Sometimes using a net isn’t enough. To catch really big fish, you have to use a spear. In the B2B world, this means using account-based marketing to target the customers you really want to catch. The sharp tip that will hook them is social proof from peers they trust–like your brand’s advocates. In his 2016 Advocamp AMP talk, Jon Miller, Co-Founder & CEO of Engagio, outlines how to enlist your advocates to support your ABM strategy.

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We have 15 minutes to talk about account-based marketing, fishing with spears and how it connects to advocacy. I am the CEO and co-founder of Engagio. You may have known me at my last job where I was the co-founder at a company called Marketo, a marketing system many of you probably use. I left Marketo about a year ago to start Engagio.

In addition to being a marketing entrepreneur, I’m also a father. My son Beckett was born the exact same month that we started Marketo. They both turned 10 last month. It’s been very easy to keep track of how old Marketo is because of that.

I was born here in Ethiopia, in Eritrea. Pre-civil war, the town Asmara where I was born was part of Ethiopia. Whenever I tell people this, I always get the same question: Jon, why were you born in Ethiopia? I always give the same answer, which you may have heard before: I wanted to be close to my parents.

Lastly, I studied physics in college. I spent my summers doing fusion research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and got into MIT for a PhD in plasma research. I deferred it, tried out this whole business world and 22 years later, I haven’t looked back on physics. I don’t regret the fact I studied it because I think that quantitative, analytical way of thinking has had a profound impact on how marketing works today and it’s helped me become a successful marketer.

Aligning sales and marketing with ABM

That’s a little bit about who I am—now let’s talk about account-based marketing, or ABM. Why is account-based marketing important? At the end of a quarter or the end of the month, the salesperson rings the cowbell and writes something up on the whiteboard. They don’t write down a person’s name, they write down the account name. They always talk about how many accounts they’ve closed.

Sales has always been an account-centric activity. The problem is marketing has historically lived in a world of leads. This is partly because tools like Marketo, Pardot, Hubspot and Eloqua don’t look at accounts. They look at lists of people. You’ve been in this world where marketing talks about people and leads, and sales talks about accounts. It’s a disconnect. I’m not saying it’s the only reason why sales and marketing can’t get along, but it’s certainly part of it.

One of the ideas of account-based marketing is bridging this gap by having marketing talk about accounts just like sales. I love to use an analogy to explain how ABM is different than traditional demand generation. The kind of marketing that we do at Marketo is like fishing with a net. You throw your campaign, whether it’s a piece of content, a webinar or your search ads, and you start catching fish. You don’t care which specific fish you catch, you care about how many you catch. That’s the definition of demand generation, when you’re running it through your funnel.

In account-based marketing, you’re not going to wait around for the right person from the right account to swim into your net because it would take too long or it might not happen. You’re going to reach out to them with targeted tactics. It’s much closer to the analogy of fishing with spears.

As a side note, it turns out there’s something called the International Water Spearfishing Association and they track records for the largest fish speared. Guess who owns the world record for spearfishing the largest snapper ever? Turns out it’s a guy named John Miller. It’s not actually me, but it’s a true fact that John Miller spearfished a 90 pound snapper in Mexico back in 1965. It was inevitable that I started a company to do spearfishing.

How to start spearfishing

How do you actually do this? What does it actually mean for your marketing department? I’ve come up with a seven-step process that I think describes account-based marketing. The seven steps roughly break up into sub-steps of:

  • Who: which accounts do I want to go after and which people?
  • What: what am I going to say to them to be relevant and resonate?
  • Where: how do I actually say it in terms of interacting?

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Then, you wrap everything up with measurements. As I’ll show you in a minute, the metrics for ABM are pretty different from the metrics we’re used to in marketing.

Let’s run through some best practices on each of these, starting with who.

I believe the number one most important thing for success with account-based marketing is for market and sales to align on who the target accounts are. Think about demand generation. The number one rule of success in demand gen is that sales and marketing agree on a marketing-qualified lead and what happens when the lead is created.

To make that a bit more complicated, I believe there’s a tiering of styles of ABM. Your classic tier 1 style is treating each account as a market of one and doing deep account research and completely custom campaigns for that account. That can work extraordinarily well, but it’s hard to scale. You also have a tier 2, or an ABM-light style. You’re still going to treat each account individually, but your go-to-market strategy might be more one-to-few with light personalization. Then you can have tier 3, which is basically traditional marketing but with account-centric targeting. If you’re using account-based advertising, for example, that’s what you’re doing.

I’m not saying one’s better than the other. What I’m saying is that you need to sit down with sales and agree which accounts get the tier 1 treatment, which accounts get the tier 2 treatment and which accounts get the tier 3 treatment. You also need to align on how much you expect to get out of each of those tiers. This is the number one thing for success. If you don’t do this well, your whole ABM initiative is off to a weak start.

Now that we know who we’re going after, we have to go after them. This is spearfishing—they’re not swimming into the net. We have to reach out to them. That means we’re knocking on people’s doors and in many cases these are people we don’t have an existing relationship with. Done badly, that’s cold calling and spam and you get crap like this. This is an actual email that I got.

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When I get this, it does not make me feel like this person spent a lot of time trying to understand me and my needs and my business. When I get this, I hit the spam button and I immediately opt out so they can’t reach me.

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Bridging the gap

With ABM we need to reach out to people, but we don’t want to have this crap. I think the answer is to rely on some of the things we learned about demand generation: that we can reach out to people with messages that are led by helpful, not salesy, content. Content that’s about them and about not us, that’s relevant and personalized to their specific needs.

I’m also adding advocate-driven because, if you need to reach out to somebody like the CIO of one of your top 50 accounts, if you can get an introduction through an advocate, you’re going to bust through all the noise of cold calls and unwanted messages. Don’t be spammy—use research to understand what that account needs and who you have to reach out to in order to create more relevant interactions.

We could talk for an hour about each of these different tactics, but what they all have in common is the ability to target specific accounts. For example, at events, the key is not just to have a booth. The key is to find ways to set up meetings with the right people at that event, which means you need to earn the list.

One example from Engagio is, for the Marketo Summit coming up in May, we’re going to hold a sweepstakes to upgrade your experience at the Summit, with things like a limo to the airport, first class tickets, and a suite in the hotel. By entering this contest, you’re letting us know that you’re going to the Summit. This will help us set up meetings with the right people. That’s the trick for events.

Another thing that has a big role in ABM is direct mail. Think about how much email you get per day versus how many packages show up on your desk per day. A good piece of direct mail can be a great way to reach out the right person. Because you have a more narrow list you can actually send something that’s valuable and more expensive.

Humans sending emails are probably the most important channel in account-based marketing, so it’s important to make sure they’re not sending spam. You’re not measuring them on the number of emails sent or the number of calls made, you’re measuring them on the quality of human interactions they’re making. That’s a key part of making this thing work. There’s also a lot of other digital things you can do when you reach out to people, such as online advertising and web personalization.

Using advocates in your ABM strategy

I think there’s a nice yin and yang between advocacy and account based marketing. That’s because, first of all, your advocates are a great way to reach into your target accounts. You can send them on missions to help you open doors.

You can also use account-based marketing as a way to develop advocates, because your customer base is a great pool of people on whom to focus your account-based marketing energy. Just like you would have a custom plan for how you’re going to get in the door in a prospect’s account, you can put together custom plans for how you’re going to develop advocacy at a customer’s account. The same set of tactics that I was just talking about, being helpful and relevant and resonant and reaching out the right people, all those things also apply in terms of advocacy development.

Measuring the right ABM metrics

The last topic I want to get to is the seventh piece of the circle, which is measurement. The way we’re used to measuring marketing historically is all about leads and opportunities. It’s all about counting things. In ABM, we need to be much more focused on measuring the quality and depth of the relationship with the right people at the right account. We need a new set of metrics to measure this, but we also need new infrastructure because there’s a big challenge that companies have when trying to measure account-based marketing.

It’s the fact that all your leads in Salesforce don’t roll up to your accounts. When your leads don’t roll up to your accounts, you don’t have an integrated view of your account-level activity and your leads get routed to the wrong person. Can you imagine a person from an existing customer comes into your system, and you end up routing them to a sales rep because you can’t tell they work for that customer?

You have to solve this problem to make ABM work. The way we do it at Engagio is a two-step process. We do a fuzzy logic match on the email address, the company name and any other data we can find about the company. HP matches Hewlett Packard, that kind of thing. You can also call out to third parties at Leadspace to try to match the leads. You’ve got to get those tied together.

Once you have your leads rolled up to the account, you can start tracking what I call the big five metrics for account-based marketing. They are:

  1. Coverage: Do you have contact information for the right people at the right accounts? Imagine if at the beginning of the quarter you don’t. Sales says these are the accounts we care about, so you look in the database. You don’t have contacts then, but by the end of the quarter you do. That’s your first success.
  2. Awareness: Do the right people or do those accounts know who you are? Is there a minimum level of activity?
  3. Engagement: Do the right people at the right account spend time with you? What’s the trend? Is it deepening over time?
  4. Reach: What percentage of the people that the program touches are the right people from the right accounts? It’s a measure of focus.
  5. Impact: This means looking for correlations between what you did and what the outcomes are that you care about. For example, if you hold an event, did the accounts that attended have a better win rate than the accounts that didn’t?
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