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Building a community with ABM

In this episode of Let's talk ABM, we sat down with Corrina Owens, Senior ABM Manager at Gong, to discuss the importance of building a community in the ABM world.

Date published: Date modified: 2022-05-09 strategicabm 550 60

Corrina Owens
Senior ABM Manager | Gong

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​Corrina Owens is an award-winning ABMer who is now blazing a trail at Gong. A passionate Marketer, Corrina is all about building customer-centric programs with impactful account experiences and communities. Corrina has also recently been listed in the first-ever Future CMOs watch list by the Peak Community.

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: 

  • Why building a community is the next step in ABM
  • How to achieve alignment with Sales
  • What the hardest part of ABM is
  • Corrina's advice for anyone launching an ABM program
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Building a community with ABM

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - Today, I'm joined by Corrina Owens, who's the Senior ABM Manager at Gong. Corrina, thanks so much for joining us today. 

Corrina Owens (Gong) - Thanks so much for having me, happy to be here. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Great, so let's talk, 30 minutes, around ABM. 

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So let's just kick off with the question around Gong. I'm a huge fan of Gong. And I think it's safe to say that you guys have broken the B2B mold in terms of the work you're doing. The last couple of years you've done Super Bowl advertisements, you’re kind of, really kind of changing things. So it must be a lot of fun working there at Gong, right? 

Corrina (Gong) - Yeah, I've been a fan of Gong since inception, both from just the amazing product I think they have, and I've used at companies prior, but also just to your point, they just finally made B2B not boring anymore and really made it human and accessible and inclusive. 

And it allows us. I mean, what you see on the outside is exactly what that creative experience is like on the inside. We're super creative, so many talented people here across all departments and you really feel like you do have a voice that you can share. So yeah, it's been a lot of fun. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Well, great stuff. So let's just continue that conversation around Gong. Obviously, I've seen that – obviously we're based in Europe – that you're also expanding hugely into Europe and growing the team enormously here. 

You may recall that we sent to you guys a video to celebrate the start of your European tour with some kind of cheesy 1980s music. How are things going there in Europe as well? 

Corrina (Gong) - Yeah, it was great. I loved seeing the tying Gong to the Beatles invasion. It was really, really smart. 

It's going great. It's insane how fast we're growing. We have, I think over, close to 50 people physically working across Europe. So, the expansion's been great, lots of marketing lessons and localization as I'm sure you're very, very familiar with, that we're being mindful of, but yeah, it's been a really exciting time to see how we're expanding into these new territories. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Great, okay. Let's talk about you Corrina. Obviously, we chat quite often on various posts and on LinkedIn and we comment on each other's posts and other people's posts. So we kind of coincide, I wake up and I turn on LinkedIn and I see your post...you're there and probably vice versa a little bit. 

But you've really stepped up a little bit over the course of the last few months in terms of your output and the conversations that you're generating. A couple of questions, really. One, what's triggered that change in your behavior? And secondly, how do you see that from an ABM point of view helping the work that you're doing there at Gong? 

Corrina (Gong) - Sure, So on a very personal level, I certainly understand how scary it is to put yourself out there. You worry about what others will think, the judgements they'll make. And it can unfortunately, sometimes, be a really big hindrance for people that should have the amplifier, the microphone, they end up not having it. 

And so, for many reasons, I've just felt more and more inspired in my own personal life to just be my authentic self in every medium. So in my real life, in my work life, online, and I've just been, it's been very freeing actually to post more. It starts to really break down those barriers and those judgements. 

So I definitely encourage people to try to not worry. It shouldn't be about the fame or what you get out of it, from that perspective. I think it's been really amazing to just get some personal messages to private messages about how my content has helped them or made them feel more seen or helped them do their job better. 

So I think it all boils down to, I feel like there's actually meaningful change as silly as that sounds from some LinkedIn posts. So that makes me want to do it a little bit more. 

Yeah, and I forgot your second part. 

Declan (strategicabm) - And the second part was with regards to ABM, how do you see that social selling helping either yourself directly or indeed Gong with the work that you're doing there? 

Corrina (Gong) - Yeah, it's really crucial. Obviously, Gong, our main bread and butter audience is Sales, and Sales lives on LinkedIn, but even more than that, there's other communities that I make sure I'm a part of so that I can hear their real voice, hear what really matters most to them and just make sure I'm actively listening, but also actively responding when I can in a meaningful way. 

So I always do encourage ABM marketers to connect with their accounts, both their direct buyer, but also who would be their peer at those accounts. So more often than not, a lot of the accounts that we're working that are in our target program for the year, I'm connected to my peers at those accounts and I'll take calls with those peers as well. 

So always think about who you are as a persona, too, in your company and what that might look like and what that relationship could do if you actually try to bridge that gap like your target accounts as well. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, I think that's excellent. And I think the social selling and peer-to-peer, which I know you're a huge fan of is really, really important in any ABM program. 

So let's talk about ABM and Gong. So can you just give us a brief overview of what that program looks like, industry, types of accounts, mix of programs? 

Corrina (Gong) - Yeah, we're doing quite a variety of programs here, from One-to-many to One-to-one. I think something that I've been a really big fan of lately is, I don't recall exactly where I heard this from, but I heard, it's important to, or sometimes you have to do the unscalable before you can scale. 

And I don't think Gong is a stranger to that, right? It just has been hypergrowth, particularly over the last three years. And many things have had to be programs that are not really quite scalable, but you learn how to scale them over time. 

So some of the things that I've been the biggest fan of at ABM, at Gong, but anywhere, is to really look at it as, how can you help later in the cycle versus just top of the funnel, which of course is important. But that's really where I see the rubber hit the road is involving ABM in those later stages in the cycle, you really get to understand what their problems are. You are able to better understand the personalities and the needs of the people across the buying committee. 

So it makes tailoring those programs a lot more realistic or it rings a lot more true. So a lot of what I've been doing has been, like you said earlier, those peer-to-peer programs. I've been a big fan of building communities, even just tiny micro-communities with buying committees and then other lookalike clients. So there's a couple of different things we've been doing really from a One-to-one perspective that we've seen that has been pretty powerful. 

Declan (strategicabm) - And talk to us about Sales. So I know obviously, Gong being a Sales enablement platform. How are you working with your own Sales teams there? How are you building that alignment on those accounts that you're both working on? 

Corrina (Gong) - Yeah, so I do think that Gong is pretty unique and we have just an incredible content engine. So I will hear every Sales leader say that they've never been able to work with a company like Gong from the Marketing engine perspective, but there is that level of tailored personalization that you have to do with your internal relationships with Sales as well. 

And I always err on the side of over-communication and it's always served me really well. So I never assume that one meeting or one Slack message is going to hammer home the message. I try a variety of different things to make sure that our Sales team is always informed. 

So we are having several meetings where it's one-on-one-on-one. So it's the entire Account team which can involve client success, the AE, the ISR or SDR, and we'll just get together and we'll talk about the data. 

And I think that's one of the most important things you can do is to really be stewards of data as an ABM Marketer, any Marketer, really. And that's really what allows those relationships to form, right? They start to really trust you. You start to become a really big asset for them in these deals. 

So long story short, over-communicate, forge those relationships, have those one-on-one meetings, but also figure out how you can give them information via email, via Slack, via recorded video messages. 
I like to think about it as being always on with the Sales reps and I think more is more with information and communicating with them. 


Declan (strategicabm) - And would it be the case then Corrina, that you're actually suffering from your own success and that your services are in demand now more and more, 'cause people are hearing about the great work you're doing? 

Corrina (Gong) - Say that again, I'm so sorry. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Would it be that you're suffering from your own success now because of the great work you're doing with your Sales colleagues, that more and more people want you help them with their accounts? 

Corrina (Gong) - Yeah, which is a great problem to have, right? You want to have that problem where Sales is always asking for more and wanting more and build the buy-in, that's the place you want to be to where you're having to basically set expectations and boundaries. 

You're totally right. That is the relationship you need to start at, in my opinion. And then you can work on setting those guardrails about when you engage and how much and what does that look like? But yeah, you're exactly right. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, so if you recall, a few months ago, we asked you to tell us about your ABM highlight of 2021. And I think I was just watching it again now, before we came onto this recording, just to remind me about what you said. 

And one thing that stood out for me was the fact you talked about having a 'give versus a get' mentality and that you believe really strongly in this, the work that you do with your customers. So can you expand a little bit more on that? 

Corrina (Gong) - Yeah, I'll give an example. It seems to be one that's resonating with a lot of Marketers I talked to lately. I don't think it's something that a lot of people are putting into practice, but it does go back to that idea of community and being where your buyers are. 

One of the channels that I've been experimenting with just personally is Reddit. You'd be surprised, especially in the SaaS tech space, how much questions about your product, your specific product, but then of course, too, just the general buying points and challenges that people are facing. 

And I come to those forums and comment threads with advice from our own content. And I will actually give helpful advice back within those comments. And then if they want to continue the conversation, then maybe I'll include the link to the article or the ebook or what have you. But that's been a really interesting way for me to see how building that trust over time is really crucial. 

And so, everybody knows, 5% of your buyers are ever really in market at any given time. Focus on that other 95%. And you do that by constantly showing up and being active in places where your buyers are. So I've been experimenting a lot with just giving helpful information. 

Things I've done in the past, too, that have worked really well, is consider how you can lift up your buyers or your future customers before they even put pen to paper and do business with you. 

And so, some things that I've done in the past before is actually nominate some of these individuals for awards. And it's again, brought something really special to them and really meaningful. 

It's such a rare thing for people to actually be lifted up in their jobs even by their own companies or by the industry at large. So I think if you are thinking with that mindset at the forefront, with any engagement you're doing, you'll find that people are going to be so much more willing to want to engage with you, pick up the phone and chat with you and stop their busy days to make time for you, 'cause you've already shown something that is not about your product or what you're selling, but it's about building that relationship in that community with your buyers or your future buyers. 

Declan (strategicabm) - And it's about you. And I think that comes across when I see your posts on LinkedIn, for example, I think your personality comes across. And I think the passion you probably have, that you have, rather, for the subject comes across as well. 

And I think that when you see the comments and the way that people engage and a lot of people come back and join in the conversations, I think that's just part of that giving rather than asking, right? 

Corrina (Gong) - Yeah, thank you, I really appreciate that. It's definitely something I live my life by. So I'm happy to be able to find ways to do that in my job. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So let's talk about, we're in 2022 now, we're in April I think, we equally asked you at the beginning of the year, rather, for your prediction for this year. And obviously now, we're 3, 4 months in. The one thing that you predicted for ABM for this year was hyper-attention and hyper-personalization. Do you still stand by that prediction? 

Corrina (Gong) - I do. ABM has become synonymous with technology for a while and I think it's become oversaturated as well with a particular channel. So typically, paid advertising. And I think too often people have a 'set it and forget it' mentality with some of those channels and programs. And unfortunately, it's just given a wrong perception about what Account-based Marketing can be. 

And so, I do think practitioners of ABM are realizing that they have to stand out a bit differently. And so, they can't continue to do the same cookie cutter approach that maybe some of these tech vendors would like us to do. And that does evolve. I'm sorry, that does mean stepping away from some of those channels or tactics or at least the way you would think about it, like Targeted Demand. 

So I do think that's going to continue to be on the rise, because there's just so much more we have to do now that everybody's really moved to this digital selling space. There's so much more we have to do to stand out. And so, it's going to be very hard to do that in a mass-produced kind of way.

I've talked to even a lot of C-level leaders now who can sniff out what Marketers and Sales people can sniff out, so those templatized emails that we've been understanding and seeing and sniffing out for a while, they're starting to see that now too. They're starting to ignore video messages as well. So it's really important. 

And you and I talked about this Declan too, is the LinkedIn voice messages. It's same channel, but it's a different way of it approaching that channel. And that's not a scaled approach. You have to stop, be personal, think about what you're doing. You have a limited amount of time on that voice message and it's under a minute, so you have to be very concise and clear. 

So yes, I think that's going to continue to be the trend. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, and I think the whole thing around, the point you mentioned there, Corrina, around technology, I think the tech vendors, the MarTech and ABM tech vendors have done a very good marketing job of making ABM and technology synonymous and actually, you don't need technology to do ABM, you just need a good mindset, a good strategy, a good pen and paper probably. 

Corrina (Gong) - Yeah. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Right. So you actually talked there about Targeted Demand, which I thought was an interesting expression. There's a lot of talk about Demand Generation, ABM. Does ABM sit within Demand Generation or is it its own discipline? Where one starts where one finishes, et cetera. What's your take on those two? 

Corrina (Gong) - Yeah, I think it's dependent, but my personal take on it is I do think that they should be separate disciplines, but I do think they should sit together. I think it's important that ABM knows what Demand Generation is doing on the other side of the house and vice versa, because you're ultimately touching all of these accounts. 

And so, it's important that your messaging is clear and concise and that you internally are aligned. It could happen very easily, the misalignment, if these two departments aren't talking, but also think that ABM is something that is much later down the funnel. And I really hope that the market starts to see it that way as well. 

In many ways, we're very similar to Sales in that we enter the stage just a little bit later. And that's why that partnership is so crucial and that alignment are crucial and ABM really becomes, how can we best educate and inform these accounts at a later stage? 

Which is of course, a little bit different than Demand Generation. So I think that they need to sit together, but I don't think that.. but they can definitely coexist. And I think it's important to know what disciplines ABM is going to be best suited to serve. And to me, I think that is later in the buying journey. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, I like that definition. Another one that I quite like is the one that says that Demand Generation is above the funnel and top of the funnel. So if you imagine the funnel, you actually have Demand Generation, you're almost sitting above it. And obviously then, ABM is much more the whole funnel, all the way through to acquisition and then through to customer success, et cetera.

Corrina (Gong) - Exactly. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Just a couple more questions to finish off with Corrina. So, we often talk about ABM as being a journey and journeys can have wrong turns, you can get flat tire, you can go left, you can go right, et cetera. You've been on this journey for a while, what's your greatest learning from your ABM journey? 

Corrina (Gong) - Ooh. I think I could summarize it in two big bullets, but they're very similar. One is to make sure your Executive leadership team is aligned on what ABM is. You should be very comfortable with having them speak about ABM, the same way you would in your organization. If that's not happening, then it it's going to be increasingly hard to show value and purpose with these programs. 

And then, the other part of that is be ready to pivot and change. I've been at organizations where we did a lot of external research, we aligned on a specific industry and account, did a ton of custom content customization on the front end, and then when we brought the programs to market, we quickly learned that we were not hitting the mark, this was not a timely initiative, we were not a even really a good product fit for the market. 

And what you need to do in those scenarios is, again, be that steward of data, come back and share your learnings. Even if they appear to be failures, even if it didn't achieve the goal you wanted to achieve, because you're still showing that ABM can be a strategic partner, not just within Marketing, not just in with Sales, but with the broader organization, with the go-to-market, with the C-suite. 

So never be afraid to share your failures and always make sure that ABM is ensuring that you have one voice in the organization about what ABM's purpose is and what it stands for. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Those are fantastic, I love those. And it reminds me of the second part around failing is similar to another guest I've spoken to recently, Akriti Gupta from Google Cloud who talked about one of the Google tenets is to learn, fail fast, learn fast. 

And I think that that ties in nicely to ABM where you have to be able to go with experimentation is a good thing. And I think the more that you learn and then bring that learning back and refine your program, the more successful you will be. 

So tied to that then Corrina, what in your opinion is the hardest part of ABM? 

Corrina (Gong) - I think the hardest part of ABM is not being able to show revenue results quickly enough, which is often a struggle for Marketing in general, but it is a long game. And I think in many ways, I'm grateful that one of our operating principles here is favor the longterm. 

And you absolutely have to have that approach when you are launching these programs. They are very involved, they're very timely and it's intentional. You're trying to really forge and build a unique and personal relationship with these accounts and the people that make up these accounts. 

So it's really hard to keep momentum going, but that's why I do encourage people to communicate often those wins, even simple ones like well, we've now increased the buying committee with more visits to our site, more visits to our demo page, but to also do share the failures and lessons learned, you'll get a lot more credibility that way, and people will be a lot more willing to roll up their sleeves and make adjustments with you. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Fantastic. One last question for you, Corrina. You get a phone call Friday evening, you're about to shut down your laptop, open a nice bottle of wine or something, and a friend says, "Hey, I've been asked to run an ABM program and I have to go and present on Monday morning." And you're saying, "Oh, okay." So what's the one piece of advice you give them for that presentation that they have to give on the Monday morning around launching an ABM program? 

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Corrina (Gong) - Throw out all your acronyms. Make everything in each slide about the business outcome that you are looking to achieve or planning to achieve. That's often the thing that... Yeah, it's simple, but you would be surprised how many seasoned Marketing leaders still lead with metrics that are acronym-based and they don't speak to the broader business value. So that would be the number one thing I would say. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So basically, demystify the language, simplify it, make it about the business, not about you in Marketing and that should go down better, right? 

Corrina (Gong) - 100%. 

Declan (strategicabm) - That's fantastic advice to finish off on. Corrina, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for sharing your ABM journey and I wish you and the whole team there at Gong every success for the future. 

Corrina (Gong) - Thank you, Declan. And thank you for all that you do for this community. We appreciate you. Thank you.