Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) – So today I'm joined by Justin Fordham, who's the Head of ABM at 360Learning. Justin, thanks so much for joining us today.
Justin Fordham (360Learning) – Yeah, thanks Declan. I appreciate you having me on.
Declan (strategicabm) – Well, let's talk a little bit about 360Learning. I think this is your fourth ABM role, having worked previously in a couple of positions at Redgate Software, and also Tackle. Can you share with us, perhaps, what you've taken from each one of those roles, perhaps, and their approaches to ABM?
Justin (360Learning) – Yeah, I think both companies taught me a lot, but different things about ABM. Redgate was my first real opportunity to be an ABM practitioner. And I feel like I got to learn a lot of the basics, and start crafting and mastering my skills there.
And Redgate did a great job of helping me evolve in multiple aspects of ABM, everywhere from, we did a lot of strategic One-to-one stuff, where we were focusing on, ABM was focused solely on named accounts, in the US. And what they called that at that time when I first joined was a 'tripod', where it was an ABM Marketer, it was an Account Executive, and it was a BDR.
And so I got to understand, really, how to look at accounts as their own segments, basically. And being able to identify areas of opportunity to land in there, to expand in there, run One-to-few accounts based on trends that I'm seeing, industries that are spiking, and stuff like that.
And then I got to dabble into One-to-many, bigger One-to-few type programs in my second round there at Redgate. And I think that really helped me understand the full gamut of the basics of ABM, for the most part.
Tackle was my first opportunity to kind of start building ABM from the ground up. It was a short-lived time there, but it was very impactful in my career. And what I learned there was bigger-picture stuff of understanding, do companies really understand what ABM is, what they want from ABM? How can I help them understand that?
That was something I needed to know how to do. And I learned that on the go. How to be able to work with Demand Gen, at the same time. So many people think that it's ABM or Demand Gen. And it's not. It needs to be ABM and Demand Gen. And that was something I learned there, was how can I build this strategy and this program to work alongside Demand Generation and all these other marketing tactics and strategies that we're doing?
So, I think Redgate taught me the great foundation, a strong foundation of ABM, and Tackle helped me understand the big-picture stuff, the strategy stuff, the things that you need to know when you start taking leadership positions.
Declan (strategicabm) – Well, I think you mentioned there, Justin, about ABM and Demand Gen. I've just made a note, actually. We'll come back to that a little bit later, perhaps.
Justin (360Learning) – Yep.
Declan (strategicabm) – Let me ask you a question. Obviously, you were also several years at Terminus. And so, Terminus, obviously, is a great school for ABM and for ABM technology, with, obviously, Sangram Varje, who was one of my first guests, actually, on Let's talk ABM. And I think you were in more of a Sales role, BDR role, there, leading teams. What do you take from your time there?
Justin (360Learning) – Oh, man, I think, there's so many things that I learned there, and I can't thank Terminus enough for the things that they taught me, and how, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that company and all the people there.
But to begin, I think I learned that ABM, even though I'm pretty sure it started in the '90s or something like that, it still was so new and misunderstood by a lot of different organizations. It's still a new strategy that people are, now have so many different tools that they can invest in to build this ABM program. And many people are starting to specialize in it. And so, they are like, "Oh, this is new, this is cool. Let me try this." And it's still misunderstood.
I also think I learned that there is not one methodology to ABM. So many people want to say, "Oh, ABM's this, ABM's that." And that's what's so, I think, I find so beautiful about ABM is that there's so many different methodologies to it that you can do.
Redgate was very focused on, "We want this to be strategic ABM, and we want to be focusing on a set number of named enterprise accounts, and we want to use this strategy to be able to work one to one with these Account Execs, to help them build pipeline and close deals, and drive revenue and expand."
Or you got some where it's early stages, and they want to focus more on top-of-the-funnel stuff. That's totally fine. You can take an ABM approach to that. It's more ABM Lite, ABM Programmatic, whatever, but it's still ABM, to a sense. So, I think that's some of the things I learned at Terminus.
Declan (strategicabm) – And one of the things that you mentioned to me before we did the recording, and I think it was reflecting on your time back at Terminus, was that you came to love ABM. And I think one of the reasons why you said that was because you realized that you were doing ABM when you were doing Sales. So, can you, perhaps, expand on that a little bit more?
Justin (360Learning) – Yeah, so I was, before I joined the ABM world, the tech world, I was doing full sales cycle Account Executive within the sports industry. I worked at IMG for a little bit, a couple other sports publication companies.
And when I joined Terminus back in 2018 as an SDR, I had no clue what ABM was. I knew enough to get me into the interview and get me the job and everything, but once I got in there, I dove head first into it, and learned and studied. And I came to quickly realize that a lot of this is what I've been doing already.
And what I mean by that is that when you're a full sales cycle Account Executive, or Account Executive in general, most of the time, nowadays, AEs are building their own pipeline, but it's all about efficiency, and it's all about pipeline and revenue. And how can we build that pipeline and revenue, either the fastest, or going after the accounts that we know is going to get us the larger deals?
As an Account Executive, you don't want to waste time on people or accounts that are proven to be pretty unsuccessful, or they just give you low numbers. So, you start to build out your book of business, and understand, "Okay, Industry A has only given me, I don't know, $100,000 in my book of business, but Industry B over here has given me about two, three, $400,000. I'm going to start focusing more on them, and it's less accounts, so it means my average deal size with them is going to be a lot bigger. So, I can focus on this industry rather than this industry, and I'm going to focus on this persona because they're the ones that I'm closing more deals with."
That's just, in a simple way, that's ABM. Focus on what your ideal customer profile looks like, who is going to make you drive in the most business, the most revenue, at either the fastest or the largest deal size. And, in a sense, that's it.
Declan (strategicabm) – Well, it's an interesting take, I think. I used to be a salesperson myself, and I used to run Sales teams, and I think salespeople generally need to be quite selfish because they realize that they've got little time. They haven't got much time for time-wasters. They normally have a good nose for when a deal's going to come about or not going to come about.
And whereas, obviously, in Marketing, perhaps, we have a bit more hope about what's going to happen, as opposed to salespeople that don't necessarily think that way. And I think you're right, Justin, to say there's the link there between Sales and, obviously, ABM, is kind of the focus and the targeting, right?
So it's the, we like to call it a targeting lens that you're very focused, and you've got a lens over the market, and you're looking at what you're interested in, and the rest is of little importance to you. So I think there's a similarity there.
And there's another term that we like to use, which is, ABM is 'Zero-waste Marketing'. So you're trying to make sure that your dollars are only spent here, as opposed to convincing a whole market or trying to go wide. And you're just trying to go narrow and deep. And I think that ties in to your message, I think.
So let's, Justin, talk a little bit about the program that you've launched there at 360Learning. I think you're, unless things have changed in the last few weeks since we first spoke, I think you're, you mentioned to me, you're a team of one, from an ABM point of view. And I think you've got some BDR sort of support, and you can call on support from Marketing from the rest of the organization. What do you think the pros and cons are of being on your own, in the trenches, so to speak?
Justin (360Learning) – Oh man, I would have to say, pros, you have to be a bit more agile. That's something I take away from my Sales days, where I did enjoy being an individual contributor, where I was like, "All right, I can make moves quick. I don't have to wait on somebody to sound this off to, or whatever. I can make moves really quick." And I think that's one of the good things about being a team of one, is that you can move quickly. And if things don't work, you can stop it, replace it real quick, and move on.
And then also, less barriers of making decisions. I mean, my boss, Justin, he is absolutely phenomenal, and trusts me to make some certain decisions and whatnot. And I think that's really great when you're just a team of one, you can make decisions a little bit quicker.
So it's still going back to being agile and quick. It's just less barriers of making decisions. 'Cause when you have a larger team, or even if you have a team of three, you got two other people that you have to sound off to, and say, "Hey, I got this idea, what do you guys think?" And then they've got other things that they're focused on. They have other priorities. So, it could take time, sometimes.
So, not that I don't love working with a team. I had an amazing team at Redgate, and they were some of the best I've ever worked with, but it is great to be able to say, "All right, I want to try this," and you can just go try it.
Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah.
Justin (360Learning) – And it's fun. I think the cons to it, it can be difficult to manage a lot of different projects, especially when you're trying to build this out and get things moving quickly. You've got to run multiple projects at once. And being a team of one, that can be really difficult. Can be a bit stressful. So you’ve got to manage your time and manage your calendar effectively. Thank God for those SDR days where I learned how to block off my calendar, and to do certain things certain ways.
And then when things don't go as planned, you're on your own, a lot of times. Again, going back, I have a great boss. He's super supportive, and helps me when I'm very hard on myself. That goes back to my Sales days. I'm just, I put the pressure on myself. He's good about being there for me, but when you're a team of one, you're on your own, so you got to figure out what went wrong, fix it, and fix it quick.
And then, lastly, I think, this could be a pro and con, in my opinion. It's just, you have a bigger magnifying glass. You have that magnifying glass on you from higher-ups, and it's all on you. And I think that's, if you thrive in something like that, like that kind of aspect, it's a pro. If you like to be able to kind of blend into the crowd, it's going to be a big issue, it's going to be tough, because, again, when things go wrong, it's on you. When things go right, it's on you as well, but it's both sides of it all.
Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, yeah, there's something you said, Justin, there, which made me think of that, if you've seen that film, "The Martian," I think it's called, with Matt Damon.
Justin (360Learning) – Yeah.
Declan (strategicabm) – When he's stranded on some planet, somewhere on Mars, obviously, clearly. And he said that “you just got to do the math”. So, it's like that when you were saying that you have to do all the calculations yourself, you have to do all the equations, and you have to work everything out on your own. I think that's very much the case that, you know, that you need to save yourself, so to speak, and to get the program to where you need it to be, right?
Justin (360Learning) – Yeah, no, it's, luckily, I think what's important about ABM, too, is that to build successful ABM, you need to be able to create branches, and create relationships with other teams and stuff, because that's when it does, you can be relieved of some of that stuff that Product Marketing can really be – I mean, those are some of the superheroes out there, Product Marketing for ABM.
I love all the Product Marketing teams I've ever worked with. If you have the calculations on your own, and you're like, "All right, but I need someone that's really in it, day to day." And I go to the Product Marketing team. They're like, "We're actually seeing this trend, this trend, and this trend." And you're like, "I got a good idea. All right, awesome. Thank you so much."
Demand Generation, that team, they see everything that's going on across the whole field. They're seeing trends on what's working, what's not working with different channels. So, you are on your own to make these calculations, but, I think, if you do a good job of building relationships, you have a great number of teams around you that's willing to help.
Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, yeah, I would agree to that. So let's just deal a bit more into the ABM program that you're in there. Can you talk us through, can you paint us a picture? Can you paint us a picture of what kind of strategy you have in place there, and what, perhaps, if you talk through, how did you go about selecting the different industries, perhaps, something about the types of programs that you're running? So a little overview of the program there.
Justin (360Learning) – Yeah, so, ABM's very young, very early stages here. I've been, ABM's been implemented, this is the second go-around that they've implemented it. I think they started early last year, and then kind of put it on pause, and then brought it back, I'd say around February of this year, and then I was brought on in April.
So, still early stages, building that foundation. That's what's most important, I think, in that first year of ABM, is building a strong foundation that's going to start bringing in some traction, that's going to be able to bring in some business at top of funnel, that's going to create some strategies, and tactics, and methodologies that's strong, that you can build off of.
And that's what we're doing today. So everything's real top-of-funnel. Everything is based off of understanding, who is our ideal customer, what does this look like? What are signals that we need to be looking for that make the most sense that can build pipeline for us?
And one thing we've realized, my boss actually found this out before I joined, was that a large number of our deals came from HR leaders, L&D leaders that had just joined, or just got promoted within the last three to six months. So that's a segment that we’ve started looking at now.
And we haven't done too much of competitor stuff. And I realized that there was a great initiative around the competitor that we need to be targeting. And so, that's another segment. So we're just building new segments constantly.
And while we're doing that kind of strategy stuff, I'm working with ABM BDRs, by handing them best-fit looking, high-intent accounts, something that I know that are kind of low-hanging fruit that have the opportunity to make a really good impact, and something that they can create pipeline with quickly.
So, we have something moving constantly, while I'm building something strong there. As we build this out, plans, ideally would be, we could make this where ABM is full funnel rather than just top of funnel. And I want to be able to create, kind of like what Terminus, and I think Clari do. They do a really good job of branching out their ABMs to help with acquisition, expansion, pipeline acceleration, strategic account. That's what I want ABM to evolve to, here at 360Learning, especially as we're trying to really make our name in the US market.
Declan (strategicabm) – And in terms of the top of the funnel you mentioned, now, are you running kind of a mix of One-to-many and One-to-few, or are you solely doing kind of One-to-many at the moment?
Justin (360Learning) – It's One-to-many, One-to-few. So, accounts that we're not actively working, that is starting to kick tires. They're showing intent, they're showing interest. They're right in that middle stage, I feel like. We're delivering ads to them. And as they visit the site and then come back, they're getting a new level of ads that are more focused on demo requests, more case studies, building trust, getting them in the door.
And then I have air coverage ads that I'm running these type of campaigns for the BDRs. As they're working them, I'm providing educational content. And then we're also running more I'd say One-to-many campaigns focused on a competitor customer base right now. So, it's a blend of One-to-few and One-to-many.
Declan (strategicabm) – And you mentioned that, yeah, and you mentioned there, Justin, about the, your BDRs, and how you're handing them accounts with higher intent. What's been the feedback from the BDR team on this different approach, on this account-based approach?
Justin (360Learning) – I mean, they love it. Well, it's a team of one right now. We had two. He had a great opportunity to move up into an AE role. So we have a senior BDR, Crystal, she's doing a phenomenal job. And she's loving the fact that she knows that these are someone who's actually showing interest. They're active shoppers, for the most part.
We're still trying to find that sweet spot of who is an active shopper, and who is kicking tires or they're already in a contract, or they just signed a contract or something like that. So we're still trying to find that sweet spot. It's always testing everything.
But Crystal does a great job of giving me a lot of feedback on what's working, what's not working. And so, I've built that relationship with the BDR team to say, "Give me as much feedback as possible. I don't want to be the one telling you feedback. I want you telling me feedback, because you're out there, you're on the ground, you're doing these things, you know more than I do." I'm just an eagle eye up here. I can see what's going on, but I can't see how people were responding.
Declan (strategicabm) – And is it too early to share any results? Are you still kind of building pipeline, or are you starting to see revenue coming through?
Justin (360Learning) – Yeah, so, one thing, the main thing we're measured on right now in ABM is SQL ones, which means qualified opportunity. And so, what I want to contribute to success is that when, before I came here, my boss was doing – he's the Director of Marketing Operations, by the way – he was doing that, plus another job, plus ABM. So he was managing a lot of these things, and he just didn't have the time to be able to really invest into finding all these accounts and everything like that.
So, BDRs were getting one, maybe two SQLs a month or something. When I came in and took over fully, we got 'em to 100% quota, then 80%, and then, and so on, so forth. So we've been around a 75% or more quota attainment. So I think that's a big win for us, as we've built this, is that we've now been able to say, we can take this process, and turn this into something that's actually generating pipeline and opportunities.
So, and then other big wins, I'd say, are we're finding new segments that are actually working. This customer, competitor-customer based segment that we developed, we're already seeing some SQL ones out of that. So it's not just high-intent accounts anymore. It's accounts that are in different segments that maybe aren't shopping for us, but realize they do have a need for us.
So, I think that's, those are some wins. And that's important when you're building ABM, especially when you're on your own. Kind of going back to that question you had for me, I'd say, a piece of advice is, count every win. Count every win. Don't get so hard on yourself about things, 'cause it's not going to go the way you planned it. It's not going to be as easy as you think it's going to be. But you need to have those wins for yourself.
And that's really important to keep you going, keep you level-headed, and making the impact.
Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, I think I definitely agree. And I think a general piece of advice for anyone running an ABM program is to share as much good news as possible, whatever that good news is, in terms of the relationships you're building, the reputation you're building, the revenue that's coming on stream, the pipeline, the deal velocity, average order value, et cetera, et cetera. Share as much news, and share it as wide as possible, because it's a long road, and as you said, there's a lot of bumps on that road, right?
So, question for you, Justin. Let's talk about, we mentioned earlier that you, obviously, were in a Sales, or several Sales roles, before you moved into Marketing, and before you moved into ABM. How do you think that Sales background actually helped you, or has helped you, rather, to become an ABMer, and a better ABMer?
Justin (360Learning) – I think, to start with, is that it helps me build rapport with Sales leaders and Sales teams. And I think that's one of the most important things of building ABM, and running a successful ABM program, is because without Sales, ABM is nothing almost. You need Sales, you need that team to buy into this. Whether that's BDRs, whether that's Account Executives, whether that's whatever, you need the Sales organization to buy into this.
And you have, when you can talk the talk with them and understand, you have the same goals as they do, help them understand that, that's where things start moving a lot quicker for you. 'Cause a lot of times, a lot of these Account Executives come from organizations that maybe not have ran ABM programs.
So all they're used to is leads that came in from events, leads that came in from a downloaded white paper, leads that, leads, leads, leads, and they haven't had somebody focus on accounts. They haven't had somebody that's focused on targeting and engaging accounts in a different way that ABM does.
They're used to hearing a lot of noise, and not saying how we're going to make you money. That's all they want to hear. How we're going to build that pipeline for you so you can make some money. So I think that's what's helped me a lot.
And then also, the way I look at target accounts, and buyers and whatnot, I look at that with a Sales lens, and I engage them with more of a Marketing mindset. So, that's, when I look at accounts, I'm not saying, "Oh, this might be a good one, or this is a really good logo." It's more of, "Okay, this comes from an industry that typically has a much higher average deal size, and they close quicker than any other industry there that has come through. We need to be targeting this account, or these type of accounts right here. That's what's going to make you the most money the fastest."
And that's where they really buy in. They say, "Oh, I was looking at Company A because it was a great logo. If I could win that, that'll look awesome." Whereas, I say Company B is going to make you more money and close faster, just based off the data.
Declan (strategicabm) – Yep, and I think that's a very good point as well, that sometimes companies, from the CEO, or the private equity or whoever, all the way down, have an obsession with certain logos, with certain names, and more often than not, they are shiny baubles that you put on the Christmas tree, but they're not going to help you make any money 'cause you're not going to win them necessarily.
Justin (360Learning) – Yeah.
Declan (strategicabm) – And I think going, perhaps, for maybe some tier twos is sometimes a much smarter move, or indeed, as you said, using intent data and the data coming through from your ABM efforts, to kind of seek out those companies that are showing a greater interest and intent helps your BDR guys make the numbers, really.
So just a couple of questions just to finish off with, Justin. So, in your time, we mentioned before, you've been at, obviously, at 360Learning, and before that, you were obviously at Redgate and at Tackle. What, in all that time, do you think has been the greatest learning you've taken from your ABM journey?
Justin (360Learning) – Whew, I've learned so many things. I would say, this is something I learned when I got myself out of the MarTech landscape industry, and realized, it's strategy before technology. When you work in the MarTech industry, you're like, "Oh, I know this tool, this tool, this tool. This would really help us." And you get caught up in that. And it's a noisy, noisy marketplace.
I think, last time I looked, I think there was 8,000 different Marketing technology companies out there, and you're getting bombarded with them, and it's easy to fall into that trap of, "Oh, I can build this world-class tech stack." But if you don't have strategy behind that tech stack, all you have is a very expensive tech stack with no direction.
Best thing I learned was, build a small, powerful tech stack. Use what you know is going to be the basics, that's going to help you drive the strategy and the plans that you have. It's just easy to get caught up in that noise. And you need to have a stronger strategy than your tech stack. That's what's going to create a powerful ABM strategy.
And with today's market, and how things are shifting, with cookie data and all that stuff, it's going to prove that there's some Marketers out there that rely on a powerful tech stack rather than a strong strategy. And it's going to weed that out a good bit. You have to have that strategy before tech stack. And once you have that strategy, then you can build an awesome tech stack.
And it doesn't have to be that much. You can have, some people believe ABM platforms are great, some don't. That's, to each their own, it's your own opinion. But I think having a strong ABM platform as your foundation, along with an automation tool, obviously, have a great CRM, if you can keep it clean, the better, and then, really, that's how I've driven a lot of my strategies, or the tools I've used in my strategies, is, have that tool that's going to provide you some data to be able to report, to also deliver ads, but more importantly, you can see the data that you can deliver back to Sales, give them actual insights, to then go out there and attack the accounts that you have deemed best fit.
Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, I think it's a good point, Justin, I think. I often say the mantra, strategy first, technology second. So I think we're completely in agreement with you and in alignment with you around that. And I think the strategy will dictate the people and the processes, and that will then dictate the technology.
And I've often said, you need a good pen, a good piece of paper, and a good mind, and you can build an ABM program, without any, you can actually do an ABM program without any technology.
Justin (360Learning) – Yeah.
Declan (strategicabm) – And I think you're right, that the technology boom. And I think the ABM vendors and the tech vendors have done a very good Marketing job. They've done a very good job of making people understand the technology, believe some of the, not the hype, but believe some of the kind of potential of it, which isn't always fulfilled, because of deployment issues and other issues. But I think, just keep it simple, really, I think, is the answer, and then the rest will come.
Two very quick, quick-fire questions, one-line answers. What, for you, is the hardest part of ABM?
Justin (360Learning) – I think the hardest part, the one I've banged my head up against the wall about, is making sure all parties in the organization, or all stakeholders in this, are on the same page as to what success looks like for ABM. I think that is one of the toughest things out there.
If you have C-level execs that are expecting thousands of leads a month, it's not going to look great. That's going to be an unsuccessful ABM program. If you think Sales, or Sales thinks that it's going to get all these leads, or it's going to look like this or that, it's just, they're going to start losing interest.
So it's making sure all parties, all stakeholders within ABM, are on the same exact page. And that starts from leadership down. I think you'll have a successful ABM program moving forward, as long as everybody's on the same page, understands what does success look like. And success can look like many different things, but as long as everybody understands, this is what success is going to look like at Company A, as we drive this ABM program.
Declan (strategicabm) – Now that's a great point, I think. Agreeing on what, well, aligning ABM with business outcomes that the business is looking to achieve to show that there's actually an alignment in your thinking between what you're doing and what the business is looking to achieve, that's number one.
Number two then, being very clear on what you're going to report on, so that people don't suddenly say to you, "Hey, where's this, where's that, where's the other?" And you're saying, "Well, that's actually not what we're trying to do here."
Justin (360Learning) – Yep.
Declan (strategicabm) – I think it's really important. And building a solid dashboard at the beginning, that you believe in, that you've shared with the Sales team, that they believe in, I think is a very good way to start. So that's, I think it's a great piece of advice there.
And actually, talking about advice. It's Friday evening, you're just about to close your laptop, you've earned a good beer, right? You've definitely earned a good beer, but suddenly, an old friend of yours from your old days calls you up and says, "Hey Justin, I've got to give a presentation on Monday morning about an ABM strategy." And they're asking you for some advice. And you say, "Look, it's Friday evening. My wife's here, my baby's here. I can give you one piece of advice." What's that one piece of advice you'd give them?
Justin (360Learning) – Think it kind of goes back to my last point. Understand what you're trying to accomplish with this program before you ever begin anything. Understand, companies need to understand, it's an investment. Not just money. I mean, money is involved, but not just money, but time.
Too many organizations think ABM can be built, Rome can be built overnight, as a lot of 'em think. It's a crawl-walk-run approach. To be successful, to have a long-lasting ABM program, I think you need to take that crawl-walk-run. More than anything, understand what you're trying to accomplish.
For example, Redgate, they wanted to build pipeline and strengthen relationships within strategic named accounts. That's what they were trying to accomplish with the ABM program, and that's what they built.
360Learning, we're trying to just build an outbound motion in the US market. That's what ABM is being used for. And that's how we're building it today. We'll eventually evolve into something, but right now, what we're trying to accomplish is to build an outbound motion in the US market. And that's how we're using ABM today.
If I were coming in, saying, 'higher-ups' want to build outbound motion, but I'm coming in saying, "Well, I want to make it where we're focused on strategic accounts and stuff," it's not going to work, 'cause I'm not understanding what we're trying to accomplish right off the bat. So, as long as you, both parties understand what you're trying to accomplish before you start planning this strategy to anything like that, that's where you're going to be super successful.
Declan (strategicabm) – Justin, great advice to finish off on. Thank you so much for sharing your ABM journey with us today, and all the best to you and everyone there at 360Learning. Thanks for your time.
Justin (360Learning) – Thank you, Declan, I appreciate it.