PODCAST 56: Drafting an ABM Strategy That Works w/ Alon Waks

This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Alon Waks, VP of Marketing at Bizzabo. Bizzabo is the leading event management system company. He discusses how companies can increase their audience by dipping their toe into the ABM waters and gradually ramp up.

If you missed episode 55, check it out here: PODCAST 55: How to Ensure 500 Pieces of Sales Advice Get Executed by Your Sales Team w/ Travis Huff

What You’ll Learn

  • What consulting teaches you
  • The evolution of marketing
  • How ABM is a team sport
  • Understanding the ROI of marketing

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction [00:09]
  2. About Alon Waks: An Introduction [02:08]
  3. The Evolution of Marketing [12:01]
  4. ABM Baby Steps [19:58]
  5. How ABM Is a Team Sport [22:11]
  6. Experimenting with ABM Lite [24:39]
  7. Understanding the ROI of Marketing [29:28]
  8. Influences [42:14]

Show Introduction

Sam Jacobs: Hey, everybody. It’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the Sales Hacker podcast. We’ve got a great guest. Alon Waks is on the show. He’s the VP of marketing for Bizzabo, and he’s going to talk to us about account-based marketing.

Before we get to that interview, we want to thank our sponsors. The first is Showpad. Showpad is the leading sales enablement platform for the modern seller. Showpad’s all-in-one platform empowers sales and marketing teams to engage buyers through industry leading training and coaching software and innovative content and engagement solutions. Using the most comprehensive data on successful sales interactions, Showpad fuels AI to discover, replicate, and automate what works for top performers.

Our second sponsor is Outreach.io. They are the leading sales engagement platform. Outreach supports sales reps by enabling them to humanize communication at scale and by automating the manual work.

And of course, a plug for Revenue Collective. If you are a VP level or above, and you want to learn more about Revenue Collective, just get in touch with me at LinkedIn.

About Alon Waks: An Introduction

Sam Jacobs: I am so excited to have a good friend and one of the great marketers in New York City, Alon Waks, on the show today. Alon is the VP of marketing at Bizzabo, which is an event management system (and the system that my company just signed to manage all our events). Alon, welcome to the show.

Alon Waks: Hey, Sam. Super happy to be here.

Sam Jacobs: Tell us what Bizzabo is.

Alon Waks: Bizzabo was created to come up with an event success platform that looks at the entity of the attendees, the account, the company, and enables you to look at everything around the data, so you can ensure that the journey of every person is catered to. This enables everybody like leads, CROs, to draft an event strategy that enables you to focus on different audiences at different times.

Sam Jacobs: Tell us about your life’s journey.

Alon Waks: I’m Israeli originally. I have served in the Israeli army which exposed me to technology, and then I decided to learn a bit about tech, science, and economics. I did consulting for many years. Consulting helped me understand that I like to do things which are customer facing, build them the right solutions, whether they’re a service or product, that gets value. I also learned consultants lack the end ownership and accountability of executing the project. At the end of the day, the client is accountable and responsible and owns the KPI.

That led me to start moving toward more of a customer facing role in marketing where I meet clients, work with people, and am able to carve messages that are all about value.

The Evolution of Marketing

Sam Jacobs: Let’s talk about the evolution of marketing. You’ve been doing it for 15 years. I would imagine that the channels have changed. One of those big things is account-based marketing.

Alon Waks: ABM has become the buzzword de jour. Ten years ago it was omnichannel, multichannel, digital-digital, mobile-mobile.

Now ABM is the hot potato. Three things that affect us are people, consumers, and businesses. We have had enough digital noise. This is not going to work when you do the one-to-many traditional approach.

Flipping the funnel is critical today, because you spend a lot of money at the top of the funnel, and it’s very hard to get to a qualified audience because of so much noise.

Sam Jacobs: When you’re talking about digital you mean AdWords, search engine marketing, Facebook advertising, Instagram advertising, maybe even Linkedin advertising. Do you also mean thought leadership, content creation, white papers, eBooks, gated content, and things like that? The traditional DemandGen playbook?

Alon Waks: Correct. We need to make sure we don’t confuse content with how we serve it. Distribution is changed. Distribution of old is, I have a white paper, it appeals to this audience which is maybe a vertical or maybe a persona or maybe the entire segment of mid market financial services.

I throw it out with tons of money for high quality leads. That’s okay, that’s not a bad strategy, but you cannot do that at scale anymore. AdWords, social, Linkedin, you have to think about them in a strategic cohesive view, rather than think about the channel, people, and accounts that you want to serve. You want to think about a smaller, lookalike model of the companies that you know are a best fit for you by size, the right persona, the right hiring, they’re showing intent.

This is point number two. Intent marketing has matured a lot with intelligence, AI, and digital signals, so instead of throwing a broad net of AdWords SCM, you want to take that content and do it much more personalized and targeted towards a selective smaller group, which I call one-to-few. That is the role of marketing today, to go more targeted. The one-to-few approach means, I’m taking the top 500-1,000 mid market or enterprise financial services, that: A, have the right 3-5 people, decision group, in the company that I know usually buy or have a need for something like me. I look for different signals. I score them by connecting to intent-based algorithmic tools. I look at where they are coming to webinars and events and where they are actually doing things, to understand where this company will go. I target them in a collective, integrated campaign manner. Emails, send them display, but only targeted display. I align the message to them. I give them things that are much more relevant to these people by vertical, by persona, by stage, by intent, versus doing a lot much broad spray-and-pray tactic, which is not more than B2B approach.

ABM Baby Steps

Sam Jacobs: How do you get good at this? It feels like this is a new discipline.

Alon Waks: A lot of it is luck, and being curious. ABM has been talked about for many years, without being called ABM. It’s now more mature. I haven’t cracked the code. Every market, every company, every persona, every decision group is different.

You listen to people who are doing it well.

You’re not just going to tell people look at our great product before you know what they’re looking for and what is their pain. It’s one on one account-based selling, which is aligned with account-based marketing. Learning about ABM today is being connected to people who are implementing it.

My number one recommendation to people around ABM from a software perspective is don’t buy tools before you understand and try out your list to target accounts, optimize it, understand your messaging. You cannot be a slave to the tool. The tool has to be aligned to your strategy.

How ABM Is a Team Sport

Sam Jacobs: You’ve mentioned in the past, ABM is a team sport. Tell us what you mean by that.

Alon Waks: Let’s say you have an amazing marketing team, and they decide we’re doing this amazing ABM program around 200 target accounts. We’re going to choose them, we’re going to send them stuff, we’re going to do direct mail. We’re going to do a road show. We’re going to do nice dinners. But your BDRs and your sales guys work on a completely different list.

Let’s say one of your salespeople decides that she’s working on these top 20 accounts. She’s prospecting into them with her BDR with market enterprise. Remember, marketing is going for a completely different set of prospects.

That doesn’t make any sense, because you’re not doing an integrated approach to them with a one-to-one and one-to-few. Marketing cannot do the one-to-one personalized consultation, give examples, and go in-depth. We can do great examples of here’s the prospect, here’s a case study, here’s the direct mail, here’s a provocative video, here’s the event.

You have to have alignment between your VP marketing and VP sales on what the list definition is. Once you do that, you define the criteria, you define the warm to cold scale; work first on the warm accounts and then the cold accounts by each tier of companies. That is extremely important because otherwise marketing runs ABM in a silo. It’s not going to convert.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Account Based Sales [Guide]

Experimenting with ABM Lite

Sam Jacobs: How do I experiment with ABM in a cost effective way?

Alon Waks: I would start with what I call ABM lite. You want to focus on the one-to-few. Look for 500 companies. Start with an interesting and compelling value based approach of email, display. AB test it all the time so you’re blowing out your numbers and your cost per qualified account is not much higher than it would be from a one-to-many approach.

Look at the signals. Optimize your scoring. Once you’re seeing trends, because marketing is making decisions with limited data, then start taking those that have shown you some intent. Do the deeper, more expensive ABM, invite them to be speakers at your events. Invite them to dinner. Invite them to join your field event at a trade show. Invite them to be a webinar podcast speaker for you. These kind of things.

Start with the one-to-few. I love to do themes. These are a collection of programs and campaigns that focus on a specific vertical persona, or two personas sometimes, and then also on something interesting. For example, displacing an incumbent or a very specific big event like Dreamforce.

I want to have a multi-program, multi-campaign theme that is usually for two quarters, and it is for maybe 1,000-5,000 companies that are a very similar model, and for them you do this ABM lite. You don’t send direct mail to 2,000 companies. Of those you choose a tier, maybe 250 companies, and then you send them the direct mail, your line into one-to-one BDR work, you give them the tool, the assessment, the consultancy tool. You invite them to discovery consultation half-days. I will do a tiering between one-to-few to one-to-one. That is the only way that will work.

Understanding the ROI of Marketing

Sam Jacobs: How do you position marketing ROI in the most effective, comprehensive way?

Alon Waks: I don’t think anybody’s cracked the code on marketing attribution completely.

ABM and outbound focus marketing usually works when the company goes a little bit more upmarket, starts going into enterprise, and therefore your ACV grows a lot and that’s why you’re willing to spend more and be more targeted and know that it’s a consultative sale. In order to do that, it is usually, as I mentioned, a good alignment between sales and marketing on the target list, and then one-to-one by the sales and BDRs, while marketing provides air cover.

How do you measure air cover? I look at the funnel as something that marketing needs to warm up. They’re not always going to be hot leads knocking on our doors or demos. Pay $250-300k across a company, they come inbound, they get a demo, done. Very clear attribution. That world is not relevant for outbound upmarket.

In outbound upmarket, you look at marketing for qualified accounts. Your funnel is still a funnel, but it’s an account-based funnel, so you’re looking for example at 500 companies that we targeted for this year. We’re going to do a lot of engagement around them. I’ve named it surging. You want them to surge and you score them on activity and behavior around it. Once they’ve reached a threshold, that is when you define them as MQAs. And then two things happen. You can attribute win rate, close rate, cost per, and velocity. I look for every ABM program to bring 100 MQAs a month. Those need to go to sales as prioritized.

I see that as the air cover role of marketing, and I measure it by MQAs, marketing qualified accounts.


Sam Jacobs: When you think about people who have influenced you, who are some of the folks that you think we should know about?

Alon Waks: I had a mentor many years ago when I was at LivePerson. Anurag Wadehra, amazing guy. Now at Google. He wasn’t only a good mentor and friend, but we could throw ideas around and challenge each other in a positive manner, and really go to war on interesting, cool, big ideas.

Sales and marketing leaders need to hash it out, have beers, go for a run, whatever. Be very candid and lose all the bullshit between you. Be straightforward and call each other out in a polite but actionable way. Nobody has the luxury to bullshit.

Erica Schultz, who was the head of sales in her field at LivePerson at the time, was great at looking at total strategy, evangelizing, and hiring the right people to propel the company forward. I respected what she did and I think she’s wonderful.

Sam’s Corner

Sam Jacobs: Hey folks, you’re listening to Sam’s Corner on the Sales Hacker Podcast. Fantastic interview with Alon Waks who’s a good friend, a member of Revenue Collective, and the VP of marketing at Bizzabo.

What We Learned

  • What consulting teaches you
  • The evolution of marketing
  • How ABM is a team sport
  • Understanding the ROI of marketing

Don’t Miss Episode 57

If you want to check out the show notes, see upcoming guests, or play more episodes from our lineup of sales leaders, visit gtmnow.com/podcast-subscribe. You can also find the Sales Hacker podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on LinkedIn, Twitter, or elsewhere.

If you want to reach out to me, you can find me on LinkedIn. If you would like to learn more about the show, please reach out.

Thanks so much to our sponsors. The first is Showpad. Showpad is the leading sales enablement platform for the modern seller. As well as Outreach.io. Outreach is the leading sales engagement platform. I’ll talk to you next time.

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