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ABM: The right strategy every time

In this episode of Let's talk ABM, we sat down with Jess Larkin, Senior Strategic Marketing Manager for Financial Services at Confluent, to discuss the different use cases for ABM.

Date published: Date modified: 2022-05-23 strategicabm 550 60

Jess Larkin
Senior Strategic Marketing Manager for Financial Services | Confluent

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ABM is nothing new to Jess. She's been responsible for creating successful ABM motions at companies such as Okta and now Confluent, forging effective partnerships with Sales, driving operational excellence, and executing successful pipeline generating programs.

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 sharing our clients’ ABM success stories.

Watch this webinar and learn: 
  • What excites Jess about ABM
  • How to build an ABM strategy from scratch
  • The different use cases for ABM
  • Jess' advice for anyone launching an ABM program
Read the full transcript

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ABM: The right strategy every time

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - So today I'm joined by Jess Larkin, who's a Senior Strategic Marketer at Confluent. Jess, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Jess Larkin (Confluent) - Great to be here, Declan, thanks for having me. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So let's just talk for the next 20-30 minutes around Account-based Marketing. And I think the first question, having spoken to you previously and learned a little bit more about you, you're a seasoned ABM veteran, I think that's fair to say. What still excites you about ABM? 


Jess (Confluent) - So, great question. A couple of different things. Working with Sales has always been one of the favorite parts of my job. I love it when an Account Executive that is new to Account-based motions has their 'a-ha' moment and they really understand the value of the approach and the motion and what we're doing, it finally clicks in, and understand that it's so important to be working shoulder-to-shoulder. 

That's such a great moment for me, and then I think on the campaign side of things, having everybody across Sales, the SDRs, the Customer Success Managers, really starting to collaborate, to orchestrate programs and messaging that not only drive results but also that enable us to reach higher and deeper into the accounts and accelerate deals, absolutely one of my favorite parts of Account-based Marketing. 

And then I think unlike other Revenue Marketing roles, as an Account-based Marketer, I really get to roll my sleeves up and design programs that are hyper-customized, but it also gives me the chance to get to know our customers in the process. Being focused on some of the existing customer subsets, you get to know them, what their team likes, as an industry benchmark what's important to them. It's all really great to be able to have that role. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, I think that expression rolling your sleeves up, I think getting your hands dirty, I think really getting in there, there's so many elements to ABM, and I think it's what can actually make it quite difficult to hire good ABMers is that there are so many different disciplines that need to be covered that it makes ABMers quite a rare species, I think it would be fair to say, Jess. 

Jess (Confluent) - Sure.

Declan (strategicabm) - Let's just ask a little bit more about the role that you have there at Confluent. I understand that you're building an ABM motion there, relatively from scratch. What past learnings are you applying to this new role?

Jess (strategicabm) - So, I'm so thankful for my prior ABM experience, and Marketing experience as a whole. A few key learnings that stand out as my teammates and I are really laying that foundation for ABM at Confluent. The alignment across Marketing and Sales and Marketing Operations, it's so crucial. 

It's also essential to have time to build, to pilot, and then scale. The whole crawl, walk and run thing, it's very, very real when it comes to building a motion like this. And I think also understanding that enablement and education is really key. 

While ABM has risen in popularity in recent years, not everyone is familiar with the motion and how it differs from, say, a Field Marketing or a One-to-many approach, so patience and taking the time to share best practices, listen to what has worked previously at the organization that you're with, and then taking in ideas from your cross-functional partners is absolutely essential.

I'm really lucky to have a fabulous team at Confluent. We've each had experiences in different facets of Marketing over the years, and we're bringing that expertise just to lay a really solid foundation, and we have the luxury of being able to do that build, pilot, scale model, which, it's really, really nice.

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, I think that build, pilot, scale is so important. I think the whole concept of experimentation; learning, failing, learning from those failures, and applying those learnings is so important in ABM and I think every single guest I've spoken to on "Let's talk ABM" actually has honed in on that concept of experimentation is so important for a good ABM strategy. 

Let's just talk a bit more about the program that you are running there at Confluent. 

Jess (Confluent) - Sure. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Can you give us an overview of the program; the industries; the accounts; a little bit of the detail of the program there? 

Jess (Confluent) - Yeah, absolutely. So I am extremely lucky in the sense that I am focused strictly on one industry, our Financial Services industry. So it really allows me to work very, very closely with my AEs and my Customer Success Managers to curate programs that drive impact, both from a pipe gen perspective but also when it comes to deal acceleration. 

And then I have two other fantastic Account-based Marketers in my team, and the way the rest of the segment is structured, there is a geo focus, but then we also have industry verticals and we can do One-to-few clustering by the initiatives that those accounts are focused on. 

On the more tactical side of things, account hubs, customized tech talks, and just white glove events are really key programs that we've been seeing drive results, and we're just over one quarter in so it's nice to be getting those metrics back as far as what's working and what's not. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Could I possibly ask you to explain a bit more about some of those things that you mentioned that work really well for you? You mentioned white glove, white glove events, for example. Could you tell us a bit more? 

Jess (Confluent) - Sure, so when I'm referring to white glove programs or events, it can be in person, it can be virtual, it can be participating on vendor days, or if you know one of your accounts is, every year they do a charity golf event. It's making sure that you're showing up as a sponsor, you're supporting what those initiatives are within that company, whether it's on the charitable arm, whether it is from an educational perspective, to really separate yourself from the rest of the pack and be not only a vendor but being a partner for their team as well. 

It's offering to do customized presentations or boot camps, for instance, for their developer community or their architects, and really offering to go above and beyond, whether you bring in journey mappers to illustrate the session, what's their current state, what their future state is, and even the little things, providing swag follow-up items and one shot for the team, all of those things matter. It's the little bits...

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. 

Jess (Confluent) - ...I found over the years. And then account hubs, we use a platform called Folloze. Absolutely adore it. It's ABM at scale; I'm sure you're familiar with it. Really being able to build that account hub, have resources that matter to the team, but then constantly iterating and constantly customizing things and focusing on what's going on with the conversations that our our AEs and our CSMs are having, and then having that translate to that resource location for them. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, well, thank you for that. I think those two examples are great for people to hear, actually, in terms of how you can actually personalize the experience for the accounts that you're talking to and the customers that you're talking to. 

Let's just talk a little bit more about ABM and the different use cases that exist. Where do you see it having the greatest difference when 'ABMing' – is it with existing customers or with new logos? 

Jess (Confluent) - So, each presents its own sense of challenges and its own sense of rewards, if you will. I'm sure you know that. I feel like when it comes to your net-new logos, your green field accounts, it's so critical to think about inputs on both the qualitative and the quantitative side of things. 

I don't think it's solely enough to rely on intent data or interesting moments to craft your next move, it's also essential to develop a champion at that account when possible, after you have the appropriate nurture positions put in place, and then you can really talk about their pain points and how they're aligning to the problem that your company solves. 

The 'what keeps you up at night', and here's how we can make it a sweet dream rather than a constant nightmare, if you will, I think that's a big part of the net-new logo or green field perspective on things. 

And then when we talk about ABMing into existing customers, it's all about reaching higher and deeper into the account. It's building rapport while accelerating deal velocity and enhancing the overall customer journey. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. 

Jess (Confluent) - White glove, obviously I mentioned that just prior to this. And then I think regardless of new or existing, when you think about that customer journey and how critical it is to ABM, I always tell my reps I want, whether it's a prospect or a customer, we want them to walk away feeling like a relationship was built versus a transaction was completed. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Well, I think that word relationships is obviously one of the key differentiators with ABM as opposed to potentially other types of marketing strategy, right? In terms of building those relationships, building that reputation, and that will then follow through to the revenue that will come down the pipe, right? 

You mentioned there reps, your Sales reps. Obviously ABM isn't really ABM without Sales, and without that alignment. What's your approach there to really getting that key alignment? 

Jess (Confluent) - So, scaling back, looking at the acronym we have, I don't really think ABM or Account-based Marketing is accurate in this day and age, I think it's ABSM, it's Account-based Marketing and Selling. We need to work shoulder-to-shoulder with our sellers for an Account-based motion to be successful, and I kind of look at this in three different parts, the first being education. 

Not everybody knows what Account-based Marketing is, what Strategic Marketing is, so it's educating the Field and the cross-functional teams that you're working with. What is ABM? What is ABM at your organization? What does it consist of? Provide some use cases and examples. 

Then it's alignment, it's working within the Sellers and your territory to understand what their account plan is, what are the initiatives, the red threats that are interwoven throughout the various accounts, so it's aligning on programs and tactics that will align to the territory and the need and the customers and the net-news. 

And then it's enablement. Too many times I've seen Marketers just toss a program over the fence without providing context or account alignment or even something as simple as enablement communications. 

I think I mentioned to you I was a Content Marketer in a previous life, and I'm a big fan of arming Sales, SDRs especially, with the follow-up communications; with the invite language to different things. Sure, they can customize it, but I find if you give folks a baseline for their invites or their follow-ups or how they're to ask for a meeting, it goes a long way and people are far more likely to follow up with leads that are coming in that have been warmed up and nurtured by the program that you're doing when they have that context and when they have that enablement. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, I think the education piece is a huge piece of having a successful ABM program and I think working side by side with your Head of Sales, VP of Sales, and indeed the whole Sales team. 

I mean, I think with our Agency, we provide Sales Playbooks, which do exactly what you just said there, Jess, in terms of spelling out, what does the program mean for them, what does it mean for their accounts, what kind of messaging will be coming out, when will it be coming out, to who, and also as you then said, some of the ideas around the email messaging, some around the social messaging, around the social strategy. It really helps for the Sales teams to feel part of the success. 

Jess (Confluent) - Yes. 

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Declan (strategicabm) - And I think success breeds success, and I think success is very contagious as well, so I think what you spelled out there, I love a lot of that. 

And I think to your point around the M of Marketing, I think that's fascinating because one of my early guests on "Let's talk ABM" was Bev Burgess, who actually invented the term Account-based Marketing back in 2003, and that's 19 years ago now, almost 20 years ago. 

And when I was speaking to Bev, she was saying, "In hindsight, I shouldn't have called it Account-based Marketing," because obviously the M is a little bit misleading because it's a far bigger, wider, deeper strategy than just a marketing one, and I think you've highlighted that very well there. So let's just.. 

Jess (Confluent) - If you... 

Declan (strategicabm) - Go ahead, Jess, sorry. 

Jess (Confluent) - Just to interject, but I agree with that, and that's amazing that you've had her on the podcast, I'm honored to be here. We've actually tossed around ABX, Account-based Everything, not just ABM, not just ABSM, but ABX. It just doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well, so I tend to default back to ABM or ABSM. But it's true, it's the full, all-encompassing spectrum is what we're doing. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, and I tend to drop the M and talk about an Account-based strategy, and I think when you're talking to Sales leaders, and indeed when you're talking to the C-suite and venture capitalists and private equity, I think they get much more enthused and much more enthusiastic when they hear an Account strategy, because that makes a lot more sense to them, really. 

And then the numbers, the metrics that you then put in place thereafter are all focused around accounts, and that makes things a lot less about Marketing and more about the impact on the business, right? 

Jess (Confluent) - Yeah, completely. It is on the Account level, and that's one area where I think it's important to work with sellers to make sure there's an account plan in place; to make sure there are heat maps in place. Preparation's so crucial. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, yeah, yeah, completely agree. So let's just ask, let me ask you a question, rather, Jess, around Demand Generation and ABM. There's different conversations about whether ABM should be part of a Demand Generation team, whether they should be two separate teams. Where does one start, where does one finish? What's your take on that? 

Jess (Confluent) - So I'm a firm believer in one team when it comes to this type of thing. We win as a team, we succeed as a team, everybody needs to show up every day to the best of their abilities. As an Account-based Marketer, I rely very heavily on the information from the wider Demand Gen organization. 

So the quantitative mentioned above, what's driving interactions, what's the engagement, how are we filling our funnel? And typically, Strategic Marketing or Account-based, we're focused on the highest value accounts for an organization, so while it's likely a smaller subset, say if you're looking at enterprise or commercial or geo, they have far more accounts, but the cumulative, the potential value of the accounts that are dubbed 'Strategic' is substantially higher, so the deal size or the deal value of one strategic account could be equal to that of four or five or six of the different segments. 

So when we're thinking about metrics in Demand Gen, the pipe gen contribution is the end-all-be-all. How much pipe have you generated in that quarter? We need to think about the fact that the pipe gen contribution of strategic accounts is large, making the alignment with the Demand Gen teams and the ABM subsets that much more necessary. 

We need to make sure that the messaging and the tactics going out across the entire Demand Gen organization are aligned, and if it's speaking out to the big guys, those big accounts, it's likely a messaging set, with some tweaking, that could speak to the smaller subsets. 

So from a revenue perspective and a pipe gen perspective, it's really crucial that demand gen and ABM are best friends ...in a lot of ways. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, best friends. Somebody said to me the other day, at least they should be... ...Frenemies? They should be related at least, they should be at least cousins, I think somebody…

Jess (Confluent) - At least, yes. It's not the give or take of who's getting credit for what, it's going back to just that one team mentality, we're all winning together as a team.

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. 

Jess (Confluent) - And this is just a necessary differentiator. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, yeah. You mentioned a couple of topics there around measurement, so can you expand a little bit more on ROI and ABM? What do you guys measure there? 

Jess (Confluent) - Yeah, absolutely. So I think it's important to keep tabs on conversion rates. Where are we seeing, from the lead funnel perspective, as the leads come in, as they move to a meeting, as they move from meeting to opportunity, what are those conversion rates? Are we bringing in quality leads? 

And we can tell that by how those convert all the way out to the opportunity end of the spectrum. I think it's looking at, from an ABM perspective, deal velocity, are we accelerating those deals? Is what we're doing in market especially for customer accounts? Are we moving the needle forward? 

As I mentioned previously, deal size. Are we increasing our Average Contract Value for these strategic accounts? It's not only net-new logo acquisition, but it's the upsell cross-sell value, are we able to break into various lines of business, so then there's the expansion component that comes into play.

I think it's important to keep tabs on net-new names coming into the database for ABM, but when you think about it, it is very much spear fishing, if you will, versus fishing with a net, so I don't look at that metric as closely as I would if I was in another segment of Marketing, because it's really about getting the right people in the room versus getting a lot of people in the room 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. 

Jess (Confluent) - If you will. 

Declan (strategicabm) - I love that metaphor there around having a small room of select guests rather than having a baseball stadium full of people that you potentially don't want to know much much about you. 

So let's, just a couple more questions to finish off with, Jess. So what's been your greatest learning over the years with regards to ABM? 

Jess (Confluent) - Great question. Rome wasn't built in a day, I think, and you need to understand neither is an Account-based Marketing program. They're not one size fits all; what works for one company may not be the secret sauce for another company. It's important to take the time to listen and to understand where the need is as you build your program, and to course correct as needed. 

Second, and I'm a firm believer in this, great vendors are absolutely essential and can act as an extension of your team. I'm lucky to have worked with some of the best of the best, whether it's been Marketing Operations support or graphic designers or, when COVID happened, vendors that shifted from doing in-person events to virtual or hybrid events and just keeping the show rolling versus having this big hiccup of oh no, what are we going to do now, not only with our budget, but to fill the funnel since we can't meet in person anymore? 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. 

Jess (Confluent) - So, you know, having those vendors in place that really are an extension is so important. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, good point there, I think, particularly having those partners or vendors, having that kind of network. There are many moving parts to ABM, to an ABM strategy. 

Technology plays its part, although technology obviously has grabbed the limelight over the course of the last few years in terms of trying to define what ABM is, and I think when we were speaking previously, I think you were in agreement, Jess, that ABM is all about the strategy, and obviously technology comes later but it doesn't define the strategy. And what do you think is the hardest part of ABM? 

Jess (Confluent) - Hmm. I think it's understanding that not everything will be a win. In course corrections, course corrections are a must, going back to your earlier point about having the need to experiment. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. 

Jess (Confluent) - Not every single experiment has garnered the results that you hypothesized on the front end of it. I think it's knowing that what might work really well on one account might not work really well on another account, and you just really need to keep in mind that a customized buyer journey is a must. 

And I got this from one of my vendors, the marketers over at Sponge. I think this might be their tagline, it's avoiding random acts of marketing. So basically it's saying, and this is so applicable to ABM, don't just market to market. Have a strategy, bring that strategy into play. 

Especially in the strategic space, we're going after those really, really big fish. Don't exhaust those contacts and leads and bombard them with every single marketing program that's out there; opt them into every program that's out there, be very calculated with what you're doing, so you know the programs that you're driving at these accounts and at these high value targets will have maximum impact. 

I think that's the biggest thing to keep in mind when it comes to ABM. Don't be random, be very strategic. And it's hard to do that, it's hard to scale back. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, yeah, yeah, I love that, Jess, it reminds me when I was talking to Sangram Vajre, who is obviously such a well-known figure in the world of ABM. He said to me, "Look, no one is waiting for your weekly email." He says, "No one's waiting for your weekly email, so if it's not ready or it's not good enough, don't send it, because no one's..." Don't send it. No one's sitting there waiting for your email to arrive in their inbox with your news, so that always stays front and center of my mind.

So very last question just to finish off with, Jess: advice. What's that one piece of advice you would give to anybody looking to start an ABM motion?

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Jess (Confluent) - Hmm...three things. The first, alignment and enablement is key. Whether it is the fledgling phases of Marketing, Sales, Operations, Leadership, get everybody aligned, get everybody on the same page, have that buy-in. 

Second, a build stage is essential. You can't fly the plane if you haven't attached the wings to it; you can't drive the bus if there aren't wheels on it. Pick an analogy. You need to have time to build. 

And I think last but not least, don't pinch pennies in the initial stages of all of this. Invest in the tools that will enable your Strategic Marketing team to build and then scale. You have to spend money to make money, I think is a good way to put it, and that's especially true in ABM. We do need tools to be able to get the motions up off the ground, and it's really important to have that budgeted when things are starting off. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Well, I asked for one piece of advice and you give us three fantastic pieces of advice, so thank you, Jess, that's a great way to finish off this "Let's talk ABM" episode. Thank you so much for sharing your ABM journey with us, and I wish you and the whole team there at Confluent every success in the future.

Jess (Confluent) -  Thank you so much, Declan, it's been a wonderful conversation. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Thanks, Jess. All right, talk soon, bye-bye.