ABM Technology: What tools can you use, and where do new tools fit in your stack?

Emily Sue Tomac
June 22, 2016

ABM Technology: What tools can you use, and where do new tools fit in your stack?

ABMarTechAs account-based marketing has continued to catch the attention of practitioners, marketing technology vendors, and the Marketing media, both the supply of and the demand for ABM technology has skyrocketed.

New tools designed around account-based marketing challenges and best practices have entered the market; established marketing technologies have released new features to better address account-based marketing use cases (Marketo is a notable recent example, though the release is forthcoming); and some products have merely re-branded, latching on to the ABM trend.

TrustRadius Research recently attended the #FlipMyFunnel Festival in Austin, a roadshow entirely dedicated to ABM. We interviewed speakers and attended sessions to find out more about:

  • How account-based marketing impacts the use of foundational marketing and sales technologies like CRM and Marketing Automation.
  • When it’s necessary to invest in new technologies to support new ABM initiatives.
  • What kinds of software support an ABM strategy, and how vendors, experts and practitioners are categorizing them.

ABM & Your MarTech Stack Right Now

The Role of CRM and Marketing Automation in ABM

Marketing automation and CRM systems are frequently called out for making it difficult to set up account-based marketing programs, since MA is built around leads, associating leads with accounts and opportunities is manual, and data is messy. Because the flow of information in these platforms is not designed account-first, reporting on ABM’s ROI can be tricky; i.e., it can be hard to quantify the impact of marketing’s engagement with individuals at an account, on the account opportunity overall. Yet most practitioners we talked to identified MA and CRM as the most important pieces of their ABM stacks—after all, you still need them to store contact info, send emails, coordinate multi-channel efforts, track campaign engagement, and connect Marketing data to Sales data.

Joe Quinn, who heads up an account-based marketing program at National Instruments, explained his use case for Salesforce and Eloqua, which he considers critical components of NI’s ABM program. Note that in most companies, sales reps are the primary owners of accounts, so they tend to be the primary users of the CRM; because Salesforce.com licenses are expensive, usually marketers’ access is somewhat limited.

However, Quinn said of his ABM team: “We are the only Marketing group to have similar access and privilege to Salesforce as our Sales account owners, which highlights how valuable our work is. We create contacts, we assign people visits to these companies to go meet people, then if there’s potential, we convert that visit to a Sales opportunity, and then the Sales account owner owns it. We do all of our reporting, metrics, and most of our interactions with our Sales account owners within Salesforce.”

Quinn says that at NI, Eloqua is primarily used for broad-based mass marketing and demand creation (a typical use case for MA), but that his team is also increasingly leveraging Eloqua for account-based marketing. “Right now, our most successful execution is our Account Introduction emails. Whenever a new contact enters our NI database from one of our targeted accounts an email is automatically sent with resources specific to the account, along with an introduction to their account owner, who is based locally and typically visits the account a few times a week.

This initial activity to introduce account owners to their accounts drives an average of 10 Sales visits per account and continues to deliver as we grow our database. It’s a simple means of marketing automation. Also, we are expanding our custom landing pages in Eloqua as we build out ‘like account’ marketing programs. Our broad-based MA programs, we leverage those in our key accounts too,” said Quinn. His last point, made by other practitioners we talked to as well, is important when thinking not only about the technology you’ll use but also about the types of content you’ll use for ABM. Some of your existing marketing mechanisms, like triggered emails, targeted landing pages, and an inbound blog, can and should be used within your ABM strategy. However, remember that the topics of these communications and the methods for measuring their impact will be different, since they’ll be based on engagement within key accounts instead of total number of leads/clicks/shares/etc.

In her presentation, Maria Pergolino, SVP of Global Marketing at Apttus (and formerly at Marketo), discussed specific, low-friction ways that marketers can better use their marketing automation systems for ABM—account-based marketing automation “hacks,” if you will. She sees ABM as part of the overall marketing mix, overlapping with other marketing efforts but adding in “big rocks,” like events and giveaways, as well as communications like videos and printed cards, which are higher touch than regular emails, designed for key accounts.

While Pergolino herself uses a range of new technologies to execute ABM at Apttus, she believes most marketers can start ASAP simply by better leveraging their existing tools, in particular Marketo, which is a widely used MA platform. “There are a lot of things people could be doing with marketing automation for ABM that aren’t being done well today. Four examples are: tokens, web personalization, purls, and dynamic content. These tools are underutilized, but they can be differentiators, and you can start using them right away if you’re already using Marketo,” she said. According to Pergolino, configuring marketing automation to support ABM “is not necessarily a whole different project, it’s just part of the everyday.” Beyond more personalized ABM communications, Pergolino thinks activating those four features of Marketo will allow marketers to upgrade their other programs as well.

Limitations of MA + CRM

Although his presentation at the conference was on ‘Building your Account-Based Marketing Stack,’ David Raab, MarTech thought leader, thinks the foundation of the marketing stack mostly remains the same for ABM. In general, according to Raab, “it’s just using the tools you have or tools similar to the ones you have in slightly new ways to do slightly new things. You’re still going to analyze customer data and prospect data, you’re going to decide who you send messages to, you’re going to send those messages, you’re going to track the results.” He does, however, identify the lead-based data architecture of existing MA software as a hurdle for account-based marketers.

“Marketing automation was traditionally organized around leads, so a lot of marketing automation systems weren’t even built with an account object. The way they store account information is by tacking it on to lead records, and if three people worked at the same company, well that was nice, but you’re probably asking the same questions about their company three different times, and chances are you’re getting three different answers. If you’re going to work at the account level, then you have to have a database that thinks in terms of accounts, and finds out correct information about each account, and then also takes concepts like lead scoring, but done by account and not by lead. It’s not easy if you don’t have an account object to begin with,” Raab said.

Here’s a practical example about the conference itself: in an interview, Tonni Bennett, Director of Sales at Terminus, described her frustration with the lead-focused reporting mechanisms between Salesforce.com and Pardot marketing automation software. Bennett says it’s difficult to accurately report on opportunity and deal conversion from events, including #FlipMyFunnel, which is a big part of account engagement in Terminus’s own ABM strategy. “CRM and Marketing Automation are both really lead-focused, which is a challenge for tracking ABM programs. For example, our CMO Sangram came to me a month after our first #FlipMyFunnel event and wanted to know how many of the companies who attended were customers or had become opportunities. There’s no way for me to run that report in Salesforce or Pardot. I can only see people who attended. So if one person from a company attended #FlipMyFunnel and became a lead, but then another person from that company who did not attend converted into an account opportunity and we closed a deal, that event isn’t tagged to the opportunity or the account,” explained Bennett. She said that while these systems make ABM very challenging, they’re still the foundation of all Marketing and Sales programs. Therein lies the Catch-22, according to Bennett: “It is a nightmare right now to take an ABM approach using CRM and MA. The ironic thing is that both are central to an ABM strategy; I don’t think you can do it well if you don’t have those together. But neither quite meets the needs of a true ABM superhero.”

Bennett believes marketing technology will continue to evolve to help solve these problems, but isn’t sure whether traditional marketing automation and CRM platforms will ever be ousted. Ultimately, she said, “I think it will be interesting to see if there are just tools built to tack onto those, to make them more user-friendly for ABM, or if there will be a new CRM/MA tool that gets developed to meet this need.”

None of the new technology for ABM discussed at #FlipMyFunnel replaces MA or CRM (at least not yet). Rather, new tools complement or modify the existing martech foundation to make contact data, campaign planning, and marketing analytics more compatible with the account object. Integration to MA and/or CRM is a common characteristic among new ABM solutions.

Lincoln Murphy, Growth Architect at Winning by Design, sees another limitation to the status quo systems of record. Besides account objects, Murphy thinks persona objects, or role filters, are an equally important layer that’s been overlooked. “ABM requires you to stop looking at the company as a lead, and also stop looking at individual people as just leads. It really requires you to look at individual people within a company and determine whether the company is in your target market and whether those people are relevant—do they fit your target persona?

In the old system (and really still today), if someone from company ABC visits your website and downloads a whitepaper, it gets interpreted as a sign that company ABC is interested in your product, even if the person is in the wrong department and wrong role. In the new system, within your ideal customer profile, you’ve also developed target personas: the key people you think you can reach out and influence, or who can influence the sale internally,” suggests Murphy. He says this can be handled by adapting existing tools and designing new processes for analyzing campaign results, or by implementing new ABM technology, but he’s not convinced that most organizations are ready for new tech yet. Either way, Murphy thinks marketers “have to dig in deeper than leads to connect the dots. There are purpose-built ABM tools that are bringing this all together and that aim to help you do it at scale, but I think you don’t have to go there just yet. Right now I think it’s more about a mindset shift—it’s a quality over quantity play.”

When do you really need new tools for ABM?

David Raab agrees that marketers should take it slow with new ABM tech investments. He recommends buyers be very clear about what features are needed, what goals new tools will achieve, and how they will fit into the greater marketing and sales stack. Like Murphy, Raab says organizations need to focus first on designing their ABM strategy and assessing where the gaps are with existing tools, before they’re ready to automate and scale with new technology. In Raab’s opinion, “It’s about how you enhance your existing stack with the additional capabilities that you need to do ABM. It’s not about replacing your tools necessarily, it’s about looking at specific requirements that your existing tools may or may not fill. If they don’t fill them, then you might need to replace them or add to them.”

Conversely, Joe Chernov, VP of Marketing at InsightSquared, has already invested in a handful of new ABM technologies, and based on the progress his team has been able to make, he has a very different perspective from Raab and Murphy on the state of the account-based marketing stack. He sees ABM as requiring a range of additional tools on top of MA and CRM, in order to be sustainable for his team at InsightSquared (whose target market, it’s worth noting, are smaller or mid-market companies rather than huge enterprise accounts). In order for ABM to be effective, it needs to be fairly personalized, but in order for it to be cost effective, especially with smaller deal sizes, ABM needs to strike a balance between customization and automation and be able to scale.

Regarding the state of the MarTech stack, Chernov thinks, “In terms of marketing technology and ABM, we’re somewhat back to fragmentation. In an inbound world, the center of gravity was your integration of CRM and marketing automation. Along with CMS, that was kind of all you needed. All of the other investments were nice-to-haves. You could do something cool for interactive content, or repackage your content in a different way, or use cool visualization tools. But they were all moons satelliting this sun: the nexus of CRM and MA. Now, there’s more than one center of gravity.”  For Chernov, these tools are certainly not optional; his ABM program could not run without them. “We need Marketo, but we also need Engagio. Engagio is no longer a nice-to-have for us, because it’s where our ABM cohorts are built. It’s mission critical.  We’re also using Node, Infer, Triblio, and Terminus in our ABM program,” he added.

Julia Stead, Director of Demand Generation at Invoca, also has an advanced ABM stack in place. In terms of technology specifically for their ABM strategy, Stead’s team uses Everstring for predictive account targeting, Datanyze for firmographic and technographic intelligence, InsideView for data appending, Brightfunnel for multi-touch attribution, LeanData for lead to account matching, PFL for integrating direct mail into Marketo, and Terminus, for account-based display ads.

However, Stead recognizes that purchasing and implementing these technologies won’t happen overnight, and that many marketers will need to prove ABM works before they can invest heavily in new technology. Here is what she said about differentiating what technologies you need to start doing ABM vs. what you can do without at first if you’re worried about the initial investment: “To make it work, first you need to have a good solid target account list. That’s really the foundation. Without a good list of accounts that everyone agrees you want to be selling into, ABM is not going to be successful. So depending on how big that list is and how big your company is, you might need tools to help you automate that, like predictive analytics.

But if you’re small and early stage, you probably don’t have enough historical data to do a predictive model, and you might have a big enough adjustable market that you and your sales team can sit down and just manually come up with a list of a hundred. You also need tools to be able to do attribution for ABM. Your existing tools may actually work, if your marketing automation tool includes multi-touch attribution. Just make sure you’re capturing that data somehow. In terms of direct mail, we do not need to use PFL—we could have done ABM without it. But, it made our program a lot more scalable and more affordable than previously, where we would have done direct mail through an agency. With display advertising, we did need something like Terminus to be able to do account-specific display advertising. You need some kind of tool if you want to only focus ads on target accounts.”

Breaking Out The Different Types of ABM Software by Process / Function

‘ABM Software’ is not a cohesive software category. It is an amalgamation of tools with different feature sets, addressing various marketing needs in ways that contribute to an overarching ABM strategy. There are a number of ways practitioners, vendors, and experts bucketize new technology for ABM, usually related to the stage of the funnel or the functional activity the tool addresses with an ABM approach. Below are three possible typologies that were proposed at #FlipMyFunnel, one from Terminus that is based on the flipped funnel process view, one from Craig Rosenberg, Co-founder and Chief Analyst at TOPO, which aligns more with the established, functional categories of marketing technology, and one from Tyler Lessard, CMO at Vidyard, which combines process and function in a sort of practical, hybrid view.

Funnel Process View

Terminus, an ad display software for account targeting (and also the host of the FlipMyFunnel conference), organizes technology for ABM according to the stage of the ‘flipped funnel’ each product addresses: identifying target accounts, expanding your audience within those accounts, engaging influencers and decision makers at those accounts, and then getting the people who are engaged deeply to advocate for your product or service, within their own company and to people at other accounts. They created a landscape visual showing the many many logos of marketing software that fit into an ABM stack.


FlipMyFunnel Stack


In the first bucket are tools that help users create a list of key accounts—this includes defining your target market, discovering net new accounts within your target market, and using analytics to forecast which accounts will likely buy, be successful, and/or have a high lifetime value. Besides predictive analytics tools that use CRM data + big data from the web to create a list of best-fit accounts, there are also prescriptive tools in this group that prioritize targets and route them directly to sales reps, based on engagement with Marketing materials.

For example, Mike Sanchez, Sr. Director of Enterprise Acquisition and Growth at WP Engine, described his use of Velocify to identify accounts that are ready for a salesperson to engage. “Velocify has a lead distribution engine, so you can route leads by vertical, score, things like that. It creates prioritization, and sends insights straight into our reps dashboards. So let’s say we get a reply on an email. The contact is going to score higher and pop up first on that rep’s dashboard so they know to call right away. If the contact downloaded a whitepaper or visited our website—say we’re doing a HubSpot campaign and we cookied them so we know exactly when they visit our website—it pops into the dashboard to say, hey this customer just went to the pricing page, it’s time to follow up.” Sanchez told us. WP Engine also uses Terminus and Salesforce as part of their ABM program.

In the second bucket are tools that help users find more contacts at their key accounts, like data providers and vendors who look at account-based IP addresses, email addresses, LinkedIn profile tags, etc. to expand your audience within an account. (These are all early-stage pre-sale activities.) For example, Christopher Long, Director of Marketing Operations at WP Engine, and Mike Sanchez explained how Terminus helped them expand brand awareness and warm up a broader audience within their target market. Their initial pilot tested whether exposing more contacts at accounts in particular industries, with particular technographics, would increase response rates to cold outreach. “Our theory was that if we could identify verticals that we knew we had success in the business already, we could replicate that success on a wider scale.

So we took the approach of identifying accounts that met our technology profile within those verticals, and running display advertising through Terminus to them, and simply seeing if those brand impressions increased response rates. We didn’t have high brand awareness, so we thought just introducing the brand might warm up the conversation, because our product-market fit is so strong for these folks that we identified, that when our SDRs and reps reached out, we would get higher response rates and higher open rates to the emails, and just allow the conversation to happen,” Long said. The results, according to Sanchez: “Well, we doubled our response rates immediately. We also discovered, for larger organizations as we try to go up-market, we had a lot more referrals. We also saw a lot more success with partners by targeting the mid-market and tier one agencies.” Terminus sees itself fitting within the two middle categories: Expand (reach new eyes) and Engage (with relevant ad content).

In the third bucket are really a whole range of content and communications-based tools that allow users to create and/or deliver messages to contacts at accounts. This is the bulk of traditional marketing technology. In an ABM context, tools in this group often integrate to the first and second buckets in order to power targeted, rule-based communications (aka personalization at scale). For example, Tony Yang, VP of Demand Generation at Mintigo, explained how his team uses their own predictive technology plus a range of other engagement tools to run ABM.

Yang gave a detailed view into how predictive identification of target accounts integrates into content development and distribution, and how he’s planning to expand with new engagement tools in the future: “Mintigo helps us identify target accounts most likely to buy and the best messages to offer to these accounts. Our own Mintigo account is integrated with our Marketo and Salesforce instances, which means that the predictive scores and the data for target accounts that I get from Mintigo gets appended to leads and contacts in my Marketo & Salesforce. From this, I can do a variety of things, such as run target display ads through Terminus and AdRoll for these target accounts with additional segmentation. For top-of-the-funnel programs that help me generate leads in these target accounts, I work with partners such as Integrate and Madison Logic, as well as a handful of other content syndication partners that can target by a named account list. There are other technologies that I use that aren’t ABM specific, but are certainly part of the toolset, such as webinars (ReadyTalk), social media, search, etc. There are other ABM content tools that I’m in the process of evaluating right now, some of which include PFL to add a dimensional mailer component to our program, and in the future I’ll probably implement a web personalization tool.”

The last bucket includes tools that help users track and manage customer success, find advocates, get advocates on the record, use advocates for customer and referral marketing, etc. (These are all post-sale, customer experience and customer lifecycle activities.)

Functional Categories View

Craig Rosenberg took a more traditional, feature-based tact when describing the ideal ABM stack. He laid out 8 software categories, some established and some emerging, that he sees as the functional pieces of a MarTech stack that is optimized for ABM. (Here is TrustRadius’s similar description of how different marketing software categories play into ‘ABM software.’) He also offered commentary about some of the pieces he sees as most important, and where he sees the most opportunity.

“Which specific product you select will vary by use case, but,” said Rosenberg “I think the key components of an account-based everything stack are:

1) Account-based advertising.

2) Web personalization.

3) Account and contact data, which is key.

4) Predictive analytics.

5) Sales communications tools (for SDRs to follow up).

6) Marketing automation.

7) Account intelligence, aka background research, because you want to be as customized in your messages as possible.

8) The emerging idea of ‘ABM management.’ Some examples are LeanData, which allows you to modify your CRM to support account-based programs, or Engagio, with their Playmaker product that allows you to coordinate account plays through your MA platform.”

Rosenberg agrees with Raab and other experts that for the most part, marketing automation and CRM are not going away as staples of the MarTech stack, because “net net you still have to send emails.” He predicts continued development of apps that make MA more ABM-friendly, such as Engagio (who partners with Marketo) and Demandbase (who is partnering with Eloqua), rather than new ABM systems of record to replace them.

He also highlighted some marketing tools that tend to be considered optional, but that are need-to-haves for ABM. Rosenberg sees web personalization in particular as “an underutilized, yet brutally obvious thing you should go do, because it’s personalization at scale.” Rosenberg said technology in this category can go a long way towards making every touch relevant, which in his opinion, has been done poorly by most marketers to date—and in an account-based framework, is the lynchpin of getting a return on your investment. “The industry has been trying to do targeted content for a long time, but with big guesses,” said Rosenberg. “For example, we create personas, and then design a webinar that we think catches everyone. Instead, we need to make those decisions on an account-by-account basis. Just the simple conceit of having prospects come to the website and see their company, and having content that’s relevant to their business can be a difference-maker.”

Hybrid Process/Function View

In an interview, Tyler Lessard, CMO at Vidyard, offered a third perspective. As an ABM practitioner himself, Lessard’s was the most practical, step-by-step way of breaking down the ABM stack, based on the order in which his team does designs, implements, and iterates their program. The way they end up doing that, though, is shaped by the tools they’re using; so Lessard’s schema is a hybrid between stages of the marketing/sales process, and activities enabled by the technology they use.

“We think about our ABM technology stack as having three tiers. One of those tiers is the intent and propensity data around accounts to help us understand who we should be targeting with these programs. There are a lot of technologies that we now use to better understand which accounts have the highest propensity to buy from us, based on analysis of past success, as well as which organizations are showing the greatest interest or intent within our market. With the use of technology, that target list becomes very powerful, and can even become automated in how we identify more accounts to go after and put into these programs. The second is contact acquisition and data acquisition. So as we understand which accounts we want to go after based on that first set of data, the next thing is: how do we find individuals within that organization that we can target? There are lots of great tools out there now to acquire this kind of data via social information and lists, things like that. Now that we have the list of the right people at the right companies, we need the right technologies to help target those individuals, as well as unknown individuals at the same companies. That’s where products like Terminus come into play, in terms of display ads. There are other tools we use to hit those individuals on multiple channels, such as serving social ads to them, sending physical mailers to them, tracking when it arrived, and feeding that back into the cycle. So we have a variety of technologies to reach those individuals,” Lessard explained.

He added that there is one other layer of technology that is important for, but not exclusive to, his ABM program: “The last piece, of course, is the analytics and reporting, and starting to understand which tactics are working, and which accounts we are moving through the funnel faster because of the ABM program.” These insights allow Lessard to measure the ROI of his ABM program. In general, Marketing departments are being held more accountable for ROI. With ABM in particular, being able to demonstrate ROI is key because it is a new or growing investment in many organizations. Showing ABM’s impact on the bottom line can help convince executive leadership as well as other departments (particularly Sales) that making changes to Marketing goals, metrics, and the technology stack is worthwhile.

Existing Budget vs. New Line Items

Based on feedback from a range of practitioners we interviewed at the conference, marketing attribution/ROI analytics tools, predictive analytics tools, and integrated direct mail services are three types of software practitioners use for ABM that they might not have invested in otherwise. (All three of these tool types can be used outside of the context of ABM as well—it’s just that they’re not as widely adopted as things like MA and CRM.) Things like sales intelligence software, de-duping and data cleanup tools, ad serving & retargeting software, content management and content marketing systems (including video platforms) are also used for ABM. However, while there are newer, ABM-specific products available in these categories, these kinds of tools are also commonly used outside of ABM. So, marketers may have a more established budget or slot for them—or may have already invested in products that can be used for an ABM strategy, even if the products weren’t designed with ABM in mind.

About the Author

Emily Sue Tomac
Emily Sue Tomac is Senior Research Manager at TrustRadius, where she studies reviews, the technology buying and selling process, and buyers and vendors themselves. Her research aims to arm people with the tools and information they need to work better, smarter, and easier. She's on a mission to tell their stories, and drive change in how business technology is bought and sold. Prior to joining TrustRadius, Emily Sue worked on research in linguistics and the digital humanities.

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