ABM Playbook

Building an account-centric organization

In this episode of Let's talk ABM we speak to Amber Bogie ABM Strategy Lead at Degreed on building an account centric organization.

Date published: Date modified: 2021-08-03 strategicabm 550 60

Amber Bogie
ABM Strategy Lead, Degreed

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Amber Bogie is an award-winning ABM Marketing strategist with several successful ABM implementations delivered to date. She is an active member of the PEAK community, a marketing group for the ‘1%ers’ founded by Sangram Vajre, and co-leads an Advanced ABM practitioners circle.

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: 
  • How Sales Enablement unlocks ABM
  • Why Degreed is evolving from ABM to ABX
  • How Degreed measures the ROI of its ABM program
  • Advice on how to succeed at Account-based Marketing
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Building an account-centric organization

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - So, today I'm joined by Amber Bogie, ABM Strategy Lead at Degreed. Amber, thanks so much for joining us. 

Amber Bogie (Degreed) - Thank you for having me. My pleasure.

Declan (strategicabm) - So, let's start off talking about Degreed. What problem do you solve there? And who is your ideal customer?

Amber (Degreed) - Degreed is an Upskilling Platform that focuses on basically bringing skills and career opportunities to your employees. So, I kind of like to look at it as we help optimize an organization in terms of the employees, the skill sets, career mobility, kind of lateral movement, all of that. And then the employees themselves are getting upskilled, developing career skills, and it's sort of a win-win opportunity for each. 

So, that is more or less what we do. In terms of our ideal customer: enterprise, large enterprise companies, really. Not specific to any industry. We sit in very well with large enterprise organizations. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Okay, fantastic. So, let's talk about how you started ABM. I think you joined back in late 2019, Degreed, with a remit to setting up an ABM program. How long did that take you to get the first pilot up and running? And can you maybe share any experiences from that pilot? 

Amber (Degreed) - Yeah, so, I mean, it's a different recipe at every organization, more or less, that I’ve been in. I started in the fall of, I guess it was 2019, hard to remember these days. And within the first month, we have, we are basically building out the strategy in terms of putting it on a wall. What is it we need to do? How is it going to work? How are we going to implement it? 

So, starting from first couple of weeks, figuring out the strategy, taking action. It's, what I like to call is like a two-fold, it's a two-fold approach when you're building out any ABM strategy. 

First, you're identifying the strategy within ABM, which one works best for your organization. And then the two-fold is building the foundation of it and then actually getting programs started. 

So, a lot of times, you can, and I have in the past worked strictly on the foundation stuff before you actually start programs. That's a really tough sell because it takes a long time to really, really build out a good foundation. So, we did the sort of two-pronged approach going live, building foundation as we started doing pilot, kind of, campaigns. 

I'd say within the two months, we had campaigns running, but I wouldn't call that meeting the strategy, like, the ABM strategy by any means. I'd say it was around maybe six, closer to the six month mark that I believe that we really had a fully baked strategy that started. 

So, little bits here and there, but around the six-month mark was when I can confidently say we rolled out ABM and we started running all of our metrics and measurement. Looking back for like the year 2020, for example, we actually measured from May onward. We wanted a really true picture of the impact. 

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Declan (strategicabm) - And what made ABM the right strategy to choose for Degreed? 

Amber (Degreed) - I feel like that's an easy one. If you're a B2B company and you sell to large organizations, ABM should be your strategy. 

There are some very, very rare situations where it may be not entirely the best, but that is so far and few between. If you are B2B, and you sell big deals to large organizations, there is no reason that you should not be using an ABM strategy. 

And I do believe that within a couple of years, the term ABM might just be absorbed into 'Demand Generation-Growth Marketing' 'cause it is the strategy, it is Marketing, it is what we should all be doing in a B2B enterprise target strategy. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, well that's interesting 'cause obviously it's a simple question, you're right, absolutely right. But sometimes the simple things are often the most difficult, right? In terms of companies looking to adopt and- 

Amber (Degreed) - Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it's, for a lot of organizations, it's a hard pill to swallow to change, to make the change. But it doesn't have to be. It doesn't have to be a complete revamp. It can also be something that you change over time. 

You know, for example, I was hired to build out the ABM program at Degreed. But where we're at now, about a year and a half in, it's very clear that we're well on our way to being what I call an ABX organization. And that, really all that is is that everyone across the organization, my team and all other Marketing teams and Sales, anyone touching prospects and our customers, are looking at an 'account-centric' model and utilizing the data that exists. 

But really, it's about the, it's really about focusing on the right accounts. I mean, there's a million other kind of nuances too to it obviously, but I think that for the demand gen, the traditional Demand Gen team, the Events team, everyone that's running campaigns, everyone should be targeting the ICP, the large target accounts - because those are massively larger deals, without question. They're better fits for the company, for the organization. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So, let's dig a little bit deeper into ABM at Degreed. I believe you started off with a One-to-many approach when you first joined the company, and then you've expanded it out into One-to-few and One-to-one. 

Can you talk us a little bit through that and perhaps what you've learned by rolling out the successive programs? 

Amber (Degreed) - Yeah so, going back to determining the best strategy and starting point for Degreed, the One-to-many - I get One-to-many and One-to-few confused all the time - One-to-many approach, it was most, it was a best fit for us based on the fact that we have over a hundred Sales reps and we needed to make impact broadly. And, again, going back to, I've done this a few different times at a few different organizations, and I know what to expect in terms of timing, attention from your leadership. You only have so long to make an impact before what's the next greatest thing when it comes to making a change in the organization. 

And also, I knew that I wanted to not just build a strategy, but I wanted to create an ABX organization. I wanted to change over time the way that we looked and thought about accounts. So, the One-to-many approach kind of thought process was as we start with these very light kind of ABM campaigns, we're actually doing early training for the Sales team broadly. 

And that's really the, I feel like I should have a list of, like, the hardest part of ABM, 'cause there's a few of them, but this is one of them that goes on the list of that's the hardest part. But it really is a challenge to try and explain a strategy that's not starkly different from what salespeople are really already doing. 

Account-based Selling is more or less what most people have been doing for years. But, so, kind of like a very slow education-based process for what I call a self-serving Sales team. And so, that approach was basically to set us up so that when we got a little bit further along and moved down the funnel with our One-to-few and our One-to-ones, while we had our focus here on a smaller set of accounts, the rest of the Sales organization would still have the access to the data, the engagement, the accounts and understanding of what it meant, and the ability to take action. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So, it's almost like the One-to-many was a way of warming up the Sales team to get them ready for the kind of more strategic One-to-few and One-to-one. 

Amber (Degreed) - Yeah, it was, they're like training wheels, I guess. It's not jumping in head first, but dipping a toe, and then a foot, and then a leg, and then all of a sudden you're in the water. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. And actually, linked to that point around your Sales team there. I remember when we were talking before, you mentioned around account selection that you had quite a novel approach to account selection, where you open up account selection to the Sales team to allow them to choose certain accounts that they want to bring into the ABM program, but with a caveat where they have to convince you. 

Amber (Degreed) - Oh, yes. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Talk us through how that worked out. 

Amber (Degreed) - Yeah. So, I mean, one of, I feel like Sangram has a story from Terminus's first ABM implementation. And I remember it just 'cause it's funny. He basically talks about how their first ABM go-live was an absolute failure. And that was because they were selecting their accounts strictly based on data. That was one of the things that I feel like I remember in that story. And that kind of just ties into the thought process behind it. 

But, for me, it really comes down to: the data matters. We need the data, without question. It is very important. But you can have the gold star, absolute best accounts based on your data. And if your salesperson does not feel bought into that account for a reason that you might not know, because data doesn't tell all the story, you're not going to get them to focus on that account. And that's where the buck stops. 

So, my philosophy has always been to use data as your step one, phase one for your account selection. The data tells a story. You get a picture of it. And then you whittle that down based on how many accounts do show up, 'cause depending on your company, your company ICP, or what your customers look like, you might have really big lists. You might have a small list. We had a pretty massive list. And so, I had to even whittle it down to only the top 20% highest, you know, really tight grading. And that still left us with a decent size. 

So, data phase is the first one. Communicating that, obviously, to your Sales organization, what exactly you used in order to put these accounts together. And then not just asking for their review, but explaining why it matters. 

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And I've followed this approach for a long time where you're communicating like a human being to your salesperson. I almost talk, it's like internal ABM, really, but I'm explaining to them that these accounts are your accounts. You need to have buy-in. You need to have, you know, you need to believe that these are the right accounts for you. And just explain that as an ABM team, our jobs are to support you. Our jobs are to make you more successful. 

That is ultimately, I mean, I believe what we're here to do. Yes, we're running campaigns. Yes, there's a lot more to it. But without that element, you're going to run into walls constantly.

But kind of getting to the very, the question that you asked, we have a system in place where if you do not want an account on your list anymore, you have to submit a business case. And the first part of that is it takes some time for a salesperson to do that. Not much, but if they really want it off, then they're going to be willing to put in a few minutes of research and an explanation of the business case. 

But also, it allows it so it's not completely locked in. There needs to be some push and pull, and we do, with that, it helps us out a lot. But we are not pulling off accounts until they're closed-won - unless there's a very serious business case. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. Because you've done all the legwork, you've done all the research. These are the right accounts to go after. 

Amber (Degreed) - Yeah, we can't lose tracking. We can't lose tracking on, it's valuable. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, yeah. So, let's just talk a little bit about what you mentioned earlier about ABX and that. So, I know we've spoken a couple of times about this now, how you're passionate about moving ABM through to kind of more of an ABX experience. 

Talk us through a little bit about what you think differentiates ABM from ABX, and how you're seeing that come to life there at Degreed. 

Amber (Degreed) - Yeah. So, initially I just referred to ABX as Account-based Everything, Account-based Everywhere. Which is what the term actually does mean, and many people, including myself, argues what it should have been called from the very start. 

So, that was the initial kind of thought process about what it is. But now, I actually look at ABM and ABX as kind of like level one, level two. You start with an ABM strategy, which is more complicated. 

The ABM strategy is still across the Marketing and Sales organization. It's still not just a Marketing thing, which is why it's just a bad name to begin with. But I'm creating my own internal definitions of it as a more of the beginning of an ABM strategy. It's more when just the ABM team is owning the whole kind of strategy and getting things done. 

ABX to me is when you've passed that, and you've gotten to the point where your team is still owning the strategy, you're still running your campaigns, you're supporting the Sales team, all of that. But it started to slowly kind of permeate throughout the rest of the organization. 

And that's the part where your Campaigns team is now using your target accounts to run all of their kind of campaigns. In addition to their broader kind of net, they're being covered. Your Events team is absolutely focused on those accounts, which most Events teams are focused on those accounts already, but not, it just doesn't have the ABM title. But, of course, they have a list of target accounts, and they happen to be the same as the ABM accounts. 

So, it's sort of one of those things where it's happening sometimes, but not necessarily like a known activity. But so, it's just where the rest of the organization starts more intentionally focusing on those target accounts. And it is less of a conversation about, what are we doing for ABM? It's this is what we're doing for top of funnel. This is what we're doing for middle funnel. This is what we're doing bottom of funnel. This is what the Customer team's doing, Events team, and then they're all around focus target accounts. 

That's kind of my definition of it. And we are definitely in the ABX, I would say early stages of ABX, where we definitely have several teams focusing on those account lists. And it's been really fun, actually, to be partnered with our Campaigns team, which is more of our traditional Demand Gen team. 

We're actually running a campaign together to a list of target accounts. So, it's going to have your more traditional top of funnel, and then it's going to move through ABM kind of style campaign experience. 

And that is another layer of what ABX is, is how you're leveraging all Marketing strategies and focusing on those target accounts. 

Declan (strategicabm) - So, it's in effect that all teams are orbiting around the accounts, basically, satellites orbiting around the planet. 

So, let's just talk about the building blocks of an ABM strategy, account selection, value proposition, account experience, et cetera. Where would you say that you invest most of your time or more of your time there at Degreed? 

Amber (Degreed) - I would say my, I'd say the majority of our time has been spent on Sales enablement. 

And I call it Sales enablement. I really think that ABM, they are a function of Sales enablement. I think that it's almost been a missed thing that gets talked about that it is absolutely a massive part of the strategy. And as I have more experience in this world and more time and more thoughts develop, I start to have new ideas about, okay, now this is actually... I do firmly believe that the biggest hurdle in a lot of ways is the enablement side of things. 

We all know that the number one failure of Account-based Marketing is the lack of collaboration between Sales and Marketing, right? But what I've been talking about recently is, we're Marketers. We know how to run campaigns. That is obviously a very large part about your ABM strategies. You know, you're running your campaigns. But it is way beyond a single campaign. It's way beyond just a campaign strategy. 

And that part I don't want to say is easy, but what I do say is we are Marketers. We know how campaigns work. We have the thought process. We know how to improve, to iterate, to test, to try new things. That part is like bread and butter we know. 

The part that we need to be better at is supporting how Sales works, communicating in a way that works for them, thinking about the processes, because we could hand off a million MQAs, and we can help get so many meetings, but what happens after the meeting? The whole sales cycle. 

And that's the part that gets the deal done. So, how are you supporting your Sales team? How are you allowing them to improve their sales experience? What tools are you providing them? What pieces of content? What sort of ways of thinking in terms of creating a content journey experience, thinking more deeply about the pain points and the value selling. It's really dependent on your Sales organization and how they operate and how mature they are. How much is your actual Sales organization investing in the salespeople? 

Fortunately, we are very parallel with what's going on with our Sales team getting some training on certain things that are very much in alignment with what ABM is. It just has a different name. 

Declan (strategicabm) - No, it's funny you say that because a lot of the conversations that we have with our clients is very similar to what you're actually doing now at Degreed in terms of many companies do ABM very much from a Marketing point of view. So, they get all the campaign ready. They get it all out, and it all looks marvelous. Or it goes through all those passes and all those steps. But then Sales are brought in, Sales are made aware, that kind of first attempt at alignment is there. 

But then Sales, as you said, there's the other half of the coin, is what happens from the moment that the qualified account comes into the right moment in the level of engagement? How does the Sales team take that forward? How are they being supported? What are they actually doing? Are they actually connecting all the dots, and invariably, the cases that they're not? 

And so, we work very hard with our clients in a very, very similar vein to yourselves in trying to make sure that everything is connected from the very beginning, all the way through, even past close. Because as you know, a lot of ABM is actually around your existing customers, right? So, it's not just about winning. It's also about retaining and it's also about growing. 

So, there's an awful lot of moving parts with ABM. So, I think you're absolutely right there, Amber. 

This actually ties in nicely to the next question that I have for you. We were talking, obviously, about some of the successes that you've had at Degreed. And obviously, the last time we spoke a few weeks ago, we talked about the pipeline that you had generated, which was attributable to your ABM there, which was at $68 million. And then obviously, in the course of the last couple of weeks, that's now moved up to $83m. So, it may well be that that number increases even more while we're actually recording this webinar. So, that's amazing, amazing success. 

So, tell us a little bit more about that and how you go about measuring the impact of your ABM there. 

Amber (Degreed) - Well, so, every week for the last almost a year, my team and I have gotten together on Mondays and we go over the numbers. I actually was just on a call yesterday with the Peak Community. We had a breakout session within one of our ABM groups, and we talked about 'spreadsheet hell', how to do the dashboard of your dreams. 

And so, one of the things they talked about was "look at the data, look at the data, look at the data". When you first start out an ABM program, the best metric you have to sell the strategy is, what I say is like a look back of, here are our target accounts today. Here's their engagement today. Here's what it was last year. 

Generally, your average you're going to see is a 3X increase in engagement. The same thing if you say, here's what our pipeline was last year for non-target accounts. Here's what our pipeline is for target accounts. It's around the 3X. I'm calling that the magic ABM number, the 3X, because it seems to be across all of the things. 

But so, that's what you have to work with for so long. And it's super frustrating, because engagement and comparative data, that will sell the idea very well to your Sales leaders, but it only lasts so long. And so, we spent a lot of time digging into the data and just looking at everything we possibly could. 

And so, what I made it a very intentional point was to, every week, look at all ABM activity from MQAs, to meetings, to opportunities. That, in addition to the same exact thing for our campaigns. So, on a constant basis, we're looking at what's the overall impact and what's the campaign impact? 

Because, again, the campaign impact is going to tell you how impactful your Marketing efforts were, your messaging, your partnership with your Sales team, and whether or not they were doing effective outbounding. And then the other picture is going to tell you how your Sales team is enabled. They're focusing on the right accounts.

And it's just grown on both sides. I'd say the easier thing was the all ABM. It was definitely hard to do a lot of enablement trainings and explanations. And thankfully, my team is amazing, and we put together a really great kind of workflow, and documentation, and everything, that is now built into our onboarding program for each salesperson. 

But, yeah, so, just a comparative look at all ABM, and then campaigns. The campaigns, I think, have a little bit more lessons to learn and you can look at, okay, so around this time, this is your expectation of meetings, opportunity. We started seeing patterns. Patterns of when an MQA comes in, we have a spike in MQAs. And then the expectation is a couple of weeks after an MQA, you're going to see those meetings. So, here, and then here. And then pretty immediate after those meetings will come the opportunity. 

So, that's sort of the pattern that we started to see. But going back to your question, will you repeat your question? I went off on a total tangent of how we do our metrics. 

Declan (strategicabm) - No, it was just to do with, it's such a compelling and a remarkable number that you've achieved in terms of pipeline. And just asking, really, the attribution model that you were following there at Degreed. 

Amber (Degreed) - Yeah, I mean, I think that it's extremely hard to find single source attribution. And again, this was just what we were talking about yesterday on the call, was about attribution. And I think I'd love to know what the rest of the community thinks, but I am of a, I'm a little bit more of the kind of philosophy of looking at the whole picture rather than the single source. 

Because if you're doing it right, you're leveraging everything that's going on in your Marketing organization. Your events are building engagement. Your demand campaigns are building engagement. Your Content team is getting form fills and demo requests. Like, those sort of very traditional activities, those are all building the engagement that starts to tell a story. 

And then your Sales team comes in at the right time and then uses the program support that you've put together. And then you get your meetings, your opportunities to pipeline, and you're supporting them as much as you can along the way. 

So, in terms of attribution, if it's an ABM account, and it's seeing success, I'm attributing that to a company-wide effort of focusing on the right accounts using an ABM strategy. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah. So, let's just finish off with a piece around advice. What advice would you give to anyone who's looking to start an ABM program, or perhaps they're in the early stages and they're looking at their program and seeing what they can do to improve or to enhance the results? What kind of advice would you give, Amber? 

Amber (Degreed) - So, I mean, in terms of someone, I guess, two sets. 

In terms of a company that's looking to have an ABM strategy implemented to build a new strategy, my advice for them is 100% to bring somebody in who has the experience. I think that you'll be set up for more success. 

It's already hard, and I've done it four, I think, four different times. The struggles and the pain points, they still exist. But I have a history to look back of, like, when I did this, this happened. When I did this, this happened. So, bringing in at least one person that has a good amount of experience, I think that that's the best advice for that scenario. 

If you're already, well, in the very early stages of ABM, and you're either just kind of a scrappy situation where you don't have head count, or you're just having to have your Demand Gen team do it, my best advice would really be not to over-complicate it. And to understand that ABM is not a one size fits all approach. 

There are different levels and different recipes of the types of campaigns you can run, the amount of focus. The goal is to have the right accounts, to focus on those accounts in your campaign efforts, and to get the data, deliver the data to your Sales team, and allow them to have the support that they need to be more impactful. 

And to be a little bit more, spend a little bit more time understanding the deep value that your company's product can offer to their company specific to their goals, specific to their pain points, that kind of thing. 

Declan (strategicabm) - Great advice, Amber. Thank you so much for sharing your ABM story with us today, and such a successful one. And wish you every success for the future of your program there.

Amber (Degreed) - Thank you so much. Thank you. It was so great to chat with you.