My name is Jakob Lowenbrand, Managing Director of BrightVision as well as the host of this podcast. Today we have a very interesting subject to discuss how the top brands are using account-based marketing. And we’re going to discuss that with a guest, his name is Jon Russo. A former army officer, also three-time global CMO at different companies. And today, he’s the founder and CMO of B2B Fusion.

How he ended up becoming a marketing expert in account-based marketing

I’ve been a high-tech CMO for 10 years in public and private companies in Silicon Valley, New York City, and Luxembourg. And, one of my struggles was making a lot of investments in technology. And I was having my sales operations person in Excel create marketing impact dashboards. It literally the ink was wet from the printer, I would be racing my impact over to the board of directors. It just didn’t feel right as a CMO making all these investments in this technology that had the promise to deliver marketing ROI.

That began my journey about 8 years ago. We went on this journey to help other marketers, particularly high tech and SaaS companies, where we bridged the gap of not only measuring but being more effective in their marketing, outreach and growth overall. Over the last two years, we’ve honed that down to an account-based approach because a lot of the technologies have shifted in that direction.

Account based has been around for 20 something years but from a marketing side and technology side, it’s only been around for a couple of years. We’ve built some relationships in the industry, we’ve got a lot of experiences, I’ve had over 100 engagements of account-based marketing with clients. We’ve seen best practices around account-based marketing that probably no others have seen at this point. I should also say we’re vendor neutral, so we cross multiple platforms. But primarily in high tech, we see a lot of similar Marketo pardot, Hubspot deployments with other technologies.

From your perspective, define B2B Companies that really gets it when it’s coming to ABM. What are their best practices? What do you think they do with ABM in order to get it to work so well for them?

About best practices, it depends on your maturity of where you’re at. But let’s assume your listener has a lead generation system already in place. Most of your clients that we do work with, we would suggest running a parallel system of lead generation and account-based marketing. Reason being is it takes a lot of effort to do account-based marketing. And you want to keep the engine on the plane while it flies and experiment with another engine to perfect it.

There was a recent study that a company did, Terminus with 300 plus account-based marketers, and what they discovered in one of their recent survey observations was there’s a maturity curve. So, from a best practices perspective, most companies realize that they’re going to have to go through some of the basics. And over time, they’ll improve as they get more mature.

The key though, in best practices, is to really understand how you’re stepping into that step one of account-based marketing. To do a thorough inventory of your data, your data structures, your business process, to make sure that you’re ready to get on the account-based journey.

The other aspect, and probably more important than that, is really making sure people have a consistent definition of what account-based marketing means. What I find, and this is probably a US analogy, but it’s almost like a ship that’s gone through a bay, and a lot of barnacles get attached to the ship. So, if you think of account-based marketing as a ship.

Different people have different ideas of what account-based marketing is going to solve for and without a clear definition. The risk as a marketer is account-based marketing could be solving a lot of problems in the hearts and minds of the organization, but in reality, it solves for maybe half or a quarter of the requirements. So, getting everybody aligned and rallied around that definition is helpful. And in addition to baselining, if you take those two steps, you’re much better off on that maturity journey, than perhaps companies that don’t take those steps. Sometimes what we find is that they like to jump to it, and I see this a lot in the US, and then they realized, oh wow these results are just not what they should be.

If you put the right foundation, the probability of success goes up by an order of magnitude.

So if we start with laying the foundation now, what kind of technology do you see and recommend companies especially in the B2B space to invest in in order to get the ABM process? Do you need to start with or can cope without one to get this process working?

It’s a very common question and I’m gonna answer it in a counterintuitive way, I’m gonna say don’t buy any technology right out of the gate. Don’t buy anything yet. What I would suggest is first, do a real thorough inventory and make sure you’ve got some of the fundamentals of investments down and you’re getting the most ROI out of those.

So, for example, nearly every company that we deal with, with the exception of one of my clients, SAP, everybody uses Salesforce. In high tech, almost everybody is using salesforce.com as a CRM system. And the CRM system has to be set up in a certain way to really maximize the account-based approach, then the net, the next natural elements would be a marketing automation platform, the usual suspects that are out there, particularly in high tech and SaaS companies, we see a whole lot of Marketo. Increasingly, we’re seeing HubSpot and Pardot. But usually, it’s Marketo.

But why I say that is you want to make sure you’re getting the most ROI out of those platforms, make sure that they’re set up properly. The other platform that we typically see is some sort of sales outreach platform. And one of the vendors name is Outreach. Outreach, Salesloft, Mixmax, there are a few of those email-only tools that are more or less sales tools. Those are the fundamental ingredients that you have to start with. And you can manually do account-based marketing from that approach. Or if you really want to scale like most companies do, it really depends on your appetite for budget, it depends on who you’re going after, how you’re going after it. And being thoughtful around the outcome and the strategy first, before you get the technology, especially in this environment which is another reason why I suggest not to get marketing technology.

What we would suggest is invest the time and get the fundamentals in shape, such that when you do buy that marketing technology, your time to show ROI on it has shrunk dramatically. By doing that, you’re making it a very stepwise and methodical approach as opposed to just jumping to the technology.

Let me end by saying a lot of our clients sometimes back in that process, and we’ve made a business on the other side of this where people have purchased the technology, and then it’s the oh shoot factor. Like, oh, gosh, we got this technology, but it’s not giving us the ROI. The CFO is asking us, and we don’t have a good answer. And we find that scenario, unfortunately, probably eight out of 10 times right now, where they’ve already purchased technology and then it’s just not producing the growth that they had hoped. It’s because they never put the fundamentals are addressed the fundamentals to begin with. So that’s why I advocate if you can, I would actually hold off on the marketing technology you bring in.

Do you see any other big mistakes companies do when trying to get the ABM wheels spinning?

I’ve noticed as marketers; we’re very lead-centric in our thinking. And there are best practice firms that have reinforced models and measurement models, where a lead-based approach is the approach. The challenge is the underlying process and interpretation from the sales viewpoint. While leads are probably something that we’ve been historically conditioned to be measured on, trained on, and produced. When a salesperson gets a lead, they have to interpret the information of this lead. Is it the right person? Is it one person of 10 people? Who are the other 10 people in the account? What are the activities that the other 10 people are doing? Because now more than ever, you’ve got to be super relevant in your communication. So, by taking that lead, you can’t just blindly respond back to that person, you’ve got to add value. But you also have to have context of what’s going on the account level with those nine other people.

I think another mistake is marketers underestimate the processes that sales need to go through to interpret what a lead is or what a lead means to a salesperson and not just blindly telling a salesperson go follow up on my leads, because they may be a varying quality. And that’s why there’s a lot of frustration between sales and marketing, because sales is left to interpret well, is this person valuable or not? Even if you agree on what the definition is of a qualified person, there’s still interpretation on the sales side.

I’ll go one step further on that and just say that the with without getting too technical, but I’m sure a lot of your listeners here would appreciate this, the architecture of how Salesforce works on the lead side, also makes it very problematic for salespeople to be effective in their jobs, because it’s something called a non-relational database. The leads don’t necessarily Connect very well to the account activity. So, you have to be like a forensic scientist, as a salesperson to go back and look at the leads object and get the right information to make sure you know what’s happening at the account level.

How does good cooperation between sales and marketing look like in a well-functioning ABM set up?

if you think about the old model that I was sharing the lead-based approach that sometimes has its own funnel and its own representation, that marketers are very proud to say, here’s how I get measured. Then you run across the to your salesperson, and the salesperson says, I’m measuring everything in Salesforce, and this is my funnel. So, you’ve already created two funnels, and no single source of the truth, because there’s two different interpretations of information. What we have found, and it’s taken us a while to get here is collapsing those funnels into one funnel.

It’s not a trivial body of work because of the architecture of Salesforce. But we figured out a way to do this where you can bring two funnels into one and have one source of the truth, such that both sales marketing and even your CFO are looking at that same exact funnel, they’re getting the same exact information, and they’re able to interpret that information, whether it be at a lead level, or an account level as to how that cascades through the funnel. And what we’ve found by doing that, and really, you know, this is kind of my passion is the measurement of account-based marketing.

By doing that, it automatically unifies sales and marketing because now you no longer have two sets of funnels and you think about it from a CFO perspective. Even the CFO sees these two funnels. They see the lead funnel that marketing produces, they see the Salesforce funnel, and the sales pipeline. How does the CFO reconcile who’s doing what or what’s more effective, it’s just too confusing. By unifying everything in one platform, it aligns everybody in in that one view, it simplifies the approach. And it increases the odds of alignment.

What does good look like for you? What is the outcome and how does it generate results when it’s working? What could a vision be for a marketing manager who’s in the early stages of this ABM strategy?

I loved how you said, in the early stages, because I do think there’s two stages, you know, you see a lot of the headline stages of the best practices group saying X percent, let’s call it, I’ve seen statistics, 90 plus percent, say ABM is extremely or very important, or has more ROI than any other marketing activity.

The early milestones, if you put the right process in place, is the volume and activity around a marketing qualified account. That’s an early indicator because as a funnel that’s shifted in the marketing realm, it hasn’t really hit the sales realm yet. But if you’re starting to see a lot more activity in how you define a marketing qualified account, that is a leading indicator to say you’re on the right path for a successful account-based marketing program.

The challenge with a lot of our listeners and most of our B2B clients is you’re in a 6 to 18 month sales cycle. The advantage of the MQA is that’s probably 3 to 6 months when you start seeing those kind of results because it’s an early indicator of an eventual closed account. That’s what I would really focus in on that marketing qualified account definition, the process that lead up to it, the measurement, and I would set expectations internally around that as well. With a thought that you’ll eventually produce more revenue at a higher velocity than you would without doing ABM.

The last thing I’ll close with is a lagging indicator would be comparing the ABM accounts in terms of total contract value or annual contract value to those that are not ABM accounts. But that’s more of a lagging indicator, you’re not going to get that in, you know, unless you’ve got a transactional situation, which ABM is not really geared for, it’s going to take you a while before you’re able to make that kind of comparison.

One key takeaway or resources you can share or books to read if you want to learn more about ABM?

I have created a number of interviews, I think I’ve done about 60 plus interviews with technologists and people around intent data, which is an ingredient in account-based marketing on my YouTube site, so you could look there b2b fusion channel on YouTube, and certainly my blog has a bunch as well. But there’s also the ABM Institute. There’s also DemandGen reports has a separate ABM and action division, which is runs publications on ABM, those two can be good resources as well.

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