Thought Leader Interview: ABM Consortium Founder Mark Ogne talks the Future of ABM

June 10, 2016

This week’s Thought-Leader Interview puts the spotlight on Mark Ogne, the founder of the Account-Based Marketing Consortium. He’s also EVP Partner Marketing at Demand Metric, advisor to NewzSocial and Board Member and Committee Chair for The Direct Marketing Association International Echo Awards. Noted for his innovation in Social Media Marketing and ABM, Mark is widely recognized for his marketing approach and global experience.

So I really want to start by talking about the “state of the union” of ABM, as it were. Where do you think we stand right now, and what direction is the strategy going?

I think that 2014 and 2015 was everybody getting excited about the adoption of ABM, but in 2016, we’re seeing a lot of people who maybe didn’t get the outcomes that they were looking for and so they’re somewhere between being super excited about the strategy but not yet getting the results they expected.

My concern is that unless we can elevate fact-based, proven marketing direction we’ll have a lot of marketers failing to properly execute on ABM and fail to realize the benefits. This is really a reversal from the popular cacophony of opinion we’ve seen over the last 6 months. If not, then 2017 is going to be a period of attrition.

What do you think causes such a large percentage of ABM campaigns to under-perform expectations?

To be really candid, a lot of the content surrounding ABM that’s available in the general web today – the top 10 lists and things like that – are completely unfounded at best and can realistically be career limiting for those who follow it.

That’s kind of the downside of content marketing: anyone can post content on any topic, and there’s no way to filter out the non-experts. People buy into the hype but have a hard time distinguishing the good resources from the bad.

That’s why I think the ABM Consortium is really well placed. A year ago, we [at the Consortium] were talking about “high-performance ABM”. We really got serious when we came up with our capabilities framework. Then we conducted research of 500 actual ABM programs and validated our framework. We found paths of low, medium, and high performance based on how people treat ABM. We put in the research, we got the best thinkers in the industry on board, and we started pushing ideas that we could prove.

So, when a campaign is under-performing, where exactly is it failing? What are the marketers doing wrong?

Our research showed that roughly 70% of self-identified account based marketing programs are probably doing something that actually looks more like a digital version of list-based marketing. It’s a maturity type of thing we see in almost every new martech strategy.

Here’s what I’m thinking… List-based marketing was very common back in the day – you’d do some direct mail, probably some telemarketing, and then toss in an event. Basically, you’d go off your list and constrain your media based upon accounts. We then shifted to inbound marketing, or leads-based marketing. What went wrong after that is that people took a step sideways or even backwards. Those who think they’re doing ABM are simply delivering the same ads to a list of target accounts. There’s little attempt to identify needs and strategize on how those needs can be met as each account goes through differing stages of engagement.

Think of it this way, your company has a tier 1 prospect but your sales person delivers the same deck to them week over week. Do you think that account would be any more likely to buy from you? Then, why would you think that delivering the same display ad to them week over week would do anything different?

If your ABM program has succeeded at engaging a prospect from an Awareness issue to a Consideration issue, what happens then? Obviously, you need to change your content to talk to the needs they have now – not the needs they had a month ago. If you keep delivering the same content but paying no mind to what stage they’re in, then you’re tone-deaf. You’re just doing list-based marketing. That’s not ABM.

Now a third point: the value of engagement you get from a target account isn’t evenly distributed within that account. There’s a group of people who are the buying decision makers who are immensely more important than anybody else. In list-based marketing, you’re not paying attention to who from an organization is reacting to your content, you’re just concerned that someone is. You need to get through to the decision makers and influencers, and measure to ensure you’re doing that.

You mentioned above that people aren’t keeping track of the specific people who might be engaging. Do you think measuring/metrics in general make up a big ABM challenge?

I think it’s very much the case that many marketers struggle with metrics in general. And then you take this thing that they haven’t yet mastered, measuring their success, and drop it into the new dimension of ABM, and it gets even harder. They need to learn how to measure, say, velocity in the funnel, and these are much more advanced forms of metrics than clicks and leads, which is what a lot of marketers are used to. It brings to light a lack of understanding about what metrics are and how to report on them. Far too many marketers think they can prove ROI with non-financial metrics, for example. ABM though, should be very accountable, very metric-driven. Marketers talk about leads, they need to talk about people – the people that make those decisions.

So B2B marketers have the same problem as ABM experts: they have to cut through the noise of a content-saturated market. How can they do that? What advice do you have for ABM practitioners who want to improve the state of their program?

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is don’t focus on everything at once. Divide it into cells and become an expert in one cell. Then figure out how to use what worked, and repurpose learning to expand that expertise.

We did a whitepaper back in January where we looked at 4 different use cases: being new to ABM, having a low-performing ABM program, having a mid-performing program and having a high-performing program.

For new and low-performing campaigns, the best advice I have is becoming an absolute expert in something specific, something you can wrestle to the ground. Imagine three different products you’re trying to sell as rows in a matrix, and the columns are stages of the buying process. If you took your target accounts and poured them into that matrix, you’d find that the majority of those counts end up in a small number of the cells. It’s rare that it’ll be evenly distributed. So, take those clustered cells – those specific buying stages of those specific products – and become expert in one. What do competitors look like in this space? What type of content works in this space? Then start creating the marketing and content strategies needed to advance this group to the next stage in the buying process – and begin thinking one stage ahead, because if you’ve done your job well, prospects will move quickly.

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