The Kula Ring

Episode 87 Optimizing an ABM Campaign Using Engagement Metrics

The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.

Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.

The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is designed to reach your best-fit accounts with highly focused and relevant messages. But what happens when your target accounts don’t convert on the products or actions you serve them? Sergio Lemus, Senior Manager, Demand Generation at Cooper Lighting Solutions, shares conversion challenges from the company’s first ABM campaign, and how they turned things around to benefit from 100% engagement on target accounts.

Optimizing an ABM Campaign Using Engagement Metrics Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White. 

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir? 

Carman Pirie: Terrific, terrific, and you? 

Jeff White: I’m doing really well. Yeah. Doing well. 

Carman Pirie: Nice. I think today’s show is going to be a lot of fun. I’m always… I mean, it’s always nice when we get people that have a lot of experience in the trenches and they can share their expertise, and in this case, it’s some kind of hands-on expertise around conducting an ABM pilot. And account-based marketing, of course, is certainly a strong topic of conversation these days. I think we’ve done a number of shows on it now. So, I’m really excited to get our guest’s input and kind of benefit of his expertise on all of it. 

Jeff White: Yeah. I’m really stoked about it, too, because I think it’s one of those things that as we heard on the episode that we had Sangram Vajre from Terminus on, he’s still finding that it’s very much a new thing, that he was thinking that less than 10% of companies were actually doing it, and so it’s always really exciting to talk to somebody who’s been in those trenches and has expertise with actually doing ABM. 

Carman Pirie: And the fun thing about it is there’s no standard playbook. I think everybody, every ABM pilot I’ve heard of or frankly been a part of is quite different, so looking forward to it. Let’s jump into it. 

Jeff White: Indeed. So, joining us today is Sergio Lemus. Sergio is the Senior Manager of Demand Gen at Cooper Lighting Solutions, which is a division of Signify. Thanks for joining us on The Kula Ring, Sergio. Welcome. 

Sergio Lemus: Thanks for having me. How are you guys? 

Jeff White: Doing well. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. No complaints, Sergio. We’re recording this episode in the midst of the COVID crisis. We don’t know when we’re going to release it, we should tell people, but you should just know the context under which we’re recording it. So, when we’re saying, “Oh, we’re terrific,” we’re kind of… There’s always a little bit of a caveat there, of course. 

Sergio Lemus: Right. 

Jeff White: The world is living in a caveat right now. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. 

Sergio Lemus: Absolutely right. 

Carman Pirie: We’re living in one big, “Yeah, but,” at this point. Well, Sergio, please introduce yourself to our guests, if you would, and tell us a bit more about Cooper Lighting Solutions and your work there. 

Sergio Lemus: Sure. I’ve been in my position as the lead for the demand generation team for about two years now, and a lot, just like I assume a lot of manufacturing companies, a lot of end-user B2B demand generation was relatively new to the organization from a very hands-on sort of way. So, I definitely feel privileged that I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented marketers and a lot of talented agencies, as well, to get our programs out there. We’ve done a variety of things. A lot of different omnichannel programs centered around our business’s strategic pillars, and we’re obviously always seeking new customers, and this is sort of how we ended up stumbling upon ABM. 

Carman Pirie: So, you say stumbling upon ABM, so talk to me about stumbling upon ABM and what you shaped up to be the first dip into the water, if you will. 

Sergio Lemus: Sure. Our company, which is a lighting manufacturer that’s just as of recently, used to be part of Eaton Corporation, and pretty big conglomerate of power solutions, and with that came a lot of really great benefits, because we got the chance to interact with a lot of different divisions headquartered by our electrical sector. So, ABM actually came from conversations with other marketers within the Eaton organization, and we thought it’d be a great opportunity to sort of align with one of our newly-created teams, which was an enterprise sales team, and to create a lot of demand opportunities from enterprise-level customers back into some of our connected solutions, which were a little bit of a longer sales cycle, a little bit more complex, definitely had a lot of people involved in the decision-making process, and required quite a bit of an upfront journey of discovery before sales was even able to have a conversation with them. 

So, we thought it was a no brainer to start with a lot of marketing outreach, and then be able to connect directly to the sales team. 

Carman Pirie: So, just so I’m clear, when we talk about connected solutions in the context of lighting solutions, are we talking about things of where you’re managing building lighting remotely and things of that sort? 

Sergio Lemus: Exactly. 

Carman Pirie: Okay, okay, okay. Awesome. 

Sergio Lemus: Exactly. 

Carman Pirie: So, and how big was the enterprise sales team that you were looking to drive leads to? 

Sergio Lemus: In total, it was about five or six people who were completely aligned to the organization, so relatively big, and definitely some contacts already existed within a lot of our enterprise customers, but knowledge and understanding of what a connected solution sort of tied, complex system would be, was relatively low. 

Carman Pirie: Very cool. I wonder, I remember in our preamble you said something that was really I thought very honest, frankly. You said that the results were mixed but the lessons were clear about your venture into ABM. So, I guess let’s not talk about the mixed results just yet. Let’s talk about the lessons. What are some of the lessons that kind of stand out in your mind?

Sergio Lemus: You know, just like anything, definitely being able to work very closely with all the different teams involved at the beginning is the key to building the right infrastructure to a campaign. We definitely had that opportunity to work with not just our sales team, and leverage a lot of the insights we had already accumulated about some of these customers that would be in the connected sphere, but also to be able to do additional insight and fact-finding from external sources to figure out exactly what an enterprise-level solution or pain point would look like, so that we could devise the right solution for the customer. 

I would say that looking at our array of customer targets at the beginning, we really wanted to focus on specific audiences, and maybe be able to scale that way. And really hit on those engagement points in order to get customers down the funnel that we wanted them to go to in order to really measure when somebody would be ready to have a conversation with our sales group. 

Jeff White: I think it is pretty interesting because when we think about ABM, it contrasts very heavily with a traditional sales funnel, or a traditional inbound sales funnel, at the very least, where you have traffic coming to your website, and then a certain percentage of those people become marketing qualified leads, and then a certain percentage of those get transferred to sales, as sales qualified leads, and then another percentage get moved into hopefully closed-won customers. How did you and your team go about working through that in order to better understand exactly how to move people through a program that was a little bit more directed? Because ABM tends to be a little bit more where you’re trying to figure out what that buyer’s journey is upfront, and then assigning different elements along the way in order to get people to convert at the certain points that you think they’re going to be in the buyer’s journey. 

So, I guess my bigger question, I’m a bit rambly, is how did you map out that journey and how did you work within the organization to understand exactly what it was that you wanted to show people at which time? 

Sergio Lemus: Sure. We actually started the campaign development process with sales, the product team, the marketing team, and the execution agency that we were going to use for the program, and it’s funny because you sort of work with these teams and everybody’s quickly jumping to tactics, or to messaging that they want to follow and pursue, but we really sort of have to step back and really offer the opportunity to think strategically, but definitely to solve creatively. So, we were able to sort of set the right audiences, the right accounts, and then really, as I was saying, because of the different insights that we had all gathered, really build a strong positioning statement for each of the individual audiences that we thought resided within all of the enterprise targets that we had all agreed to. 

So, knowing that actually allowed us to really create, and this was a really fun experience, based on the insights, marketing was actually able to build very strong top of funnel, mid-funnel, bottom-funnel messaging and strategies wherein top-of-funnel, we were really focused on creating that strong emotional connection with the buyer. And normally, with a lot of connected systems, because it’s an investment, we wanted to make sure that we were really solving for these buyers’ everyday problems. What are they really measured on when they’re walking into their boss’s office and they’re having their annual review? What are they really going to speak to in terms of success points for their year? 

So, in doing so, we actually saw some really great engagement in that top sort of awareness level strategy moving them down into the mid-funnel, where we started introducing a lot more differentiating features, hard figures about the system, and certifications that would allow them to continue to dive deeper. Now, a lot of our systems come with a lot of different features and benefits, so being able to build a hierarchy of those by audience actually allowed us to focus those core elements and not just do a sort of mass branding of the system, but really fine-tune it into what would really be important to these different people in order to get them down into additional fact-finding. So, we actually found that we received really great engagement there through that process, and eventually that sort of bottom-funnel experience was, “Well, do you want to experience this? Do you want to talk to an expert?” And at the time, we happened to be going to Lightfair, which is the most important trade show for the industry, so the timing was perfect, and we encouraged a demo at the actual show. 

And whereas we actually saw engagement in those ads, we didn’t actually convert or get people to make an appointment. But because ABM was designed to track that buyer’s journey, then we knew exactly who was engaged at those points, and now sort of understood this is a hot lead. They’re ready to talk to a sales team, and so we did. We labeled them as such. We also measured warm leads that actually had a lot of mid-funnel engagement and also had a lot of page views within our website, and gathered that information, as well, and was able to pass down to sales. 

I think the key here was really understanding each of the audience’s core pain points and being able to build the right hierarchy of features, and benefits, and information that was specific to them, and that would drive them further into our funnel. Through that process, we actually were able to see 100% engagement with all of our target accounts, and our click-throughs were far above the averages for the industry. 

Carman Pirie: So, that’s impressive, but then at the same time, you said if I heard you correctly that you didn’t… Was there just a challenge at the bottom of the funnel in terms of getting that final conversion, so then what you did is basically use it to inform a more focused sales outreach, specifically at the trade show? Did I connect the dots correctly? 

Sergio Lemus: Correct. 

Carman Pirie: Okay. 

Sergio Lemus: So, our goal was always to guide these customers down to that conversation with sales, and we sort of thought the trade show would be a perfect event because we’re actually going to be showcasing a lot of the capabilities of these systems live, but we actually ended up not having that formalized lead, which required a little bit of a softer approach to follow up post-show. 

Carman Pirie: So, I always find it interesting, because the act of doing a journey mapping of customers is in one way, you’re treating every customer kind of the same, and of course they’re very different and even if you’re segmenting, we all know that even within one specific segment, customer X might be different than customer Y. Their journey might be quite different. But the act of doing it is always an act of applying a one-size-fits-most model against a bank of customers. So, I’m always curious, because this work is done with partners, and marketing teams, and sales teams all working together, and they’re trying to piece it together collectively, and they have visibility into some elements of the journey. They don’t have visibility into others. 

So, I’d be curious. Other than maybe on that bottom-of-funnel conversion point, do you think that there are any other aspects of the journey that you maybe kind of got wrong, or maybe not wrong, might not be the right word, but at least over or underestimated in a certain way? What did you learn, I guess, during the pilot, that may inform or shift your perception of what that actual customer journey is? 

Sergio Lemus: Sure. I definitely think that ABM marketers and even our agency to a degree was sort of focused on the pain points on the individual accounts, but in order to gain scale, we actually stepped away from thinking of individual accounts, but more so into the needs of those specific audiences. Which, as a marketer, I would say that my needs have been pretty similar from company to company, even if it’s B2C or B2B, et cetera. So, in that way, we were actually able to be relevant, while creating scale across the different target accounts. 

I would say when we, to your point, I feel we were sort of very regimented in the funnel and wanted to gain agreement, especially I think part of that was this tactic was so new that we wanted to make sure we were checking off all the boxes and trying to be as successful as possible. And while not ruffling any feathers internally or creating any sort of potential conflict. But what we really realized was that a tactic like this really needed a lot of agile collaboration between all of the groups, across the entire journey. If I were to do this again, I would definitely look at how can I engage the sales team, the product team, early in the process of data collection and analysis, in order to be able to create a feedback loop that would really allow us to enrich the program in real-time. Because we had this funnel very specifically done, and we had sort of created this handoff process to sales. 

Marketing didn’t necessarily think much of what’s gonna happen once a lead is handed off to the team, and we have found that part of the reason we got some mixed results was because there were additional elements of the journey, such as we realized the actual buying process was much longer than we originally expected. We also realized that the sales team really needed case studies in order to validate the proof points that we were trying to make with these customers. So, but none of that came to fruition until we really realized, “Wow. Well, our purchases in these systems actually didn’t develop, even though we saw success in other areas, the actual objective of the campaign didn’t come to full fruition.” And it was in that postmortem that some of these things came about, but I think if we would have had that interaction, that collaboration with the entire team as we were gathering data, as we were building these customer profiles that they were actually building themselves as they were traveling through our journey, then we would have been a lot more successful, and actually created a lot more accountability across all the different teams, in order to say, “If these are the insights that you need and we’ve had a conversation, then let’s go ahead and prove them out, and if that’s not working, then be able to come back and optimize.” 

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Jeff White: I think there’s a huge lesson there for marketers in that especially so many of us think that we understand exactly how things are going to go, and that we set up these gates, and these points where we expect people to be doing certain things, and then once we know, as Carman is often fond of saying, no strategy survives contact with the enemy, you know? You get into it-

Sergio Lemus: Right. 

Jeff White: You see exactly what is going on, and, “Oh, crap. They turned left when we expected them to go straight.” You know? And having resources available in order to be able to redirect people to the appropriate thing that maybe you weren’t anticipating, or to kind of run these pilot campaigns so that you can have the knowledge, and not overspend too early, so that you can learn, and redevelop, and make things even better for the subsequent campaigns is probably a huge lesson for a lot of people as they move into anything new, like ABM. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, and Jeff, I just think that people talk about sales and marketing alignment like it’s… I don’t know, like a lot of people talk about it as, “Oh, I guess we ought to make sure they’re singing from the same song sheet.” Or they have the same definition of leads, or whatever. But man, Sergio’s advice here is seeking a much deeper integration of those functions, that goes well beyond alignment and it goes to them really functioning as one unified, very agile, revenue generation team. And that’s a different model entirely, isn’t it? 

Sergio Lemus: It really is, and it’s definitely a different model. It was a different model for us, and I think that’s where some of the regimen that we had established stopped working. And it’s everybody sort of comes back in a postmortem and says, “Well, what happened?” And that ability to actually learn, and be able to come out of it, it was with actionable items, so if we do this again, then… And actually, in other omnichannel campaigns and programs that we launch across the business, then we know that we need to be engaging very closely. In this specific case, being a new tactic, that engagement was almost required. But because of the thinking at the time, wasn’t as clear. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I wonder, this is kind of maybe a weird question, but I’ll ask it anyway, I guess. I’m curious, because I think there are… So, one of the messages or the takeaways we could get, take away from this is like, “Guys, if you don’t have the capacity to kind of get that level of alignment and agility amongst these teams to make the program better, then don’t do it.” And that could be a legitimate point, but I would wonder, what about those marketing organizations that are sitting out there that say, “You know what? We’re not gonna get that in a pilot.” Marketing kind of needs to do it on their own. 

So then, I kind of was just wondering, Sergio, what would be a fair KPI in your point of view, then? I mean, if marketing does have to go it a bit alone, and get this pilot out of the way, how ought success be measured? Because maybe measuring it on just net new customers generated is a little bit too strict for somebody that only controls part of that pipeline.

Sergio Lemus: Sure. I would say a couple things. I definitely think that just alone, the exposure that ABM is giving you, just like any other display advertising campaign, or video campaign, or search marketing campaign, will definitely generate some sales, likely. Maybe not necessarily in the individual things that you’re promoting, but maybe on other things that you sort of became top of mind when they saw your ad. So, definitely I would say look at some different elements of your relationship with these enterprise customers. We personally saw that there was a nice year-over-year lift in some other lighting products. So, not necessarily in the systems that we were pushing forward, but nonetheless, those sales actually amounted to quite a bit, and which generated strong margin, and therefore generated strong ROI for the campaign. 

Carman Pirie: You were in front of those customers more frequently, you were in front of them with targeted messaging that at least was relevant to them. 

Sergio Lemus: Exactly. 

Carman Pirie: Maybe the product that you were promoting isn’t where they converted, but you do have indications that the year-over-year revenue certainly did go up. 

Sergio Lemus: That’s exactly correct. And I think that to your point about content relevancy, that’s a big win for us in our marketing group, that we actually understood. We got the elements of the journey correct. So now, knowing that these are the right messages and these are the right audiences, then we’re able to scale these learnings across different marketing channels, across new campaigns, across even new events and things like that, in order to be able to continue to be top of mind, and then reach them in different ways. 

Carman Pirie: That makes complete sense to me. Jeff, I feel like I just interrupted you. 

Jeff White: No, no, not at all. I do think, Sergio, given your experience and what you’ve seen with this pilot, what lessons would you have, and you’ve gone over a few of them thus far in the podcast, but what specific lessons would you have for others looking to embark on an ABM campaign? What are the key takeaways for you? 

Sergio Lemus: Definitely I would say that as a standalone tactic, ABM is quite a bit of work. So, first and foremost, I would definitely say make it a component of your broader marketing plan. I think that’s where you’re going to see obviously the plan being designed to gain things in the short term, as well as the long term, will set you up for broader success. Definitely the use of external data, but also leveraging internal expertise, because this is so closely tied to sales, I think will actually build a really strong campaign infrastructure with really strong audience-specific journeys. And like I said, that alignment to sales is so key. ABM, of all marketing tactics I think, the success of it really depends on that. 

And building a feedback loop with that cross-functional group early on in the game, to really understand how to best use the data from the program will not only enrich the campaign, but really enrich other channels and other programs where you’re targeting that same product or solution. And really measure against objectives. Obviously, our goal as marketers is to win at whatever we’re pushing, but don’t get stuck there. Definitely go ahead and look at other ways in which this level of exposure, this level of messaging relevance, and this level, this deep work that is done in order to solve for a consumer problem, or I should say a customer problem, is gaining in other ways.

Like I said, for us it was that sales and other product lines, but it could be a variety of success stories for other customers, as well, depending on your industry. 

Carman Pirie: I think there’s a nice little juxtaposition against what most digital marketers find themselves in. I mean, usually the digital marketer in the room is the one championing the fully-closed-loop analytics and calling BS on some awareness stats, et cetera, right? But then kind of ABM turns that on its ear yet again, where getting a level of impressions engagement to a set of target accounts does drive an awful lot of value and can’t just be dismissed as vanity metrics. I think that’s a great reminder, Sergio. 

I’d be curious on the… Because you did mention at the start of that, that ABM is a bit of a heavy lift. You know? It’s a bit of a significant tactic to take on. How much of the embedded in that comment is the level of content investment required to carry it off? I understand that there’s a level of alignment and whatnot, and kind of team structure that’s required, and that can be heavy lifting in and of itself, but does that also extend over on the content side? 

Sergio Lemus: Absolutely, and we definitely saw that as we were developing the commercialization plan for these solutions, that we didn’t really think of all the different partitions that would be required in order to really be… have the right landing spots, not only for these customers, but also the right stories that were individual for the core decision-makers, as well as all the different influencers along their journey. So, it was quite a bit of upfront work to make sure that all of that content was developed, that we were able to take what we knew, but actually divide it across all the different audiences, and then to create those landing places that would resonate with the messaging that they were being served in all of our different advertising. 

So, definitely I think I compare it, again, to any marketing plan, any campaign, having this level of work really early on in the game before a demand generation plan is developed, but really at that commercialization solution development end of things is really key, and I think this is where marketing can be both a strategic partner and a support function. We can help build that program, that consumer insights, validate the different value propositions, validate the right audiences, and be able to carry that through a demand generation plan that actually yields results. 

Carman Pirie: That’s great advice and I just… Man, I guess if we could get one thing across to marketers, it’s like could you please stop underestimating content creation effort? 

Sergio Lemus: Absolutely. 

Carman Pirie: Every marketer on the planet, we just want to think it’s an afterthought or something. Anyway, sometimes we’re our own worst enemies, aren’t we? 

Sergio Lemus: Exactly. And if you’re not creating, if you’re not solving for a problem that a customer has, if you’re not creating differentiation within your offering, and most importantly, if you’re not connecting to that, to the heart of the person who is going to buy, then you really are missing out on an opportunity. 

Carman Pirie: Well, Sergio, this has been… This is one of those episodes where I look down at the clock and I’m shocked at how much time has gone by. It’s been an incredibly engaging, fast conversation. I thank you for sharing your expertise with us and our audience today. It’s been really great to connect with you. 

Sergio Lemus: No, I loved it. I had a lot of fun. Thank you both for having me. 

Jeff White: Thanks a lot. 

Carman Pirie: All the best. 

Sergio Lemus: To you, too. 

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at www.rccompplan.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.

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