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France-based Azalead recently landed in the U.S. to take its “hyper aware” platform international as B2B buyers continue to become more independent in their buying journeys. Founded in 2013 with more than $7 million in funds raised, the company’s ABM platform is designed — and used by companies such as Sealed Air and Colt — to deliver display ads to specific target accounts.

ABM In Action recently spoke to Azalead’s VP of World-Wide Sales and President of Americas Meredith Bell to discuss the company’s expansion to the U.S. and what it means for a European company to make the move across seas, its recent acquisition of Freya News and the future role of the CMO.

ABM In Action: Tell us about Azalead and how your platform differentiates amongst all the other solution providers attaching themselves to ABM.

Meredith Bell: We’re based in Paris; now in our fourth year. This is our first year in the U.S. As you know, [ABM] is obviously a super-hot category and one of the things we’re trying to do is respond to the way our customers’ customers buy and how that’s changed.

We have a pretty broad platform. It starts with account sensing at the middle, understanding anonymous buyer activity, and then allowing marketing organizations within customer sales to do something about it.

One thing that’s different about us from the others guys is we are based in Europe and coming into the U.S. — instead of the other way around. We found great advantage in that because it’s harder in Europe to do all the account sensing and to deal with the segmentation of messaging to get super precise and relevant messages to the right accounts. It’s more diverse and there are more regulations used in Europe to contend with than there are in the America. Having mastered that, it has made the solution a breeze here in U.S.

The other thing that is really different about us is that we have a bigger emphasis on services. It’s a response to what we’re seeing in the market and, right now, this is what companies need. Marketing departments and sales leaders both say they agree with the idea that buyers buy differently. They agree with the need to go digital more. They agree with the need to communicate and personalize the way they cross the entire sales cycle. They just don’t have the resources to do it. We’re offering a lot of pretty sophisticated services designed to get them going and then continue throughout the process.

ABMIA: Are you seeing a change in the way your customers are engaging — in the questions they have or their expectations of ABM in general? What are some of their challenges and what are they really asking for?

Bell: I love that question because I think it is about their customers. A lot of times, they’re a little bit confused. They feel that things have changed and they’re trying to figure out what to do about it.

There are three specific changes that they come into under one single umbrella: Today, everybody buys by committee. Ten or 15 years ago, you could sell a multimillion-dollar deal to just two or three people. You get the head of marketing, CIO and CFO and you’re ready to go. Today, that same deal might touch 60 to 90 people — it’s a big deal and it’s utterly different.

The second thing that’s really different is that buyers expect everything to be super personalized and tailored just like they have in their own lives. They’re accustomed to being “Amazon’d”, to being “Netflix’d”. They think that when they go online, everything is ought to be tailored for them.

The irony of all that is the third change. While they want it all tailored to buyers just like them, to companies just like them, they won’t talk to the sellers anymore. They want to stay anonymous. That’s the single biggest challenge that our customers are facing with their customers, is that when this buying groups start doing research, they don’t want to talk to salespeople anymore until they absolutely have to. Forrester Research says that buyers prefer to do their research online. If you go out and talk to salespeople, nine out of 10 will say it’s way harder and way different than it used to be. They’ll also say the reason is because the buyers don’t look to them for information anymore.

By the time buyers engage with a sales rep, it’s too late because they’ve already defined their requirements. They know what they’re buying. They know how much they want to pay. It’s very hard to influence them directly via the sales team at that point. So what companies are realizing is it’s no longer about the lead. It’s not the magic lead. It’s really about influencing and selling digitally during that long upfront evaluation of process before companies are willing to engage. That’s what they need help with. That’s a giant massive problem.

ABMIA: As marketing teams face these challenges head-on, how will the role of the CMO shift?

Bell: Mark my words: three years from now, the CMO is going to be the one who has direct access to the CEO. The CMO, she’s going to walk into that CEO’s office whenever she wants and say, “Okay. Here’s what we’re doing right now.” Because she’s the one who’s becoming more strategic. And the VP of sales, he’s going to be more tactical because that is how buyers buy. That’s a giant massive change in what’s happening. The marketing organizations are only just now starting to realize that there’s a tsunami coming and they’re going to scramble. That’s why we’re putting a lot of emphasis on services to help them hold their hands to what’s going to be a massive, massive shift in how resources are allocated to big companies.

ABMIA: What sparked the decision to expand to the U.S.? What does it mean for your current and future customers?

Bell: Our CEO was very successful in Europe with a company called Emailvision. He took them to over €100 million in revenues and took them public. He did that without ever coming to the U.S. What’s driving this is that these companies are international. Decisions are made internationally; solutions are implemented internationally; communication with customers is done internationally; account expansion is done internationally. It’s one of our strengths to be able to do that now, but it wasn’t before. We really had to do that just to make the solution super effective.

ABMIA: Tell us about your recent acquisition of Freya News. Why Freya; why now?

Bell: Freya News was using our platform to target some really big accounts across Europe. We really had alignment with them around the vision of what ABM is and what it has to do. Number two, we really wanted to add capabilities around the services. The platform our biggest investment, no doubt. We put more investment, and a new platform embedded to services. Services are so important because companies don’t have all the capabilities to do what they need to do.

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