Sangram Vajre—co-founder of Terminus, the SaaS platform for account-based marketing—discusses how ABM can transform your business on The Kula Ring. Sangram is a leading mind in B2B marketing as host of the FlipMyFunnel Podcast and author of ‘Account-Based Marketing for Dummies’ and ‘B2B is ABM’. He talks with Jeff and Carman about ABM’s strategic nature and how it aligns the goals and metrics of sales and marketing.
Transform Your Business With Account-Based Marketing 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 if Jeff White, and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I am doing well, sir, and you? I mean, look, how could we not be doing well? I think today’s episode is just gonna be a lot of fun, and-
Jeff White: Informative.
Carman Pirie: -really interesting for our listeners, so yeah, I just love when we get to have this kind of a conversation.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, I think it’s gonna be fascinating to bring it to life.
Carman Pirie: Without further ado, I suppose.
Jeff White: Absolutely, so joining us today is Sangram Vajre, and Sangram is the co-founder of Terminus, the FlipMyFunnel Podcast host, and the founder and creator of account-based marketing.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Welcome to the show.
Sangram Vajre: Wow. Yeah, that’s high praise, so thank you so much for having me, folks.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s wonderful to have you, Sangram. Yeah, I mean it’s almost a challenge to know where to begin, to be honest, so I know that many of our listeners are familiar with account-based marketing. They’ll at least have a high-level understanding of what we mean, but of course some won’t, so maybe why don’t we start with just a bit of introduction into ABM, and kind of how this has evolved for you and Terminus since it all got underway, what, three or four years ago.
Sangram Vajre: Yeah. Sure thing. So, for those who may not know my journey up to even starting Terminus, this might be helpful, which is that I ran marketing at Pardot, which then got acquired by ExactTarget, and a few short months later, Salesforce acquired ExactTarget for about $2.5 billion. It was one of the largest acquisitions, and I went from a 100 people company to this iconic brand, Salesforce, and spent about a couple of years there before starting Terminus. And I share that because I feel like the roots of ABM was pretty much entrenched into me even before we started thinking about doing anything with Terminus, and getting the company going.
And if you just go back to the memory lane, 2000 was an amazing email marketing year. Most people who want to date themselves will, like me, would know that, “Wow, email marketing had 80, 90% open rate at that time, and that was some fascinating times.” Fast forward five more years, marketing automation came about in 2005, with companies like Pardot, and Marketo, and ExactTarget a little bit, Eloqua and all these companies, and at that time people said, “Hey, we can nurture leads. We can capture leads, so why not create tons of them?” So, we created tons of leads, and the reality is marketing still became just a top of the funnel lead generator, and sales said, “We don’t like your leads. We think they’re a bunch of crap because they don’t even know who we are. They just download an ebook and you’re calling them a lead. They’re actually not a lead, they’re just somebody who downloaded something.”
So, 2010, predictive came about and said, “We’re gonna solve that problem. We’re gonna try to identify and predict which leads sales should focus on.” And if you fast forward that now five more years, in 2015, when Terminus was founded, when we wrote the very first book on account-based marketing, it was with the notion that all of these things, the email, the marketing automation, the predictive, all of these are tools and technology solutions. None of them was a strategy, and I think that is one of the reasons why ABM has gotten such a big boost, is because account-based marketing is a strategy.
So, for those who don’t know what that is, it’s literally if you are in B2B, you should be targeting and getting in front of the companies that you can serve the best. That is what account-based marketing is, and the reality is most companies who do big deals, or agencies that have 10, 20, 30 clients, or 80% of your business is coming from 20% of your customers, if you’re any part of these businesses, then you already know and are probably doing account-based marketing, which is serving literally a very finite, select list of companies, and customers, and you are the best company that they can work with. You want to work with just those companies, and you’re amazingly successful, and that is one of the reasons why I think account-based marketing became such a big deal in early 2015, 2016 timeframe.
Carman Pirie: You know, it’s interesting, because yes, it’s become a big deal, but it seems like it’s really almost now just reaching a point of-
Jeff White: Penetration and adoption.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I guess you all have to be pretty bullish over there at Terminus, I would have to think.
Sangram Vajre: Well, you know, that’s a great point, and I think which led us to write the second book, which got launched in September this year, and we called it, again, as ABM is B2B. It’s funny, just a quick sidebar about that, our publisher was like, “Are you sure you want to write a book that has two acronyms and three words, with one word that’s ‘is’ in that?” And I’m like, “Yep! This is not for everybody. This is not supposed to or try to even be a Wall Street Journal or New York bestseller. This is for B2B companies, very specific, that we want to go after, and this is like our business card in many ways to drive business and conversation.”
So, really interesting how ABM can play not just in display advertising, or direct mail, but even books, or events. Anything that gets you in front of the right people in the right way, is, to me, account-based marketing. But to answer your broader question, you’re right. I think the genesis of all of this for me was that this is just a better mousetrap in about 2015, 2016, when we wrote the book. But in the last four years, we have seen that it has gone through, and there are like stories of six companies that I’ve written in the book, where these companies, in some of them, for example, Snowflake, they’re actually doing pipeline velocity campaign, which means if your deal is stuck in pipeline, then that’s when they actually activate a much more strategic, high touch campaign around that account, because they know at this point, this account has raised their hand, they’re gonna buy from you or your competitor. This is the time to really get in, so marketing really got fully involved as soon as something hit a pipeline that was one of their target list of accounts.
Very different ballgame from maybe marketing automation days and plays. And then even more interestingly was Thomson Reuters, who is a very well-known company. I even got the legal department to approve and sign off on this. They focused on ABM for upsell campaigns, their expansion campaign, and their win rate was 95%. I’m like, “Nobody’s gonna believe me when I say that,” so I got their legal team to approve on this when we wrote in the book, and that was all because they were so crystal clear about the target accounts that they wanted to upsell to, because they already were customers, and they already had a very clear message for the product and services they wanted to upsell. And which I would call it almost up serving in many ways.
So, I think you’re right. I mean, the reason it became even a bigger deal is that everything else was about top of the funnel acquisition, whereas ABM, because it is a strategy, became more part of your B2B growth strategy across acquisition, across pipeline velocity, across expansion. That just means that you, as a marketer or salesperson, are not involved across the entire funnel, if that’s something that you’re interested in.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting to me… One of the things that listeners of this podcast have heard me ramble on about enough is just that the funnel is completely flawed. The notion of a funnel for a business that has a small total addressable market, to even think about your marketing and sales apparatus through that lens leads you down the road of so many bad decisions. And as you’re in some ways playing that back to me just now, and we’re talking about the different opportunities for marketing to make a real, bottom-line impact in very significant areas in enterprise, it all seems… Well, one, a little too good to be true. But the other, it seems like it should be a pretty easy sell.
So, Sangram, I guess what do you think is standing in the way of really mass adoption of ABM? Do you feel like we’re on the cusp of that? Or what’s holding it back?
Sangram Vajre: That’s a great question, Jeff. I think-
Carman Pirie: No, just to be clear, Jeff has lots of great questions, but that was Carman, and if I’m gonna get a great question in, I just want to have credit.
Jeff White: Yeah, you want to own it.
Carman Pirie: Yeah!
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: So, anyway.
Jeff White: No, fair enough.
Sangram Vajre: All right, Carman, this is what happens when you can’t see the people on the other side.
Carman Pirie: It’s all good.
Sangram Vajre: But that’s a great question, because quite honestly, it feels like for us, the last four years we’ve been waiting for and it felt like we’re waiting at the start of the line, running as hard as possible, but we are kind of in our own starting zone, and we haven’t really got to the… definitely not to the finish line, but not even got into the relay match yet. And what’s interesting is right now, one of the reasons why it is still, I would say, in the 5% or 10% of the companies are doing this, it’s still not at the cusp of… I would say unfortunately, it’s still not at a full-fledged adoption, is primarily for two main reasons, at least from my point of view, and as we as a company look at it.
Number one, this requires, we’re talking about real business transformation, which means the metrics that matter to you may not work anymore. I’ll give you a quick example of that. For example, Pramata, another story in the book that we wrote about was their traffic when they started doing account-based marketing dropped by 70%. Think about that for a second. If you are a company that, where traffic drops by 70%, you’re gonna say, “Hey, marketing. You don’t know what you’re doing.” Right?
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Somebody gets fired often.
Sangram Vajre: Somebody gets fired for that, right? But Jeremy, at this company, they got promoted, because what they did was, over the two-year period, they essentially identified the target list of accounts. Their company doesn’t need thousands of leads, they just need… They literally had 100 or 200 companies they wanted to target because they’re closing million-dollar deals, and the way their business model works, these are very sticky, long-term, five-year, ten-year deals. So, in many ways, they don’t really have any churn or retention issues, so they literally took away all marketing programs, and solidified just to these 100 or 200 accounts that they wanted to get in front of.
As a result of that, they didn’t need all the tools, so their cost of acquisition dropped by 60%, and the traffic that was coming to their website was only coming from those 100 or 200 companies, not from any and everybody. So, yes, their traffic dropped, but their pipeline and revenue actually went on, because they were creating personalized experiences, and programs, and truly doing account-based marketing to the tee. So, I think in many ways, the number one reason I feel this hasn’t moved is because a lot of it is driven by marketers, and right now, it is, that just means business transformation. That means you have to educate your CRO, and CEO. You have to build trust with your investors to say, “Hey, look. We’re not gonna look at the volume. We’re gonna look at quality.” And quite frankly, most marketers don’t have the trust or the credibility to say, “We’re gonna shift completely and try this new thing.”
So, I think that’s one. The other reason, I feel, is that this is literally because, it’s literally on the other side of the coin because this is a business transformation, it really needs to start with your CEO, to say that, “Hey, I’m gonna measure marketing differently. I’m not gonna measure based on leads and spreadsheets that my CFO and everybody put together. We are gonna look at tiers of accounts. We’re gonna look at the best fit accounts. We’re gonna go after the right accounts, the target list, or the industry.” That just means the CEO has to really get recalibrated on how they’re gonna measure success for their business and almost give marketing and sales the same number, not two different goals. And so, all of this leads to a really big challenge, so I think in the next five years, and Laura Ramos, who’s the research analyst of Forrester who read the book and also has shared that by 2025, they expect that ABM won’t even be a thing. It will be just better marketing and sales, and we agree, because ultimately if the metrics are the business outcome-oriented metrics, which are not in the majority of the marketing organizations out there, then we don’t need this traffic to the website as a report in the board deck. We really need, “Hey, how much pipeline are we creating? Which tiers are we engaging with? What’s wrong with this particular section of the tier account that we’re not getting engagement? What can we do differently?” And that’s a completely different ballgame, so I feel like those marketers are getting groomed right now, and CEOs and investors are getting educated, so it’s gonna take, we believe another two, three years until this becomes the norm of doing everything.
Carman Pirie: Man, I love the optimism, Sangram. I’ll say it because we know, and manufacturing marketers that we talk to every day, vary greatly in their knowledge of even some digital best practices-
Jeff White: Digital marketing fundamentals.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, they’ve been around for 20 years, and I know some of them will be listening to this thinking, “Man, it seems like another big hill that I need to climb, and I don’t know how to get there.”
Jeff White: Yeah.
Sangram Vajre: Yeah. You know, and one of the things, and I’m glad you said that, as well, because my best advice to anybody who’s like, “Well, this sounds too good to be true, love the idea of 95% win rate, but they’re Thomson Reuters. Love that Snowflake is doing this one-to-one campaigns and they’re seeing success, but that’s a tech company.” And there are other manufacturing and lots of other examples in healthcare and all these industries that we might consider not moving as fast as possible, but here is something that I’ve seen work almost every single time, when I ask somebody, “How did you find the first set of success in your organization to transform?”
Nobody ever came back to me and said, “Hey, look. We went and told everybody we were gonna do account-based marketing and transform.” Nobody. Everybody failed. Whoever did that, failed, because that is too big of a hill to charge, as you said, and too big of a change for an organization to adapt. But everyone, everyone who went and said, “Hey, I went and found Sally and Joe, on my sales team, who I’m buddies with, I go to drinks with them, I hang out with them, I go to a game with them. I literally went and asked them, ‘Hey, tell me the top ten accounts that you’re focused on for this month, or this quarter, that you need help with closing.’ They absolutely would know what those ten accounts are. They won’t even blink their eyes.” And when you have those ten accounts, as a marketer, go and do whatever you can.
Let’s say they’re in Boston. Do an event in Boston just for those three events. Like a dinner, or something like that. Nothing crazy. Or, let’s say they are in all financial services industry that you’re targeting to, just create an existing white paper, and rebrand it for financial services, or manufacturing industry, with the right stats around that industry, so it looks like it’s personalized. Maybe create a micro slide for that particular industry, or vertical, or that persona that you’re going after. I tell you, everyone who actually took the time to get two, one or two salespeople on board, and focused for that month or that quarter on their deals, were able to see success for them. And as soon as Sally and Joe saw success, guess what they did? They told everybody in their organization, right?
They told the CRO, and then the CEO will come down to the marketing team, “Hey, why are you not doing this for my entire sales organization?” That’s a great problem to have.
Carman Pirie: You know, nothing you said there had anything to do, frankly, with account-based advertising, which I kind of love, because of course, that’s the secret sauce on top of all this with Terminus, is that it’s not just about having an event, but it’s about getting in front of the right people at the right time, and being able to target them in an incredibly efficient way.
But the strategy goes beyond that, of course.
Sangram Vajre: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: Sangram, I wonder if you… I mean, there’s been a lot of evolution. I mean, you’re looking at, well, now the Terminus platform incorporates intent data, and things of that sort, so it’s not just about getting in front of the right people, but it’s also about getting in front of the right people at the right time. It’s a fast-moving space. We’re still in the early days of adoption of ABM, but as you look ahead, here we are staring down the barrel of 2020. This path, from 2020 to 2025, when the folks at Forrester are suggesting it won’t even be a thing anymore, it’s just gonna be the better way to do it. What are you excited about? What’s in the middle of that? What’s next for ABM?
Sangram Vajre: Yeah, that’s, again, another interesting thought experiment that we obviously pontificate every day at Terminus. Because sometimes it might feel, especially for us, to be so far ahead that we forget where people are. So, to set the stage, I still… We really, truly, do believe that we’re just in the early innings of this, so it’s like 5 to 10% of the market, the early adopters are in the game, and are checking out and scouting everything that’s going on, and will essentially drive the mass market in the next few years.
I think there are probably two or three areas that are really interesting. One, we think that this idea of fit, intent, and engagement is pretty solid, which means find the right list of target accounts, so that’s… You find the right fit. You just figure out, do you know your target account list? You’ll be surprised. Anywhere I go, one of the things I do from the event stage is like, “Raise your hand if you know your total addressable market. Exactly the number of companies you should be closing or selling to that you can serve.” And in a room of thousand people, there are like five people who would raise their hand, and I think that’s because all of them are from the same team, or it’s peer pressure.
So, a lot of times people don’t even know the exact number of lists of accounts they need to go after. I think that is something that they can literally take away from this, ask themselves, and go back to the team and ask, like, “Hey, sales, or marketing, or CEO, do we know exactly, not billion-dollar market size. No, no. Exactly the number of companies you need to sell, that you can sell, you can serve this year or this month.” Start focusing on that level of preciseness, and I feel like that’s a big challenge, so I feel like getting above the noise, to figure out who you want to go after is a big challenge right now across industry.
And I think if people can figure that out, the fit part, and then figure the intent, which is as you said, through intent data and stuff is like, “All right, now that I know, let me closely watch any and everything that happens with these accounts that I care to close this month, or this quarter, or this year.”
And then engagement is really where you pull the real data from all these engagement metrics, where I don’t… I imagine a day where marketing and sales are actually looking into the same dashboard, and not walking into a room with two different spreadsheets, or two different dashboards, saying, “We don’t know whose numbers are correct.” I really feel like that’s where the world is going. That’s where I think Terminus wants to go, is to unify that one view for marketing and sales, because quite honestly, I wrote it in the first page of the book, I believe that marketing’s job is defined by sales, which means we need to drive incremental or exponential sales, so in that case, if we don’t have the same view, the same dashboard, the same pain that sales might feel at any given time, then we’re missing the point of this whole thing.
So, I feel like that’s the direction in the next five years we need to take. Maybe through spreadsheets or stuff, but we need to get to one view.
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Carman Pirie: I love that. I always laugh when everybody loves to pontificate about seamless customer experiences, and then they draw a hard line between marketing and sales in their organization and wonder why that seamless experience isn’t delivered.
Sangram Vajre: So true. The outside customer and you shared a little bit about your experience with Terminus, I think they don’t care who they’re talking to. They look at that as Terminus. So, if they had a bad experience with marketing, no matter how great your sales team is, they’re gonna feel like that’s how the sales team is, and that’s how the entire company is, so you’re absolutely right. Every single touchpoint is… I think Jay Baer said it on of the FlipMyFunnel podcasts, one I did with him probably a year ago, and I still remember it, which means it was very powerful for me, at least, which is that every touch, every touch that you have with your customer or future customer, either you’re building your brand, or crushing it, or killing it in other words, so are you building with those cold emails, or ads, or direct mail? Either you’re building it, or you’re just killing it, and we just have to choose. One of those two things is happening in every single touchpoint.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s like you’re either putting money in the piggy bank or taking it out. Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff White: Interesting.
Carman Pirie: Well, Sangram, it’s been lovely to kind of get this broad overview from you, about ABM, where it’s going, and I just can’t help but share the excitement that we’re kind of in those early innings, like you say, and I think a lot of marketers listening to the podcast, I mean, this is a real opportunity, too, for people to really move the yardsticks significantly down the field. You know? Staring down the barrel at 2020, and looking at a lot of samesies in your marketing plan, and to me, this is a pivot that’s open probably to almost everybody listening to the program, so I really thank you for sharing it with us today.
Sangram Vajre: Absolutely. I love it. This conversation, I can have it all day long, because this is a pain point that I had as a marketer for many years, and through personal therapy or so, I think I’ve come across on the other side of it, so I’m happy to share that, and hopefully someone can take this and try to answer even the one, the first question of the day, which is, “Do you even know, and does your company know how many accounts you need to target? What is your total addressable market?” And I feel like it is a very simple question, but extremely hard to answer.
Jeff White: I know we’ve certainly had that question with a number of prospects, and guests we’ve had on the podcast. There are very few that can answer it with any degree of certainty.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, I was interviewed on the Digital Marketing Scoop podcast a week or two ago, out of Cork, Ireland, and they were asking me about account-based marketing, and kind of where does it all start, and without knowing I was singing from the same song sheet as you, Sangram, that’s what I said. I mean, like, “Well, it starts with actually knowing. Do you have the list? Can you answer the question?” And almost everybody I speak to cannot. I mean, from billion-dollar manufacturers through to the young freelancer who’s knocking on the agency door wanting a little bit of business advice.
You know, neither of them knows who they want to speak to, who they actually want to market to, and it all starts there.
Sangram Vajre: Absolutely. I’m with you.
Jeff White: There are some bright lights, though. I mean, we’ve certainly spoken with a number of, especially more startup manufacturers, who seem to really have a good sense of exactly who can buy their product, and who they’re trying to sell to, either through Kickstarter type journey or something else. I mean, it is an interesting space in manufacturing.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, that’s fair. I mean, I think they’ve had to maybe put more of that work into it, because as they’re building a new product from scratch, they have to be thinking more about who it’s for, whereas I think maybe marketers in more established manufacturing enterprises, maybe they find themselves like… They’re entering the program already in progress. You know?
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Interesting. Well, look. Sangram, it’s been great having you on the show. Thanks so much for joining The Kula Ring today.
Sangram Vajre: Thank you so much for having me.
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Sangram VajreCo-Founder & Chief Evangelist at Terminus
Sangram Vajre is the Co-Founder & Chief Evangelist at Terminus, a SaaS platform for account-based marketing (ABM). He has quickly built a reputation as one of the leading minds in B2B marketing. Sangram has been a driving force behind the success of Terminus and building the ABM subcategory of marketing technology. Before co-founding Terminus, Sangram was Head of Marketing at Pardot through its acquisition by ExactTarget and then Salesforce. Sangram is the author of “Account-Based Marketing For Dummies” and “B2B is ABM”, a contributing columnist for Inc., and is the mastermind behind #FlipMyFunnel. In 2016, Sangram was named to the DMNews 40 Under 40 list in addition to Terminus winning more than a dozen awards such as Startup of the Year from the American Marketing Association (Atlanta chapter) and #1 Best Place to Work from the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The company scaled to more than 100 people and graduated from the Atlanta Tech Village. In 2017, Terminus was named #1 in Employee Appreciation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and #3 Top SMB Company for Top Workplaces in Atlanta. Terminus was also awarded Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Georgia for 2017, having ranked in the Top 40 in 2015 and 2016.