In another showcase of the Kula Partners team, Floyd Blaikie, Senior Strategist, explains how manufacturing marketers can benefit from developing a strategy with multi-year goals before getting started with ABM. Then with this roadmap, they can better align with sales to gain early wins. Floyd also provides tips on avoiding common ABM missteps.
Getting Started With ABM: Gain Early Wins and Avoid Missteps 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 you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: All is well. All is well. And I’m excited for today, to give our listeners a bit of a voice behind a voice, I guess as it were.
Jeff White: Yeah. The person who has been introducing this show since we started a hundred and some odd episodes ago is finally joining us as a guest.
Carman Pirie: Yes. The first female modern rock DJ in Canada, I believe. Or something like that.
Floyd Blaikie: Making me sound way more important than I am.
Carman Pirie: Hey, look. Well, if I were the first modern rock DJ of any G7 country, I would talk about it.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, I think that’s accurate. But I mean more importantly is she’s probably also the biggest fan of Animorphs in the history of the world.
Carman Pirie: Certainly, the biggest one we’ve had on the show.
Jeff White: Yeah. And probably the only one who works for Kula.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And I really, to be honest, don’t even know what Animorphs is.
Jeff White: I don’t know, but she posts a lot about it on Instagram.
Carman Pirie: I believe there’s a book or something.
Jeff White: Yeah. I thought it was a TV show if I’m gonna be honest.
Floyd Blaikie: There are 64 books. 62 are canon, two are non-canon.
Jeff White: There you go.
Carman Pirie: Well, all right. See?
Jeff White: I own none.
Carman Pirie: This is a little bit of the value that you get as a listener of The Kula Ring Podcast. Some marketing advice and pop culture references a gogo.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: So, today, without further ado…
Jeff White: Joining us is Floyd Blaikie, and Floyd is a Senior Strategist here at Kula Partners. Welcome to the show, Floyd.
Floyd Blaikie: Thank you. Thank you very much. I was the first female modern rock morning show anchor in Canada. Not the first female DJ. There were many before me. But the first to anchor a modern rock morning show. It was a fun time.
Carman Pirie: See, now you had to go and bring PR into it and be accurate. We were just being nice and marketing you there for a minute. Just kind of selling it.
Jeff White: Yeah. Side note, Floyd interviewed me long before we interviewed her.
Floyd Blaikie: It’s true. Yeah.
Jeff White: On her radio show.
Carman Pirie: Really? And she still decided to come work here.
Jeff White: I know. I don’t get it, either.
Carman Pirie: It’s surprising. I had no idea. What was it about?
Jeff White: Saving the Oval.
Carman Pirie: Ah. For those who are not based in Halifax, we won’t bother telling you what the Oval was or why it was looking to be saved. It’s far too long of a story.
Jeff White: It’s a speed skating rink. It’s great. It’s in the middle of town.
Carman Pirie: So, we will tell you, apparently. We will tell you. All right.
Jeff White: Context is useful.
Carman Pirie: All right. Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, Floyd, it is great to have you on the show, and I’m really excited for today’s show. I think we’re gonna kind of unpack some answers to a pretty big question that a lot of folks have around getting started with ABM and resourcing it in year one. But before we get into that, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit more about you beyond the Animorphs and the morning show gig.
Floyd Blaikie: I didn’t come here planning to talk about Animorphs. I get all of that out guesting on a different podcast, so you don’t have to worry about that. I, as you alluded to, I came to marketing from broadcast, so I actually spent six to eight years, depending on how you count it, working in broadcast radio. As you may imagine, especially if you are here listening to a podcast, terrestrial radio, not the most stable of employment options. There’s an awful lot of competing content out there. Budgets are shrinking all the time. So, I find myself unceremoniously booted, wondering what to do, and decided that, “Well, the one transferable skill I think I have is making people care about stuff.” And I’m still trying to figure out if I’m good at that all of the time, but I think that it worked out fairly well because I slid into your Twitter DMs and now here I am.
Carman Pirie: Well, I can certainly say with a good degree of confidence that you’ve figured it out.
Jeff White: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s cool. Today’s topic, resourcing ABM, ABM in year one, getting started with ABM, whatever we want to say. We know that we’ve talked about account-based marketing a number of times on the show. Certainly, the people who are listening to this show, it’s not the first time they’ve heard of it. Many people are curious and wanting to get started. And Floyd has helped a number of our clients here at Kula get started with ABM, and I’m really just kind of wanting to jump into that, Floyd. I guess when you think about getting started, what are some of the most common kind of pitfalls that you see or missteps in the early days?
Floyd Blaikie: So, a lot of people will equate starting an ABM program with investing in an ABM platform. And although that kind of investment might be a really key piece of getting your program up and running, it’s certainly not the only part, and I see a lot of people make big investments in ABM technology up front and then they’re really eager to get started using it, start proving ROI, so they just want to jump right in and start serving campaigns to people in their target account list. And I love the enthusiasm and I love the energy, but there are a number of foundational pieces that you really need to get in place first, and that’s something that you can do while you’re onboarding onto a platform.
You may discover you don’t need to spend a ton of money on an ABM platform. It’s really getting the understanding of your total addressable market, of your ideal customer profile, and of the buying process that your salespeople typically encounter. You gotta get that nailed down first and then once you figure that out, the goals that you set around an ABM program are going to determine what kind of technology investment you might need to make and where you’re gonna go first.
So, I think it’s having those conversations with your sales team really early, especially if in the past marketing and sales haven’t typically enjoyed a very tight alignment. I see some marketing teams get really excited about ABM. They hear about how effective it is, how great it is, it can bring around sales and marketing alignment, everything’s gonna be great, and they think that the act of doing ABM will create the alignment, and their hope is that they can start generating some wins to bring sales on board. And that could work, I guess sometimes, but you really need that buy-in from the sales team first, to be able to get all those foundational pieces in place. You need to have a wide organizational understanding of kind of what you’re going to be doing and how you’re going to be doing it and what’s going to happen once you start doing it.
And until you get all of that sorted out, just jumping onto a platform and trying to dive in is not gonna be super effective.
Carman Pirie: I think that’s an interesting point around… You raised a number of interesting points there, but specifically around this notion that I’m going to start serving up some account-based advertising and somehow, it’s just going… the leads are just going to start knocking it out of the park.
Jeff White: And that they’ll be better quality.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And the salespeople will go from not taking my phone calls to buying me vacation property because they’re so happy and we shall live happily ever after. And it’s just not reality that that’s going to necessarily happen that fast or that even if you started generating that level of results, that sales is even maybe going to give you credit for it anyway, and I think it’s good to suggest to try to get that synchronization built up and that cooperation built up beforehand. Don’t depend on the platform to drive the synchronization. It’s the people that do.
Floyd Blaikie: That’s exactly right. And I see a lot of marketers, especially those coming from the world of inbound marketing, make the same mistake, and it’s very common and in some approaches, I think I’ve made this mistake in earlier days, is thinking of an ABM platform as basically just a nice DSP with more targeting parameters. So, now I’m gonna serve up ads only to these accounts, but I’m still going to serve up my awareness ads, and then my consideration ads, and then my decision ads, and then they’re going to convert, and I’m gonna send them off to sales, and then I’m done with it and sales is gonna get great leads. It’s just taking inbound and trying to shove it into a platform. You might as well be using Google Display Network at that point, right?
It’s a lot more than just spinning up ads and putting them in front of people and hoping that the rest of it kind of falls in place.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. This notion that it’s more than ads, I want to kind of challenge you on the point in some way of getting the strategy first and then selecting the platform. And the challenge is that there seems like there’s an awful lot of difference amongst the platforms still. There’s not a lot of samesies. So, in some ways, depending on the platform choice, you kind of have some different tools in your bag.
Jeff White: You could go about executing your strategy in very different ways depending on which tool you’re using.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Now, I suppose in some way as you create the strategy you’re going to find, “Okay, well, I think internal corporate email advertising as an example is going to be… banner advertising under the signature is going to be very important and therefore I’m going to select this tool or that tool because I know it does it better.” So, maybe I’m answering my own question, but I guess, Floyd, do you find that you do get into a bit of that chicken or egg scenario, where you’re imagining the functionality through the lens of the tool? Are you imagining what you want and then picking the right tool?
Floyd Blaikie: Yeah. I think it definitely is a tough call which way to go first because you don’t know all of the different functionality that’s out there until you start investigating and diving in. There’s so many of them and they’re so feature rich that you can’t assess every one of them in detail. And then when you get in there, they do a lot of different things. I think that the parts of your strategy that you can set before you decide on a platform are gonna be really based on kind of ‘where are you today’ and where do you want to be two, or three, or five years down the road’.
So, what is your sales process today? And how can you start just iterating toward that ideal future state? Because one thing you also can’t do is call your sales team in for a meeting and say, “We’re changing everything about how you work and we’re changing it on Monday. Let’s go.” That’s going to be very difficult. People aren’t going to do that and it’s probably a terrible idea. So, I think that figuring out where the levers are that you can pull right now is going to go a long way toward helping you decide which platform to take. What kind of industry you’re in is important, too. I mean, there are platforms out there that can give you very detailed technographics of your target accounts. If that’s important to you, then that’s something that you might want to look for and that’s something that you might want to use as a basis to launch campaigns.
If you see that someone on your target account list uses technology X and Z, and you know that works really well with what you are offering, then that might be the basis on which you run a campaign. That’s all gonna be very platform dependent, but how you approach the overall ABM program, how are salespeople going to interact with the data that you’re sending them? At what point do you consider somebody a marketing qualified account? And then what happens? It’s the ABM platform is going to be an important piece of that, but it’s just going to be a piece, so getting the rest of that structure built out first I think is really important before you dive into what exactly are we going to do at every stage of this journey and how are we going to orchestrate it.
Jeff White: I think too, I mean one of the more important features that can certainly play into your selection of a platform before you even get there is just how are you thinking about intent? It seems to me that that is generally one of the bigger things to consider when you’re looking at a platform. Not just its advertising capabilities, or its targeting capabilities, or personalization capabilities, which we’ll get into I’m sure in a bit, but how do you know whether or not the accounts that you’re targeting are actually looking for you and the thing you want and have intent to buy?
Floyd Blaikie: Yeah, and are your initial assumptions about intent right, too. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of scenarios in which a client and I have worked together to narrow down a list of topics that we think this really shows that they are ready to buy what we’re selling, and then after the campaign makes contact with the market, and you see kind of how people are responding to it, you find out, “Oh, this thing that I thought was a really great indicator means they’ve already bought it from somebody else, so we’re a little bit late.”
So, if you’re thinking about how you’re gonna use intent, I think that you shouldn’t hang your hat on intent entirely in your first year of ABM. It’s more of a learning process. I think it’s really powerful to put out a full-funnel campaign and then try to map where those intent spikes are happening throughout it and actually learn more from the intent data rather than use it to take action.
Carman Pirie: All this really reinforces your guidance around this notion of looking two, three, five years out of where you want to go and where you’re looking to basically iterate towards, and where you’re trying to iterate to.
Jeff White: Knowing full well you’re not gonna get it right the first three months.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s a fool’s errand to try, really. In that year one, perfection shouldn’t be the destination, should it? And it’s interesting too, because of course the platforms are evolving so fast that you might look at a two, three, five-year maturity model for ABM in your organization and frankly, you may switch platforms a few times throughout that.
Jeff White: Yeah. Knowing full well that you’re going to want to take advantage of different features later on.
Carman Pirie: Potentially. Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff White: That’s interesting.
Floyd Blaikie: Yeah. I’ve certainly seen that happen. As you learn kind of what’s working best, you may decide you want to switch up the technology to be able to use something that allows you to push the buttons that you know generate the best results, and I think that starting really small and focused, using just a kind of a core segment of functionality is really important, too. And not getting too caught up in how many bells and whistles are there, what are all the different things that I could do, because then you’re really scattering your focus and you’re not going to really get enough data to figure out if this functionality is helpful to your overall strategy.
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Carman Pirie: There’s this notion, I think… So, let’s just fast forward and imagine that people have maybe just ignored the advice, and they haven’t thought about their strategy and their model first, and they rushed ahead, and they’ve bought the platform, which is very common. And then it often becomes an exercise of getting use out of the tool versus getting value out of it.
Jeff White: We’ve spent all this money. We’ve gotta do something.
Carman Pirie: We must use the tool. And that seems very logical, but the trouble is that marketer who’s put their neck on the line for this pilot is now running a very substandard pilot, aren’t they?
Floyd Blaikie: Yeah. That can certainly happen. And I think some people get stuck in the idea that to use the ABM platform, you’ve gotta be serving the ads, and that’s just going back to that kind of misconception that the ABM platform equals a way to serve ads. I’ve seen clients who, you know, they’re just not ready to run a campaign in the first 90 days of having the platform, and that’s okay, but what you can do is identify some quick wins based on other features that are available. Can you start sending automated alerts to salespeople when your target accounts start visiting your site? With almost every platform, yes you can. Can you start sending intent reports to the same salespeople so that they can use that to augment the outreach that they’re already doing? In most cases, yes, you absolutely can.
There’s a lot that you can do that’s not serving ads and there’s a lot of value that you can get out of a platform while you’re really putting in the prep work to make sure that you’re doing the right thing when you first start serving campaigns.
Jeff White: I love that. I mean, and I think one of the things… and we certainly, we’re not recording this episode to beat up on the ABM tool providers at all, but that approach differs a bit from the onboarding process that most ABM platforms think should be taken in order to get a client up and running, like they really are in a lot of ways trying to push towards ad spend, yes?
Floyd Blaikie: Yeah. There’s usually a lot of pressure to put something out fairly quickly, and I think there’s two reasons for that. They want to immediately start proving the value of the tool and they just want you to be able to do it, because building up that skillset is very important to keep seeing value from the tool. So, I think that that’s certainly-
Carman Pirie: Some of the tools make a commission on the media buy, too, so there’s a few motivations.
Jeff White: There’s incentive.
Floyd Blaikie: Absolutely. Yes. They’re always gonna push you to be spending money on media buy. I think that it’s possible to run a useful campaign as you’re onboarding. If you’re looking at a four- to six-week onboarding period and you’ve done the foundational work before you signed your contract, you can certainly run a very focused pilot campaign and you can benefit from having some really close oversight from the experts who are onboarding you at that time, as well. So, I usually recommend starting with active opportunities. It’s really close to the money. These people are already engaged with you. They’re already expecting to hear from you. And it’s not going to be a case that you have to really dig deep to figure out what the messaging should be. This is somewhere that you can go to your sales team and say, “I see you have these five active opportunities. What do they care about? What’s important to them right now? You’ve already been talking to them for however long the sales cycle is, probably quite a long time, so you already know what it is that they need to hear right now. How can we support you in that?”
And then you can get an active opportunity campaign rolled out within your first four or five weeks and you can probably see some good results from that early on. It’s when people start pushing out ads for every single webinar they’re running, every single kind of awareness offer, and they try to get it all out at once, and the stuff is kind of not really focused and not helping out sales in those early days, that’s where I see a lot of people fall down and just get overwhelmed with how much they’re trying to do versus how much is actually proving results for them.
Carman Pirie: And it’s really out of step with the buying journey in that case too, right? It’s really a spray and pray situation.
Jeff White: Doesn’t get you to a point that’s much better than just using Google Display-
Floyd Blaikie: No.
Carman Pirie: I kind of want to dig in, and I know Jeff said we don’t want to beat up the ABM platform providers, and that’s fine. I’ll agree with him on that. But you know, there is a push to spend more money rather than less on media, and I almost liken it a bit, and look, I guess to the listeners, in no way am I trying to convince you in any way on Kula’s methodology and just saying what it is. You can agree with me or disagree. Doesn’t much matter. But the thing I’ve always found odd is when agencies charge a 15 or 20% fee on a PPC ad spend. Because if you’re managing pay per click correctly, you’re really trying to drive, especially in a B2B context, you’re really trying to drive down that average cost per lead. And it runs completely counter to the motivation of a media agency making a percentage commission.
And I feel like that kind of is similarly at play here, you have the ABM platform is pushing in one direction, but Floyd’s saying look, if you have five opportunities in flight and you can provide some air cover to those opportunities that are in flight and maybe increase your win rate on those five-
Jeff White: That’s about the best early ROI chance you have.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s a great win. But it should be noted, you’re probably gonna spend about 100 bucks on media. I mean, it’s not gonna be a lot for five opportunities, right?
Jeff White: Well, and it’s interesting, too, because a lot of the platforms tout the fact that they’re… You know, being able to buy much more targeted media means you spend less. That’s a benefit that’s sold but it’s not necessarily the experience when onboarding.
Carman Pirie: Or I guess we should be saying people be eyes wide open to if you want to get the maximum benefit out of that, then don’t take the spray and pray approach early on just because you wanna get use out of a tool.
Floyd Blaikie: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that your spend becomes more efficient the closer to a closed-won deal you get. Another place where it gets a little bit tricky is the amount of time you have to spend on an account, right? People are very used to things like paid search, where it’s fairly bottom of funnel, at least compared to a really full ABM campaign, and you’re paying for a single click. You might be paying quite a bit for that single click, but you’re paying for it, and then you’re going to get a conversion out of that if everything is done correctly and the stars align. With a full ABM campaign, you might be spending less overall, but per account you’re going to be spending proportionately quite a bit on that account.
So, you want to take them from this point where they’re not even aware of you and getting in front of them at that time and using intent and behavior to inform how you’re talking to them, and nurture them all the way down through that very long, complex buying cycle. That’s a lot longer than most B2B marketers are used to even seeing an account, so it’s definitely a lot longer than they’re used to spending on an account. So, even though a single campaign might be cheaper for you, you’re going to be investing more per account over time than you would with a lot of other tactics.
But for that money, you’re buying the opportunity to shape their buying journey in a way that you just can’t with any other type of platform where you spend money to get in front of them.
Carman Pirie: I think it’s an important point. B2B marketers that are starting down the road of ABM are starting down a road that’s going to illuminate parts of the buying journey they haven’t seen before. And they’re influencing parts that they haven’t been able to influence before, and therefore they ought to be ready to learn some stuff they haven’t learned before.
Floyd Blaikie: That is one of the number one struggles I see in a typical organization’s first year running an ABM program. They’re very used to leads when they do put their hands up for the first time being ready to talk to sales because that’s when the typical buyer does put their hand up. People aren’t converting on your website when they’re in the research mode. They would really rather not do that. They want to do that on third party sites, or they want to do it anonymously and that’s kind of the situation that made these tools so valuable.
So, the metaphor I’ve used before that I think some people kind of got is that if you’re standing behind the door and all of your prospects are on the other side of the door outside, you used to just have the peephole, right? And you could only see them when they were really close. Now, you’ve got a big, beautiful bay window. You can see them from far away, but you are not going to make them come through the door any faster. You can get in front of people a lot earlier, but the idea that getting in front of them earlier equals driving a decision earlier is a very bad idea that’s going to sabotage your strategy.
Carman Pirie: Ah, interesting. So, you’re suggesting that you can’t use ABM to accelerate the pipeline? You can’t make a deal move faster?
Floyd Blaikie: No. That’s not what I’m suggesting. I’m suggesting that you can’t necessarily speed up where everyone in a buying committee is emotionally, right? You still need to be talking to them in a way that matches where they are in their buying journey. So, I think that you can certainly see some improvements in terms of how quickly people are moving along if you’re able to get the right message in front of them at the right time. That can make their job a lot easier. It can make the process of making the decision easier. You might have some influence that way and you might see that once you’ve got an opportunity, you can now close it 30% faster. That’s great. That’s something that you can have really direct influence on.
But you can’t make someone go from, “I’m aware of this problem and now I’ve gotta round up all these other stakeholders and figure out what to do about it,” to, “I’m gonna buy this solution.” You can’t make that happen in a day or a week. So, people will start launching these awareness campaigns and really kind of treating it like a consumer sale. It’s like they forget what industry they’re in really quickly. Because they’re just not used to seeing people until they’re at that decision stage, so they think, “Oh, before when I saw a lead, it was because they were ready to talk to sales.” You’re seeing them a lot earlier and they’re not ready yet, so you’ve gotta keep that in mind.
Jeff White: Well, this is why the strategy matters so much. And the ability to learn from what you see as you go through the usage of this tool and start to see things, so you really do understand what is the messaging that resonates to somebody who’s just discovered that they have this problem and need to find a solution? As opposed to somebody who’s already decided they know what the solution is, now they just need to pick which vendor.
Floyd Blaikie: It is dangerous to give marketers the opportunity to get in front of decision makers when they are still just trying to figure everything out, because the instinct is to say, “We have the best thing, and you should look at it right over here.” Just because we can get in front of them earlier doesn’t mean that we can get in front of them with decision content earlier.
Carman Pirie: I really like the peephole/bay window analogy. I think that one’s-
Jeff White: I hadn’t heard it.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. No, I know. She’s saving all the good stuff. I hadn’t heard that, either. We should have you on the podcast more often, Floyd. Be able to find out what’s being talked about around here.
Floyd Blaikie: I haven’t thought of a good Animorphs metaphor yet for ABM, but I will think of one, and I’m sure it will be great when I land on it.
Jeff White: I assure you I won’t understand it at all. I like the bay window thing, though.
Carman Pirie: But bay windows, I get.
Jeff White: Bay windows, good.
Carman Pirie: Well, look, I think this has been a jam packed, frankly, episode of lots of information, lots of kind of useful detail. I’m wondering if we can find a way to kind of summarize it and put Floyd on the spot with like Floyd’s three hot tips for ABM success in year one a gogo. What do you think, Floyd?
Floyd Blaikie: Three hot tips. Well, I think first of all, you are going to need a best friend on the sales team. That’s number one. You don’t have to get the whole sales team to buy into this approach. It would be awesome if you could, but you’re going to need one champion who is willing to talk to you about absolutely everything that happens in every sales process until you’re both extremely tired of talking about it, and then do it for another three or four hours. That’s I think really key to figuring out where your strategy needs to go, where can you improve, where can you make things happen.
The next is figuring out where are we going to start. Based on where we want to go, which segment of accounts that we have on our radar are we gonna start with? What’s realistic? What can we roll out? And where are we gonna see the impact of that? And then I think the third most important thing is not losing sight of the first two things. As soon as you get this really flashy platform with a lot of bells and whistles, or you start making investments in ABM technology, don’t get distracted by all of that. It’s really cool stuff and it’s going to enable you to do a lot of cool things down the road, but if you kind of forget about that long-term strategy and that first really focused effort that you’re going to make and you start thinking, “Well, we’ve got this webinar in a couple weeks and it won’t take long just to spin up something real quick and get that in front of people, and we can use personalization, they’ll see their company name, it’ll be crazy.” You’ll quickly find out that that will take all of your time and then everyone running the other three webinars that month is gonna wonder why you haven’t done it for them, and now all of a sudden, you’ve had this platform for eight months and you haven’t put out a really focused campaign.
So, make a sales friend, make a plan, stay focused, don’t lose sight of where you want to be in five years.
Carman Pirie: I love it. I love it. It’s a great way to end. Thanks so much, Floyd. I really appreciate you sharing your expertise with the audience today. It’s been fantastic.
Floyd Blaikie: Thanks for having me on. Maybe next time, we can choose a more Animorphs-adjacent topic.
Jeff White: Fair. You’ll have to suggest it, though.
Floyd Blaikie: I’ll start thinking.
Jeff White: Thanks.
Carman Pirie: Thanks so much.
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Floyd BlaikieSenior Strategist
Floyd came to Kula Partners from the broadcast industry, previously anchoring a popular morning radio program. She’s a professional MC who has hosted more than a hundred shows, events, and conventions. She attended both NSCC and University of King’s College, receiving education in journalism, communications, and media promotions. Her love for the latter combined with an aptitude for writing and a passion for creating conversation led her to digital marketing. Outside of the Kula office, Floyd is an avid D&D and tabletop gamer, voracious reader of analog books, doomsday meal prepper, a wine lover and a mom but not a #WineMom, meme enthusiast, and sci-fi fanatic.