ABM at Scale with Joel Burke

Today's conversation is with Joel Burke, Partner and Analytics Practice Lead at Outshine, about doing ABM at scale. 


Let’s hear a bit about Outshine and your role with the company.

Outshine started out close to eight years ago as a pay-per-click company working with other agencies to manage the day-to-day operations of things like AdWords. Over the years, it’s evolved to work directly with B2B companies with a focus on tying performance-driven advertising into CRMs and measuring that to revenue.

I started with Outshine a couple years ago and now lead our second practice that leans heavily on analytics and how it can help drive marketing performance. A big focus we’ve had in the last couple of years is to understand what drives revenue beyond just that lead conversion.

I want to start out with a big question that many people have when it comes to ABM, and that’s how to measure and report on it. In your experience, what's the best strategy?

There are two buckets to break this into outbound and inbound.

An outbound approach is actually fairly easy because generally, you have a list of accounts to target. Then it’s not overly complicated to use a variety of CRM and email tools to track what kind of success you’re having. Success to each company looks different, but some general measures include:

  • Are people opening the emails? 
  • Are people responding? 
  • Are meetings being set up? 
  • Are they moving through the funnel?

The toughest part of an outbound ABM strategy is knowing who your target accounts should be. This process is usually manual, time-consuming, and takes a few tries before you understand exactly what type of company should make the list. 

A limitation I see in an ABM strategy is that it’s impossible to find every company that is potentially a good fit. Something I see a lot in ABM are half-baked approaches—for example, companies selling enterprise software and targeting Fortune 500 regardless of which companies would actually be a good fit. Creating target account lists is a process that is refined over time—not thrown together. 

Small pivots in ABM strategies are not uncommon as companies learn which niches are a better fit than others. At the end of the day, I think everyone just wants to sell more product and have customers that are a good fit.

When you start looking at inbound, things get more interesting. You’ll be running campaigns for certain target accounts within the market with something like search marketing, so you’re casting a wider net than an outbound approach. 

An absolute gamechanger for us at Outshine with the inbound ABM campaigns we run is a product by Clearbit called Clearbit Reveal. It allows us to have insight into which companies are viewing our site, and what pages they’re looking at. That’s one way we measure the effectiveness of our inbound ABM efforts’ ability to generate site visits from our target accounts. 

If you think about it, before we had access to the huge number of third-party vendors—like Clearbit—each website visitor would need to complete and submit a contact form to get the info we’re getting from Clearbit Reveal. Now we can capture this information regardless of whether or not someone takes an action on our site.

Bringing them together
At this point the inbound strategy kind of merges with the outbound approach as you have the contact in your CRM and it’s time to start marketing to them in a personal way. 

Then you look at account engagement measurements, an area I think that Engagio has really championed over the past couple years. Metrics they suggest tracking in your ABM strategy are:

Coverage – do you have sufficient data, coverage, and account plans for each target account?

Awareness – are the targets aware of your company and its solutions?

Engagement – are the right people at your key accounts spending time with you? Is that engagement increasing over time?

Reach – are marketing programs reaching the right accounts? Is there any waste?

Impact – how are the ABM activities improving sales outcomes, such as deal velocity, win rates, average contract values, retention, and net promoter scores?

How do you feel about the more conventional Marketing metrics – like MQLs, SQLs, etc. – and how they fit into an ABM strategy?

You know what, I've read a lot of content that wants to throw out those traditional KPIs. To me, that's crazy, and maybe they’re not completely serious but rather trying to stir up some controversy. When you throw out MQLs, you’re basically relying 100% on your target account list and ignoring everything else. 

That means in the inbound ABM campaigns, everyone that comes in with that campaign that isn’t on the list of accounts you’re targeting is getting ignored, even if they’re qualified. I’d bet that those companies writing that MQLs and SQLs don't matter would sell their product to anyone who's qualified and willing to buy it.

"Implementing a full ABM strategy at enterprise companies is just too big of a change for most."

When it comes to metrics, is there a difference in what you should be focusing on if you’re a small company (<50 employees) versus if you’re larger? 

The big difference when comparing a small company to a larger one is in the amount of communication overhead required to run ABM at scale. In an enterprise company, if you're trying to reach a list of target accounts you almost have to redo your entire Marketing and Sales process and structure. 

Telling sales reps that were used to being responsible for a certain territory that they will now be given a list of target accounts and they need to find a way to sell into these accounts—that’s a big change. That’s just one part of it, you’ve got other aspects that could apply like new measurement, new goals, and new roles. 

In SMBs or smaller companies that are looking to scale, it’s much easier because there isn’t too much of an overhaul to do on process and structure. You can start running ABM and grow it organically with the company as it scales versus reworking the entire company. That's why we see ABM taking off much faster at the SMB and mid-market level—it’s just too big of a change for enterprise companies. 

With the things we’ve been discussing – like reporting and metrics – how does that impact the way that a company should be using their CRM system?

It creates new operational requirements for measurement. If you're investing a lot of resources into rolling out an ABM approach that's across both sales and marketing functions, there has to be someone in the organization measuring if it’s working or not. 

All of those ABM metrics we talked about earlier—coverage, awareness, engagement, reach, and impact—need to be monitored. There are a lot more tools popping up in the Salesforce AppExchange that help with measuring ABM specifically, but a lot of people underestimate the time and work that go into making these account lists work throughout your systems.

Something else that people tend to underestimate is how much time goes into manually curating those target account lists. That’s really the starting point and what the rest of the ABM strategy is based off, so it’s important. 

"The trick to establishing an ABM account list lies in how you slice and dice it."

What’s the best way to tackle the task of creating those target lists?

Initially, we cast a wide net. But the trick to establishing an ABM account list lies in how you slice and dice. This is where many marketers fail.

For example, you might broadly say that you want to sell into the Fortune 1000. That’s great, but it’s way too broad. Starting with that list of companies, you begin by applying various filters based on who your ideal customers are (put that ideal customer profile research to use!). 

Maybe your ideal customers are B2B instead of B2C. That might cut your list down to 500. From there, continue to focus your efforts. If you have on-the-ground salespeople in a handful of city centers, whittle down your list based on companies in those top locations. You might consider other filters too, like types of technologies used (i.e. a particular CRM or marketing automation tool), company size, industry, and so on, until you end up with a manageable set of accounts that you know are highly qualified. 

What about on the Marketing Automation side of things – what changes to that platform should be seen when running ABM?

There’s an even bigger opportunity there with the number of custom workflows you can manipulate. 

If you're selling a complex software and there are multiple buyers within the organization, you might have a particular program or workflow that's catered to security, one catered to marketing operations, and one catered to something else. Marketing automation has the potential to handle all of these programs, yet so many companies have a hard time realizing it because it can be complex to set-up. 

"When you're growing and there's a lot of open pipeline, sales can be a very limited resource."

How can an ABM strategy change the day-to-day relationship you see between Sales and Marketing? 

For me, the challenges between the two teams come back—once again—to those MQLs and SQLs. There’s so much emphasis placed on divvying up contacts and opportunities at the account level that sales may not spend enough time and focus on non-ABM opportunities. 

When your company is scaling and you have a lot of pipeline, sales can be a very, very limited resource. It’s up to sales operations to ensure they're spending their time in an effective manner. If there's a large organizational effort to sell into certain ABM lists, then too much focus could be put there and other leads (not on the target account list) are ignored. 

If Marketing is doing a good job with their campaigns and they’re generating a number of MQLs, but Sales isn’t following up with them because they aren’t focusing on leads outside of their target list or simply don’t have the time, it can cause a rift. It’s something to look out for as an ABM strategy is started and scaled. 

Now I’d like to grab a few resources from you:
A must follow on social media
My number one pick for sure is Guillaume Cabane. He’s a growth marketer that’s now at Drift. He’s an incredible blend of practitioner and thought leader that can still get his hands dirty.

Favorite blog
Bizible has a fantastic blog around measuring the effectiveness of ABM, how to do ABM, and how to do attribution for ABM. They are a great resource. 

I’d also like to suggest a podcast called B2B Growth hosted by James Carbary. It’s one of the few ABM podcasts out there and it’s a good one for sure. 

Favorite book
I have to say that Walter Isaacson biographies are absolutely incredible. The Benjamin Franklin one is incredible, if you haven't read it, I would recommend it.

What's your favorite 90s dance song?

So there’s a bit of a funny story that goes along with this one. Not sure if you saw a small news story out of Montreal recently, but someone got a ticket for singing in their car too loudly. Crazy, right? The song they were singing is my favorite ‘90s dance song – Going to Make You Sweat by CC Music Factory. 

That is amazing. Thanks so much for the time today Joel.