Top 3 Things the C-Suite Should Know About ABM



Sangram Vajre literally wrote the book (two of them) on account-based marketing (ABM): Account-Based Marketing for Dummies and ABM Is B2B: Why B2B Marketing and Sales Is Broken and How to Fix It. He also founded the #FlipMyFunnel movement, hosts the daily #FlipMyFunnel podcast, and is the co-founder of Terminus, a leader in account-based marketing. In founding Terminus, Sangram established account-based marketing as a category then proceeded to grow the firm to 200 people in less than five years, earning a spot on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 list.

ABM’s popularity is growing steadily because it works. Sangram was the obvious choice when we needed someone to join the podcast and examine why ABM works and what sets it apart from traditional marketing approaches. In this conversation Sangram shares his Top 3 Things the C-Suite Should Know About ABM. They discuss how ABM unites sales and marketing teams by shifting focus toward engagement, how it humanizes interactions by developing hyper-targeted, personalized marketing efforts, and why organizations need to change their approach to up-serving and customer retention as a key revenue driver.

Renee Yeager: Hi Sangram. Welcome to the podcast.

Sangram Vajre: Thank you so much. Excited to be here.

Renee: Yeah, we’re thrilled to have you. Today, we’re going to be talking about the top three things that C-suite should know about ABM, and ABM is everywhere right now. Everyone is talking about it. It’s a super exciting topic. So, the first thing that you feel that CEOs should know or the C-suite in general should know about ABM is how do we humanize B2B marketing and sales using ABM? Can you speak to that a little bit?

Sangram: Absolutely. I think at the end of the day, we are all humans. Unless there are predictions around, [inaudible 00:00:45] taking over the world, which everybody gets against those [inaudible 00:00:48]. I think we were still in the business of making sure that we’re connecting with people and if you’re in B2B, you know that you’re not talking to one person, you’re talking to many more people. And quite honestly, I feel like we all have an irrational way of looking at things and then we convince ourselves something is right. So, we go back to the data later on, but in our hearts of hearts, we sometimes have already made a decision, and I know that’s definitely true about me. So, I feel at the end of the day, understanding that how humanizing can impact the business process is super important.

One thing I’ve realized quite recently, is if you are focused on humanizing the idea, and we’ll talk into what those examples are, you actually can get a higher value for your brand. The best example is like, you know, I was reading this article on Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday, and you know, people would go and buy a gift for their mom or whoever, for prom, from Tiffany’s. And you know, let’s say you buy it for $5,000. You try to take that ring and go and sell it to somebody else that is on the side of the street. You’d be lucky if you get $1,000. The point of that article was [inaudible 00:02:06] you paid $4,000 for the brand of Tiffany’s. What really happened was the brand value is what people are paying for.

I think, from an ABM perspective, the whole idea of humanizing can actually from a C-level perspective, man, you know, it’s really going to impact your overall value for whatever you’re selling because people believe in brand more than just a technology.

Renee: Yep. Can you speak to that a little bit? I mean, are you talking about leveraging the brand, just the brand identity as a whole in the ABM effort or including stakeholders within the organization and thought leaders within the organization as well?

Sangram: I’m talking definitely on both of those fronts. As an example, one of the things I think about is the whole idea of quality over quantity. I remember when I used to run marketing at [inaudible 00:03:01] and then when I was with Salesforce, the best, the most amazing moments for me and my team was when we get thousands of people downloading an eBook or thousands of people registering for a webinar, and then we’re like, “Whoa, we just hit over quota.” And the sales team will be have been looking at you and say, “Well, that’s awesome, but you’re excited, but they’re not the one.”

This happens in every single company all the time and I never understood why all the sales people are not happy. We just got a thousand more people. And come to [inaudible 00:03:33] going back to the humanizing aspect of it, sales titles, if you’ve been thinking about the titles, is account executive. So, all this focus on accounts and marketing has been giving them leads all the time. When it came to really understanding the impact of ABM and thinking about humanizing, we need to really be humanizing the process between marketing and sales. The choosing quality over quantity matters a lot.

Today, when I look at a webinar or an eBook or any downloads that ever happened, the first thing we do as a company is, okay, let’s just match that list of people that came through a webinar program or whatever download that they came through. How many of them fit our target audience and target account? What you would find is if you have 100 people who registered, maybe 10 of them match your target account list. And if that’s what it is, then now you’re really focusing on those 10, and to me, now you have the opportunity to create really amazing campaigns with those 10 accounts as opposed to worrying about 100.

Renee: Yeah. You know, one of the tension points between marketing and sales for as long as I can remember, is that lead quality, right? And regardless of the fact that you think you’re agreeing upfront what a lead is, and we all work very hard to do that. It can be frustrating on both sides, right? Sales feels like maybe they’re not being heard or the leads that are coming to them aren’t the right qualification. Marketing feels like they’re doing everything they can and spending every dollar they can wisely to generate these leads. And it seems like, and what I’ve heard is that ABM really is a nice way to bring marketing and sales together and get them more aligned than ever before. Would you agree with that?

Sangram: Absolutely. I think, yeah, at least at Terminus, what we’re trying to do is we have one scorecard for marketing and sales. When I think about marketing automation and what we, what I came from the world, then I preach that for several years, so I take some of the blame for the challenge that marketing sales has and really have to change my own personal mindset. It’s no longer about having two different scorecards. If you are an organization right now and you’re in a C-level and you’re walking into a meeting where marketing and sales are coming together with two different numbers or two different spreadsheets or two different dashboards, you got it wrong. That is not the way of going. That’s where a lot of companies then hire more operations people to just support or validate some executive’s thought process and that’s not what we should be thinking about.

We should be thinking about, here’s our scorecard together. Here’s how we’re going to go and penetrate the market. Here’s our engagement at each of these accounts where we need to focus on and we need support. At the end of the day, if you’re in B2B, sales is closing the deal. You’re not closing deals online. So, if sales is [inaudible 00:06:21] marketing and I’m a marketer and if it makes you feel shitty as a marketer listening to this, then, you know, sorry. But, at the end of the day, your job is to bring the horse to the water. You can make that horse drank water.

The idea is literally creating opportunities for your sales team to close your deals and there’s so many more ways to do it, but if you’re working on the wrong thing and you’re just looking at it, do your point, bring the lead, and then hope everything to happen, it’s not automatically going to happen. We live in a very complicated world right now where things need to be way more integrated.

Renee: Yeah. I love that universal scorecard idea. I think really any organization could benefit from that. Do you have any other advice that you’d give for companies that are struggling with the marketing and sales alignment and how ABM can kind of help them get on the same page?

I think the part that I have seen work over and over again from an alignment perspective is go and sit down with you’re … If you’re a marketer listening to this or you have a marketing team that you’re trying to get aligned with sales, have them essentially not do any marketing work that day and actually do cold calls with the sales team. Sit in on those calls that the team is doing or work on the cadences. Just don’t do any marketing stuff. Don’t just think about like market. Just think like a salesperson or be with the salesperson the whole day. I think it just creates an incredible level of empathy.

Going back to our talk around humanizing the whole experience, is that it creates [inaudible 00:07:54] empathy when you have a number on your back. What sales does is what sales does because we in marketing are not supporting the sales team to close and meet their quota. They’re going to be fired two months from now if they don’t hit that quota. Whereas in marketing, it can say, “Oh, well, let’s launch this campaign next month or next quarter.” Well, sales is not waiting around for marketing to do their job, so they’re digging mantle and running at it. So, I think from an alignment perspective, beyond having one scorecard that aligns marketing and sales organizations with a clear purpose. I think the other part is just creating empathy between the two and having marketer walk in the shoes of a salesperson or having salesperson walk in the shoes of marketing. I think it’s very, very empathetic way of learning about each other.

Renee: Yeah. Super, super powerful. I love that. You also talk about engagement as being the new measurement specifically around ABM. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Sangram: Oh, I love this. Engagement is really at the core of it. I feel like I’ve been measuring entirely the wrong set of metrics. I think the number of metrics we can measure right now are insane, especially with the [inaudible 00:09:09] tools we have. Right? The Scott Brinker’s new landscape shows 7,000 or whatever number of tools. Every tool has 10 different measurement and dashboards. If we start measuring, we can measure everything and still be confused as to what works and what not.

Sangram: I had to really take a step back and, quite frankly, really reassess what do I need to measure to understand the true impact of what we do? And what it came down to for me personally and then through our company and we’re realizing more and more is that we have to measure engagement. And what I mean by that is if an account and a set of people in that account are spending time on your website, that is engagement.

Now, if somebody just downloaded an eBook, that’s not an engagement. Exact opposite of what we all learned from a lead scoring and perspective. If somebody does so many activities, the lead score goes up. Quite frankly, that’s okay. But, you and I both know that CEO’s don’t download eBooks or ,you know, people who are influencing the deal, they don’t download eBooks or they’re not attending the webinars. They’re asking somebody else to do it. So, how do I figure out if this particular account is actually in the real running when my sales team tells me that they’re going to close. I think the answer is engagement, and the way we think about measuring engagement is by looking at how much time a company or set of people in that company are spending with me on my website because that is ultimately, or with my sales team, because that is ultimately the way for me to measure if this is actually going to happen.

I’ll give you a real example of this. We had an account that one of our sales person was saying, “Hey, we’re going to close this deal 100%.” And we’re like, “Okay, great.” And it’s a very big deal that we were talking about, and then we go back and look at the data and we just see 1% in that account has ever done real activity on our website. We’re like, “Wait a minute, it’s almost impossible to close a $100,000 deal where only one person from that company has been engaged with us.” This person was super malicious. Maybe we would have closed it, but it didn’t go through. It went through another process and it was a big realization.

I think marketers now, with all the data they have, they can look at the engagement metrics and quite frankly, help sales forecast what deals are going to close because they can tell them, “Hey look, in all of your deals that we have closed, there are at least three people who are engaged in the deal and they have spent an hour in total or two hours in total with with us in the last two weeks.” They have a higher propensity to buy versus all these other deals where only one person is engaged or maybe they’ve spent 10 minutes. I think it’s a very powerful metric that is not being talked about or used more by most organizations.

Renee: Yeah. I think that that would be, and not to say people don’t think about engagement, but I think they think about engagement as a lesser metric. Right? I totally agree with you that they think you could download, and I’m totally guilty of doing this all the time, where I’ll download a white paper or an eBook and then it goes in a file for I was reading for later.

Sangram: And you never get back to it.

Renee: I ever get to it. I know. So yeah, that’s really, really compelling. I would imagine that came out of ABM thinking, but it can really apply to everything, can’t it? I mean, you need to kind of think differently.

Sangram: Absolutely. I think it came out of ABM because it, just like we talked about the CMO scorecard or like one scorecard. Well, at the end of the day it’s not about doing more things because we all can find more things to do and we all are looking for less things to do. It is really [inaudible 00:12:44] the conversation in the organization where marketing and sales can say, “Here’s what we are doing and here’s what is moving the needle. Here’s what we are measuring. Here’s where we are forecasting.” And I feel like it has primarily been a very isolated, siloed approach of marketing. Having their own metric, sales having their own metrics and, the way we measure, never ever, they would say we have the same number. Then, we need a finance person who’s going to look at all of it. It’s crazy amount of time organization spent just to find something as opposed to really focusing on what is our go to market strategy and how we, as one team, are focused on it.

Renee: Yeah. And, you know, for our listeners who are technology marketers, we’re now seeing even more than ever before, this shift of kind of the circle of influence, we call it, of who’s influencing the sale across the business. Right? And that extends now out into the line of business. So, you have CMOs driving technology decisions. You may have a COO driving a technology decision, right?

So, ABM is such a wonderful strategy for that because we need to now be communicating to these people, you know, for years we only targeted IT decision makers, CIOs, CTOs. How do we extend the conversation out into those other line of business folks and how do we speak to them in a way that’s going to resonate? And then when you talk about engagement, to be able to see when those line of business folks are on your website and paying attention. That’s pretty powerful, right? My head’s spinning.

Sangram: I hope that you’re going to use that way because I do believe that we are tracking too many things that are vanity and are really not driving. Like, for example, even looking at traffic to the website. Well, if the traffic, you know, we’ll do a press release and, oh, look at all the thousands of hits we got and we all cheer around that. I’m just lately been, I don’t know, maybe got more pessimistic around it or like, “What are we really cheering for?”

It’s like my [inaudible 00:14:49] and everybody else in the investor community that are never going to buy from us are the ones who are looking at it and they’re proud of us. But, really, our target audience or future customers are not engaged with this kind of information. How do we dial in on the right people and measure the right things that help us make business decisions?

Renee: Yeah. Now, you say that listening to a podcast is better than a white paper and I think this kind of aligns to what we were talking about, right? So, go ahead and talk about that a little bit.

Sangram: Yeah. I really have been thinking about this, like, podcasts are the new white paper. I mean, I would literally say that. That’s just because you can look at a podcast as being a conduct, like the conversation you and I are having, we can create a blog post out of this thing. We can create multiple segments of audios out of it. We can put it on multiple tweets and social and all those things and all of that will be of tremendous value as opposed to if you would have asked me, “Hey Sangram, can you write [inaudible 00:15:50] article for me?” And I would have taken months to even get to you. And I don’t know if I could have been this raw that I am right now in that article, because it gets diluted by the time it gets to the publication standards.

So, overall, I feel like if we can get to a point where we are authentically having conversations and feeling the pain, expressing that, and trying to figure out solutions together and having those conversations in a safe environment and then using that content to then become a flywheel for all these different things on social and blogs and others to be created, I think it’s way more valuable than creating a white paper.

The whole purpose of white paper, quite honestly, was, I think, and then I hope you agree with me, is to capture a lead. [00:16:38] download, right? And as you and I, we both, we don’t read every one of those white papers that we download or anything like that. So, then the question becomes, well, if you know in ABM [inaudible 00:16:47], if you already know which companies you’re going after and you already know who you’re targeting, then why are you worried about capturing their names? You already have all that information, so creating the download is no longer important.

As a matter of fact, that’s our biggest ask of everybody is that take away all these download pages and talk directly to your customer. Let them hear directly from you. And because now you can measure engagement and see who is coming to the website, spending time and all those things. You already have all that information. It’s just a new mindset that we’ll have to align ourselves with. So, I think there was a lot of quality content that we can create through podcasts and means like this where we’re being raw versus being super scripted, white paper-ish.

Renee: Yeah. Well, and you have better metrics on a podcast. I mean, not only can you see who’s downloading it or listening to it, you can see how much they’re listening to when they may drop off. You get a much deeper level of metric where, you know, everything is so metric oriented today we kind of care about all stuff. And it kind of guides, you know, how long should my podcast be? Right? If I can kind of understand how long people are listening.

And then the other, you know, we talk about this here a lot, meeting our prospects where they are. So, you know, yeah, they can download your white paper, but then they have to reserve focus time to read that paper where they can plug a podcast in the car and listen on the way home. So, everybody’s multitasking and trying to do so much with such a little amount of time. Coming up with these new communication methods really is very impactful to get your message out there in a very crowded world, right?

Sangram: Absolutely. I think if we can be in hearts and minds of people while they’re driving and thinking about stuff where they’re not … I mean, that’s another part, you’re absolutely right, Renee, is at the end of the day, it’s almost, you’re so pressed for time, but when we’re driving or just, a podcast is something where you can do that while washing your dishes, right? It’s that liminal that’s happening. So, it’s not interrupting your day and still creating that connection between you and your brand and your topics. And more and more people listen to podcast and it just is a very effective way of creating content but also distributing it.

Renee: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So, before we move on to the next one, I want to talk about engagement as a measurement because that is a change in thinking. How do we talk about that with the C-suite? How do we help them understand that engagement actually is a better indicator of interest and, you know, sales cycle, even to a degree, I would say. Right? And you know how much we’re going to convert. How do we have that conversation?

Sangram: That’s a great question. I feel like there are data points that companies have that are not even exposed to the C-suite. For example, would it be valuable a C-suite team now? How many people are engaged in an account or how many people are really …

One of the metrics, let’s just break it down. So, one of the things that people never talk about or don’t talk about as much as they should is how many people are engaged in the deal. They just don’t [inaudible 00:20:01] that. So that, to me, is one way of looking at engagement. Oh, these are the 20 deals that we were planning to close this month. But, out of these 20 deals, only five of the deals have three or more people engaged in it or three or more people have been on the website or down or something, but there are X number of more people in it, whereas this only one person. I think that’s an immediate indicator for you where you have the higher propensity or higher opportunity to sell because there are more people involved in it. So, that’s one.

Another way to think about it is that okay, well now that I know that there are a few of these companies have more people involved, because I can see all of their activity now, is how much time they’re spending on it. And again, data will expose if people are asking these questions in organization. I guarantee to you that it will get exposed very clearly that the more people are on your particular account, are engaged, or are on your website, and the more people are spending time with your brand, and that could be a combination of all the things that you do digital digitally today, The more you have the opportunity to sell.

From a C-suite perspective, the question I would ask my sales and marketing team is that, “Guys, in the top 50 accounts that we want to close this quarter, which of these accounts are engaged and which of these accounts you think are going to buy from us?” And let’s say somebody says, “Oh, we think 30 of them, 100%.” Okay, show me the engagement level of those 30% and let them scramble a little bit to get that information. And I think what they would come back to this, and if you all agree that there are 5, 7, if not 10 people part of the decision making process, the data will very clearly expose.

The other way, Renee, to think about this, is go back and look at your last 10 closed-won deals. This is something that I advise every company to go back and do whenever they’re trying a new strategy. Go back and look at your last closed-won 10 deals and look at how many people were engaged in the deal and all these engagement metrics. And then, that will be the real way to look at and say, “Okay, clearly the more engagement on XYZ channels and more number of people on XYZ places and kind of the things that they’re doing is driving a closed-won deals, so let’s apply the same logic to it.” And I think that there are a couple of ways to get a start thinking through it.

Renee: Yeah. So, you could even kind of benchmark based on past historical data, right? And then while you were saying that, I was thinking, so if I know that, you know, there are really three or four folks in an account that are going to decide on whether or not to go with my solution and I see that only two were engaged, but the sales team thinks it’s a real done deal, it would enable me to be more proactive about reaching the other two. So, what kind of outreach could we do? Right?

Sangram: Absolutely. I think that’s where personalization comes in. That’s where humanizing comes in. That’s where focus comes in. And that’s really the way I used to define, I still do, but not as much, we don’t talk about it, but the way I defined ABM was focused B2B marketing. It is the idea of getting hyper focused around your list of accounts and the people that you care about that you feel can benefit from your services. You need to be hyper focused on it. We don’t have time. I don’t think anybody has time to focus on companies that they don’t want to.

I mean, if you ask somebody, “Hey, do you want to spend time with someone who would never buy from you?” Of course not. But, that’s what we in our regular time because we are emailing everybody. We are sending newsletters to everybody. We are talking to everybody regardless of they being the right fit. And even more worse is even if they’re a good fit, if they have no intention to buy right now and there’s no engagement from those accounts, then you should be spending more time with the account that’s showing engagement. I think it’s all about getting focused and prioritizing your accounts over creating more of the mass marketing or sales processes.

Renee: Yeah, well think about it. If you know that half of the folks, the decision makers are on board, is it a better use of your time as a marketer to help sales create engagement with those other two people we have to get on the bus? Or is it a better use of your time to go drum up business from companies that don’t even know who you are?

Sangram: Nailed it. Absolutely.

Renee: Yeah. I mean it’s just, it’s, yeah. Wow. Okay. So, the last tip that you have is really around the idea that ABM is much more than demand generation. Right? And everything we talked about today, some set up but, can you talk a little bit about, you know, pipeline velocity and how ABM really helps that?

Sangram: Totally. I think this is my favorite area to really dig in quite honestly, Renee, because I think for the last decade and a half, all of everybody, me being a co-founder myself and being in the C-suite for a good period of time at [inaudible 00:24:53] and Salesforce, I think I have done this and everybody else has, I think if they look deeper would attest to it, is that we have put marketers in a box of demand generation and saying that that’s where you said your job is to give me a lead script, pretty website, and show up at an event with a big flyer. And as long as you do that, your job, you’re good. And the reality is the the color of the money is too green. Right? So, if marketers can drive revenue, great, I think, which is really the ultimate goal of every organization is the value that they’re creating, the marketplace, then that’s not the best use of marketing. That is a part of what marketing should do, but not all of it.

ABM really brings this to a much higher level because now, if you know which accounts you’re going after, than ABM makes sense, right? So, demand generation, yes, we can spend time figuring out which accounts to go after, but think about it for for a second. Majority of the companies have a problem with closing their pipeline. Every single CEO today would say that, “Yeah, we got pipeline but we don’t know how to close or our close rate is 10% or 12%.” Imagine if you can increase the win rate from 10% to 13%, or even by 1%, from 20% to 21% that could literally mean millions and millions of dollars. Right?

I say that with so much passion on the pipeline that CEOs really need to take note of this thing is because you can now have your marketing say just start focusing on the accounts that have already raised their hand. They are I an opportunity stage, which means they are going to buy from us or our competitors. Focus on them and do your earlier point, Renee, now marketing and sales can, because they have the same scorecard, they can start focusing on how do you create more personalized experiences for the opportunities.

And what I’ve seen over and over again is then you focus on accounts and then you come up with those personalized thing and show that you care, show that you are human. People will look at you, take notice of it, and buy from you. And the ACV for accounts that have ABM-oriented mindset over just a transactional has shown data and [inaudible 00:27:02] from serious decisions and flow pattern and all those data sets and surveys that I’ve seen has shown that it’s at least 25 or 30% over your average deal size. So, to me, you can drive more deals through from pipeline by focusing on them and also increase the value of your deal because you’re so hyper focused.

Renee: I would think, too, that after you get the deal, it’s a game changer in terms of retaining the account too, right? You’ve done all this legwork, you know who the folks who need to influence are and you know, how do you stay in touch with them to retain them?

Sangram: Absolutely. I think the people, I call it observing over upselling or cross selling because I think that’s the mindset or attitude we need to have is we’re not trying to upsell it. Nobody likes to be upsold or, you know, cross sold. [inaudible 00:27:53] product or services that you … The reason you create another product is because you think you can serve your customers better and, of course, you’re going to charge more for it because it’s supposed to give them more value.

And again goes back to the same point because now you already know them, there is no more reason not to be more personalized in your process, but I love the stories where companies are able to sell to let’s say a business unit in GE and now GE is using your service. Now, you can use that story, do an [inaudible 00:28:25] and then go to all the business units in GE and tell that story to them that hey, look so and so in your company is already doing it so well. Here are the results.

That is ABM at its best. I feel like we all have been doing pieces of it, but quite honestly, if the C-suite can take a step back listening to all this, if there’s one thing that I would love for people to take away is that, hey, look, ABM is a mindset. It is not a product or a tool. We have been in this process of email marketing, marketing automation, predictive, all of them are tools. When it comes to ABM, it is a strategy. It’s a go-to market strategy that a company at the C-suite needs to agree on because it’s going to change the way you measure because you’ll have a different scorecard.

It’s a different way of going after it because you’re looking at engagement. You’re looking at only a set of accounts as opposed to every single person or every single lead out there, and it’s also a different way of going about business because you’re going to be personalizing the way your marketing and sales is working, so it is such a different view, that without the buy in from the C-suite, I see it very hard for an organization to do ABM the right way.

Renee: Yeah. I love that. I haven’t heard anybody say that better, by the way. What a great case. Yeah, just fantastic. Well, Sangram, thank you so much for being on the podcast and sharing these excellent insights with us. You’re just a wealth of knowledge and we really appreciate you coming on today.

Sangram: Renee, thank you so much. I hope people can take something out of it and I would love for people to do it [inaudible 00:30:05]. It’s not just a just a tool or something to do. It’s really is a game changer and a business driver.

Renee: Absolutely. Well everyone, you can find Sangram all over social media and you guys are doing an amazing job. I love your podcast. I love everything that you’re doing, and you can also find him on Inc. You have numerous articles and we’ll post a link to that on our podcast page. So, again, Sangram, thanks so much for being on. Really, really appreciate it.

Sangram: Thanks, Renee.

Renee: Okay. Have a great day.

Speaker 1: Awesome.

Sangram: All right, cool.

Renee: Great.

Speaker 1: Is there anything else you want me to promote when I do the intro for you?

Sangram: If you’d be open to it,