: Okay, so the first step you have in optimizing your contact data ABM is to identify target accounts, which makes sense, right? And you have three specific tips here, but before you jumped into that, I wanted to ask you if you have recommendations on where the data should come from because we deal with this with our clients a lot. Do you have the sales people provide the data or should marketing provide the data? Is it a combination? What have you experienced and what do you feel is the best approach?

Brian: Sure. So account identification is certainly the first step and critical since it establishes the ABM foundation. And with our clients, many of them will come to the table with the named accounts and others will lean on us to help them identify the target accounts. So I looked at some recent research by Demand Gen Report, and they report that 80% of all marketers are currently using firmographic data, and 61% are including technographics, other types of software a company currently has installed to help identify the target accounts. Now within this group, just under half are also using some type of predictive element. Within our client base, we are seeing a lot of clients leverage intent data, which monitors companies for spikes or surges in content consumption on specific topics. So companies like Bombora and the Big Willow are establishing themselves as leaders in this space, and certainly marketers are using predictive software though, 6sense, Lattice Engines, Infer and the like, which encompasses a wealth of data points to isolate those ideal accounts.

With the accounts identified, certainly the next step is to pull together the contacts you currently have within those accounts, and to get a handle on the state of your contact data, We recommend running a data health check. Many data providers or vendors in the space provide free health checks, which provide insight into the accuracy and completeness of the contact data. With our health check, we generated data quality score, which ranks the contacts on a scale that represents their perceived accuracy.

Renee: And how commonly are predictive analytic models being used to grow lists today?

Brian: Based on my experience with our clients, it seems to align more to the larger organizations that are using a predictive platform to identify named accounts. I still see many of our clients utilizing intense signals are just a fundamentals, like firmographics to establish a named account list to looking at targeting industries and company size. And I think in many cases, to start ABM that is a viable approach.

Renee: Yeah, I asked that question at the beginning about data coming from the sales team versus data coming from marketing because what we found is that our clients are… Not that they’re completely two separate lists, but there’s sales force data and then there’s data within marketing systems like Marketo or I’m assuming in some ABM platforms now, like Engagio, and just wondering what the synergies are between those systems. Have you found in your experience that marketers are doing a really good job of keeping your data clean? And I know we’re going to talk about that in a second, but just kind of curious, what you run into. Are you still running into really old data or are marketers doing a better job there?

Brian: Well, on the account side, I think it’s certainly improving as marketers are more focused on identifying the right accounts. So although we’ll receive account list that may from time to time have companies that are inactive, all their subsidiaries that roll up into larger organizations. I think marketers are getting a much better handle on the account data. I do see quite a bit at deficiency at the contact level. I think a lot of clients have difficulty understanding, “Okay, who do we have within these accounts and who are we missing?” And then just how do we kind of get started and more strategically for contacts to build out that buying committee within those accounts.

Renee: Yeah, and that’s foundational for ABM.

Brian: Absolutely.

Renee: Yeah. So let’s talk about your second step, which is preparing the contact records. So what’s your approach and what do you recommend here?

Brian: Well, if a client starts with a data health check, they’re certainly better equipped to determine the best steps for cleansing and enriching their house contacts. So within this step they might consider filling in missing values such as contact records that may be missing a job title, or they may determine that a pending information such as the direct dial would be very valuable. But I think the health check helps to establish just kind of basic understanding of where we’re starting. Once they get their contact data or in order, then they can switch gears to determine who they should be targeting within the buying center. So what we recommend to clients is running the contact gap analysis. This report is very similar to a health check and it’s complimentary and it helps you understand the contacts you currently have and the ones missing within those set of target accounts. In other words, the gap report provides insight into the percent of contacts that map to the audience definition, while also highlighting key contacts you’re missing that could be instantly sourced from third party databases.

Renee: So how did you guys do that? Because I would imagine that buying committee may vary by industry, right? Or what is being sold. So do you just look at other companies and the titles? How does that all work?

Brian: Yeah, we certainly spend some time with the client, mapping the audience definition. So we talk about, who are the decision makers, influencers and end users for their particular solution. And certainly that’s going to vary based on size of company. So in many cases it could be two or three different audience definitions established. But, just trying to get clients to think about kind of the full spectrum of potential entry points within an account, I think is a good kind of starting point. And then certainly as they get more ingrained within an ABM model, the majority will come along and then they can get a little bit more sophisticated in terms of their targeting. But what we’ve seen with platforms, ABM platforms such as Engagio for example, is clients are kind of thinking about, I want to map as many people as possible within my target accounts. Where historically they might have come to us and said, I only want to purchase two or three contacts within these accounts, because they didn’t want an email deployed too many folks within a given company.

But within ABM they basically want to map the playing field and then utilize or orchestrate different plays to reach those people depending on whether they’re influences of the decision makers.

Renee: Yeah. And then maybe refine their strategy based on who they’re getting engagement from. So there’s a lot of learning and education that happens in that process.

Brian: Oh, absolutely. And they’ll certainly collecting or attaching web activity in other signals to those contacts to determine at what time I’ll by what channels they should be contacting those folks.

Renee: Yeah. That’s so interesting. So what are the gaps that you feel that companies struggle with most often. What’s the missing information?

Brian: I think it’s, they don’t take the time to really think about who they want to be targeting within their accounts, and then ensuring that the contacts that they have are who they think they are. There’s a lot of third party data that enters the ecosystem with inaccurate information associated with the contact records such as job title. So it’s really vetting the contacts to ensure they are accurate in terms of the titles. And then also kind of thinking about, well, what are the roles and personas that I should be thinking of and how can I leverage other attributes to help further understand or gain insight into a person’s role within their organization? A good example is, there could be a hundred IT managers within a large organization, and how do you go about figuring out what each of those it managers might focus on within their organization? So it’s connecting other pieces of information to give more color to the actual roles and responsibilities of the person.

Renee: Can you talk a little bit about how you help clients put their data clean, and what you’ve done from best practices standpoint. Our clients really struggle with this. How frequently to up date the data, what process to use, can you talk a little bit about that.

Brian: Sure. Yeah. A lot of our clients will typically look to do a data cleanse on an annual basis, whether it’s near the end of the year or the beginning of the new year, and the best practice that we share with clients as they should start to think about it, especially within ABM doing it either on a monthly, a quarterly level basis.

Renee: And that’s just because you are dealing with so many more contacts within accounts, or people moving jobs more frequently, why so frequently?

Brian: No, I think an ABM data quality is amplified. Where in the past if you would just loading these contacts within the marketing automation platform. You were most concerned about email deliverability, and you kind of looked at email campaigns as a way to self cleanse or identify bad contact data within ABM since there’s a lot more activity associated with those contacts. Whether it’s outbound calling, potentially direct mail, etc. You can waste a lot of time and effort if that data is… started to go stale. So this gets really important in the fact that sales is often involved in the process. That whole kind of frustration of bad data can be intensified if cleansing is not done on more frequent basis.

Renee: Yeah. And the one thing that I’ve loved working with you guys is just the depth, in terms of research and validation that you do on your data. Can you talk a little bit about that because I think you’re really unique in that way.

Brian: Yeah. We focused a lot of time on building a data quality model. And this model looks at a number of different signals to predict whether or not the contact record is accurate. So for example, we have a graveyard database of 85 million email addresses that we’ve collected from various publishers and service bureaus in addition to partnering with providers that specialize in email verification. And then there’s certainly social data that’s available to further kind of vet whether or not the person’s information is accurate. So it’s basically looking at a whole slew of signals within a model, and then assigning a data quality score out to that contact. And there’s no process that’s going to be 100% accurate, but the data quality score certainly identifies contact data that is either bad or suspect. So that can be sidelined and the marketer can then determine whether or not that data should be suppressed.

And I always recommend to clients that they need to also consider last action date, and create date and some of their own internal data points in conjunction with our signals, which we incorporate within our data health check to fully understand a data quality.

Renee: Well, and this is a good segue for your third step, which is around strategizing and building your acquisition strategy. So can you talk a little bit about this and what your recommendations here are?

Brian: Sure. So to increase ABM success, I believe it’s imperative that your contact data management strategy is ongoing. You need to maintain a quality standard for your house contacts, while constantly seeking greenfield contacts within those named accounts. And I think in tandem, there are two free diagnostic reports, the health check and a contact gap analysis, support and more strategic in continual contact acquisition strategy. And we’ve also found that marketers are using these reports for benchmark purposes. So for example, when they’re embarking on ABM, and for the most part I think most marketers don’t feel comfortable with the quality of their data. Either they’ve experienced bad data in the past that or they just don’t have a good handle on the percent of the addressable market that they have captured within their database. So what they’re doing is they’re using the house check in the contact gap report to understand the current state of their health data. And then they’re rerunning those reports quarterly to chart improvement, and the report the shared with internal stakeholders to ensure a better decision making.

So I think a lot of decisions, for example, on content, specific content is produced and sometimes it’s not in sync with the contacts that are in the database. And if there’s going to be an initiative in a certain area, then you need to make sure that you have bolstered coverage of that particular job title or a persona within the database to optimize the content that’s being produced. So it’s all kind of a system, but I think clients, and I think marketers will mature to this thought process as they embark on ABM that they will need to think about data on either a monthly or quarterly basis. And it won’t be so ad hoc where they decide, “Okay, I’m going to do a data cleanse or I’m going to do a lease purchase and I’m just going to buy net new name.”

Renee: Yeah. It’s interesting. So I ask all of my guests a bonus question. So my bonus question for you is, what do you feel that the majority of the companies that you work with could do better when it comes to their data?

Brian: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think in general they just need to document. Where their state of data currently resides and then show improvement on a quarterly basis. And there’s a number of… the house check and the gap analysis help marketers accomplish that. And there’s a lot of vendors in the space that provide that type of free reporting, but I just don’t see marketers doing that. It’s usually, ad hoc and then all of a sudden there’s a big push to cleanse the data, to bring in new names. And I think it just needs to be a little bit more systematic, but there also needs to be some type of metric established in terms of perhaps percent of addressable market reached within the house database that can be charted and can be shown to be expanding from quarter to quarter.

Renee: Yeah. Because how do you really know? I love the idea of benchmarking with this because have you really know if you’re improving, right? You’re going to be thinking all these dollars and investment and time into a strategy. You need to make sure that it’s performing and there’s so much to learn in an ABM strategy about the accounts, about your processes, about your data. So you should be able to show measurable improvement. I think that’s just such a great tip.

Brian: That’s certainly going to be data attributes such as direct dial phone numbers that are going to become increasingly more valuable within ABM. Not only for outbound calling, but for texting, and I’ve spoken to salespeople and they say they do occasionally text a contact that they’ve established some type of banter with. So having the ability to understand, if it’s a direct dial, and then further whether it’s a mobile number and whether it’s registered residentially and commercially is all additional valuable insight that on the sales side of ABM is very important.

Renee: It’s going to be really interesting as our target audiences continue to age, there’s a big they conversation around the fact that the generation after millennials, I think they’re gen Z, they only like to communicate through texts. And how is our marketing and a change to adapt to these things, so it’s really fascinating to be thinking ahead, and how you can kind of plan for these buyers as they evolve and change.

Brian: I agree.

Renee: So, Brian has this great ABM starter guide, six steps to optimizing your ABM contact data and you can download that at Just go to the podcast page with this episode and you’ll see it there for download. And I just want to thank you, Brian for being on with such a great conversation, so insightful and definitely something that all of our clients struggle with, with their data. So thank you.

Brian: Thanks for inviting me.

Renee: If you have a question about our discussion today, you can post that on the Jaeger Marketing podcast page, and we’ll also include some information about how you can contact Brian Direct. And, thank you so much Brian for being on and we look forward to seeing you next time. Thanks. Take care everyone. Thanks. Okay, Kristin then we’re done.

Kristin: Awesome. I got it all.

Renee: I feel out of control and not being able to control it myself. It feels weird, but it’ll be [inaudible 00:26:38] So thanks again Brian for doing this and we’ll get it cleaned up. So Kristin works her magic with our editors to edit out any on flubs, but I didn’t really hear any in this conversation, so that was good.

Brian: But if I need to Redo any section, feel free. I can certainly do that.

Renee: Okay. Do you want to hear it? Were you happy with everything? It sounded great.

Brian: Yeah, I think overall it was good.

Renee: Okay, cool. So, I think we’ll probably be promoting this also with the editorial calendar. I think this one is in April or possibly May, but I’ll confirm with you. So you know, and then we will promote it on social media. And we’ll send you, Kristen will send you graphics and stuff to promote it too. And, yeah. I’m keep you posted. I really appreciate you doing it.

Brian: Yup. We’ll probably do an email campaign. Our database just under 20,000 people, so we usually find out about a thousand emails per day so we can, flight this over a couple of weeks. Oh, once it’s ready and if you want the user guide co-branded or what not, any changes to it, I can pull my designer and make that happen. Otherwise, you already have a copy of it currently.

Renee: I would love that and I would love to include it as part of our big idea contents, which we send out to I think our database is about 20, 25,000. Well, you helped us. So, I would love to include it in there too, if you’re okay with that.

Brian: Yeah, definitely.

Renee: Cool. All right. Well thanks again and enjoy the rest of your day.

Brian: Yep. You too. Thank you.

Kristin: Thanks.

Brian: Thanks Kristin.

Kristin: You’re welcome. Bye. Bye.

Brian: Yep. Bye, bye.

Renee: Okay.