To get started with ABM, you need the ABM tech stack, right? Wrong! And according to our guest, Kristina Jaramillo, Founder of Personal ABM, approaching ABM that way can have negative long-term implications for your entire ABM strategy. Kristina joins us to share everything a CMO needs to be thinking about before purchasing their first piece of ABM tech for their B2B marketing.
We first spoke to Kristina in an episode of CMO Convo, which you can listen to here. Or, if you’d rather settle down with a good article, read on for the highlights.
Key talking points include:
- Kristina’s marketing philosophy and background at Personal ABM
- The state of account-based marketing today
- When to invest in ABM tech stacks
- How to approach your ABM strategy
- Taking ownership of the ABM strategy
- The golden rules of ABM
Kristina’s marketing philosophy and background at Personal ABM
Before we get into the relationship between ABM (account-based marketing) and tech stacks, Kristina, can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and why we're talking to you today?
Sure. I partnered with Eric Gruber in 2011, and we merged his content marketing firm with a LinkedIn marketing program that I was running. From the beginning, we focused on building a stronger personal connection between our clients and the buyers, but what we found is that accounts would go dark after the sales engagement.
We were seeing the role of personal relevance being more and more important, especially when it came to digital channels, and our clients started asking us to help them improve those interactions in any channel or touchpoint across the customer journey. That’s how Personal ABM was born.
Our idea is that marketing should impact more than the pipeline; it should impact everything tied to the fundamentals of revenue – sales velocity, stage progression, and sales cycle time. It should even impact things like deal sizes, account acquisition, win rates, retention, expansion, and particularly margin growth.
Another thing that we noticed is that marketing needs to be more included in the business challenges to better support the organization. That could involve contract renewals, cross-selling into a new business unit, upselling a new use case to an existing customer, or even opening new opportunities.
I also think it's really important that we shift from transactional relationships to strategic relationships when it comes to integrating sales, marketing, and customer success. That’s going to help us maximize revenue across the board.
The state of account-based marketing today
Before we dig into the relationship between ABM and tech, it makes sense to talk about where account-based marketing is right now. What does account-based marketing mean for most businesses? Are they doing it right? Are they doing it wrong?
It's interesting because whatever the acronym – I've also heard ABS (account-based sales) and ABO (account-based orchestration) – it's about working together with target accounts. However, it's not working as well as intended.
It’s not just me saying it – I've seen reports from ITSMA showing that about a third of ABM programs are driving significant revenue growth. That means nearly 70% of ABM programs are underperforming. I think it’s because the direction and definition of the account-based approach have become really diluted.
I've heard organizations say, “We're running an account-based gifting program with Alyce or Sendoso.” They’re essentially compartmentalizing account-based approaches. I also hear a lot of “We're doing account-based advertising,” but ABM isn’t a thing you can do. It's not a tactic; it's not a campaign. It's an integrated business strategy.
It's really about getting your business to the next level of growth. Typically, 20% of your accounts can deliver 80% of your organization's revenue for now and in the future. Having an ABM strategy means driving growth with those high-value accounts.
I think ABM has become synonymous with ABM tech because it's a shiny new piece of martech that we all think we have to get. I’ve written a couple of articles about this – one of them was just published in the CMO Alliance blog. This particular story that I mentioned in the article is interesting to me.
I was talking with the CMO of a channel sales technology company; she was a 20 or 30-year seasoned marketer, not somebody that was new to the game. When I asked her about her account-based approach, she just started rattling off technologies. She was like, “We have 6sense, we have Terminus, we have Outreach…” Then she said, “We're even a case study for 6sense.”
Now maybe they are using 6sense correctly and getting results, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they're doing ABM. When I dug a little further, she said that they were getting traction with the program, but they were really challenged to get multi-year contracts with their key accounts. They were kind of stuck in five-figure deals, and they wanted to expand.
I'm saying this just to point out that it’s something I've heard a lot. It's coming from CMOs, it's coming from VPs of marketing. They are making their ABM tech synonymous with their account-based strategy. I think that really makes it account-based advertising and targeted demand gen as opposed to a strategic approach.
It's also really hard to take a step back once you deploy these large pieces of tech. I think there's just such a focus on scaling right away that they get the strategy portion wrong. I've heard stories about people inheriting pieces of ABM tech and knowing that it was purchased without a strategy in place, so they're backpedaling and justifying the spend to even renew it.
People are definitely putting the cart before the horse when it comes to purchasing ABM tech.
Is that the crux of the problem: people are just throwing money at ABM tech without thinking about how the tech stack should fit together or how it's serving the functions of the business and your target accounts? They’re not thinking about the buyer’s journey.
Absolutely. I think it's a little backwards. People want to scale so they get this big piece of expensive ABM tech, without realizing how much dedication is needed in terms of internal ownership of the tech.
I've heard of organizations that have someone that just handles martech, especially when it comes to ABM tech, because some of these are really complicated pieces of technology. If there's not someone to own it, it's really hard to run the strategy or the tech.
I think people tend to realize that after they've already purchased and made a commitment for a contract for who knows how long or at what price. Then they have to justify the expense after they already made it, then justify renewals, and they’re not getting the results that they intended because they went tech first.
Instead of using the ABM tech to reach out to those named accounts, people can end up just using it to amplify mediocre demand gen campaigns and make them a little more targeted.
When to invest in ABM tech stacks
Let's talk about the kinds of functions ABM tech stacks and CRM should be doing. What stage should your ABM strategy be at before you start bringing in these different ABM platforms?
From what I've seen and experienced, I think people should bring it in once they're mature and they’ve decided on a direction and a strategy for their organization. It shouldn't be the first thing they do.
Ideally, you want to have your strategy running well and everybody working together internally for at least six months to a year before you bring in the tech. If there’s no internal alignment, you can buy all the ABM tech in the world, but it's just not going to work.
Sales has to be on board, marketing has to be on board, customer success has to be on board. More importantly, the leadership of those departments needs to be on board, and they need to know that they're going to work hand in hand.
If not, it's going to set you up for failure, and then you're going to say, “Oh, we tried ABM for a year and it didn't work.” And it's because you treated it like another tactic, as opposed to a business growth strategy for the whole organization.
So you can do account-based marketing without ABM tech because, ideally, your marketing teams will actually be utilizing your strategy and messaging before you even purchase your first pieces?
Yeah. I was actually talking to Jillian Gartner at Conduent about this yesterday, and she was saying how they do the crawl, walk, run approach before they deploy anything. That also helps with the internal marketing that she has to do to get everybody on board. If we start small and prove the success to sales and CS, it'll be easier to scale it later and get the results that you need.
And you know, just because the technology’s out there, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for your organization. Certain pieces of ABM tech may or may not be suitable for your organization, depending on who you're selling to, what you're looking to do, or the size of your deals. You don’t necessarily need DemandBase or Terminus if you're making less than five or six-figure deals.
You just have to evaluate things and not go for the new shiny tool because you think it's the thing to do. You also have to take a step back and look at how it’s going to integrate into the tools you already have.
How to approach your ABM strategy
Let's wind it all the way back, shall we? Picture a CMO. They've heard all about the benefits of ABM, and they're looking to investigate it. What should they be thinking about right at the start? How should they approach ABM strategy across the business before they start buying the tech?
There are certain questions they have to ask themselves. What are the business revenue problems are they trying to fix?
To give you an example, one of our clients works with large accounts; they had 25 enterprise accounts that were at risk of either leaving to a competitor or just not renewing at all. My client wanted to cut that number in half, so they came to me asking about ABM tech. The tech was not going to solve their problem. They needed to figure out how to stop customer churn. Once you uncover your goals, you can see how you can prove the motions.
In most cases, it's the team's interactions and the experiences they're delivering that cause those revenue challenges. Marketing might be saying one thing, while sales is communicating another, and customer success is doing something else. If we're not all on the same page, it's confusing for the customer or the prospect.
I think that's why if you start smaller, fix the interactions first, and then apply that one-to-one approach with accounts that are having issues, it will make it easier to scale. We all want to scale, but we often move too quickly.
Taking ownership of the ABM strategy
Once you've got everyone aligned and working together, who starts developing the ABM strategy and messaging? Is it the CMO and their marketing teams? It sounds like they're doing a lot already, but that's the CMO’s life, right?
Yeah, it's the CMO. You have to get the CSO and the CRO on board as well; otherwise, they’ll come to you and say, “These are our top 500 accounts. Let's do ABM with them.” And you'll be like, “Wait a second, how do I even process that?”
I've had people working with salespeople, and they'll come to me and say, “We’d like to work with Levi's,” and I'm like, “Okay, great. Do you have a use case for them? Do you have any experience selling into retail? Do you have any case studies or examples we can use for them?” Crickets.
You have to get everybody on board because they don't know how much work it is on the marketing side. And they have to be able to answer those questions. Is there any intent data? How do you know they're going to need your solution?
Change management is another important part of the process. A lot of marketers are really focusing on MQLs when they need to be focusing on the entire customer lifecycle. An ABM strategy is not just going to fill the pipeline; it needs to fill the pipeline and then push it all the way to revenue.
The golden rules of ABM
We've covered a fair bit of ground, Kristina, and you’ve made some really good points. But if you were to throw out your ultimate golden rule of ABM to tie everything together for our readers, what would it be?
Take a step back and make sure your approach is going to support your revenue goals. At the end of the day, that's what it should be doing. Otherwise, you're just doing the same marketing tactics in a slightly more targeted way.
If you make sure that you're tying everything you do to revenue metrics, that'll be like your Northstar. It'll help you stay focused. It's so easy to get sidelined with all the shiny new tech that's out there. You can easily find yourself buying this product for gifting, this one for content, and this one for campaign management. Then it starts getting so big that it's unmanageable and you don't even know where to start.
So, revenue goals. What are you trying to achieve?
Awesome. Thank you very much, Kristina. This has been fantastic. As you said, many people aren't using ABM tech properly at the moment, so maybe this will help them rethink their approach.