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Building buyer experiences with ABM

In this episode of Let's talk ABM, we speak with Lisa Sharapata, CMO at BoostUp.ai, about the evolving ABM landscape and how to build strong buyer experiences.

Date published: Date modified: 2022-06-14 strategicabm 550 60

Lisa Sharapata
CMO | BoostUp

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Lisa is a global Marketing Leader, advisor, and thought leader who has delivered transformative growth in many high tech companies. Over the course of the last 20 years, she has led teams across all Marketing disciplines – from Demand Gen to Brand, Growth Marketing to Customer Experience. She is now heading up Marketing at BoostUp, the Revenue Operations and Intelligence Platform.

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 Lisa has seen ABM change over recent years
  • How best to use intent data in your ABM program
  • How the buyer experience needs to change
  • Lisa's advice for anyone launching an ABM program
Read the full transcript

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Building buyer experiences with ABM

The full transcript

Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) – So today I'm joined by Lisa Sharapata who's the CMO of BoostUp.ai. Lisa, thanks so much for joining us today. 

Lisa Sharapata (BoostUp) – Yeah, thanks for having me. Excited to be here. 

Declan (strategicabm) – Fantastic, so let's dive straight into the topic of ABM. How have you seen it change over the last few years? 

Lisa (BoostUp) – Yeah, I mean, I think it's changed tremendously and I think everyone's still trying to figure out this concept, buying committees in businesses are different all over the place. Depends on the size of your organization. It depends on what you're buying. 

And then on top of that, I think the remote environment has changed things and everything's gone digital. So there's so many people who are doing all the research online now. You don't have to have a face-to-face meeting. I mean, that was something that was already starting to go away a little bit before COVID, but now I'm just seeing that has accelerated this process of people doing everything online. 

So, I think there's a lot of factors that have changed the notion of ABM – also intent data, which is something we've talked about a little bit and I'd love to dive into. Yeah, there's many, many factors that I'm seeing that have really started to change the landscape of what ABM is and how people are approaching it. 

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Declan (strategicabm) – Well, perhaps before we start talking maybe about intent, which is something I was very keen to talk to you about, you mentioned there about digital and you mentioned about face-to-face, and you mentioned about events, and what's your feeling? What are you seeing there in terms of what's going to happen this year? What does the future hold for digital versus face-to-face events? 

Lisa (BoostUp) – Well, I mean events specifically, I'll say, I mean, I'm going to be going to my first real big event the first week of May in Austin. It's the Forrester B2B Summit, which used to be Sirius Decisions which was a huge, huge Marketing event.

I'm seeing a few things with it though. I have seen that expand into some other personas and I think really looking at a bigger picture, trying to grab a wider audience. And I don't know if that's really because the landscape of technology’s expanded or more of an insurance policy to try to make sure they get a lot of people there, but people are excited about it. Everyone that I'm in network with are asking, are you going, are you not going? 

I think just the notion of being together face-to-face is exciting for people who enjoy that. But I think we've all learned a lot by not having the face-to-face events and how to market without them, how to be effective in selling without them. And I mean, my viewpoint on how to capitalize on an event had already started to change before COVID and really noticing that like scanning people's badges and trying to call them or email them after an event is a really hard way to go about drumming up business. 

So, creating better experiences surrounding the event and after the event and even before the event, was something that I was already immersing myself in and working on doing and really using the event itself. Like if we, for example, had a booth at an event to generate awareness and just looking at it differently than this notion of like scanning every badge in the room and trying to pounce on people. 

So I think it's going to continue to go that direction. I think that people have gotten smarter and I guess also are starting to really value experiences more and more. And when I say that, I mean, they know they can find most of the information they want online. 

So when they're face-to-face, it's a time to maybe talk with people and network and learn more about what they're doing and expand their horizons, and then they take that information away from them and process it and use that as a launching pad, just to start discovering what's out there and then they can go online and do more research on their own when they're back home. 

Declan (strategicabm) – Now, I think though, they're all very good points. And I think you're right. A lot of my network, which we probably share many contacts, to be honest, are all a lot of chatter about the Forrester events. And I know a lot of people are looking forward to going down to Austin.

And I think it also struck me, I saw some study the other day and it was talking about, who's looking forward to events more. And I think there was a talk about, it's definitely Sales that have traditionally driven an awful lot of the events attendance. And I don’t know about your experience, but my experience in previous companies is that Sales have always been saying, "Hey, we want to go to this event, "Hey, we want to go to this event, "Hey, we want to go to this event." And it's almost like that kind of junkie getting high on more events and more events. 

And me as a Marketer, I always wanted to push back and try to give them more enriching experiences, more valuable experiences as the same price as paying 20, 30, $40,000 for a booth, and then having to then spend three months trying to convince people that gave you their name, that you are of interest to them when really there was no intent there at all, really. 

And I think that's, I for one, haven't missed that whole Marketing Ferris wheel of going round and round and round. I think we've all done some very, very interesting digital work over the course of the last couple of years. And we've all learnt enormously from it. 

But one thing there, Lisa, that you mentioned was intent. And I think that ties in nicely to a question I'd like to ask you, which is around, there's so many intent data platforms and now so many people are talking about the importance of intent and buyer intent and how you use that in the ABM strategy. What's your take, do you think the intent holds water? Do you think intent is the magic pill that so many intent vendors proclaim? 

Lisa (BoostUp) – I definitely think intent holds water. And I can't imagine going back to a world of form fills and lead scoring, but I also think you have to take it at face value. So I can now get an understanding of who in my target market is in market sooner. I can get an understanding of what they're looking for, what their pain points are, and I can do a better job marketing to them, but that doesn't mean that it's a silver bullet or the magic pill or whatever you want to call it. It's still a lot of work. 

And more and more, like you said, it's becoming a dime, a dozen kind of thing. Everybody's got intent. And so the advantage that I had a few years ago by having this intent data compared to the advantage that I don't have now, starts to level the playing field, and it still to me comes back to good Marketing programs that add value to the buyer's journey along the way that is surfacing up the right information to them as they're looking. 

So if I'm, let's say, looking for revenue growth, what kind of meaningful experience could marketing surface to me that would actually add value to my research and help me start to form some opinions and decisions about how I would want to go about doing a better job of growing revenue or solving for a problem that I have along revenue growth? 

And so, again, it still comes back to, you've got to resonate with your audience, meet them where they are, provide value and hopefully bring them in, but they're going to keep doing research. They're not just going to say, "Oh, I see this one vendor can help me with revenue growth, let me sign up for a meeting." They're going to survey the whole vendor landscape. They're going to try to get an idea of who are all the people in my competitive set. They can find all that online now too. 

So you still have to cut through the noise. And I think it gets more complicated and you're starting to try to do it sooner in the journey. So as much as I feel like there's a lot of things that are better about it, I also think that it's more complicated than ever too. So I don't know if that really answers your question, but in the long term, I think the intent data is only going to get better and there will probably be more and more of it, but more and more people will have it. And it's just going to be a new game of how you use it. 

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah. I think that's a fair point, really. And I was speaking to Danny Nail who heads up the ABM Center of Excellence at Salesforce, and he had a very strong point around intent and his definition of intent towards, unless the intent is coming from at least three sources, all it is is interest. And so I thought that was a really interesting way of kind of saying, “Hey, intent that may come through a platform is great, but you need to look at other sources of data as well to tell you really whether that account and the committee or the people involved in the decisions within that account are actually showing intent or actually just showing interest, which is completely different”. 

Lisa (BoostUp) – Well, yeah, very good point. I mean, I consider someone who hasn't been to my website, hasn't opened up any of our emails, and probably hasn't even looked at any of my competitors yet to just be showing signs of awareness or interest would be a good… But to me that's really more of like a sign of pain. They have a problem that they're trying to solve. They're starting to come out from under the rock or whatever, and poke around and try to figure out how to fix something. 

And again, then if I know that, I can be helpful and at that stage in the game, to me, it's really about being helpful. Then I can see how they're looking at my competitors. Well, then I might want to start talking about the difference between different vendors, and how we would help solve the problem. 

But ultimately, I'm trying to get them to some specific pages on my website to maybe a webinar or an event we're having, maybe a piece of content that I think is really going to help sway them. I really want them to start engaging with my brand and my point of view. But I feel like if you do that too early, you're just going to push people away. They're still exploring, you can't push 'em down one path until they've really got the lay of the land. 

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, I think it's a great point, Lisa. And I think there's a really interesting Gartner study that came out not too long ago, I think they did about 1200 B2B decision makers. And they came up with this concept called 'Sensemaking'. 

And what Gartner had been saying about that is that they think that the role of Sales has changed beyond all recognition. And obviously, as you mentioned there, the education has already been done, the online learning, the vendor selection through G2 platforms, et cetera. All that work is being done, which is traditionally being done by Sales, or at least Sales will provide the information. 

Now Sales, and indeed Marketing, hand-in-hand, our job is to help our customers and our future customers to make sense of the landscape. And that's a tough job really, because the landscape, as you said is very complicated. So having to give them the, kind of, hold their hands and lead them through that journey to actually make sense of what the right solution is for them. And it may well be that our solution isn't the right solution. And that's part of the journey as well, right? 

Lisa (BoostUp) – Yeah, and I think if you do a good a job, even if you're not the right vendor, or it's not the right time, and you start to form a relationship, I mean, sometimes that stuff comes around and/or somebody goes someplace else, and it is the right thing. So I don't know, I try to look at it, I guess, a little bit more holistically from that standpoint of being a trusted advisor or making sense of things like you said, and helping educate them and usually the whole karma, right? Like, it'll come back around at some point, if you're doing a good job and authentically trying to help people learn and discover like how to solve a problem. So, yeah.

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, and I think equally, in the case of every single company, we're all evolving, the products and the solutions that we have today will be different to the ones we have in the future. And as you said, it may well be that when they do come around again, that we've got a better fit for them, or we've got a new solution that is more aligned to what they're looking for, et cetera. 

'Cause I thought the whole, as you said, the whole thing is in a state of flux and we're all changing as indeed our customers are changing as well. And maybe we can just dig into that. Maybe, I'm not sure whether you have anything else to say, but is there anything else you can talk about in terms of how you see the buyer experience and what are you seeing? Anything that you are seeing that the Marketers should be thinking about? 

Lisa (BoostUp) – Yeah, I mean, I will say I went down this path of trying to automate things as much as possible and back to this notion of intent data. Before COVID, things were starting to go along this path of being able to see not only where someone's, like, what they were searching for, but then you could dynamically, let's say, change your display ad, change the website page to be "personalized." 

And I saw COVID really disrupt that because you're using basically people's IP addresses to identify who they are and where they're from, and then GDPR, which all of those things threw a wrench in things. And it will be interesting to see how things change with cookies changing. So I do think that this is going to continue to evolve. And the other thing is, I think people got creeped out a little bit too. 

And then if it's wrong, it's even more annoying. So, for example, my husband works for a financial institution. He's got very high securities. We have like a firewall, anyway, pretty much every vendor thinks that I work for his company because we share internet and I'm on his platform or whatever you want to call it. And so then these things until I like fill out a form, people don't know where I'm at or I've moved jobs a couple of times, which I think a lot of people have done during COVID and it's still picking up your old information. 

And so technology, it's still not quite like there yet to create dynamic personal experiences. And so just kind of back to creating the best experience that you can, connecting with people, people buy from people they like. Even if it's ABM or B2B or B2C, I always go back to it's really P2P, like it's people-to-people and the technology and all of the intent, it'll evolve and change and expand. But the basic principles are still the same and you have to get that right. And then utilize whatever the technology is that you have to compete. 

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, good point there. So let's just talk about BoostUp.ai. Talk about the ABM program you're running there. Could you paint a picture of what it looks like: program, industries? What you're trying to achieve there. 


Lisa (BoostUp) – So just to give some context, so I've been here about six months now, and when I got here, we were series A, we had one Marketer full-time, some contractors, a couple of contractors. Now we've got a full-time team of four and a couple of contractors and vendors, and we've gotten our series B. So we're growing quickly, but still in early stages. So just again, just to provide that context. 

So, I mean, it's very different than other places that I've been and stood this up. And I look at it a little bit more of a crawl-walk scenario. So with that, we installed Demandbase and that was a change for me. So I've used 6sense in the past, I worked there and still a big fan, but I'm looking at the platform more holistically and I want to be able to see the entire life cycle of the customer and back to the whole notion of intent data, really just being this new way of lead scoring that's much more insightful, that's showing you things much earlier from several different data points. I like that we're able to set our own stages with this. 

And so we've gotten all that stood up and we've changed the categories a little bit. I have an 'Awareness' category that's like just accounts that are starting to show signs of life. Then we've got an 'Awareness + Competitive' category. So we're able to now look at who's searching for specific competitors and run plays based on that competitive set. And then we have an 'Engaged' group. And those are accounts that have started to come to our website, have started to engage with our content and our emails, and maybe gone a G2 and looked us up, things like that. 

But we want them to have done, my guess is somewhere between like 65 to 70% of their research and homework before we start reaching out to them. And there's a few reasons. I mean, first of all, I don't have a BDR team set up. I just hired a Head of Growth. So I don't have people that just start calling. And also that's partly something that they tried before I got here. And I think things have changed tremendously there as well. 

So we're selling to CROs, RevOps leaders, VP of Operations, Sales Ops leaders, RVPs, people who, first of all, they know the drill. They know what BDRs, SDRs are all about. They know that program and they're also really busy and they're not going to take a meeting if they're not ready to take a meeting.

And so we've just found that educating them, providing opportunities for them to network with their peers, to learn from their peers, to like engage in a 'Lunch and Learn' for example, or to attend one of our master classes with their peers. Those kinds of things have been a lot more conducive to meetings and converting into becoming customers and fans, versus that cold outreach or warm outreach. 

I mean, I'm not a fan of cold calls but even warm outreach because, and then trying to find people today too. I mean, half of the world is still remote at least. I mean, I don't know what the numbers are, or doing some sort of hybrid back and forth situation. I mean, it's hard to track people down and if they don't want to answer their phone, they're not going to. So, we're really looking to find some newer, more, I guess, modern or innovative ways to connect with people through the programs. 

But what we are definitely still seeing is the things I've seen work in the past, where again, understanding where someone is in their audience and in their journey, and then creating the right content and programs for that audience to help move them down this journey. That's the things we've stood up and those things are starting to work. 

We're starting to see conversions from stage to stage, the velocity starting to pick up from going from kind of again, stage to stage and the really cool thing that you could have not seen without intent data is that you can actually see that happening behind the scenes without having to put forms up and that kind of stuff. So I'd say we're probably, I don't know, halfway there and we'll probably never be all the way there because I'm, again, I just continue to see this category change and evolve. 

And a lot of it has to do with the speed of innovation that's happening in technology and the world changing along with it. So, yeah, that's, I mean, that's again where we are today, but we're now starting to dabble with how do we, instead of building out this big BDR team, how do we capture these people and bring 'em in? 

Declan (strategicabm) – Well, it's interesting, actually, I was just thinking, do you think it's actually been advantageous, then, not to actually have an SDR, BDR team at the outset? Do you think it's actually been more helpful to start the way you have started? 

Lisa (BoostUp) – I do, I mean, my last three... Well, okay, the first time I stood up ABM was almost 10 years ago and we had a small BDR team and it was SDR team and they reported to Sales. But as we brought in intent data and started to stand up this ABM program, we piloted bringing a couple of the SDRs over to Marketing and working the accounts in with us, and it worked really well. 

And when I went to 6sense, that team was already established, they had a really great cadence. It was woven into the fabric of how the go-to market team was approaching things. And again, it was working really well.

Then I went to Mindtickle, the last company I was at and I inherited, it was probably about six or so BDRs. And they had a manager and they were trying to grasp and figure out their footing, but they were still doing a lot of cold calling. They did not have an ABM program in place. There was no intent data. 

So we stood that up and we were making a lot of headway and again, really weaving into BDRs into the go-to market motion, partnering with an AE. We had a two-to-one ratio. We were really working accounts. I mean, it was a Sales Enablement company. So on top of that, they were very well trained and spent a lot of time building out the right messaging and playbooks, et cetera, et cetera, but it was in the middle of COVID. 

And so the challenges there were, this team, a small group of them had spent time together in an office, but they all dispersed and moved. Most of them, they were in San Francisco. Most of them moved out of San Francisco. I mean, at that age, who would afford to live in San Francisco if you don't have to? You're probably not going to. 

And so then you're trying to bring in these young, one of their first jobs most likely out of college and get them set up remotely to do what I consider to be one of the hardest jobs there is. And just even to have the energy to keep making those phone calls all day when no one's answering or talking to you, they feed off of each other being in the same place that proximity really helps. And they need that. I feel like that energy and the support from their peers and the coaching real time, and those things really help make those teams successful. And obviously with COVID and people not being in the same place, I feel like really made that a hard model and especially to stand up if you didn't already have it in place. 

So, yeah, coming in here fresh without that, and being able to just look at things from a whole new perspective and say, all right, new time, new day, new age, new kind of new way of going to market. Let's reinvent the wheel a little, I'm not trying to like completely reinvent it, let's really think about what is going to make a difference and help these accounts convert. 

What do people want? I don't really think they want to be called. If they wanted a meeting, I think they would be able to figure out how to get a meeting. So, sometimes you need that nudge, but I think it's few and far between the nudge helps, but at the end of the day, our audience knows how to get ahold of us if they want to. So I'm trying to make that easier. 

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, I think you're right though. I think those companies that actually can make it as easy as possible for the company or for the customer or the potential customer to get in contact with you at the right stage when they want to, I think those are the ones that are winning most now. 

And there's a lot of talk now about trying to strip everything away, trying to remove that outbound motion and actually leaving it for a lot, leaving the audience to educate themselves as much as they can on their own, providing all the content that can help them. And then just being there and always making it easy for them to contact you. I think that's really, really important.

Let's just talk about a couple of things you just mentioned there about the approach. Where do you think that ABM, because you've been obviously doing ABM now for over 10 years, where do you think ABM is best suited in terms of a use case? Is it more in the existing customers or in the new logo acquisition? 

Lisa (BoostUp) – Well, that's a really good question. I mean, I do think it's important to be considering the entire account at all stages, but it obviously, I mean, it definitely changes because the people who are typically sourcing the technology aren't always the end users. I mean, in our case, they are, but the rest of their sales team is too, usually. 

So as an account moves over from the buying stages to becoming a customer, there's a lot more people to consider. And sometimes, I mean, it's almost like a completely different group of people depending on what you're selling and where you are, or who's implementing it, and really in the trenches might be maybe have a say, or be an influencer, but they might not be the decision maker. So, it definitely again, needs to evolve and progress in how you're looking at that Account-based approach. 

So, I mean, I think it's valuable the whole time and it just goes back again, people want to feel valued and important and like you're going to be able to help them, and so you need to understand who isn't going, who is involved in making these decisions to buy the product and why, what do they care about and how are you going to help them? 

And then expand that as you get now a user base and more people involved in that. And then it also depends on what happens, so if you're looking at an expansion, a cross sell an upsell, for example, then it's a lot of times it could be another group within your organization. 

So, I mean, even think about Account-based Marketing technology. It started off being, okay, we're going to sell to the Demand Gen leader, maybe the CMO, now it started, then it started to get into more of the Sales teams, potentially Revenue, and now it's Customer Success teams. And so that evolves with depending again on how your product is changing or what you're cross selling. 

So to answer, I mean, I think, again, it's just this, you really need to be looking at what are you trying to sell, to who and when? And if so, if it's already they're a customer, it's just a different motion. It doesn't really change, I guess, in my mind, the importance of looking at the account holistically and what they need. 

Declan (strategicabm) – Yeah, I think obviously the origins of ABM which is back in 2003, was a lady called Bev Burgess who invented the term. And that was in the days of Accenture and Unisys and the very large players who were doing like a new version of a Key Account Management and obviously going deeper. And they used to call it Client-centric Marketing back then, and that was into existing customers. So I think it's interesting, as you said, how the evolution's gone. 

And just a couple of questions just to finish off with Lisa, if I may. You mentioned 10 years, which is, you're a veteran of ABM, I think, 'cause it's exploded over the course of the last few years, but I think to have 10 years under your belt you are like a, definitely a black belt in ABM. So through this journey that you've been on with ABM, what do you think has been your greatest learning over the course of the years? 

Lisa (BoostUp) – Well, I don't think I've coined this phrase. I know other people say it all the time, but ABM is just good marketing. I think that that is the crux of it. And again, back to like people buy from people. So you’ve just got to again, figure out what it is that’s going to resonate and add value with your audience. 

Declan (strategicabm) – Okay, and then when…

Lisa (BoostUp) – That’s it.

Declan (strategicabm) – So no, no, that's succinct. I like the answer. And therefore leading on from that, what would you say in your opinion is the hardest thing about doing ABM?

Lisa (BoostUp) – Well, I mean, a few things that I touched on, first of all, the landscape just continues to change. So it's like as soon as I feel like, oh, I figured this out and it's working really well, something happens. It could be COVID, people going remote, the technology's evolving, buyers are getting more savvy and expecting different things. And I imagine that's going to continue just like it has all through time.

I mean, if I look back to like the ‘mad men’ days of marketing and then moving into more of this data-driven marketing approach and now where we are today, right? It continues to evolve. But I think, again, for me, that's also part of like, what I love about it is that there's always a new challenge, a new adventure and something else to figure out and crack that nut and explore. So, yeah. 

Declan (strategicabm) – Thank you. And Lisa, the very last question for you, what's that one piece of advice you would give anyone who's looking to start an ABM motion? 

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Lisa (BoostUp) – Ooh, that's a tough one. I mean, I guess I'll just go back to that ABM is just good marketing and a lot of people I feel like kind of can overcomplicate it or think that it is that magic pill. And you really have to be thinking about your audience and that sense making and the value you're providing. And that is what's going to make it good. 

So without those pieces, if you don't have all the other cores, product market fit, a clear message, understanding your target audience, your buyers and what they need and what they want, you can run whatever ABM program you want, but that's probably not going to work. 

Declan (strategicabm) – That's very good advice to finish off on Lisa. Lisa, thanks so much for sharing your ABM journey with us today. I wish you and the whole team there at BoostUp.ai every success for the future. And thank you very much. 

Lisa (BoostUp) – All right, thank you.