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ABM: Powering the digital transformation of supply chain

In this episode of Let's Talk ABM, we speak to Debra Yorkman, VP of Marketing at SDI, about how ABM can help drive digital transformation, and the importance of strong content.

Date published: Date modified: 2021-09-27 strategicabm 550 60

Debra Yorkman
VP of Marketing | SDI

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Debra sets and guides the overall strategic and tactical execution of SDI’s marketing and branding initiatives. Debra deploys ABM to help customers and target accounts learn the value of the digital transformation of their supply chain.

Declan heads up Marketing at strategicabm. After some 20 years working as a CMO in the Professional Services, SaaS, and EdTech sectors, Declan is now Agency-side building the strategicabm brand and running the Agency's successful ABM program. Declan is the host of the leading ABM podcast, Let's talk ABM.

Watch this webinar and learn: 

  • Why the last 18 months has been an inflection point
  • How contextualized news can drive results
  • What the hardest part of ABM is
  • Advice on how to succeed at Account-based Marketing
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ABM: Powering the digital transformation of supply chain

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - So today I'm joined by Debra Yorkman, VP Marketing at SDI. Debra, thanks so much for joining us today.

Debra Yorkman (SDI) - Thanks for having me. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Thank you. So we were both talking just before we started recording about the temperature. Debra's in the suburbs of Philadelphia and I'm just outside Madrid, so we're both suffering from a little bit of the heatwave here. So, if we have some droplets on our foreheads, apologies. So, Debra... 

Debra (SDI) - It's just because that's how intense Marketing is, especially Account-based Marketing. So intense we're going to be sweating when we talk about it. 

Declan (strategicabm) - That's right. Let's try to keep the audience engaged as we go through these questions and talk a little bit about ABM. 

Debra (SDI) - Okay. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So let's just kick off with a marketing question, okay? SDI, what problem does SDI solve and who is your ideal customer? 

Debra (SDI) - Well, so SDI is a digital supply chain company with a focus practise on helping our clients manage their MRO, that's the Maintenance, Repair and Operating supplies. So that's the consumables, spare parts, PPE, and other indirect materials that they use to run production plants, and repair schools, retail facilities, any other multi-site facility. 

So we help them gain visibility and control of their MRO supply chain. It's typically multi-site facilities that, you know, have either, they spend a lot on their spare parts or they have no idea what they're spending on their spare parts, which is not uncommon, so. Ideally our core markets are industrial manufacturing. We also market to the K-12 education space and we have customers in the retail multi-site facilities management organisation space as well. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So in essence, it's everything that basically is running all the companies that we all know and love, and all those very well known brands. And that it's the gel, 

Debra (SDI) - Yeah. 

Declan (strategicabm) - It's the glue at the heart of all this, right? 

Debra (SDI) - Yeah, I mean like the production, you think about your direct supply if you make chocolate is cocoa and butter, your indirect supply is the nuts and bolts on the production lines. It's the PPE to protect the workers that are manning those production lines. 

So, it's still as important, it's just not, you know, directly going into their goods and services. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, so you just mentioned there, actually, PPE, now, obviously the last couple of years have left an indelible impact on all of us. 

Debra (SDI) - For sure. 

Declan (strategicabm) - And all of us, you know, whether individuals or companies or customers. But I think it'd be fair to say that it's changed, the last 18 months or so has changed SDI beyond all recognition and indeed changed your customers. Can you talk us through why that would be? 

Debra (SDI) - Yeah, well, I mean, it certainly has for all of us really, we're all different now. But prior to the pandemic, organizations had plans for digital transformation, three to five years on the horizon, right? And the pandemic really accelerated that timeline to three to five months, not years. 

So companies were forced to really look at new ways of managing their supply chains when it became just so apparent how connected everything is, right? So previously most of our marketing efforts at SDI were to educate the audience on why it's so important to manage the MRO supply chain strategically. 

And the pandemic just made the case so apparent, you know, that now, not only are organizations more open to adopting digital technologies to get that end-to end visibility into their supply chain, but they're making those connections and pulling in different players in the supply chain ecosystem, so to speak. So, they're ensuring that they're really, they're not going to be caught off guard. It's really been a remarkable journey. 

Declan (strategicabm) - And I think when we were talking previously Debra about the supply chain and all the different actors involved in it, I think I seem to recall you mentioned that it can be somewhat of a difficult audience in terms of supply chain buyers. In terms of the position that they're in is that they are very often unaware and untroubled. Could you elaborate a little bit on that and how ABM is actually helping you to kind of raise awareness into this group? 

Debra (SDI) - Oh yeah, I mean, I wouldn't say that the audience is difficult, it's more that the MRO supply chain is what's difficult. And historically it's been neglected because there's been no single owner accountable for it. The users are typically like the maintenance technicians that need to be able to easily find parts in the app and get them in their facilities quickly so they can repair the production assets, and that at times, is crucial in these types of facilities. 

So, the very nature of MRO is that it's typically low dollar value, but like a high volume of transactions, like thousands and thousands of transactions and lines of, so the procurement teams in these organizations, the problem, you know, it's, they couldn't access the spend, you know? There was no visibility into what was spent, from where, from whom, so, if they can't access the spend, they can't source it and negotiate contracts, and not effectively, anyway. 

So the pandemic provided some catalytic energy, I guess is a good term for it, to this problem, so, the audience is now definitely aware and troubled. They weren't, they were untroubled, unaware. Like, MRO? "I don't want to hear about it." 

So, this changes our ABM strategy so that we can really focus on the customer experience instead of those problems. Instead of saying, you know, "You have a problem that you don't even know exists." It's like, "Yeah, right, get out of here." Right? So now the value that we bring to the table as an organization in solving this problem is already understood. 

It's kind of, I mean, I guess if there's got to be a silver lining of the pandemic, it's that, that everybody knows what supply chain is now and they understand it's not just logistics, right? So, our ABM strategy, whether to specific targets in those specific markets, like a One-to-few strategy for retail, for example, it's micro-focused on those value stories that are differentiated and that allows the buyer to really self-discover what's really important to them. 

So, we'll do a lot of reports on, you know, "Here are trends in the industry," so that they can kind of see themselves in there and say, "Yeah," then, "You, know what, I'm not alone." And so, it's really powerful actually.

Declan (strategicabm) - And actually that kind of leads nicely to the next question that you mentioned before that you kind of refer to SDI as being the 'Sherpa', taking your customers on a digital supply transformation. And being a Sherpa, kind of, you know, the images of climbing mountains, and K2 and Everest, et cetera, comes to mind. But, is it that hard in terms of the work or is it relatively easy to take your customers on this journey? 

Debra (SDI) - Yeah, I mean, digital transformation is a journey and it's not just about creating a digital version of what we were doing before. So, it's actually about changing our behavior and, you know, helping our customers change their behaviors around how they manage their supply chain. 

So, as an industrial marketer, you know, focusing on process transformation and behavioral transformation before the technology. And so that's difficult because it's like, you kind of just want to plug in a solution and be like, we're done, right? And there's a lot of plug and play solutions available for automated sourcing and supply chain management. 

Our supply chain management platform is very plug and play, but there is this change management that has to happen. And so digital transformation, that the journey is really about, you know, process transformation. Most problems are created because there's not a standard process around it. 

So a lot of what we do at SDI, technology enables our 50 years of process, so, I hate saying process so often, but it really is. So if you automate a bad process, you know, you're just accelerating and exacerbating your problems. So you can't just plug in an automated solution. So, we're really changing our behavior for us and the client, frankly. 

So technology is really the least complex of these transformations, you know? And, so while the pandemic provided, definitely provided momentum to get over that inertia, like, "We're not going to change yet." It's engaging customers and turning our focus from what we sell to the problems that we help them solve. 

That's been a key pivot and it has been a journey and, for us and our customers, and they've been really open to change lately. So, it's helpful, for sure. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. And I think that also links nicely as well to, you mentioned that one of the things that you did over the course of last couple of years was create a lot more stories and a lot more news to share with your customers, because obviously they were, they were firefighting, they were looking for new supply chains, they were looking to turn on or turn off different supply routes. So you created an awful lot of, kind of, almost like in a journalistic way, like real-time news into these accounts to let them know what was happening, right? 

Debra (SDI) - Oh, absolutely. And, I tell my team, it's like, we're like, you know, corporate marketing, but we're also almost a publishing house, right? 'Cause that's the pivot, from talking about our solutions to talking about helping the customers solve their problems. 

So when everything was first shut down because of the pandemic, we all experienced, everybody experienced supply chain delays. But because SDI, you know, at SDI, we work with thousands of suppliers across numerous categories. Like, MRO isn't just one category, maybe, it's like 50, 60, it's hundreds of different categories, depending on what kind of facilities you have. 

And you could have, you know, lab supplies, or custom motors and things like that. So it's really nuanced. And so, we were working with these suppliers during the pandemic, we're able to see quickly what categories were being impacted, where to source alternatives. And we had that agility to keep our clients MRO and PPE supply chains running so that they could stay in business. 

And so, we took these insights and trends and just started publishing it in a news brief every week during the pandemic. It was like, people don't know what's going on, we have to just at least share what we know as we know it. And, you know, we sent it to, I'll be honest, we sent it to everybody in our databases. 

Like, if they are in our database, they have at least the tertiary interest or role in supply chain and this could potentially keep them from having to shut their plants. So, some of those accounts that were, they're really responsive to this weekly email and previously we were only sending emails like once or twice a month 'cause we didn't want to oversaturate the market. It's like, "Yeah, yeah, MRO”, you don't care about it that much just to receive an email every day about it. 

But they were sharing it with their peers and providing us with, usually you don't get direct feedback from an email blast, I mean, unless they're like, "Yes, let's sign up for this," which, you know, the MRO process is, the sales cycle's a little longer, it's not very transactional. It's more like a consultative type of deal. So, we had at least one of those companies come back to us and ask us to help them with managing their spare parts strategy for their retail facilities. 

So it was really great to be able to help, but then also to see like, we can do something that isn't, maybe won't tie directly to ROI, but then will down the line and it totally paid off. I mean, it was a great strategy and we're starting to do that now more so, like, our Operations teams are coming to Marketing and saying, "Hey, we want a client retention strategy." And so building out newsletters for the clients every quarter to say, here's what we've been doing in your facilities and here's how it's helping. 

That, you know, that just helps keep them happy with our program, but helps them understand their supply chain a little bit more so that they can improve it more, which is the goal for everyone. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, and I think this whole thing about kind of the journalistic, providing real-time news, I've been talking to lots of other ABM teams and it's something that definitely has been working for many of them in terms of providing their customers, providing their wider database, their wider prospects with information that's relevant to them. 

Marlowe Fenne, who heads up ABM over at FireEye, which is quite a well-known cyber security company, they do the same thing and it's, you know, they're providing information about real-time threats in terms of cybersecurity and it's a huge, huge benefit to those customers. So I think it's a very similar thing that you've been doing there, Debra. 

So let's just talk about the ABM program a little bit that you're running there at SDI. Can you paint us a picture? You know, so there are different program types in ABM, One-to-many, One-to-few, One-to-one, different strategies, different tactics, different approaches, but, how would you kind of summarize the approach that you take there? 

Debra (SDI) - Well, our approach has been very content driven and educational content, as I mentioned before, but we do market too, we segment our markets and so three distinct categories. The industrial manufacturing, K-12 in education, and then the retail or multi-site facilities management firms. 

And, each of them has their own newsletter that we produce essentially, and sometimes it's MRO focused and, you know, here are best practises in MRO, or, you know, if we've gotten feedback from the Sales department that they're working with a retail organization that's really focused on tail spend, we'll put together campaigns specifically for tail spend and market it to retail overall, knowing that that person's going to see it and, you know, kind of feel like, "Yes, they get it. They're already producing content like this." 

So, you know, it's giving people a resource for learning 'cause, you know, 70% of the buyers' decision-making process is already done before they contact you. So making sure that we get ahead of that decision and giving them the education that leads them, you know, down the digital supply chain path is crucial. 

So, it's been a lot of creating content and creating reports, white papers, webinars, videos, but just kind of, oh, just kind of tailored to smaller segments at a time as opposed to blasting it to everybody. 'Cause I mean, while the problem is the same for everybody, the story and the value is different for each of those markets. 

So, yeah, it's definitely helpful to segment it that way. People respond very well. 

Declan (strategicabm) - And let's just talk about this journey that you've been on since you've been running the ABM program there at SDI. We often talk about ABM being a marathon, not a sprint, and so therefore by definition, it's a long, long path that we're all on doing the ABM. Have there been any kind of bumps along the way that, you know, any kind of moments that you look back on and thought, "Whoo, that's not going to work," or, "That didn't work very well?" Any kind of learnings that you have? 

Debra (SDI) - Well you're right. I mean, the whole marathon issue is, you know, people want to say, "Well, if all of your marketing is digital, anyway, we should get real-time feedback and know whether it's working or not." And to a degree, yes, you have your open rates, you can see how many impressions you're getting and what, you know, your click-through rates are, what content is driving the most engagement, right? 

But, the challenge is not with your audience but more with your team, I think, in wanting to see the results immediately and not being able to have the patience to trust the process and know that it's going to, you know, "The plan that we have in place, it's going to work. We just have to give it time." 

A key example there is the K-12 education space. PPE was a huge concern, it still is in the schools, especially now that it's back to school time and the CDC guidelines keep shifting, and so, providing that education to the K-12 sector was key. Like, here are checklists and ways to, other ways beyond, you know, masks and hand sanitizers to keep your schools safe. And, the K-12 market, it's government, you know, they're government funded, so, their buying happens on a specific cycle, and it takes longer, which is difficult. 

But, so as long as we're providing the education and showing them, you know, what's available, we're doing what we can for now. And, it's going to take time and it's going to, you know, they're going to need to warm up to the idea and, you know, because it's, government's evolve, there's going to be bureaucratic red tape to go through. 

And so we just have to be patient with ourselves. I think that the marathon versus the sprint analogy there is right on. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. I can imagine working with governments that they, it moves at its own speed and you can't necessarily make it move any quicker really, but you've just got to keep close and keep working with them really, I suppose? 

Debra (SDI) - Oh yeah. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So let's just talk a little bit more about, you know, some of the ABM work that you do there. There are different parts to ABM in terms of building that program, you know? Whether it's your ICP, whether it's your account selection, whether it's the value proposition, using intent data, the content strategy, et cetera. 

But at SDI with the program that you run there, Debra, where would you say that you spend a large proportion of your time? 

Debra (SDI) - Hands down, we spend the most time on the messaging on the content, making sure that what we're saying kind of gives the audience enough so that they can self-discover their problems and then tie it back to a solution that obviously, that SDI could provide, or that we could help them, you know? Point them in the right direction.

But hands down, it's because supply chain people have their preconceived notions, you know, when we say we manage the MRO supply chain, they say, "Oh, you're a supplier? So you sell parts?" It's like, "No, we don't sell parts. So parts are part of the supply chain and we'll make sure that you get your parts and they're a crucial part of it, but we're not selling you the parts, we're selling you this, the visibility, and the transparency and the ability to control all of this stuff."

So the account, the ABM program, our marketing in general has been really, really focused on messaging and just getting that messaging right the first time. Because, if we say something that people don't understand, then that's it, we've lost them. So, you know, if they have a preconceived notion of, "Oh, I know what you're saying, you're a supplier." Done, done. 

So we want to get it right the first time, which sometimes gets in the way of progress. Like, "Oh, we still want to go back and retool this before," but, things move so quickly now, you know that. We just have to get it out. 

And so that's one of the other things about ABM is that ability to try things, see if it works, if it doesn't, let's move on to the next thing. And we are not afraid to just, you know, cut our losses and move on to the next thing, so. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, it's interesting that kind of the, I was talking to another guest on "Let's Talk ABM," and they were talking about the fact that you need to, you need to be not be afraid to fail because you need to learn from those failures rather, and then that helps you become a better ABMer and deliver a better ABM program really. So, and as you said, you fail, I think fail fast is probably a good mantra for anyone to have doing ABM, right? 

So just two final questions, Debra, for you, what would you think or what's the hardest thing, or the hardest part of ABM? 

Debra (SDI) - Hmm. I think the hardest part is pushing against the urge to 'boil the ocean'. Like, the whole idea about ABM is taking a small chunk, or One-to-one, or One-to-few, or One-to-many, but, taking a small sampling and seeing how it works and really focusing on that experience. 

As a Marketer, we're creating experiences, and so, when you're trying to 'boil the ocean', it's not an experience, you're almost just checking a box. So, being able to slow down and create experiences for each market segment or with each campaign is, I think, is probably the hardest part of any ABM strategy I would think. Is just resisting that urge to try to do everything for everybody. 

And you get that with salespeople too. It's like, "Oh, we got them on the phone. Let's tell them everything we do." It's like, well, we want to focus on this particular part of their problem. And that's really hard for all of us, I think.

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, I think trying to kind of crawl, walk, run, is always a good approach. And, trying to, you know, do a pilot first, use a small set of accounts, as you said at the beginning, talk to a Head of Sales and work with them on a small group of accounts to get the ABM program off the ground are always good approaches really. 

And last question, Debra. In terms of any company out there that's either looking to start ABM or perhaps they're at the beginning of ABM and they're just trying to say, "Well, is this going well?" What advice would you give those types of companies? 

Debra (SDI) - Oh man. So, I mean, it's the whole think big, start small, scale fast, right? You want to 'boil the ocean', you have this grand idea, but start in small, small segments. And then if it's successful, then scale it up and then repeat it, right?

I think a lot of people get intimidated just by the term ABM because it's like, "Oh, that involves particular software or technology that I need." And it does, I mean, it's as simple as like hyper-targeting your audience with a specific message. I mean, that's at the heart of it. That's what it is, right? And so it doesn't have to be complicated. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So, in effect, try to be as simple as possible, really? 

Debra (SDI) - Well, yeah, I mean, just to get started. I mean, just get started and that's the hardest part. It's like when you go to the gym, the hardest part is walking through the door, you know? Once you're there, you're going to do it, right? But, you got to start somewhere. So, don't be intimidated by all the treadmills and the weird, you know, elliptical machines and stuff. Just, pick a treadmill and start walking and, you know, eventually you'll be running and using all the equipment, but just start with what you know.

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. But that wasn't my experience with gyms. When I was going to gyms, I would tend to be looking at the TV and watching the sport or something and getting distracted when I was trying to keep my balance on the treadmill. But, but that's very good advice, Debra. 

Debra, it has been an absolute pleasure learning more about SDI, learning more about your ABM program there. Thank you so much for being so generous with your time and all the very best for the future. 

Debra (SDI) - Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.