Jon Miller, CEO of Engagio, Speaking on stage
Storytelling Innovator Series

Account-Based Everything and Why B2B Content Marketers Should Fish with Spears: an Interview with Jon Miller

10 Minute Read

Dear Marketer,

Do you want to increase conversion rates, help your sales team close deals faster, and retain existing clients for longer periods of time? Of course you do.

In your research to accomplish that, you might have come across the term account-based marketing (ABM). According to a recent study by SiriusDecisions, 92 percent of B2B marketers worldwide reported that ABM was “extremely” or “very” important to their marketing. As the account-based marketing and sales platform company Engagio defines it, “Account-based marketing is a strategic approach that coordinates personalized marketing and sales efforts to open doors and deepen engagement at specific accounts.”

Sounds great. But how do you actually make it happen? And for marketers who are used to an inbound model, can the two business processes play nicely together? To find out, I spoke with Jon Miller, CEO and cofounder of Engagio and cofounder of Marketo.

Account-based marketing is getting a lot of attention right now in the B2B marketing and sales industries, and for good reason. It makes sense to target specific accounts rather than accrue a broad swath of mostly irrelevant leads. But many marketers today (like myself) have their job performance evaluated on volume of leads generated. What would you say to those marketers who are scared to make the leap?

Marketers should be terrified of switching to the account-based world if the metrics that they’re being evaluated on don’t change. That’s the probably the number-one buzzsaw that marketers can walk into: embarking on an ABM initiative but not changing the way they measure success.

The whole idea of being account based is that you’re focusing more energy on a smaller set of more important accounts. By being more focused, you’re going to be more relevant and ultimately more effective. So the measurements have to change away from being about quantity and instead focus on quality. In your particular case, that would mean moving away from the number of leads you generate, to more like, “for these hundred accounts we’ve said we care about, how much content are they reading? Which pieces are they engaging with? What are [we] writing that actually resonates with the executives at the target account?” You should be scared if you don’t change the metrics.

Fishing Net

How should marketers shift their goals and KPIs when adopting an ABM strategy?

Let me go up one level before I go through the other metrics. You’ve probably seen me talk about the analogy that inbound marketing is fishing with a net—you just care about catching enough fish. Account-based marketing is fishing with a spear. I have big fish I’m going after; I don’t wait for them to swim to me, I reach out to them. In many ways, inbound and ABM are just different strategies. You use inbound when you’re trying to catch lots of small fish; you use account-based marketing when you’re trying to catch big fish. In other words, use the right tool for the job.

Any world where you’re spearfishing to go after big fish, you’re focusing on quality, and your first metric is coverage. Do you have the information for each of those accounts?

In my writing, I talk about five metrics you want to use. The first is coverage: do you have the contact information and the right insights for each of your main target accounts? If you don’t, you can’t reach out to them. You have to know who they are.

The second metric is awareness. Do those accounts that you care about have any minimum level of interaction with you? That can be defined as visiting your website or downloading something. Anything in the last three months, let’s say. If you can show that you’re increasing awareness at your 500 target accounts, that’s one of the ways you show success.

The third metric, which I think is the holy grail, is engagement. There are lots of ways you can measure engagement, but the way we measure it is with time. Put another way, before someone is going to give you money, they’re going to give you time. Time is a good proxy for engagement. A more engaged person spends more time with you. So we can literally measure how much time the right person from the right account spends with us. If that’s increasing, that’s a sign that what we’re doing is working.

Fourth is reach. This is really a measure of focus. It’s not about counting the people you reach, it’s about reaching the people that count. Don’t ask how many people showed up at my webinar; instead, ask: what percentage of the people who showed up at the webinar are the right people from the right accounts? The higher that percentage, the more that tactic is a spear. The lower the percentage, the more it is a net.

The last metric is impact. In an ABM world, marketing isn’t generating opportunities on its own. Marketing, sales, and sales development are working together at every step. That’s the reason I call it account-based everything (ABE) and not account-based marketing. It’s bigger than just marketing. But in a world where you’re collaborating at every step, you don’t actually try to give credit. You don’t say, “This was a marketing-generated deal, and that was a sales-generated deal.” But you still need to measure something, and what I think you should measure is influence or impact.

Influence is basically looking for correlations. Let’s take a piece of content. For all the accounts where somebody downloaded [that] piece of content, do those accounts end up having better win rates than those that don’t download [it]? If they do, you can infer that that content had some positive correlation to the sales outcome you care about.

Those are the five ABM metrics. The acronym I use to remember them is I CARE, or impact, coverage, awareness, reach, and engagement.

Do you see a better long-term value for clients from an ABE strategy? Is there a better upsell or renewal rate among B2B companies?

In general, reaching high into big accounts is a good thing to do. You tend to have bigger deal sizes, more strategic relationships, less competition (if you’re helping to create the deal as opposed to waiting around for them to come looking for you). There are lots of strategic reasons why aiming high on target accounts makes sense. On the other hand, it costs more. It makes sense when your average sales prices are high enough to justify the greater level of expense.

If you sell something that’s only $5,000 per year, you should fish with nets. You need to hit so many accounts at that price point that it’s not efficient to use the more expensive ABM tactics. If you sell things that are $100,000 per year, it makes a lot more sense to put all your energy into the accounts that can spend $100,000 with you. You don’t waste any of your energy on everybody else. If you have a high enough sales prices, you’ll end up with a much better ROI.

For inbound, it takes some time to start generating results from search and social, getting people to come back to a destination. Do you see a different runway with ABM? Is it more impactful right away or can marketers expect a similar runway?

With inbound you spend money and may not see anything for a while, and then it kicks in and grows on its own. It becomes exponentially larger over time. But if your boss comes to you and says, “I’m going to double your budget for inbound, what will you do on the other side?” very few marketers know how to answer that.

One of the nice things about ABM is that your results tend to scale linearly with your efforts. If you target 100 accounts, with a high-end, high-touch program, you’ll see a certain amount of results. If you target 200 accounts, you’ll probably see double the results. It doesn’t have that same effect of compounding on itself over time, but it tends to drive activity sooner, and more importantly it scales linearly.

How do you ensure Engagio’s own inbound marketing strategies support target accounts?

At Engagio, we do account-based marketing, but we also do inbound. Our selling prices can vary down to $25,000, which is more efficient to do with nets, up to $100,000 or more, which is more efficient to do with spears. We use both sets of tactics. Our blog is very much an inbound tactic.

What role can inbound play in account-based marketing? The main point here is that the more strategic the account, the more effort you’re going to put into creating customized content. For a top-tier account, you’re going to research the hell out of that account, and you’re going to create completely customized content for that account. Imagine writing an eBook just for GE. If it’s a half a million dollar deal, it’s probably worth it.

The more strategic the account, the more effort you’re going to put into creating customized content.”

For a tier two account, maybe what you’ll do is take an existing piece of content, stick a client’s logo on the cover, and customize the first and last paragraph based on your account research.

The other place where content can play a role in ABM is in a direct mail campaign. Direct mail is a good tactic to use because people get a ton of emails but not that many packages show up on their desks on a given day. Right now we’re running a program, what we call a play; I’ve written two books: The Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Marketing, and its companion, The Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Sales Development. We’ve identified 300 target accounts, and we’re literally mailing them the books. Half of them we’re mailing printed copies of the books that have my autograph. The other half we’re mailing a Kindle that has my book preloaded on it. This is one example of using content for strategic accounts. It can also be used in your programs as a reason to reach out.

Cover of The Clear & Complete Guide to Account Based Marketing by Engagio

For tier one accounts, would you be customizing content across all the various digital channels—social media, email campaigns, etc.?

For your top, top accounts, yes. By the way, you might only have a handful. You might have five across your whole company. Every interaction should be personalized and approved. Again, these are your half million dollar accounts. These are the big ones—the must wins. Why would you ever risk the quality of that relationship by sending them something generic?

How often should sales and marketing recalibrate their target accounts? What are the key signs they should add or drop accounts?

My rule of thumb is that you should let sales revisit their list quarterly, but they should not turn over more than a quarter of their list (each quarter). What you don’t want to do is treat your target accounts like a simple call-down list. This is about a long-term strategy to build a strategic relationship. You don’t want to turn over the list too much.

At the same time, there’s always going to be some reason why it would make sense to make a change, and you want to provide some flexibility.

In your experience, what are the top challenges that brands as a whole have had when shifting to an “account-based everything” model, and how have they been able to overcome them?

The biggest challenge is the first thing we talked about, which is if you don’t realign your metrics, you’re going to be in a bad situation. Another challenge people run into is if marketing just gets the religion one day and says, “Hey, we’re doing account-based marketing! Sales, give me your account list! How can I help?”

Sales doesn’t know what to do with that. First of all, they may not trust marketing and say, “Wait, why do you need my account list?” Secondly, sales doesn’t usually have a sense of what marketing can do. You ask them how you can help and they might just ask you to throw a party. That’s a long way of saying that I think the real challenge is if you think of this strategy as account-based marketing, then you’re probably in trouble. That’s why I think it’s so much more important to think of it as account-based everything.

Does it transcend just the marketing and sales teams? Who else is a primary player in this model?

That’s a really good question. Obviously, you have sales and sales development, and you have marketing. I always say sales development is the tip of the spear. They are the ones who are on the front lines, reaching out and talking to your target accounts. That’s super important. But once you get the new business, account-based everything is just as relevant for expansion in your current accounts as it is for selling new business. That means customer success should get involved.

Furthermore, we’ve found great success from involving our executives in our account-based plays. Even if it’s as simple as inviting target accounts to a dinner; if the invitation comes from me, we’re going to get a better response rate than if it were to come from a sales development rep. Meanwhile, we’re not just sending them generically from me. They’re actually from me. They’re being personalized by the sales development rep, but I’m reviewing each email and approving it before it goes out.

Are there any other core ABM principles you’d like to convey to marketers that we didn’t discuss?

One other point I would make is that some people try to think of ABE and ABM as a technology category. It’s not. It’s a business process, like inbound marketing or demand generation. There are various processes that can support these processes. For inbound, you have SEO software, blog software, and landing page optimization software. Those are all different categories. Similarly, for ABE, there isn’t just one monolithic solution—there are lots of different things that support it.

Want to learn more about how account-based marketing can benefit your organization? Check out Jon’s guide, The Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Marketing.

To read more interviews with leading B2B marketing professionals and storytellers, check out the Content Standard’s Innovator Series.

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Managing editor of the Content Standard, writer at Monster, Sound of Boston, Trill, and others. Hip-hop producer.

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