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As B2B marketing evolves, so do the strategies within it. And ABM is no exception. Marketers must keep up with new trends and innovations to stay ahead of the curve and their competitors. This is why events like The ABM Innovation Summit — presented by Demandbase on March 17-18, 2020 — play an integral role in the advancement of ABM practitioners. Now in its seventh year, the Summit is the conference for B2B marketers looking to accelerate their ABM strategies by learning from peers who are practicing it every day.

The conference brings more than 1,000 marketers together at Pier 27 in San Francisco for two days of educational sessions, inspiring keynotes, networking opportunities and intensive ABM Certification courses.

In this Q&A, Demandbase CEO Gabe Rogol shares his perspective on the state of ABM today, as well as insights into what attendees can expect from this year’s Summit. We discussed the next phase of ABM, key challenges and priorities for today’s practitioners and more.

ABM In Action: In your opinion, what is the current state of ABM today and what will be the focus of this year’s ABM Innovation Summit?

Gabe Rogol: What we’re seeing as a mandate is that ABM as a budget line item has really become table stakes for the market for all B2B marketers. That has really raised the bar on what we have to deliver because B2B marketers are going to be held accountable for their ABM strategy. So, we’re going to focus on innovation, practices and strategy and alignment. We really see alignment with other functional areas like customer-facing teams and sales to be the number-one key to success for B2B marketers implementing ABM.

ABMIA: Tell me a little bit more about what you guys are seeing around the overall growth of ABM as a category, not only in terms of new adopters but just the expansion and commitment to ABM as part of practitioners’ core go-to-market strategies.

Rogol: I’ve been at Demandbase for seven years, and I’ve been a practitioner of ABM, as well. I love working with Peter, our CMO, on ABM alignment. We’ve really come a tremendous distance in ABM maturity, especially over the last year. I look at it in three ways. First, there was kind of an evangelical phase — before 2015, where the concept of moving from leads and marketing to people, versus marketing to accounts and driving revenue with something that was new to the market. Then there was a really exciting kind of evangelical phase where Demandbase really emerged as a leader in this category. At that point, as you probably remember, the buzz around ABM was really hot. Almost everybody and their mother had some type of ABM product coming out. It was really exciting that the category was emerging. And I think that’s where we’ve really been the last few years — there’s a lot of different takes and point solutions within ABM. Now we’re at this tipping point, which is the third phase, where I think it’s a real definitional phase of ABM, which is what is the standard definition of ABM and how do I implement it? Demandbase is taking that really seriously and delivering a vision of both what the core technology should be, and what the core best practices should be.

ABMIA: What else are you seeing as the top priorities for practitioners today, and how will the Summit tackle these needs and challenges?

Rogol: The top priorities right now are kind of coalescing around having a universal data view across functional areas of account-based audiences. So that’s having your first-party, third-party and proprietary data, and how you use machine learning and AI technology to have a universal view across customer-facing organizations and marketing on account-based audiences. Data is a huge priority. And within that, AI and machine learning. The next big priority is, once you have a view of these account-based audiences, how do you orchestrate different workflows and how do you measure success for those audiences? The third priority is how do you take action on those ABM audiences? Big actions could be advertising, personalization, digital personalization strategies, email strategies and really importantly, enabling sales teams with insights on these ABM audiences.

ABMIA: You touched on a sales and marketing alignment aspect earlier. We conduct our own ABM surveys and that is usually always a top challenge. How are you seeing your customers tackle this?

Rogol: I’m starting to think of it as we’re in this post-marketing automation world, where yes, marketing automation in terms of email strategies is still going to exist. But the paradigm where you have inbound marketing programs, webinars, events and content marketing that lead to an MQL or SQL, and then it’s nurtured and handed off to sales. That linear approach has been blown up. The reason it has is because the buyer’s journey has gotten much more complex and much more anonymous and digitally focused. Therefore, sales has to come in earlier and use marketing insights earlier in the buying process, and marketing has to engage later in order to deliver the right content after prospects and customers are already engaged. That’s just the context that the whole landscape of the customer journey has transformed dramatically.

Now, in terms of how companies are addressing it … broadly, what we’ve seen is that there’s a distinction between mid-market companies and enterprise companies. There are companies where the CMO and head of sales actually bump into each other and those where they might be on different continents. And there are different sets of challenges. So, in the former, where the head of sales and the head of marketing have a relationship, we’re seeing a lot of progress and coming up with common views of the data — like agreeing on what the KPIs are and agreeing on roles and responsibilities. Who does what when the enterprise-level marketers are getting incredibly sophisticated with technology and data? I’m just blown away when I go into a sophisticated enterprise company and see what they’re doing from a B2B marketing perspective. The challenge then becomes: How does the sales team act on it when you don’t really have a direct relationship with the sales team and the behavioral change is not right there? I think because of that challenge, B2B marketers within enterprise companies have an incredibly difficult job today. There’s no easy way to have sales go the last mile in terms of picking up on digital signals, as opposed to what maybe they’ve been trained to do, which is to wait for a lead.

The best-in-class that I’ve seen is enabling sales and their training, but also creating self-serve dashboards that can scale across hundreds and thousands of salespeople. I think this is going to be the future of B2B selling. B2B salespeople within enterprise companies are going to be digital-savvy. It’s just we’re going through this transformational phase.

And again, B2B marketers are in a very difficult position. And that’s part of our mission: to enable them to be more effective, enable their sales team more efficiently. That’s a huge, exciting area that I think we’re just scratching the surface of now.

ABMIA: On day two of the conference, attendees will have the opportunity to become certified in account-based marketing strategies. What is the importance and value of certification in terms of ABM and how have you seen that program of certifications grow?

Rogol: We are on track to help 5,000 customers become ABM certified by the Spring, which is just exponentially higher than less than a year ago. We have three levels of certification: Foundation, advanced and expert.

The importance of the certifications is apparent when you think about what I mentioned about where ABM is right now in terms of needing to have a definitive view of what ABM is from a technology and best practices perspective. What we’ve seen in the last few years is there’s a lot of interest in ABM, but there’s a lot of confusion on what it actually is. That’s yet another thing that makes it difficult to be a B2B marketer, because they might have one view of what ABM is and their organization has a different view, or the sales team has a different view. So, there’s a lot they have to learn to get consensus on what to purchase. So, there’s just this incredible need to clarify what the best practices are and what the technology is. And the certification program is kind of the broadest and most successful attempt to do that.

ABMIA: How has the Demandbase ecosystem of partners grown throughout the years and why is it valuable and important to customers?

Rogol: It’s grown exponentially as ABM has become a central strategy, and it’s really important for two reasons. First is technology. That means that you have to be able to take in data from technology partners, or it could be internal warehouse data or marketing automation systems. It also could be CRM and third-party systems. Then you have to also be able to use those audiences and push them into other systems. So, we’re really the hub of those ABM audiences.

You need technology partners to be able to bring in the data and enact action on the data externally, which is critically important.

So, the first part is the technology partners, just having Demandbase as the center of the ecosystem in terms of ABM audiences. The second is agencies and service providers — you can’t go about implementing it on your own because one of the things that I think is different about ABM is that it can be risky. It’s not just the technology, it’s also a set of best practices. Therefore, it really requires agencies and service providers who can invest with us in our customers to make them successful.

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