Setting Benchmarks, Aligning Your Team and Orchestrating ABM: Q&A with Katie Bullard

Making the shift from a traditional demand gen strategy to an Account Based Marketing strategy doesn’t happen overnight. After all, ABM means different things to different companies. What works for Engagio may not work for you.

However, there are foundational pieces that everyone needs if they want to see success, no matter where you are on the maturity spectrum. Whether you’re looking to get up and running with ABM or you’re looking to improve your existing program, here’s a lot to keep in mind. That’s why I sat down with Katie Bullard, Chief Growth Officer at DiscoverOrg. DiscoverOrg helps companies generate more revenue with the most accurate sales and marketing intelligence.

Katie is a wealth of knowledge and always a pleasure to work with, so I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Without further adieu, here’s Katie Bullard:

Q: As a sales or marketing leader, how do you get the rest of the executive team on board to support a shift towards ABM?

First of all, I don’t think ABM is an either-or proposition. You don’t have to immediately abandon all other marketing efforts. I think most successful organizations, especially if they have a large target market, are most successful when they balance inbound lead generation and really targeted ABM strategies. But, it can be difficult for a board or CEO to buy-in if they have gotten used to measuring marketing’s value solely on lead volume – or gotten “drunk on leads” as Jill Rowley so eloquently said.

My biggest piece of advice is to start with a phased approach. For DiscoverOrg, that meant that when we launched a new dataset with a smaller target market, we could implement a true ABM strategy for that product and compare results against other more traditional lead gen efforts.

Q: How do you benchmark and measure success for ABM?

Ultimately, with ABM, you want to be able to show that you can increase market share in a particular group of accounts at a velocity faster than and a deal size higher than you would be able to do otherwise. That is a much more nuanced set of measurements than the traditional lead funnel.

It also means you have to be willing to implement A/B testing, set aside a certain percent of your target accounts to engage with in more traditional methods, and then measure the difference between the two approaches. It also means you have to have patience, ESPECIALLY if you have a long sales cycle.

Q: Is ABM a replacement for Lead Gen? If not, how do you balance the two?

I do not suggesting completely abandoning inbound lead gen efforts, and in fact, I think doing so will limit an organization’s overall revenue growth. However, marketing tools have gotten so sophisticated these days that you can be more efficient and targeted with lead generation while still implementing a strong ABM program.

For us, we have an outbound prospecting team assigned to a few thousand targeted, named accounts supported by and aligned with ABM tactics like display advertising, personalized direct mail, and key event support. At the same time, 50% of our new sales comes from inbound lead generation, but we’ve gotten sophisticated enough with our inbound efforts to focus SEO and SEM efforts on the channels that deliver the highest quality leads with the highest conversion rates and leverage technologies that allows us to build programs around our ideal customer profile.

Since we have such a large target market, we don’t have the resources to do the highly, highly personalized ABM outreach for all 30,000 accounts, but we can be smarter about how we engage with that broader market.

I’ll give one example: last year we discovered that our 2nd biggest lead source was converting to demos at less than 5% while the majority of our inbound leads were converting to demos at a clip of 30%+. We decided we were okay sacrificing that lead channel [although it was painful at first]. We completely eliminated it and saw our sales team become even more effective converting the leads that did come in AND that meant we could put more resources toward ABM efforts.

Q: What is one of the biggest, most common mistake that teams make when getting started with ABM?

I think too many people think ABM is just having a set of named accounts that you prospect into. Sales and marketing teams have been doing that forever. That’s not ABM. Trish Bertuzzi, CEO of the Bridge Group, had a great quote: “With ABM, you’re creating this really strategic, orchestrated set of activities that makes you rise above the noise of what everyone else out there is doing and gets that account to say, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you.'”

Too many people miss the orchestration piece of ABM. When you can dial into the unique needs of each target account, understand their buying triggers, map their buying centers, and create highly personalized communications across multiple channels – that’s ABM. But that take a lot of effort and the second biggest mistake is that teams don’t set aside the resources that will actually be needed for effective ABM. That’s why I suggest starting with a small pilot or a particular target segment and building from there after you’ve proven our success.

Q: Sales and marketing alignment is one of the most critical pieces to a successful ABM program – what advice would you give leadership to drive organizational alignment?

ABM is one of the best ways to generate solid sales-marketing alignment because there has been this long frustration between teams that is perpetuated by limitations in marketing automation and CRM systems – that marketing is focused on leads and sales is focused on accounts. Ultimately, both are vitally important. Yes, we sell to companies, but we have to connect emotionally with individual buyers and decision-makers within those accounts.

Working together on step 1 of the ABM framework – identifying target accounts, mapping the influencers within those accounts, and understanding what they each care about – is such a great way to bring these two perspectives (and teams) together. We’re fortunate enough here at DiscoverOrg to be able to use our own platform for that alignment.

Q: Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?

I’m a firm believer that we’re all more productive at work if we have a passion outside of work. For me, I have a creative hobby and an athletic hobby. My husband and I buy old fixer-uppers and restore them. I actually got my undergrad and grad degrees from the UVA School of Architecture, so I do all of the design (and occasionally operate a mean miter saw), and it’s so much fun to do together. My athletic outlet is triathlons: I’ve done 2 Ironman 70.3s and close to 30 triathlons in the last 8 years. I’m definitely not competing to win, but I just try to get better at some aspect of the race every time I complete one.

Q: Are you reading any good books right now?

I’m on a humorous memoir kick right now, so I’ve read Mindy Kaling’s “Why Not Me?”, Lauren Graham’s “Talking as Fast as I Can,” and Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance.” There’s no better medicine than laughing so hard you literally fall off the couch.

You can read my interview with Katie and her team here: Adapting an ABM Approach for Account-Based EVERYTHING.

Don’t forget to connect with Katie on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter at @Katie_E_Bullard, or learn more about DiscoverOrg.

Brandon Redlinger
Brandon Redlinger
Brandon Redlinger is the Head of Growth at Engagio, the Account-Based Marketing and Sales platform that enables teams to measure account engagement and orchestrate human connections at scale. He is passionate about the intersection between tech and psychology, especially as it applies to growing businesses. You can follow him on twitter @brandon_lee_09 or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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