The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.
Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.
The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.
How can B2B manufacturers scale their account-based marketing (ABM) campaigns? In this episode of The Kula Ring, Gladys Fernandez, the Director of Marketing and Demand Generation at Hitachi ABB Power Grids, talks about how she helped establish ABM at the manufacturer, from initial pilot campaigns to having every marketing campaign designed with an account-based approach. She shares best practices for creating pilot ABM campaigns and scaling efforts to larger accounts.
Bringing ABM to Every B2B Marketing Campaign Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: Never better. Never better. Look, we’re fast approaching summer on the East Coast, and it’s just the best time of year.
Jeff White: It is.
Carman Pirie: In this part of the world. So, why could we complain?
Jeff White: Exactly. And it’s a beautiful, sunny day today, too.
Carman Pirie: Indeed.
Jeff White: Recording this here in mid-May, it’s lovely. Just waiting for everybody to get vaccinated so we can start hanging out together again.
Carman Pirie: Exactly, exactly. This is the part of the podcast every episode where we basically turn into a Nova Scotia tourism commercial for a few moments.
Jeff White: Yeah, for sure. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: They should pay us or something. We should get some sort of sponsorship.
Jeff White: Exactly. Yeah. No, this podcast is sponsored by the Nova Scotia government.
Carman Pirie: Exactly. Well-
Jeff White: Well, that’s not really what we’re gonna talk about today, though. We’re gonna be diving into one of our favorite subjects.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah, and hopefully taking a bit of a different angle here. I think a lot of marketers certainly have ABM on the tip of their tongue these days, and are exploring more account-based approaches, and a lot of folks are trying to figure out what that means for them. That’s why I’m really excited for today’s guest, because she really was kind of brought into her organization to stand up that ABM role and to really take the organization down that path, and so it’s always nice to get some battle-tested experience on the podcast, you know?
Jeff White: For sure. Yeah. There’s so much you could learn because it is still new, and it is still very much, like you said, it’s on everybody’s lips, but they haven’t necessarily tried it yet.
Carman Pirie: That’s true. It’s a different thing this year than it was last year. It’s a rapidly evolving space. It’s certainly the technology and capabilities, everything is just moving at a fairly rapid pace, and I think folks do struggle to kind of keep up with it.
Jeff White: For sure. Joining us today is Gladys Fernandez, and Gladys is the Director of Marketing and Demand Generation at Hitachi ABB Power Grids. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Gladys.
Gladys Fernandez: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Jeff White: Oh, it’s really wonderful for you to be here.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s awesome to have you on the show. Let’s get started, Jeff. I mean, Gladys, tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Hitachi ABB.
Gladys Fernandez: Sure. Thank you for having me. This is of course a topic that I love because this is what I do every day, account-based marketing. Even without the name, even without the fancy account-based marketing title, and I’ve been in B2B marketing all my career. Different industries, mostly one, in energy-oriented companies, 14 years plus in marketing, and I can tell you that yes, even the name account-based marketing as in ABM, it was new for me maybe like two years ago. Eventually last year I was brought into this large company, Hitachi ABB. ABB at the time, just right before the joint venture took place, and it is a journey, but I have to say that it’s the nature of B2B.
This is something that for those of us who’ve been doing this for years. You will see that it’s actually closer to the nature of marketing for B2B companies that now it has a name, it’s been baptized, and now we call it like this, but it is our nature.
Jeff White: Yeah. It’s really interesting how in a lot of cases, especially in larger B2B organizations, they’ve been doing things like this before, and kind of bringing together a number of the components. They didn’t necessarily have the technology, but certainly from a sales perspective largely were very account focused, wouldn’t you say?
Gladys Fernandez: Yes. Yeah. It is. And maybe what is different now is the scale. This, for sure, because before, like I remember in other previous companies where this was the approach, but it was for only a very small amount of accounts, what we call strategic accounts, and yes, it’s very specific. We really know them, and we know them to a level that it’s impossible to know every single account. But now technology actually allows to scale that similar approach to many more, and that’s where you see this classification from one to one, one to few, one to many, and this is what I would say that is different now. Maybe in the last two, three years, where I can tell that maybe the digital approach that we have in marketing is what’s allowing us to scale.
Carman Pirie: That’s an interesting framing for people to take. Even if you’re talking to maybe other leaders in the firm or what have you, where you’re trying to maybe sell this idea in, the notion of this taking a similar approach that we’ve taken with strategic accounts in the past, and just really digitally enabling that in a way that allows it to scale. What a great way of explaining an account-based approach without having to get into a bunch of distinctions around what ABM is and isn’t, and intent data, and all that. It’s a lovely, succinct way of explaining that, Gladys.
Gladys Fernandez: Well, and what I can tell you guys is that we didn’t have, for example, LinkedIn a few years ago, and it’s a tool that’s evolved. It’s amazing what these tools now can offer for marketers. There are many things, but yes, I would say this is probably the biggest challenge, is we have to… Acquiring technology is theoretically easy. It’s education, right? Like moving people into thinking how can you do 10 strategic accounts, and then take that approach, and make it for hundreds of accounts? I can tell you that my first recommendation is that you need to do pilots. Don’t run into something that is for all your accounts. It’s the best way to test an approach. Take a group of accounts that you select. There are many criteria to select accounts. One of the ones that for me was critical is not only if the account is strategic. That is defined in many ways. But also, is the team ready? Not every team is ready to jump into an account-based marketing approach. My learning from all this the last year has been that I think sales are ready and they’ve been doing this, but not from the marketing point of view.
This is their job, right? Like getting to know the accounts, and they do this every day, but now is this merge of how is marketing supporting this approach with what marketing can provide to the journey of selling solutions. What I want to say is that even though a team in like account leaders, like the account managers, they may be ready. There is a process of education, of walking them into what it means from the marketing point of view, and that is not always easy, for sure. Depending on the industry, their personalities, too, and there’s this belief that how much are you getting into my side of the swimming lane. In reality, it shouldn’t, it’s not like that. We still have different roles. For me, in marketing, we also sell. We just sell with different strategies, and we always have to support sales. Regardless of what you do, this is… That’s why marketing exists. But not everything is ready, because there’s technology that you have to explain. Why do you need a domain? Why suddenly, why is this important, and why is it important that we spend some time looking at this list of accounts?
It’s time-consuming, obviously, so there’s… Not everything is ready. That’s why I say when you’re selecting accounts to run pilots, think about not only if the account is strategic, but also is the team ready, so that at least you have the first two things to run a pilot. And then you can make mistakes, but those two things I think are very important. I had pilots where it made a difference. It made a difference on how much progress we made on that pilot if the team wasn’t that ready.
Carman Pirie: That’s great advice. I’m kind of curious, as you begin to shape and frame up a pilot, my guess is that your sales cycle may be quite long. If you’re facing an 18 or 24-month sales cycle but you’re looking to run say a six-month ABM pilot, would I be right in assuming that you probably aligned your success indicators more around some of those leading metrics? It wasn’t so much about closed deals initially in the pilot, but more about account engagement, or lead flow? Or I guess how did you define success in those early pilots given the extended sales cycle?
Gladys Fernandez: For these pilots in particular, what we measured was the influence. The influence of the campaign into did we speed up things? Eventually at the end of the year, we actually run a survey directly with the account, with the account owners, and we ask them very specifically. We asked many things, but one of those was the progress, like did you see any progress on your… Because these were one-to-one pilots. That’s something that I want to clarify, which was very easy. I could just come to them directly and we were meeting every week on the progress, so I knew, but we wanted to have something tangible about how did you… Did we speed up? Did we influence? Did we help you get in touch with these people? Something that maybe otherwise it would have been slower, or difficult to get in touch with someone, but because we provided you with this intelligence, it gave you a point of conversation for the next time that you were trying to approach this person in that account.
This is one way of measuring, because yeah, we didn’t have enough time, and until now, now I can tell you that the campaigns are progressing and are evolving. Now, we’re seeing we also want to add the solutions of more divisions. It’s not only one division, so it’s progressing, and it’s taking shape. The next phase was let’s set up not only influencing but also what are we really getting when it comes to opportunities? Putting a dollar value to this.
But I can tell you that I think this depends on the type of industry. When you have very complex and customized solutions like in our case, that is not maybe the same product, it’s a very long journey. It’s not easy to say that because we have this campaign, we can say that we sourced this number of opportunities. It’s easier to say we influenced. If we think about industries where even if it’s B2B, but maybe it’s software, something where the cycle is shorter, it’s easier to track sourcing of opportunities with a campaign. And of course, you need technology, you need a good CRM and a good system on the back end that you can track. We do some of that and we do have some good metrics where we say, “Okay, this campaign is sourcing these opportunities. Now these opportunities need to go to sales so they can continue the journey.”
Of course, we need to follow them. We need to follow them for as long as it takes to complete a sales journey, which you do need to have in mind. I think it’s easier if you have less complex solutions, even within B2B.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. There’s no question that the shorter sales cycle would make the measurement tighter, but I think frankly most manufacturing marketers find themselves in the opposite situation. The sales reality is the sales cycles are getting longer, not shorter, for most things. And I think it’s wise for marketers to learn that these more leading indicators are how you ought to be framing up your pilot initiative.
Jeff White: Well, it also means that when you’re presenting these things and these metrics to your leadership team and to the C-Suite, we can’t bank on showing me what the metrics look like after three months. Well, that’s far too short a period. You might be able to show progress, but you’re not gonna show true results necessarily within a lot of manufacturing organizations.
Gladys Fernandez: Not the results that we used to provide, like numbers. This is not based also in marketing metrics. Not impressions, not clickthrough rate. Yes, you have to look at those things on the back end, but at the end, yes, then you have to do… If your sales cycle is normally a year and a half, did we reduce it to a year and three months? And there are a lot of touch points or tough things that are very valuable, and this is only possible when you have this interaction with the account owner, and it’s very important to keep that relationship. Because they are the ones who at the end, they hunt, they go out, and they use the information that we provide to enrich the conversations. They are the only ones who can really sense the progress in the sales cycle, other than the number, but how do you measure those milestones?
Because you have a year and a half. How do you know you’re progressing properly other than clickthrough rate and those things? You do need to set up milestones in the meantime, and these can be agreed with the account.
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Carman Pirie: Yeah, I really think that it’s great advice, the notion of setting up that level of kind of qualitative survey or assessment with the sales organization and keeping in touch with those account owners as a way of measuring pilot success. It’s a really interesting approach. I don’t think I’ve heard other people do that in pilots, Jeff.
Jeff White: No, and I think the other thing that I was going to say that is sort of a new metric as a positive indication of ABM success is this… I don’t think we’ve spoken with a lot of marketers who are looking to shorten the sales cycle as one of the primary goals of the ABM campaign. You know, it’s usually to expand an account or land new ones. It’s not necessarily to see if you can actually get those accounts in the house faster. That’s really interesting.
Gladys Fernandez: Those two goals, Jeff, that you just mentioned, expanding, upselling, those are also goals that we can set up. I think it really depends on the goal that you have for that for one account, or for that group of accounts, and I can make a recommendation of a couple of books that if you guys have anywhere where you can post them, but one is Account-Based Marketing is B2B, that’s one book, and the other one is Account-Based Marketing, just like that, plain. This second one is by Chris Golec and the first one is by Sangram Vajre. I have a hard time pronouncing. Yeah.
Jeff White: Vajre. Yeah. We’ve had him as a guest on the show, actually.
Gladys Fernandez: You did? Oh, great. Yeah. The books are great because they give you this framework on moving, first of all setting up your pilot, moving into scaling the accounts, and in both books, the recommendation is don’t jump into buying technology, buying licenses, because it’s really the framework, the structure that matters first. Then we can decide, because technology, there are many, many, many, many things that are available. They’re useful. But it’s really setting up the bases that really matters the most, and then maybe after six months, you realize that now is the right time to get into buying this, and there are many. There’s not a single one that will do everything. They may promise that, but it’s not. No. You do need more.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s not reality. I was curious, you’d mentioned that the pilot’s initiatives were largely kind of one-to-one, kind of really tier-one pilots. Have you since expanded the program towards more tier two, tier three opportunities, and how has the pilot I guess scaled and come to life more broadly?
Gladys Fernandez: We did. Eventually later in the year we actually had one campaign that was one campaign for 200 accounts, and it was defined with criteria about location, the solution that we needed to push, and other conditions, like the type of organization. We had people to define this list, which is one thing that is very important. Spend time defining your list of accounts. We worked with the product team. We also worked with the account owners because we sell many things to these accounts, so first they need to know what’s happening.
We couldn’t do it for 200, so we grouped them, and it was also another pilot. Then we say what do we need to change from a one-to-one account to a one to many? It’s impossible for me to have weekly calls with 200 people, so we were hosting monthly calls with everybody. We took input from everybody and let them know, “This is what your account is seeing. This type of advertising, these are the results.” My approach is maybe not the most scientific, but we have to make decisions, because if you only want to do it really one, two, three, and thinking that you need to find the most scientific way, for me it wasn’t… I had to make a decision between really doing everything by the book and adapting to my reality.
I took the opportunity of saying I have this interest from a team that is not easy to get always running a campaign, a one-to-many campaign. That was my approach, so I took it. I took that approach and designed a campaign, and actually that example was great because now every campaign that we design is with an account-based approach, which means we cannot launch campaigns if we don’t have a list of accounts. It is my job to keep reminding the team the importance of the account. If we truly want to do account-based marketing, it is those listening and those who really want to become the ambassadors, you have to believe it. You have to believe that account-based marketing actually works.
Then you are the one carrying the flag, which means you are the one who will have to convince others, remind others that this is the strategic approach that the company wants to take, and it’s part of being a pioneer. It’s the role of every pioneer in everything that’s out there, which is not always easy, but as long as you’re convinced, I think people feel passion when you show it. I am convinced. I am completely convinced that this is the way to do it. I am thrilled and I love it. I enjoy it. Even though it’s not always scientific, I always take the opportunity to test what’s out there. My goal, I have a structure in my head, and with the team, to follow and grow it.
But the first thing, of course, you have to believe it. You have to believe in account-based marketing so you can make decisions. Not everything is perfect when you don’t have a team that is always convinced, when you don’t have the perfect leads, where do you source it? You have to be creative, but the most important thing is to be convinced that this is the journey that you want to take.
Jeff White: How have you found the reception to this as a concept, I guess, within the organization now that it’s been underway for a little while? Are you finding that people are very much getting on board and looking forward to the next thing?
Gladys Fernandez: Yes. I mean, I’ve seen two things. I’m surprised in some areas where, for example, an account manager presented something without even sharing it with me. She just said, “I presented this with the CEO because I’ve seen this with the account that we’re targeting.” I was pleased when she told me this, and now I actually recently, like we got an email from at the higher level that now they want to replicate, and this part is slowly growing. Not everybody knew at the company level what we were doing, because we started with the division, so now as this grows, then we start getting requests about how we can replicate, which for me is a good sign.
Maybe if you ask me, I would love to have this and have everybody on board, and everybody trained, and run with this from the beginning, but now I understand that some things need to be slow. This is one thing. The other thing, when you need to scale, there’s a process of education, of how do we use these technologies, how do we make sure that we’re reading intent properly. I think it’s just time, and as we do more, and we see the results, and we get used to saying more, we don’t need to target broadly. We need to only work with this list of accounts, and we see the impact on what we do, then we move. We gain points. It’s slow, but for me, I’m pleased, because this is a very large company. Very large. My expectations were probably out of place when I came in thinking that in one year we will be here.
It’s slow because it’s a very large company. There’s a lot of people that need to see what it means and how it helps. But it’s growing and it’s going in the right direction.
Carman Pirie: I think it’s great advice to hammer home, that notion of you gotta start with the end in mind. You gotta start with that target account list.
Gladys Fernandez: Yes.
Carman Pirie: And until you have that, you don’t have anything. And my goodness, I don’t know how many times I’ve asked both marketing and salespeople to give me a target account list and then just look at the blank stare that comes back.
Jeff White: A what?
Gladys Fernandez: It uncovers many things, right? This is my approach. I love it. When the black box is open, for me this is where I thrive. This is my, “Yes! It’s good. Let’s open those issues and now let’s jump into them one by one.” Give me your list of accounts you targeted, even if it seems like something that ‘s just like a magic button, and suddenly you have it. It’s not always there, which means that it is the one thing where we do need to spend good time. It’s not wasted. It’s really garbage in, garbage out. If you spend some time thinking about your targeted list, even if it’s not perfect, but spend it, then you have a good base.
The rest is marketing. Things that we used to do, right? Like you have emails, and content, so this we know how to do, but the base, it’s very important.
Carman Pirie: I’d be curious, Gladys, I guess you alluded to the fact that maybe looking back, you thought that maybe it would move faster than it has, so I guess that would be at least one reflection you would have. I would be curious, is there anything else you wish you would have known going in that you know now about bringing ABM to life within an organization like Hitachi ABB?
Gladys Fernandez: Yes. I wish I knew more about the platforms that we had in place. I didn’t know. I didn’t know about these platforms. They were already there, so it took us some time, or it took me some time because I spent some time on setting up the pilots, getting to know the account teams, which for me was the base. By the time we started using the platform, part of the license was gone.
Carman Pirie: Right, right.
Gladys Fernandez: Anyways, like it was already there, so now we know. Now, of course, when we jump into something new that is technology-related, because we already had that base, then it’s faster for us to jump in and we know what to do. We know what to look for. We understand many of those setup things that every system and technology has. I can tell you that I had read the book about like don’t buy technology immediately. It was there. It’s part of this learning process. It was maybe for me a little bit like are we wasting a little bit of the money that we invested?
It wasn’t like that. I mean, it wasn’t terrible. It’s just my sense that I don’t want to waste. I don’t want to waste time. I don’t want to waste money. It’s money for the business. We moved into this as soon as possible. I agree with the advice on the books, like don’t go into technology immediately. Spend some time setting up your bases and then you can move into that.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Great advice, great advice. It can be easy to over, or I guess underestimate how long it’s going to take to get everything ready to roll, and then if you invested in technology at the outset of that, you could easily find yourself six, eight months into a yearlong subscription of technology that you haven’t really used much yet, because you’ve been busy doing other things.
Well, look, Gladys, this has been a fantastic conversation. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and expertise with us today. It’s been lovely to have you on the show.
Gladys Fernandez: Thank you, guys. Thank you for having me today.
Jeff White: It was wonderful. Thanks a lot.
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