Friday, April 13, 2018

My Interview with Digital Marketer, Account Based Marketing Expert and Terminus Co-Founder Sangram Vajre

Sangram Vajre
This transcript was edited for readability.  The original video recorded interview can be watched here.
Hello, I’m Kevin Benedict, Senior Vice President of Solutions Strategy here at Regalix, and I want to thank all of you for joining this Digital Expert Interview series. I’m just thrilled to have as my guest today, Sangram Vajre. Sangram, thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having me, Kevin. I’m excited.
Sangram is the co-founder and chief evangelist of Terminus. Why don’t you tell us about Terminus?
We started Terminus in 2014. We thought that something was wrong with the way marketing and sales worked. Forrester came out with this research around 2014 that reported less than 1% of leads turn into customers. Thinking about that, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way B2B marketing and sales is working if only 1%, or less than 1% is turning into customers.
We are on a mission to build the best-in-class account-based marketing (ABM) platform and community to help B2B marketers be heroes in their organization. That’s our mission statement.
Our platform connects with Salesforce and LinkedIn and you can literally say say here is a list of companies I want to go after. Here are the types of people, and the roles we want to go after. We’ll help you advertise to them across mobile, LinkedIn, web and videos. It will also give you analytics at the account level. You can answer the question, the age old question, “Where’s my money going?” We can also help you understand which accounts are spending what money.

Did your company come first ,or did the trend in the account based marketing?
That’s a great question. To give credit where it is due, ABM, account-based marketing term was first used, I think in the 1990’s by ITSMA, which is an European advisory firm. It was before it’s time. Just like many good things if it’s not the right time it doesn’t do well. Think about Uber and Lyft. There were many other companies who tried to be like Uber and Lyft, but they were just too early, or their execution was bad.
ITSMA created the term ABM or first talked about this term, I think in the 1990’s, but then, trends like marketing automation came about and ABM didn’t pick up until 2013 or 2014. When I started to write about ABM in 2014/2015, there wasn’t anything written about it. Wiley’s approached and wanted me to write a book, which I did and Wiley’s published it in 2015.
That’s a big project! I’ve had those discussions with Wiley before and the commitment is huge.
Extremely! A lot of people have asked, “How did you start a company, while at the same time writing a book?” I’ll be very honest, I would wake up at 5 AM or 5:30 AM every day and meet a team member from 6am to 8am for a couple hours . During those 2 hours I would talk about ABM and she would record and transcribe it. Then I would go run the company and come back in the evening and do the edits. We did that for four months straight. It was a lot of work, but well worth it.
I think I’d run out of things to say after about six days.
That’s why we would interview people – that’s why I love what you’re doing here with this interview. I interviewed experts that know more than me about specific topics. We interviewed about 50 or so people who knew data, who knew the advertising world, who knew analytics. It really helped us.
What happened in 2013, 2014 that made account-based marketing take off with large enterprises?
I think it’s not a revolution that happened all of a sudden, it’s more of an evolution. What I mean by that is if you look at the history every five years there is some sort of magic that happens in the B2B marketing space. Where something new that fundamentally changes it happens. In the 2000’s, it was email. Do you remember ExactTarget? Email marketing was amazing at that time. Marketers still do email, but at that time marketers used to get 80-90% open rate! It was just phenomenal!
Five years later, however, in 2005 marketing automation came to life. People thought, “Hey, if we can send emails, we should be able to capture leads.” As a result, start-ups like Eloqua, Marketo and Pardots were launched.
Fast forward to 2010 and marketers said, “We’ve got too many leads now. We need to figure out if we’re working on the right leads. Marketers wanted to predict and understand which leads were the right leads for the sales teams to focus on.”
Fast forward five more years to 2015 and ABM came to life. Marketers said, “We still have the same challenge.” Less than 1% of leads are turning into customers. We need to fundamentally change the way marketing and sales is working. We had not made much progress except perhaps to transform from mass-marketing to more personalization. I think that personalization is one of the biggest reasons ABM is having such a big moment right now.
I think back to 2012, the research reports and all the kinds of publications I was writing about were social, mobile, analytics, cloud, security and IoT. Were these emerging digital technologies necessary to make ABM possible?
That’s a great question, Kevin. I think that social selling is a big thing. I remember very distinctly, I was at a market conference in 2013, and Jill Rowley who was a social selling queen was speaking. She was doing a keynote and it was a very big moment for me. I think a lot of people sitting in that room recognized that marketing and sales, were having a tug of war contest. Marketing was saying, “We do things better, and this is how it should be done.” Sales was saying, “No, we do things better.” I think it had come to a point where both marketing and sales realized they had to be #one-team. Customers don’t care if we are in marketing or sales – they just want a good experience.
I believe that all of these developments were small steps in the right direction, but none of them, on their own, were really big. Marketing automation was a big move, but social selling and predictive never really caught on. ABM is the latest big change, but this time it’s not just a tool or platform, rather it’s a holistic strategy. It’s fundamentally changing how marketing and sales are working.
What kinds of technologies support ABM? Is it cloud-based platforms that make it possible? Is it social platforms that make it possible?
That is a tough question. I think technologies are still emerging around ABM, and I think the ecosystem is going to be way bigger than marketing automation. Marketing automation only sat on the demand generation side of the house, which meant marketers send more emails, get more leads and that was the focus. ABM, however, fundamentally says it is all about the right company, and the right people. It doesn’t matter if it’s demand gen, pipeline velocity, customer marketing, upsell/cross sell or land & expand. It really doesn’t matter as long as it’s revenue. That is why ABM is so much more broader and bigger.
The first step to doing ABM right is to have the right data. This leads us to companies like, Everstring in the predictive space, and Bombara, who is in the data space. They really are the best. Then you can expand out to LinkedIn because that’s where everybody is self-reporting. You know who has the right roles to target. From an engagement perspective, that’s where we (Terminus) comes in. Then there is Videoart, they do video marketing, which, I think is extremely important for personalization. Then for advocacy and measurement there are customer success tools like Influitive and Gainsight that can really have an impact.
OK, you know the right companies to target. You know the right kind of positions and individuals to target. How do you associate the right content to the right step in the path-to-purchase journey with that someone? How is it done?
Oh, man, that is the Holy Grail of marketing, because content is at the heart of it. Even if we have the right data, if it’s not the right content, the relevancy just misses out and personalization fails. So, here’s something that I’ve seen and it has been mind blowing for me and hopefully, it is for other people. I worked at Pardot and SalesForce before I started Terminus. I was in a demand generation marketing role, and I used to get goosebumps when I had 400 people sign up for my webinar or, you know, 500 or 600 people download an e-book. Those were the days when marketers thought they were crushing it because they got so many participants. Now, I get no enjoyment in those kinds of numbers, because what I realized is they were not necessarily the right people from accounts that my sales team could close. We were wasting our time by having our sales people qualify people who downloaded the e-book or registered for a webinar.
Today, we do webinars differently. They are on very specific topics like, “How do fortune 500 financial services companies do X, Y and Z?” That means we’re not going to get thousands of people to watch, we’re going to get 40-50.
We are not stopping e-books and webinars. We are just changing the approach. We know what we’re trying to do, and who we’re trying to go after. We use reverse-engineering and create the right content. We must first know what our customers want, and then create the content for them – so we get the right people to look at it – that’s ABM.
At Regalix, where I am a senior vice-president of solutions strategy, we work with a lot of different marketing teams and product managers. Often, if the company has twenty products, then we’re dealing with 20 different product managers and they each do things differently. So, although, we love the business, it’s not a unified cohesive approach. How would you work with a large Fortune 500 company and advise them on how to implement a unified approach?
We do a FlipMyFunnel podcast and today’s episode was about that. What we’re finding is companies want to do ABM because it’s the cool thing. It’s the shiny thing. Your neighbor is doing it, so you better do it, right? Marketers, however, are forgetting to ask why they are doing it, and how they can measure success?
The best use cases we have found are large enterprises because they already know who they’re selling to. They are doing ABM, in some way, shape or form already. They’re doing ABM by organizing golf tournaments or dinners. They are doing ABM by getting the right kind of people, at the right levels, to come and talk and have a conversation.
What we have seen customers struggle with is falling back into the same mode of counting people who are downloading an e-book or attending a webinar or event. Again, the point is to get the right people not maximize numbers. It’s a constant education process.
We started a professional services group just to help educate the right people in the organization. We share how other companies are doing it right.
It sounds like, from an ABM perspective, that it might be better to have a breakfast event for ten people, than to set-up a giant booth at an event where you need to sort through a hundred thousand people walking past.
Exactly! It’s better to do a focused event for 10 people, than a press release for example. Press releases are only read by your CEO for their ego, or your board of directors because they want to make sure their investment is doing well, or maybe some customers just because they want to know whether your company is viable. Beyond that, the press releases have fundamentally no value, in my mind, from an ABM perspective. Do you agree or do you see it differently?
I would not totally agree with that. Given that a lot of what you’re doing, operationally, is recruiting new people to join your company, so the first thing they do is read your press releases.
That’s a great point.
The second thing is, it might not be your target audience reading the press releases, but it might be other media sources that are better suited to you. They read the press release and then call to interview you. But from a direct lead gen perspective – you are right.
Those are two really good points. For a recruiting perspective, it’s absolutely important and from media relationship perspective, because you want to show continuous growth and innovation. But beyond that, as a marketing tactic for lead generation, it just doesn’t seem to work anymore because everybody’s doing it.
We all know Scott Brinker’s company. I have a friend of mine who just joined as the CMO, and he said as soon as he became CMO, he got hundreds, and he wasn’t kidding, hundreds of emails from all kinds of vendors. “Hey, congratulations! Do you want to check out this tool?” My friend said, “If I responded, I wouldn’t have time to do my job.”
I write a lot about digital transformation, artificial intelligence, chatbots, automation and mobility, but as soon as I start writing about marketing, I see the same thing. Suddenly, every vendor focused on marketing is sending me emails.
Is there an ABS – account-based sales flavor? If so, what does account-based sales look like in relation to account based marketing?
This is funny because I have been asked, “Why do you hate marketing so much.” My answer is, “I don’t hate marketing. I’m a marketer!” But people think that because I am always talking about how important it is for marketers to align with sales. If the sales numbers are going up and your revenue numbers are going up, what happens? Marketers get more money. It’s as simple as that. If the revenue number drops, no matter how amazing your marketing organization or the marketer is, they’re going to have less budget and resources. It’s just the way it is.
As the founder of Terminus, I have come to realize there is this number called sales and marketing efficiency that the board and everybody watches to make sure it is acceptable. Efficiency means marketing and sales are tied at the hip and working together to get results.
I think the reason ABM is such a thing today is because marketers have fallen behind. To prove my point – sales departments have always hired account executives, not lead executives. Sales has always been focused on accounts. In the last decade and a half, I don’t know of a single company that hired lead executives for sales.
The fact that marketers had been giving leads [not qualified accounts] to sales for the last decade and a half shows there is something wrong in the marketing process. The reason ABM is catching on now is because sales needs it. I think marketers need help from sales to figure out if they are going after the right accounts. They want to make sure they are not wasting everyone’s time. Rather than focusing on the archaic criteria of budget, need, authority and timeline, marketers should focus on fit, intent and engagement. That’s the new model that we talk about – fit, intent and engagement. Finding the right kind of prospect is the marketer’s job today.
Marketers should figure out how to help sales by getting information from companies like EverString and Bombora. Use them to find out if an account has intent, which means is this account even looking for my products or services? We need to know that if we get evidence of interest from this company, then we go after them.
What role does data, math and algorithms play in ABM?
Let’s go back to the fit, intent and engagement model. Here’s the big challenge I see. Every single company has this spreadsheet that says give me X number of leads, then there are X number of opportunities created, X number of demos set and X number of customers, right? And the CEO, the board, everybody is looking at that spreadsheet. So, they go to the marketing team and say, “Give me more numbers and our sales can close them based on the ratios and conversion rates. Give me this to get that.” It’s very simple math. That math has been used for the last decade and a half, and it’s ruining marketing. Marketers are spending way more money on creating campaigns that do not drive real deals.
The new model – fit, intent, and engagement, is no longer about getting as many of these numbers. For example, at Terminus, we have 9,000 companies that we know are in our fit criteria. These are our target companies and we break it down from there.
People can also do a better job at picking up the tiers – tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3. The companies that are big enterprise companies, the tier 1 million dollar deals; we need to treat them differently, than tier 2 accounts which are half the size, half the potential revenue, and half the opportunity for us. And then there are the small tier 3 transactional deals that are just going to give it a shot on their own.
Each one of these tiers should be in a different marketing program with a different engagement model. An engagement for a tier 1 might be an exclusive breakfast or dinner event because the value of those deals are so much higher. The engagement for a tier 3 account, which are transactional in nature, might be an overall industry marketing program and we’re not going to worry about any specific accounts.
For tier 1 accounts it might be a direct mail piece, because they don’t get much direct mail and it can be very personalized. It might be a one-hundred-dollar direct mail piece, whereas for tier 2 it might be a twenty-dollar direct mail piece. I think the engagement level is strikingly different. You’re spending different amounts of time, energy, money or resources on each tier.
The marketing models have all started to evolve. We must educate our CFOs, CEOs, and our boards on these models.
Everywhere we look, everything we read, every conference we attend, people are talking about the massive new influx of data from all kinds of digital interaction, wearables, mobile phones, you name it. I imagine that impacts ABM?
Data is important because it can show intent. To me, it all goes back to intent. Are the people you are going after, are they showing intent or not? That’s why data is super important. At the same time, I feel it still goes back to storytelling.
We are all humans, and we often have irrational responses. I buy products because I like a company, and I believe in the company, even though there might be better products at cheaper prices. I don’t think that is going to change, unless it’s a very transactional product and I’m not talking to anybody. I want to believe that I’m part of a bigger thing. That I’m part of a movement. That I’m part of the innovation crowd. I think that’s where a lot of people are in their decision-making.
I feel that despite all the analytics and formulas in the world, the message is at the heart of it. The messaging must be emotionally appealing. I know great companies who have great formulas, and they can predict a whole lot of things, but people are not always rational. I feel like the emotional aspect is missing and slipping from marketing.
There was this ‘mad men’ era of marketers, who knew all about advertising and big brand messaging, and then there’s this new analytics type of marketer who thinks they have the formula for everything. In the middle is the customer is saying, “Show me that you care more, and that I matter.” I think we have to keep the customer at the center of it, otherwise we’re going to lose it because we’re too programmatic.
I would agree with that. I think there’s probably a scale. In consumer markets it’s more transactional and more numbers driven, but as you move up the tiers, it’s more relationship, trust based, where you really want to partner and work with them for decades.
You’re putting your reputation on the line. When I buy a product, I’m putting my reputation – my job on the line.
In wrapping up our interview, where do you see Account based Marketing going over the next three years?
I feel AI will be a big part of ABM, because it is all about personalization. I think people will truly start to understand ABM campaigns. They will figure out how to operationalize it. Right now, I think it’s a little bit fuzzy. I think there is more maturity that needs to happen. ABM has to go beyond demand generation. I think account-based marketers need to show how they can improve revenue. Revenue is revenue and the color of money is still green.
AI is very interesting and I’m diving deeper and deeper into it. We need to understand how we can tell an emotionally compelling story to the right account based on the behaviors they demonstrate. I don’t know if we’re there yet, but I can imagine a day where marketers would be able to create an emotionally appealing campaign with the formula to back it up with data. I think B2C has been doing that for decades and I think it’s time for B2B to step up as well.
Sangram, thank you so much for giving us this time this morning and sharing with everyone!
Kevin, thank you so much for having me! I had fun!

Kevin Benedict
Senior Vice President Solutions Strategy, Regalix Inc.
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.