It’s been about five years since Account Based Marketing (ABM) has hit the B2B business mainstream. But many folks still don’t know what exactly it is. And how it fits into some of the other acronyms floating around. Like CRM and SFA. So I was able to catch up with Sangram Vajre. He’s cofounder and chief evangelist for Terminus, a leading ABM platform provider. Sangram also has written a couple of books on ABM. Including his latest — ABM is B2B.
The New Trends in B2B
Sangram shares where we are today with ABM. How it’s changed the relationship between sales and marketing. And how AI is impacting it. He also shares why he recently started a daily newsletter on LinkedIn called Becoming Intentional. And how in less than a month he’s been able to reach over five thousand people each day with his conversation-based observations.
Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To see the full conversation watch the video or click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.
What is Account Based Marketing?
Small Business Trends: What’s ABM?
Sangram Vajre: Well, it’s like giving away the title of my last book or the second book, which is this ABM is B2B. So long story short, if people don’t know what ABM, which stands for account based marketing, if you are in B2B and if you are still waiting for somebody to find you hopefully on Google or hopefully somewhere when they put the right terms in the search box, you are losing money, you’re like a leaky bucket right now.
You’re wasting time and all that stuff. If you are B2B, you should know and if you don’t really, you need to spend time to figure out what is your total addressable market, your 10 will look like. At least come up with this top 50 companies that you can serve the best.
Choosing the Businesses You Can Serve Best
Now, when you have the list of 50 companies and if you ask your sales team, they will tell you because they have a pipeline for it. But if you come up with those 50 accounts and you then start creating marketing channels, like putting advertising in front of them wherever they go, or doing direct mail for them or doing engagement or writing contents about those companies or reaching out to them in a way where they understand that you understand their problem, their challenges and concerns, then you actually close more of those 50 accounts, because you’re not creating contents for everybody.
And that’s what account based marketing is. It’s a way to do better marketing and sales, but only for the companies that you can serve the best.
A Trend Towards ABM
Small Business Trends: You’ve been at this for a while. This is a subject that … Did it come around four or five years ago when the focus really started moving towards that?
Sangram Vajre: Yeah, I think it was in the late nineties or early 2000 when I think IDSMA coined the phrase of account based marketing in one of their articles. So, credit where credit is due, but really as you know, it’s been really five years since it really started … and that’s why I wrote the first book, which was called Account Based Marketing in 2015, 2016 where we’re just tried to understand what this is. But man, in the five years, so much has changed. So much has changed.
Small Business Trends: What are the most impactful changes that you’ve seen in five years when it comes to this stuff?
Creating Content for your Best Customers
Sangram Vajre: When we wrote the first book, we thought especially, and I thought I just put it on me because it was a limited view of work. If you know the 50 accounts, go after those 50 accounts. Why create content for everybody? If you’re going after manufacturing companies, guess what? Create great manufacturing content, change your ebook to talk about manufacturing, create a learning page for manufacturing and take those 50 companies that you’re going after to that page that is all about manufacturing. You will convert better. It just seemed so obvious.
And I was all about acquisition. That’s where I was spending majority of my time, my talk, everything. And then the last four years, what I’ve seen is this big shift towards pipeline velocity and expansion campaigns. So what I mean by that is if you have opportunities sitting in your pipeline today, they’re probably the best accounts that you shouldn’t be doing account based marketing with, because they have raised their hand and they said they’re going to buy from you or your competitor.
Already in the Market
So they’re already in the market, they’re ready to buy, the acquisition. You’ll know if those people are going to be ready to buy. They are great targets, but you don’t know if they have the budget, authority, the time, all those things. But if then your pipeline, the salesperson has qualified them, they’re going to buy from you or your competitors. So it’s time for you to really double down especially the marketing team to give them air cover and direct mail advertising, all those kinds of things. So I felt like the shift has moved from marketers, to not only focus on acquisition, but pipeline velocity. But even bigger, and I wrote about six stories of companies that we interviewed. One of the companies we interviewed Brent was Thomson Reuters, which is a big company. I even got the legal team to approve this.
They worked on expansion campaign and they only focused on 250 accounts for expansion. Which means if you are a company that has more than one product, you’re trying to upsell and cross sell other products to the existing customer base. They started doing that using the account based marketing principles and their win rate was 95%.
Small Business Trends: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 95.
How to Accelerate Deals in the Pipeline
Sangram Vajre: So we had the legal team to approve it before we put it in the book. Because nobody’s going to believe me if I just write it, I need you to approve. So they approved it and that just shows the power of it. So, to me the biggest change or shift that has happened is, it’s not just acquisition and getting better deals in the pot, it is really, how do I accelerate my deals in the pipeline? And also, how do I sell more to the same customers that have already trusted me? Which is why the title of the second book I said is just B2B. It’s just better marketing sales across the customer journey.
Small Business Trends: So what’s been the biggest challenge to folks in understanding where ABM fits into kind of the traditional landscape of some of the other acronyms? One of the main acronyms I’m thinking of is CRM. So there’s SFA, there’s marketing automation, there’s customer service, there’s all sorts of things that have been traditionally CRM or CRM ish. So where does ABM fit into that landscape?
The Marketing Automation Flow
Sangram Vajre: You know, I ran marketing at Pardot before I was with Salesforce, that was embedded in all of these things. So, I hear that and I was part of the marketing automation flow. I was the one who was going out there talking marketing automation 10 years ago and saying this is the greatest thing and what is the biggest realization for me why ABM is even bigger than any of these things and why it has caught so much attention in the last five years, is because you look at email marketing, you look at marketing automation, you look at CRM, you look at predictive. These are all technologies that are supposed to help you do better. ABM is a strategy. Nobody, even Terminus, we can never say we got everything covered under the sun for ABM.
We would never be able to say that because ABM is a strategy. It’s like, all right if your customers are in Boston right now that you need to go after, do a dinner for them over there. That is an ABM strategy as opposed to creating content which they will never see. If your folks are not online digital and they are direct mail oriented folks, send them the direct mail. If you’re going after hospitals and stuff like that. That is ABM. So ABM is a strategy, depends on which type of segments you’re going after. So I think one of the biggest challenges that people face is that, “I don’t know where to start, I don’t have a button to click, I need that.”
Getting Marketing and Sales Together
And people have been conditioned like show me everything. And in this case, if anybody is doing ABM, if you ask people who have been doing it for a couple of years, real ABM, like Snowflakes of the world or Thomson Reuters or Six Star, some of these companies, they will all tell you that they had to go and get in a room with marketing and sales sitting together, literally go through a flow and saying, “Here’s what we’re going to do folks and here’s how we going to go after this customer,” not any customer, this customer. And that’s how you win.
Small Business Trends: Where does AI fit in and how does it impact what ABM does?
Sangram Vajre: Oh, it totally does especially when you’re trying to figure out the intent of these companies, right? So there’s all these elements that you need to know like, “All right, I can serve this type of customer better, so help me find more of a similar set of customers.” I think you can use a lot of AI and predictive and intent kind of information in there. Then I think on the backend, AI for example is a lot of it is like, “Well, how do I figure out what actually worked?” And that’s where we acquired a company called Brightfunnel two years ago specifically to do that. To answer the question.
ABM Helps Get Your Message in Front of the Right Customers
A lot of our customers would say, this is awesome, Terminus is able to help us get in front of people immediately because of our digital advertising platform. But I don’t know what works. I don’t know which elements actually work. So, we acquired Brightfunnel to help us address some of their problems. Not all of it, but some of that.
Here’s your ABM dashboard, here’s what happened with the top 10 accounts. Not everything, but just those accounts that matter to you. And what’s interesting about that brand is that you go and talk to any salesperson today, it’s the beginning of the quarter, right now people are back in the office and I can see the energy everywhere. They know exactly the 10 accounts they need to close this month to finish the quarter or the month strong.
And if a marketer team and stuff creating their own campaign framework goes and ask, “Hey Joey and Sally, tell me which accounts do you want to close this month?” They will tell you those accounts because they know that. They will say, “Okay, let me figure out what I can do from all the things that I have in marketing, what can I do to give you air cover for those 10 accounts?” You’ll be best friends with your sales team, you’ll make them so happy and they will win deals which gives you promotion.
Enhancing the Relationship Between Sales and Marketing
Small Business Trends: How does ABM change or enhance the relationship that marketing has with sales folks?
Sangram Vajre: One of the things I wrote, literally I’ll show you because it’s kind of funny. I wrote seven different truths for marketing and sales and one of the first truth I put in there was this, truth number one and I put a screenshot of LinkedIn in that. What I wrote like truth number one is that the value of marketing is defined by sales. Period.
Small Business Trends: Another period.
Sangram Vajre: Another period. It took me 10 years of therapy to realize that, so hopefully people can avoid that much cost and pain that comes with it. But if you are in B2B, your job as a marketer is to either incrementally or exponentially grow sales. I don’t care what form you do that – maybe through events, through branding or whatever, but if your sales numbers are not going up into the right, you’re going to be fired.
Looking at the ABM Strategy
Small Business Trends: How does ABM and this strategy and this methodology, how does this change or enhance the relationship that marketing has with sales folks?
Sangram Vajre: I wrote seven different truths for marketing and sales. And one of the first truth I put in there was this truth number one. And I put a screenshot of LinkedIn in that. What I wrote like truth number one is that the value of marketing is defined by sales. It took me 10 years of therapy to realize that. So hopefully people can avoid that cost and pain that comes with it. But if you are in B2B, your job as a marketer is to either incrementally or exponentially grow sales. I don’t care what form you do that maybe through events, through branding or whatever. But if your sales numbers are not going up into the right, you’re going to be fired.
What is the title of the salespeople in most B2B companies?
Small Business Trends: Sales rep.
Sangram Vajre: Or accounting execs.
Small Business Trends: Right.
Knowing Which Accounts to Go Over
Sangram Vajre: So they get the account based marketing. It’s in the title. Marketers haven’t given them leads. So you can see the disconnect there. So now when a marketer goes ahead, tell me which accounts, they know exactly which accounts to go after and they can give them now leads in those accounts, they’ll be all over it. I’ve talked with thousands of companies in the last five years helping them or just talking to them this whole process. I’ve seen not a single company successful, not a single one without sales and marketing working as one team.
Small Business Trends: All right. So you’re very active on social channels and in particular what you’re doing here at LinkedIn. I know you do some LinkedIn live stuff, but I guess it was last month you started. Most people in December, they’re starting to think about what to buy for Christmas, that kind of stuff. And you started a… Now this sounds kind of old school, but it’s not. You started a daily newsletter that’s actually a new thing that LinkedIn is doing. Talk a little bit about that.
A Real Problem for a Real Solution
Sangram Vajre: I didn’t want it to be about Sangram. I wanted it to be truly a real problem, a real solution, a real conversation. So I created these fictitious characters. Joey who is a mentor and Sally who’s an upcoming leader and they meet up at a coffee shop every morning before they go to work and it’s a conversation between two of them. Sometimes Sally’s is like, “Look, I’m going to do a presentation I don’t know what to do,” and he tells her or reference or go book or… Any good friend, any good mentor would do. Or sometimes Joey has a problem, he’s saying, “I don’t know how to connect with millennials.” And she’s like, “Let me tell you about that.” Right?
So, within two people that happens truly in everyday life, but instead of this boring statistical way of saying, 87% people said do this, it’s just conversations. I started a newsletter called Becoming Intentional, Becoming Intentional. So if you go to my feed, you will see it and when you subscribe to it, that’s the most interesting part. In the last one month, it’s been over 5,000 people who’ve subscribed to it. It will come to you as an email. So you’re right, it’s an old school coming back and I’m writing a one minute newsletter called Becoming Intentional.
LinkedIn as a B2B Marketing Tool
Small Business Trends: What’s really cool about that is it seems to be taking full advantage of what LinkedIn provides. I started doing videos, I would post some on Facebook live or I post them over YouTube and I get a certain amount of play. But when I started posting stuff on LinkedIn, which has that built in audience of business people, people gravitated towards it. And it sounds like you’re leveraging the power of LinkedIn through this old school thing of newsletters. I don’t know pretty much anywhere where somebody can start a newsletter and get 5,000 subscribers, 5,500 subscribers kind of organically in a month. As a marketer it seems like marketing and LinkedIn are really starting to hit their stride.
Sangram Vajre: Yeah. I think the other thing I’m learning about this is that… I’m not on Snapchat, I’m not on Instagram, I’m hardly on Twitter, I’m not on Facebook. I just from the last couple of years, every day I would just write something or share something and move on. My day on LinkedIn and what has happened is when you focus on one thing, you can actually get better and better at it and it’s interesting that this has given me more access, more speaking, more voice, more information and able to get in front of more people than anything else I’ve ever done through any amount of money that I’ve ever pulled.
Voice in B2B
So this is so organic as you said, I can tell your point. I think LinkedIn has truly become a place for where professionals can have really great learning experiences with each other, now I think the difference that I’m hoping to bring to the platform is the voice, the tone as opposed to being like, “Here’s what Sangram says,” or hashtag Sangram.
No, I want this to be like Joey and Sally. Regular two folks who are trying to be the best they can and they want to lead professionally, they want to grow personally, they want to live life fully. I want to create something and they want to be intentional about the life. And hopefully through that I can bring tons of experiences and conversations from outside world and share that through their voice. So we’ll see where that goes.
ABM Methodology Reaches Maturity
Small Business Trends: Well, it seems like LinkedIn and ABM, maybe these things are coming along at the same time to help B2B focus sales and marketing folks take advantage of… Some maybe two or three years ago wouldn’t even have been a thought, but now it seems like maybe this methodology in this platform are beginning to heat off of each other and help connect in a way that you couldn’t have done it a couple of years ago.
Sangram Vajre: I can’t even imagine. I still get people saying, “Oh wow, this is awesome. You have so many followers and stuff.” I don’t even know where to start. I’m like, “Ask a question. Do you have questions? Because I do, just ask a question.” I think LinkedIn is an incredible community of people. I feel like people are openly sharing. Openly giving. I think it’s a really interesting way that I’ve not seen on any of the platform a long time. So if somebody is struggling right now, I don’t even know. I just watched Brent doing amazing things and I’m like, “Yeah, you don’t have to start there. You can just start by asking a question or sharing an experience. And you can do it consistently enough. You’ll learn about yourself. You will connect with the right kind of people. And you will enjoy the process.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.
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