ABM: A tale of two halves
Storytelling has captured the attention of humans throughout history. Technology reaches your audience in the digital age. Gina Balarin and Robert Taylor tell Molly Raycraft why storytelling and tech are the yin and yang of ABM
When it comes to account-based marketing the human element and the use of tech are often pitted against each other in the debate between one-to-one versus programmatic strategies. But for Gina Balarin, founder of Verballistics, and Robert Taylor, senior marketing manager at Artesian Solutions, both elements are equally essential.
For Gina, whose passion lies in storytelling, it’s technology that enables anecdotes to be heard and relationships to be formed. It’s also through an ABM approach she can tailor a story to captivate her audience and really answer their problems.
But for Robert, the more technology-enthused of the two, it’s storytelling that really adds value to the people he’s reaching out to. Without it, he says, you would have meaningless spam – a common misuse of ABM.
Here, they discuss each side of the story, prior to their upcoming presentation at this year’s B2B Marketing Conference.
Not all B2B marketers use ABM, but Gina thinks they should. She feels all too often human relationships in marketing are overshadowed by a concentrated focus on results.
Gina has experienced first-hand how human relationships can be brought back into the marketing mix via storytelling. At The B2B Marketing Conference she’s eager to spread awareness of the power of stories and show exactly how you connect with businesses at scale.
What is the importance of storytelling in ABM?
Gina: There’s a risk that ABM can start sounding very samey. The way to cut through this noise is to use stories. If you’re using stories that connect very specifically with your target audience, they'll want you to pick them to be part of your world because they think you can solve their problems.
Has ABM become attractive because of the emotional element?
When it’s done properly, yes. ABM started off as a bespoke way of connecting humans to each other. Although everyone says they buy because they’re being rational, we know that really one macro yes is made up of 1000 micro yeses. Every one of those micro yeses has an element of emotion connected to it.
Is there risk with programmatic ABM?
Yes, absolutely. Robert’s campaigns have succeeded brilliantly because they’re using advanced tactics to find out the information but they’re still using bespoke human interaction.
The risk is that we use ABM tools so cleverly we think we’re being bespoke – but everyone is just using the same sources of information, the same agencies and the same types of approaches. Then we all end up doing the same ‘unique’ pieces of content.
What should a story achieve?
A story should achieve a range of emotions that make you closer to either the storyteller or the hero. There are opportunities for the evolution of a narrative across an ABM journey.
Start with the character you want your audience to empathise with, which is probably either your brand, product, or a specific person within your business. If by the end of that storytelling journey your audience understands and empathises with the character it means you’ve built a connection.
Gina’s tips for ABM storytelling
- Start with the audience’s need first. Not what you think or want them to need, what they actually need.
- Don’t do ABM in isolation. Sometimes you need to go beyond even sales, and seek inspiration from teams such as product. You might find great stories come from completely unexpected parts of the business; it might be an account manager or even someone from the support part of the business that identifies the real need of the customer.
- Ask your customers what their problems are. If you have a strong relationship with them, they’ll be able to give you honest answers, and not always the ones you’d expect.
Can you use the same stories in ABM?
You have to because there are only seven original stories in existence. But can you use the exact same story for different clients? It depends.
Your stories resonate with a specific target audience because there’s something in that story that is connected. For example, it may be that you can use the same narrative for all of your clients who are in automotive. You also might find the story you’re telling your automotive clients has an element of truth that resonates with all of your clients who want to automate a process. Therefore you could use the same automotive automation story in three or five different contexts.
I think it comes down to the art of knowing your audience well enough to know what stories are going to resonate with them.
What do marketers need to know before they start a story?
First and foremost, you need to know who they’re telling the story to. I’m not just talking about personas. Personas are important but there’s a risk that personas can become caricatures. If you use a caricature to define your target audience, you start talking at them rather than with them.
You need to know the person you’re talking to well enough to gauge a typical response to this story. If you have to rely on your own gut instinct on someone you’ve never had a conversation with, you’re going to be pretty far away from answering their questions.
Having conversations with the sales team, account managers and even the customers will be far more effective in understanding who you’re targeting with each piece of ABM collateral.
What stage of ABM should marketers begin to focus on the story?
Right at the beginning, but that doesn’t mean you should start telling the story right at the beginning. It means if the story is clear right from the beginning, you’ll know when to use it most effectively.
How can you be personalised with your story but operate at scale?
Use deep understanding of the customer and what problems you’re solving for them. Then group those objectives together. Some people try to do that with industry, geography or company size.
In my experience the thing that works much more effectively is when you identify a narrative and then handpick the people that narrative is relevant to.
Should you choose your narrative before you pick your accounts or vice versa?
Great account-based marketing, the secret is in the title. You’re basing it on a specific account. So I think it works both ways. You use the sales person to inform the understanding of the narrative and use the narrative to group those stories together in a way that can help people. At the end of the day, the answer has to be are you helping people solve their problems. If you are, then you’re picking the right people and the right problems to match together.
ABM at Verballistics
Gina is a firm believer that every company does ABM if they do sales properly.
While Verballistics doesn’t do advanced ABM at scale, it takes influence from a one-to-one approach. Due to the nature of the business Gina has to understand every individual prospect so she knows what services she can provide to resolve their problems and exceed expectations.
Robert isn’t the perfect marketer. Like everyone else, he admits, he’s made mistakes when it comes to scaling his ABM; he’s bought lists and used minimal personalisation. Ultimately this meant he didn’t achieve the results he needed.
However, he found the combination of AI and ABM a game-changer in his scaling difficulties. At The B2B Marketing conference he wants to reveal how he turned it around with the right tools. He’s hoping his examples of success will leave marketers armed with campaign ideas to try for themselves.
What place does technology have in ABM?
Robert: Technology gives you the possibility to deliver hyper-personalisation at scale.
Predictive analytics can feed the ABM process with real-time insight into customer needs, goals, pain-points, market dynamics, competitor activity, sentiments and buying triggers. Millions of structured and unstructured data points can be crunched, analysed and filtered to deliver the in-depth account knowledge needed to drive campaigns and personalised engagement opportunities.
It can also reduce research time and furnish marketers with rich customer data, machine learning algorithms to remove the guess work when it comes to achieving relevance and timing.
No longer will marketing teams have to produce generic mass broadcast communications, spamming customers and prospects with untargeted, untimely and irrelevant messages.
Would you say you have a fresh approach to ABM?
Most definitely. By adopting a fresh insight-driven ABM approach, marketers no longer have to choose between targeting vast segments with generic outreach, or spending valuable time narrowing down segments into the lowest common denominator. They no longer have to sacrifice volume for precision or vice versa.
What should ABMers be looking for their AI to achieve?
In the short-term AI can solve the immediate challenges of delivering the granular level insight into account behaviour for improved targeting, segmentation and personalisation, and the ability to deliver ABM strategies at scale.
In the long-term the real value comes from prediction. As time goes by and the volume of results data and precision improves, it will be possible to construct predictive models using machine learning to find patterns of event types, market challenges and future opportunities ripe for direct action.
At the same time, AI can correlate patterns of open rates and share activity across channels to recommend the most relevant content and delivery mechanism, and the likelihood the customer will want to receive it.
Robert’s tips to tech
1. Try before you buy on a small set of accounts.
2. Measure success accurately and have a clear process of attribution.
3. Assess whether it will integrate with other tools in your sales stack.
Do you think there’s a risk tech can be overused in ABM?
I don’t think so. Tech can’t be overused if it is used correctly.
The key is finding the right balance between human and AI. AI should be seen as a co-worker and should be implemented with a clear strategy.
It’s really about embracing the benefits AI can bring to ABM and to the marketer themselves. Leveraging the right blend of technology, mixed with human judgement, and backed by insight will deliver maximum ABM impact.
What stage of ABM should marketers really focus on tech?
Sift through the deluge of data to hone in on specific targets, then harness both structured (firmographic) and unstructured data to segment customers and narrow them down to the lowest common denominator (micro-segments).
Utilise this constant stream of fresh insight to deliver the most appropriate attention-grabbing content for each customer. This could be personalised emails, customised online experiences and hyper-personalised brand interactions that are relevant and timely.
ABM at Artesian Solutions
Artesian Solutions has more than 100 key accounts it reaches through a cross-channel approach.
The Artesian platform provides contextual content giving prospects a reason to engage. The company also creates bespoke personalised landing pages, LinkedIn ads, retargeting, and jazzed up call-to-actions. It contacts prospects through email and follows up with a call if there’s no response. Robert says they’ve particularly seen tangible results with branded content and small, themed networking lunches.
From here, the company records and analyses activity in its CRM – something Robert says is crucial when you have a six to nine month sales cycle.
Gina and Robert's session 'ABM and storytelling: how to cut through the noise at scale' will be running at 2.05 - 2.35pm.
And don't miss our other breakout speakers for more tips to take back to the office.