Account Based Targeting’ with Ashley Kessler, Calabrio

Ashley Kessler is Head of Marketing & Business Development, EMEA at Calabrio, an innovative work force optimisation platform that empowers organisations with customer experience intelligence.

Our host Alex Price sits down with Ashley to explore her combined EMEA marketing and business development role at Calabrio, whilst talking about their account based marketing approach to marketing which they refer to as ‘Account Based Targeting’.

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Full Transcript

Alex (00:07):

Hello, welcome back to the FINITE podcast. Today, I’m really looking forward to sitting down with Ashley Kessler. Ashley heads up marketing and business development in EMEA for Calabrio. Very enterprise, quite drawn out account based approach to marketing and Ashley oversees a team that has quite an interesting approach to account based marketing ABM, but also what she refers to as account based targeting, which is kind of their version of how they approach ABM. 

I first met Ashley when she spoke at one of our panel events here in London, another FINITE event. But yeah, I’m really looking forward to sitting down with her today and digging a little bit deeper into how she approaches account based marketing.

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Alex (01:10):

Hey Ashley, thanks for joining us.

Ashley (01:11):

Thanks very much for having me.

Alex (01:13):

So I’m looking forward to chatting to you about all kinds today, but we’re going to be focusing on this phrase ABT, account based targeting, which I gather is kind of the half brother of account based marketing. 

But first of all, before we dive into that, I thought it’d be good if you just gave our listeners a bit of background about how you’ve kind of ended up here and the roles you’ve done so far and how you’ve got to the role you’re in currently in terms of marketing.

About Ashley’s role as Head of Marketing and Business Development for Calabrio 

Ashley (01:37):

Absolutely. Yeah, sure thing. So I’ve been in the sort of B2B tech marketing space for seven years, starting in the States in product marketing roles and doing content writing, managing content strategy, as well as customer marketing programs. And I moved about 18 months ago over to London to head up just all marketing efforts in the EMEA region for Calabrio.

Alex (02:04):

What does day to day look like? I know you’ve got responsibilities to split kind of marketing and business development, and we’ll talk a bit more about how those two things work together and how they’re aligned, but what does the day to day look like? What’s a typical kind of team structure? I know they’re obviously big in the US but have a small operation in UK. Talk to me a bit about that.

Ashley (02:26):

Yeah, absolutely. So I’m running a team of three business development reps here. Our business development function sits within marketing and I mean, in a given week, I could be doing anything from live tweeting a webinar or running a trade show stand, meeting with partners, working on digital campaigns, meeting with a PR firm. It’s a little bit of everything, really nice and diverse.

Alex (02:51):

And so the BDRs that you work with, have they got like a marketing edge to them in a more traditional marketing sense? Or are they more outbound sales, traditional business development?

Ashley (03:04):

More traditional business development. I think it puts us in a unique situation where we’re able to include the business development reps in marketing campaigns. So we’re doing a big digital push on LinkedIn around this. They kind of understand the campaign, understand the background of it, are able to follow up with those leads and pass that on to sales in a more highly qualified way. And it’s nice that they straddle both worlds and I think it’s helped bring our teams closer together.

Alex (03:35):

So you’ve actually got sales function that’s different to business development? Okay, cool. Cause I guess it varies all these job descriptions that are used so widely across different companies, but I guess sometimes business development would be considered sales almost. So marketing would do marketing and then business development would pick up the phone or do the sales bit. So it sounds like you’ve achieved what everybody wants, which is sales and marketing alignment, right? Like the silo is broken.

Ashley (04:03):

Sure. Now I don’t know if that’s ever achievable, but at the moment it’s sort of working okay. We’re trekking along.

What is account based targeting? 

Alex (04:13):

So let’s talk a bit about this ABT framework that you’ve got. Obviously I think pretty much everyone listening will probably have an idea, everybody’s heard of account based marketing ABM. Something that really started as a way of growing existing accounts more in an enterprise space and has then transitioned into being more of a new business approach to marketing as in like winning new accounts. 

I remember talking to someone who oversees ABM at Fujitsu and she was an absolute APM purist and was like, it’s not used for new business at all. It’s just, we use it to grow accounts that you get a foot in the door for $10,000 order, and then you turn that into a million dollars or something. Whereas it’s obviously transitioned into account based marketing and this kind of sounds like maybe this is the direction that you’re heading with account based targeting ABT as you call it. Tell me a bit about what it is, how it works, the kind of overall framework.

Ashley (05:12):

For us, it really is about new business development. I’m going after new logos. I mean, for us, we changed the terminology. We shied away from account based marketing or ABM because I think the temptation is that it’s got marketing in the name, it’s a marketing program. And we really knew from the get go that this has to be a shared program, it has to be marketing and sales working together to sort of pursue these accounts. 

And I think it’s really about getting to the buyers before they’re starting to research and so that you can kind of become that authority and trusted advisor and guide that organisation through the purchasing process. You know, creating a need where there may not necessarily be one. And that’s why I think you really need that collaboration between the marketing and sales side marketing to really understand the audience and to understand the segment, have the content there, go after them with that, and then sales to be there to really engage on those on a one to one level, have those conversations.

Alex (06:22):

And just so listeners have some context, at the moment where you’re working on this, what’s the kind of… I guess ABM’s typically in a more enterprise space for kind of bigger sale values. Just so we’ve got a bit of perspective, what’s the kind of average length of the customer journey? Are we dealing with quite large?

Ashley (06:40):

It’s on, you know, big companies, big revenue, big employee size. And I think there’s, I’ve read anyway, arguments out there that ABM can speed up that sales cycle. That’s not something I’ve seen yet.

Alex (06:54):

It’s one of those things that everyone dangles as like one of the key points of ABM, right? Like speed up the sales cycle, but I’ve never, yeah, I’ve never quite seen it.

Ashley (07:01):

Because you’re really getting to them before they’re in a position to purchase. You’re kind of getting to them early. And so it’s you get in and then you really have to nurture that account before it’s going to really get into the pipeline.

Alex (07:14):

Okay. And as a kind of formalised framework, how did you go about creating it from the very beginning? What were the origins? Was it a conversation driven from C suite level? Is it something that the whole C suite are behind and understand? How does it fit into the bigger picture?

How to initiate an ABT approach

Ashley (07:31):

Yeah, as an organisation, we had to get that in front of the C suite, we had to request budget for it. Basically it became a company initiative, actually a company wide initiative. And we’re really moving toward a more named account approach to sales period, which is new for us, we haven’t done that before. And so that’s been, it’s been a shift. We’ll buy in order to secure the budget, to get the tech and do all the things that needed to happen to support the programme.

Alex (08:01):

Makes sense. And so really just trying to dig into it a bit more in terms of the nuances that make it different from ABM, obviously the marketing word was one that you didn’t feel like accurately represented what you were doing. 

And didn’t kind of put it in the right space, I guess even ABM doesn’t have an absolute Bible that you have to follow and everyone takes a slightly different approach, but are there things that you think are clear differences to ABT versus ABM? Or is it more about process and team structure and just how you perceive it almost in the organisation?

The differences between ABT and ABM

Ashley (08:34):

Yeah. I’m not sure if there’s really a clear difference. It’s probably just semantics for us in order to secure sales. I think really it’s, you have to take a look at your own team, your own sales team, the way that’s structured and create it from there. You have to work closely with them to select the accounts you’re going to go after you have to work closely with them to work through routing processes and things like that. 

My BDRs are all aligned to specific sales reps and they have specific territories of accounts and they work closely together. I really empowered them to define the rules of engagement. They kind of say amongst each other, this is how we’re going to split these out. This is how we’re going to go after this account, I’ll do this, you do that type of thing. 

I think everyone wants to work differently and it may change account to account really, depending on the industry or just how a particular account purchases, because everything’s a little bit different. I mean, sometimes we know that they’ll purchase direct. Sometimes we know they’ll purchase through a partner. And so we have to change our approach. That way we might reach out to the partner first to get us a foot in the door. So it really just depends on who it is at a particular account.

Alex (09:49):

You mentioned different industries which I find interesting. So I know a lot of our clients in the B2B tech sector have a solution that works for a whole load of different industries. They might be going after travel or automotive, finance, whatever it is. And they’ve got dedicated landing pages that talk about the benefits and how the solution really works for that sector. 

And I guess it’s really about demonstrating that you’ve made an impact in that sector and hopefully you’ve got case studies and that kind of thing, which is actually something at the time I thought of IBM, which was industry based marketing. And then I realised that IBM was already kind of taken as a three letter acronym. So it didn’t take off, but in terms of the channel, like we just touched on LinkedIn and paid ads through LinkedIn to really support that. 

Cause obviously taking this account based approach means that you need resource to generate product specs and white papers and one pagers and all kinds of different things to really support the outreach. And also the more kind of automated advertising stuff. Is there a lot of fuel that goes into that engine to keep all of that going? Or are you quite resourceful in terms of how you reuse assets and scale things effectively? 

Complimenting ABT with other inbound methods 

Ashley (10:56):

Yeah, I think we’re really kind of relying on what we’re doing just as a marketing team, from the inbound point of view. We just, our regular inbound stuff is just that, machines cranking away, and we’re pulling in assets and reports and case studies and things like that where we need to. 

We have had good luck actually with direct mail. Everyone says it’s having a thing. Yeah, it is. So we’ve had good luck with that. It’s a nice way to, people don’t expect it. And it’s, especially if you can personalise it and put the effort into personalising the direct mail, you know, people are at least more likely to pick up the phone or respond to an email and at least have a conversation if you’ve done something for them.

Alex (11:41):

I was getting a load of emails the other day. I’m trying to find the name of a company that has like an HR hiring platform in the US, who I won’t name. They were using this platform called thanks, thanks without the A so T H N K S. And as I understand it, it basically just allows you to send a prospect a small gift for free. So you can send them like a Starbucks coffee or, so in this case for me, it went really badly. Cause I was like, I’m busy, you’re kind of annoying me and like your Starbucks coffee has absolutely no relevance to what you’re actually trying to sell to me. 

It was just like almost like a superficial bribe. I don’t know, the thought was nice, but it wasn’t a groundbreaking gift that was going to transform my life. It was just kind of an automated follow up. Like every three hours I had another email being like your Starbucks coffee. I was like, you need to cool down. But it’s quite interesting how this more kind of personalised approach to reaching people in a very direct way. And when you compare it and potentially get some scale from it with demand based and similar things that you might be using, which we’ll talk a bit more about…

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How to nurture a healthy relationship between BDRs and Sales 

Alex (13:12):

I’m interested in when you’re working this way and with business development reps and an ABM type approach, what lead qualification looks like? And whether you really define a lead and I guess the very simplified traditional view is like lead comes in to some extent, it’s marked as marketing qualified, at some point it goes into the CRM for the sales team to pick up as, you know to qualify, and then marketing are every now and then checking in on sales and going like, did you follow up with that lead and why not? And you’ve had this sat there for two days.

Ashley (13:49):

What we consider our formal handover, we call MQO, and that is our business development rep will set a meeting for the sales rep to meet with the customer, either a discovery call or have that initial meeting. So we have sort of qualification criteria that they have to meet in order to set the meeting, you know BANT, two out of four of the BANT criteria, certain technologies that we need to be aware of that we need to integrate with what products, how many seats, like just sort of more technical things, are they procuring through a partner, et cetera. 

So that the sales manager has that going into the initial meeting. So from there, the sales rep should be able to say, yes, this is a viable opportunity and I’m going to keep it and nurture it. For now this we’re not, we don’t have what they’re looking for and they’ll close it back.

Alex (14:46):

Sorry, that’s following the initial kind of discovery type call?

Ashley (14:49):

Yeah that’s the process at this point.

Alex (14:52):

Okay, interesting. And is there like regular feedback? Does sales feedback come back into you guys and it’s like, these have all been really low quality, get me some better quality ones? Do you have that kind of open relationship?

Ashley (15:07):

Absolutely. Sales never, they never shy away from telling you when something’s a low quality lead right? Generally I like to say my team is pretty good about doing a pretty hefty qualification.

Alex (15:20):

Yeah. And you mentioned they’re paired with salespeople? Like literally they’re working with the same sales manager?

Ashley (15:25):

Yeah for our named accounts. And then we do have inbound stuff coming in off the side or other inbound campaigns.

Alex (15:32):

And that just goes straight to…

Ashley (15:33):

It goes kind of round robin.

Alex (15:36):

Interesting. So I guess you developed quite a good ratio with the sales team you’re working with. Are they all in the same office?

Ashley (15:44):

So my business development team is based out of our London office and then the sales reps come in kind of one, two, three days a week, depending on their travel schedule. They’re all over the UK.

Alex (15:56):

And do you think that sense of like relationship and being paired up, does that drive like them feeling like a team and being partners and sharing responsibilities?

Ashley (16:06):

I do think so and they kind of can brainstorm together about, I’ve talked to this guy, no bite, but who else do we know at the account? What else do we know? Maybe let’s go in, they kind of bounce ideas off each other.

Alex (16:21):

It’s that constant thinking about what works and what doesn’t, that’s so key right? To this constantly driving forward and optimising.

Ashley (16:27):

And they have these sort of shared spreadsheets that they all work from and they’ll input information, so the others can see it. And it’s been interesting to see that those relationships have really grown kind of organically. And it’s been interesting to see how they’re different from group to group.

Alex (16:45):

One of the last episodes we recorded the podcast, we were talking about skill sets a bit more and the need of soft skills and hard skills for marketing. I think it was an Econsultancy report, 93% or 96% said soft skills were just as important, if not more important than hard skills in marketing. Obviously all of the hard skills were like, yeah, we need to improve our data skills. 

And it was very kind of like the data era is here, but the soft skills were all in terms of lateral thinking and emotional intelligence and all the things that thankfully AI isn’t going to take from us because as humans, only we have them so far. It just feels like that’s the bit that’s so often overlooked. I guess when we talk about marketing generally, like people in processes so often, bits that people don’t think about right? But yeah, it’s interesting to hear the relationship side.

Ashley (17:40):

So many of the hard skills I think can be learned on the job. I mean, that’s what I’ve done in my career. I didn’t study marketing at school. I’ve done totally on the job training and you just pick it up and as you go.

Alex (17:54):

I guess leading on from like leads, definitions, there’s this bigger piece of attribution reporting. We talked a little bit about how this fits into the C suite and how people, you know, you’ve got this signed off in terms of budget. And it’s obviously an approach that everybody’s behind in the business. And I assume is working to some extent because I’m sure if it wasn’t working after a certain amount of time, it would be stopped. But what’s the kind of attribution model reporting. 

I know that you run like physical events too. And I mean, B2B attribution and tracking in a digital sense is I guess, there’s cookies and you can kind of keep a vague eye on things. But when you start to introduce events and direct and other things like trying to keep everything connected and all the dots join together can be a bit more complicated. Can you tell me a bit about how that works for you?

How to measure attribution with ABT

Ashley (18:44):

I think we’re really in our infancy in terms of multi touch attribution and tracking all that stuff. I think for us, it’s going to have to be very technology enabled. And so we’ve just, we did a pilot at the end of last year. So it’s not something we’re really actively reporting on right now. I know at least for me, anytime we do any sort of inbound campaign, whether it be an event or a webinar or anything, I’m always saying, what have we done to get that in front of our ABT accounts? Or how do we know how many ABT accounts are going to be at that event? 

I try and get the delegate list or at least the company list to say, let’s reach out, see if they’ll by the stand and have a conversation. We’ve had really good luck that way actually. Even just like scheduling coffee meetings in the hotel lobby or a sales rep that wasn’t even there to staff the stand, but they were, this person happened to be at an event and we got 20 minutes with them and got an opportunity out of it. 

So I think it’s being just mindful of everything that you’re doing. What can we do with the ABT accounts with this program? Cause I think there’s so much crossover there and so much opportunity for crossover. And even if it’s, you’ve got a new white paper, how can we use this in a one to one outreach? Or can we run a digital campaign to our ABT accounts on just this white paper? You know?

Alex (20:13):

And what’s the kind of volume in terms of one to one stuff, vaguely, like how many accounts are there? Does each BDR have a list of like in the tens or hundreds or like how extensive is the program?

Ashley (20:24):

Yeah, our full list right now is like 230 accounts. Each sales rep has 25 ABT accounts. And so a BDR has multiple sales reps that they’re supporting. So depending on that alignment, how many kind of accounts they’re going after.

Alex (20:44):

So I guess there’s a point at which you need technology, you need some degree of automation. Like obviously if, I guess there’s a sense of prioritisation. So the really high value accounts probably get more one to one time and kind of common sense approach, but what other kind of tools and technology are being used maybe to support like the reporting and attribution and analytics side of things? But then just more generally to like support automation? I guess actually on the reporting side, are you going into board meetings and saying like, this is how many target accounts we’ve contacted this month? Or what kind of metrics do you use? 

Ashley (21:23):

Yeah, mostly just reporting on the number of accounts we’ve had meetings with, and how much we’ve got in pipeline. You know, from opportunities that we’ve raised through the program. That’s the day to day I do keep track. So where I’m using Demandbase to run digital campaigns. So they used the domain at the company and the IP address and get ads in front of them. So I do track sort of impressions and things like that. 

And we’re able to track on an account by account basis, sort of what they’re looking at online and what they’ve seen on our website. If they’ve been to the site, just kind of tailor the one to one outreach. For one to one outreach, we’re using outreach.io, which I think it’s a great tool, really helps you add a lot of automation and efficiency to the program. You can see who’s looking at what and when it’s been forwarded and all that good stuff. 

So, I mean, really there’s a whole lot more that I think I could be doing in terms of reporting and analysis and things like that. And for me right now, it’s just a bandwidth issue.

Alex (22:26):

Of course. I mean no one likes that part of it, right? Like it’s one of those things that you kind of have to do. And obviously it’s important to be always optimising and looking back and improving. But I think the lighter weight that your board reports can be the better, I think for most people. Demandbase is such a, it’s such an interesting tool in terms of how powerful I think it can be. 

And I know from my perspective I’ve only just scratched the surface of what it can do. And I remember seeing quite an interesting, particularly like the intent data side of things, when people are showing intent around certain services and products, and it’s almost like predicting the future. I find it really fascinating, but I guess there’s a sense of maturity that’s needed before marketing teams start looking at this kind of approach? Like I guess if they’re in a truly, truly pure enterprise space where maybe they really only have like 50 clients they ever want to work with and they can go straight for kind of an ABM approach, but you still need all of the content. 

You still need elements of inbound to drive some degree of traction, I guess. Do you have any thoughts based on now or your past in different sizes of businesses where like, is there a point at which people maybe aren’t ready to be diving in with all these tools and technologies and advanced processes and actually they’re better just getting the basics sorted first?

Ashley (23:46):

I think you definitely need someone really smart and talented to be in charge of marketing automation. Someone that’s in your CRM and gets it and knows how to do workflows and all that stuff.

Using marketing automation with ABT

Alex (23:59):

Are you using marketing automation too? Through Demandbase or another?

Ashley (24:04):

Through Pardot and Salesforce. I mean, if we ever do get an inbound lead from an account, a named account, it would automatically get routed to the right BDR or sales rep. So we have those workflows in place. And I mean, that’s huge to me. I mean our marketing automation manager, half the emails she sends me I understand this much of it. I mean, I’m like, okay, I trust you, whatever you say, just go for it. Just tell me what to do.

Alex (24:31):

And now marketing. I think that the marketing automation job role is such an in demand one right now. I think like if people can think in that way with that logic and scale that adequately, then that’s a good place to be. I guess recently I was at a B2B marketing thing, like a technology focused marketing event. And there was a couple of people talking about, I guess like marketing operations teams and having people that are really just like underpinning marketing as an operation, but from a very technology led perspective. 

At certain points within tools like Pardot, you’re getting quite advanced with what it can do. HubSpot maybe arguably a little bit more user friendly, Pardot a step further, Marketo probably even more. So yeah, it’d be interesting to see how in like a few years time what the structure of a team looks like when there’s, you know, a marketing automation tool, ABM tool, CRM, there’s like minimum five, six, seven different things being used, tying them all together and keeping them clean and tidy and talking to each other. It makes my brain hurt sometimes just thinking about it.

Ashley (25:40):

Yes. Well, that’s the thing. I mean the Salesforce admin or the CRM admin has to be there or else your reports don’t look great. So if your sales reps aren’t putting an opportunity in the right way or aren’t including the industry or aren’t including whatever campaign it came from. If they’re not attributing it right, then your reporting won’t make any sense.

Alex (26:01):

Yeah. I mean, which sales reps have entered CRM data correctly?

Ashley (26:05):

Or entered CRM data at all. Yeah.

Alex (26:08):

It’s a challenge.

Ashley (26:10):

Which is why it’s nice to have the BD team sitting in marketing cause they kind of can police them and tell them what’s what.

Alex (26:16):

Bridges the gap. Yeah, I guess to wrap up, do you think ABM, ABT, do you think these things are kind of the future? Are there other things that you think like maybe on the horizon will to some extent take their place or are these kinds of like foundational, almost underpinnings that like now we have the data we can do one-to-one type stuff at scale, that this whole like way of thinking about marketing is here to stay?

Ashley (26:42):

You know, it’s obviously a buzz word. I think a lot of it has to do with just the way we consume content nowadays and the way we generally want to be marketed to usually at the consumer level. You know, we’re so much more okay nowadays when Amazon gives us suggestions on other things to buy and all that stuff. And I think now it’s just seeping into B2B and I think that’s what’s driving this. 

I think there’s still the core sort of marketing fundamentals that are there. It’s knowing your audience, knowing how to segment them, giving them valuable content and having the messaging foundation there and aligning with sales. And you have to align with sales and you should align with sales on all of your programs. It up levels it and it shows your impact. I think as a larger part of the business and can show your impact to the pipeline.

Alex (27:36):

Everybody wins, right?

Ashley (27:37):

Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Alex (27:38):

Cool. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking. I’m sure we could keep going for a long time, but we’ll wrap up there. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Ashley (27:45):

Thanks very much for having me.

FINITE (27:47):

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