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Demandbase: The Evolution of ABM

The view across the Bay from the Embarcadero was sunny yesterday afternoon, as the ABM Innovation Summit hosted by Demandbase shone a bright light on the current future state of B2B marketing, with an ABM strategy as its anchor. With around 1,000 live registrants, and 800 more registered for the first time live stream, this was the sixth, and by far the largest Summit in the series.

Demandbase had other things to celebrate too. The launch of the book Account-Based Marketing, co-authored by CEO Chris Golec, CMO Peter Isaacson, and VP of ABM Strategy Jessica Fewless, which represents the culmination of twelve years of learning — but the final chapter provides some tantalizing glimpses of the road ahead. The announcement of Cross-Campaign Analytics, providing the ability to measure and campaign performance across any channels, not just within Demandbase. The validation of ABM as a category by Forrester, which last year published its first ABM platform wave, showing Demandbase not only as a leader, but putting some distance between itself and its closest competitors.

I was also struck by the growing eco-system of partners; and not just the breadth of the eco-system, but the strategic role created for the Demandbase ABM offering through native presence within (or integration with) logically complementary tools.

More about that later.

One thing Golec’s keynote did bring home is the sheer scale of what Demandbase is doing, with billions of touchpoints each month within client websites, representing hundreds of millions of visitors. Google and Facebook, of course, have larger reach, but much less precise reach when it comes to possible leads (as Peter Isaacson explained to me last year). LinkedIn has precision, but actually somewhat less scale than Demandbase. Cost per lead is slightly less with LinkedIn than Demandbase, but Demandbase has somewhat larger scale (despite their reach, cost per lead with Google and Facebook is for obvious reasons much higher).

ABM will embrace non-traditional B2B marketing

“Fewer and fewer people fill out forms, frankly,” said Golec. Dave Gerhardt, livewire VP of marketing at Drift, a guest speaker, told the conference  that one of the top-down directives when Drift was created was, no forms and no gated content. Drift — a vendor in this space you definitely need to know — bills itself as a “conversational marketing platform.” It’s finding ways to execute on the vision — expressed to me by Marketo’s Steve Lucas a few weeks back — that when it comes to marketing, more shouting won’t help.

Forcing prospects to complete fourteen field forms, bombarding them with poorly cadenced emails, flashing display ads at the wrong moment — these are “random acts of marketing,” and they’re less and less effective. Drift is exploring alternative modes of engagement within the B2B space. Among Gerhardt’s compelling examples:

  • Where forms persist, a chatbot can materialize in a way which deliberately obscures the form; because the prospects who engage with the chatbot thereby display more intent, more likelihood to convert, than the form-fillers. The conversational engagement is better for seller and buyer
  • Interactive web experiences which effectively act as “tour guides” for visitors. None of us want to be marketed to, but we all want to be helped. Take the visitor on a journey to the information they need
  • Pricing pages are a headache, constantly revised and optimized. A “price page concierge,” fuelled with intelligence about the visitor’s interests and needs, can be a conversational guide to the nuances.

Believe me, Gerhardt had many more suggestions. How does this relate back to Demandbase?

The logic of the eco-system

Drift is one of a number of smart partners which are not only swelling the Demandbase eco-system, but demonstrating the ways in which ABM can anchor an entire B2B marketing strategy. Ehsan Ketabchi, a Demandbase senior project manager, showed how some star partners can be threaded like beads onto the ABM chain (and I mention only a few of them here).

  • Demandbase can be found natively inside Drift, mentioned above, delivering the data to drive chat, at scale, personalized to target accounts. It’s not necessary to have a smart rep online 24/7, 365 days. Demandbase AI gives the chatbot a chance to know what a visitor cares about, answering questions or redirecting in an informed way
  • Sigstr (I was introduced to the offering at Dreamforce in 2017) discovered the impossible: a new space for marketing. Namely, the email signature. Demandbase can deliver it’s “firmographic” (think highly customized) audiences in Sigstr natively, providing a foundation for delivering highly personalized email signature messages, including relevant display ads, consistent with branding and campaign creative design
  • Folloze engages target accounts with personalized landing pages, informed natively by Demandbase intelligence, and helping to continue the journey for the buyer. There are plans to bring firmographic audience to Folloze too
  • PathFactory, formerly LookBookHQ (more here) also has Demandbase’s insights lurking in its content insights solution. It uses AI to determine the content the prospect needs to see next, at each stage of the journey, pre- or post-sale, essentially accelerating buyer education.

And the list goes on (ON24, much mentioned here this week, brings webinar to the B2B party as a Demandbase partner). The point is not that Demandbase has many partners — nothing unusual in that. It’s the way that the partners bring pieces to the B2B jigsaw puzzle, with Demandbase, as Ketabchi put it, being “inside the systems.”

A glimpse of the future

Conversations with Chris Golec, and with Chief Product Officer Alan Fletcher, clarified the future direction of Demandbase (more of my conversation with Golec next week). In fact, it’s set out in the closing pages of the new book: “Platforms will merge” (page 196). ABM solutions currently sit between the MA systems (Salesforce Pardot and Marketo, for example) and CRMs. They push account-based, AI-powered audiences and recommendations into MA for execution, and loop data back into CRMs to create a record for the sales team. “One of the limitations of MA systems is that they’re designed exclusively for individuals…(T)hey are great at loading individual contacts into a database and then emailing them.” Embracing an ABM strategy means, of course, turning from individuals to accounts as a whole. Existing MA systems fall short when it comes to enabling sales teams with account-centric information and measured account-based results.

Fletcher told me that there’s an opportunity for an ABM solution to become the “system of record” for B2B customer journey writ large, stretching from marketing to sales, and possibly to service too. It’s not that Demandbase wants to move into the MA space; but it is looking for what Golec, in his keynote, called “synchronization at a much deeper level” than just integration. This would give Demandbase-style AI the opportunity to feed richer insights more directly to execution channels.

This vision almost puts Demandbase in the position of a CDP, although really an Account and not a Customer Data Platform. Neither Golec nor Fletcher really embraced that proposition. But they do embrace the vision of a single platform, anchored by ABM, “that will more effectively do the work that these multiple systems do today…Maybe this single platform will be dominated by a single vendor…” (page 197). Or maybe not, they politely add.

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