Don’t Call it ABM: It’s Just B2B

Sangram Vajre, the hyper-productive co-founder and chief evangelist for Terminus, and host of the Flip My Funnel podcast and web community, is trying to ditch the label “ABM.”

That’s the loud message, anyway, from the title through the first chapters of his latest book, ABM is B2B. If that looks, at first glance, like attention-seeking for the sake of it, it’s worth remembering that Vajre wrote the first book on ABM, back in 2016, and has been living and breathing the strategy as a marketing practitioner in the intervening years.

So when Vajre talks about ditching ABM, it’s time to listen.

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ABM and B2B: They’re the same

His argument begins with a proposition which has been considered controversial by some marketers (he took some flack on LinkedIn). Marketing’s value is defined by sales. Put less provocatively, marketing’s value is defined by success in creating revenue, and it’s sales which closes the deals.

ABM can be defined as “an organizational strategy designed specifically to create more revenue.” B2B marketing has the exact same goal. “Yes, they are the same,” he writes.

Which implies, of course, a definitive break with marketing tactics which don’t reflect an ABM approach. In particular, it means ditching “vanity metrics” like leads, traffic, and event or webinar attendance. The problem with demand generation, Vajre writes, is its tendency to “crash on the rocks when it came to converting a sale.”

Counter-intuitively, a decline in “vanity metrics” is not necessarily anything to worry about. From an ABM perspective, progressing a small number of target accounts, from a brand’s total addressable market, through the funnel, is much more valuable than vast inbound traffic for its own sake.

Are marketers ready yet?

But with Vajre’s own data showing around 40 to 45 percent of brands in the early stages of ABM adoption, isn’t pushing for the complete identification of ABM and B2B premature?

“When I wrote the first book on ABM, I presumed that the best thing was ABM from an acquisition perspective, and that was it, as I came from Pardot and marketing automation [MA]. But in 2017 and 2018, I started to see companies doing campaigns using their account-based strategies. We know the accounts, so let’s create ads, and direct mail, and all these things for accounts within the pipeline. Then last year, Thomson Reuters [a case study in the new book] started to use ABM strategy for expansion, and their win rate was 95 percent on their renewal program.”

In other words, ABM wasn’t just an acquisition enhancement strategy for MA; it was a strategy which could be applied across entire customer journey. “Is this a little bit forward thinking? One hundred percent,” he said. “But two years from now, there won’t be ABM; there will just be better marketing and sales. The leading companies are already doing it; the mass market will get around to it in the next couple of years.”

It occurred to me that Vajre is predicting the same fate for “ABM” (the term) as befell “big data.” Once everyone was collecting and managing data at unprecedented scale, the term “big data” fell into disuse. 

The importance of intent

One noticeable decision in the book was to treat intent data fairly briefly, alongside engagement and relationship data. Some ABM practitioners put enormous emphasis on intent data. Was that emphasis exaggerated?

It depends. “If you’re an organization which sells airplanes,” said Vajre, who was speaking to me from an airport, “there might be 20 different airlines you would reach out to. You don’t need intent data, you should be all over them. But if you’re like Salesforce, for example, you have a ton of customers, and you need to know how to prioritize them. So intent data is applicable if you have 5,000 [potential] customers and a team of ten or 20 sales people.”

In those cases, intent data can help the sales team identify in-market prospects, and enter the process earlier and at the right level. “It gives you an advantage over your competitors if you’re in a mass market.”

Listen next: Sangram Vajre talks about Flip My Funnel 

An ABM system of record

Vajre’s book isn’t the first literary excursion into ABM in 2019. Back in the spring, Demandbase entered the stakes with Account-Based Marketing. If I had to compare the two books, I’d say Demandbase reminds me of an interesting seminar, Vajre’s of a (secular) prayer meeting.

But tone aside, I had a question of substance. Demandbase had analysed the shortcomings of marketing automation as an ABM tool, and had proposed placing an ABM solution at the heart of the B2B stack — making it, in effect, the system of record. Was Vajre sympathetic to that idea?

“Let me start with a vendor hat, then put on a practitioner hat. As a vendor, where I believe we and Demandbase are going is trying to become the system of record for marketers. Marketing automation is dramatically changing. Sydney Sloan, the CMO of SalesLoft, spoke at a recent conference, and said they don’t have marketing automation. Think about that for a moment.”

According to Vajre, SalesLoft has Terminus and some other tools; they don’t have MA. There are cheaper ways to send emails. “The lack of innovation in that space has really not helped marketers. Sales has Salesforce as its system of record. If marketers don’t have marketing automation, that opens up a green space for companies like Demandbase and Terminus to go in and plant the flag.”

But what about as a practitioner? “I feel like there’s probably never going to be one system of record for marketers. ABM is a strategy, not a tool. I sympathize from a vendor perspective, but as a practitioner I feel like the vendor who will have the greater value for customers is the one which is able to truly integrate with all the different data-points.”

In other words, if a customer wants to send emails and direct mail, run ads, and do one-to-one outreach, having “all this information readily trackable, and available for decision-making at the account level, I think that’s the future. And it’s going to require a lot of API integration and a lot of partnerships.”

Sales and marketing must be friends

Finally, Vajre’s bool echoes the perennial theme that for ABM, and therefore B2B, to function, sales and marketing must align. How is that possible when traditional roles, and indeed incentive schemes, have been so different?

“I say that the value of marketing is defined by sales, and it took me ten years of therapy to get to that point. So I sympathize with every marketer who is offended by it. But our job as marketers is to incrementally or exponentially grow sales. Given that, I feel the reason companies fail at ABM is that marketing and sales do not have the same KPI, which means they don’t have the same incentive — which doesn’t have to be a monetary incentive.”

If a marketing team is assessed, for example, on numbers of leads, they’re essentially forced to qualify leads, regardless of an account strategy. On the other hand: “If you tell a marketer, your job depends on pipeline and revenue, and that’s what your bonus is based on, they will do everything they can to get aligned with sales. You won’t have to tell them to get aligned, they will be aligned.”

Terminus announces AI-driven platform updates

Yesterday, Terminus announced deeper AI capabilities for its ABM platform, including:

  • An expanded partnership with intent data suppliers Bombora
  • Account Discovery to automatically surface “high-fit” accounts not currently being targeted, and
  • Weekly emails which automatically surface for sales teams accounts which should be targeted based on digital behavior.

The Terminus B2B Account Graph links first party engagement data, and Bombora’s anonymized intent data, to users’ own CRM data, allowing marketers to set up display ad and LinkedIn campaigns at the first sign of in-market intent, and so so at scale.

Also with this release, Terminus brings account-based metrics to all channels, helping marketers see the impact of account-based campaigns on engagement, pipeline, and revenue over time. 

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