Declan Mulkeen (strategicabm) - So today I'm joined by Akriti Gupta, who is the Global Head of ABM for Google Cloud. Akriti, thanks so much for joining us today.
Akriti Gupta (Google Cloud) - Declan, thank you so much for having me.
Declan (strategicabm) - This podcast is called "Let's talk ABM", so we're going to talk ABM for the next 30 minutes or so. So let's just kick off with a question around Google Cloud. Such a well-known company, obviously Google and obviously Google Cloud and all the work you're doing there, but I believe that ABM is relatively new to Google Cloud. Why is that?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - So yes and no. No, because while ABM as a Center of Excellence hasn't been going on for a long time, different regions have been practicing ABM in different ways.
In fact, in my previous role where I was heading up Marketing for Google Cloud in India, I ran a couple of ABM programs as well. So it was because of the success of these different efforts in different regions that the business recognized that there is a need for a more cohesive approach to Account-based Marketing across our geographies.
And then the second part is that Google Cloud pretty much started out as a startup within Google, right? And so, as our business has grown, our customers have grown as well. And with that, there's an increased need to really focus on how we can best serve customers in a way that's most valuable to them.
And that's where ABM comes in. So it's been going on for a while but in 'pockets', with 'pockets' of success. But now we're doing it for the first time in a more cohesive way, and in late 2020 is when my team was formed to be the ABM Center of Excellence.
Declan (strategicabm) - And so, now that you've started this ABM journey, how is it going so far?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - It's going well. It's been an interesting journey. When we started in late 2020, we were all super excited about being able to do ABM and create the Center of Excellence. And we wanted to really prove the success out very quickly and so we rushed into execution mode.
And what we saw with that is that, though we did see some success, we realized we hadn't truly set the program up for long-term success. And that's when we decided to pause.
And one of the tenets at Google is 'fail early, fail fast, learn fast'. And that's exactly what we did. We took stock of where we are, what's working, what's not working. We paused our program and rethought it in certain ways.
And this time when we relaunched it, we did it after putting in a lot of thought and a lot of deliberate action into creating a very strong go-to-market model, because we realized that ABM is not going to be successful without having a solid foundation.
So in terms of having detailed operating models, frameworks, reporting methodologies, but also in terms of building strong relationships with all of our stakeholders, especially Sales. So it's been an interesting journey where we've seen certain pauses and then started again. But it's going really well. We've seen a lot of early success from the ABM programs that we've launched so far. So we're very excited about scaling it further.
Declan (strategicabm) - That's great to hear, Akriti. So you mentioned there about the tenets at Google, which is ‘fail fast, learn fast’. Is there anything that you've kind of looked back on, that kind of experimentation start at the beginning and say, do you know what? We learned this and that changed our whole approach going forward.
Akriti (Google Cloud) - Yeah, a few things. One, as I said before, having a solid foundation is critical. I mean, you just cannot do without it. So it's imperative to create a detailed framework of what your operating model's going to be.
How are you going to take it to market? Who are the stakeholders involved in different stages? Who are the right agency partners for you and so on? And so, what's the right way-through method? What's the right method to measure it, to report out this measurement, and so on?
And so the first learning is definitely in terms of making sure that we built the right foundations and that's exactly what we did the next time around.
The second thing is, having a direct line of communication with the Sales team is imperative. I mean, ABM isn't ABM without Sales, right? We have to be joined at the hip with them. And in our first iteration, what we were doing is we were going through the Field Marketing team to the Sales team. And while the Field Marketing team tried to support us as best they could, they obviously have a zillion things to do themselves.
So not having that direct line of communication with Sales definitely was something that wasn't working well. And we changed that and we now have a direct line of communication with them. They're our biggest stakeholders and our biggest partners as we do this.
And then the third thing, I would say is, in terms of how we did things the first time around, we were trying to take a more horizontal approach to certain things. Whereas in the next iteration, we realized that it makes much more sense to take an industry-based approach, and focus on the right accounts versus spreading ourselves too thin.
So we're now focused on the most strategic accounts that we have for the business. And the team is organized by industry, both the Sales team as well as my team.
Declan (strategicabm) - I mean, it's interesting you talked there about Sales, and I would like to ask you a question about that a little bit later on. But what you were saying then about ABM isn't ABM without Sales, I would wholeheartedly agree with you actually.
So let's talk a little bit more about the ABM program that you run there at Google Cloud. Can you, without giving away any kind of stage secrets, can you tell us a little bit about it in terms of industry types, number of accounts, what kind of programs you run?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - Absolutely. So the way that we run ABM is that currently, like I said, we are focused on only our top-most strategic accounts. These accounts are categorized by industry, and that's how my team's structured as well.
The way that we run these ABM programs is through a mix of One-to-one and One-to-few ABM programs, focusing on either a strategic account in terms of One-to-one or a cluster of accounts in terms of One-to-few.
And the way that we focus on them in terms of the objectives, it really varies and it spans the spectrum from acquiring a new customer to expanding with an existing customer. And in this case, we really let the accounts talk to us.
We hear the Sales team, understand their objectives, do a deep dive into understanding the accounts themselves and our customers themselves, and then figure out what it is that ABM can help with? Is it with opening doors? Is it with expanding into a new buying center? Is it with changing perceptions with a certain set of people or a buying center and so on?
So the objectives vary and we let the accounts talk to us, but that's how we basically go about running the ABM programs.
Declan (strategicabm) - You mentioned there, Akriti, that ABM can have different end objectives. You mentioned a couple there, actually, in terms of client acquisition or customer expansion. Where do you see it working best in general and perhaps at Google Cloud?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - I mean, in general, it's always easier with existing customers, right? When you have a relationship, when you have a certain commitment from them that they're going to be spending, and then you just have to help them and guide them into what would be the best way that they could be using your products and solutions.
So in general, with existing customers, it's much easier. But we have a mix of both greenfield new customer accounts as well as existing customers that we look at.
With greenfield accounts, we make sure that we set expectations from the beginning with all of our stakeholders, especially Sales, that look, with ABM, you're not going to see pipe right away, but here are certain things that we'll help with.
We'll help open doors with people whom you haven't been able to get face-to-face time with. We'll help you deepen engagement with the people whom you're targeting. If you need to change the perception or position us, Google Cloud, as a thought leader within this space, we'll help you do all of that.
So the objectives vary, and we look at both existing customers and new accounts, but of course, I wish we could only focus on existing customers. That's much easier.
Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, it's interesting actually, because if you think about the origins of ABM, they were particularly with, 20 years ago or so when it started, with the people like Accenture and Unisys and the large companies like Fujitsu and Oracle, it was focused on existing customers and kind of, as you said, penetrating those existing customers. And I think those existing relationships help ABM to accelerate a lot more than in the new logo acquisition.
You mentioned there obviously, previously, Akriti, that ABM isn't ABM without Sales. And I definitely agree with you there. Can you tell us how you work with your Sales colleagues a little bit, and any tips for people watching this podcast?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - Absolutely. I think it's not just that ABM isn't ABM without Sales. I think ABM shouldn't exist if there's no Sales team and if you're not working closely with the Sales team. We've gone about this in a very methodical manner. I'm going to get slightly detailed. So heads up.
The way that we went about it is, firstly, we created those detailed go-to-market models in terms of how ABM programs would come to life. We then wanted to make sure that the Sales team understands that there is a certain amount of time and effort that it takes to build this the right way. My biggest stakeholder and partner is the Sales VP for these strategic accounts.
So once we'd created this detailed go-to-market model, we sort of created a Sales-friendly version of it, translated it into a more Sales-friendly language. And I shared it with him. And the goal of that was to do two things.
Firstly, to explain exactly how these ABM programs would work. How they take time to build. The fact that we're going to be piloting and testing and starting small. And also secondly, to make sure that he understood what is the commitment that's needed from his team to make this successful.
And so once we'd done that and got his buy-in, being the Exec Sales sponsor, each ABM lead in my team presented to their counterpart in Sales. So what that means is, for example, the Retail ABM lead presented this entire model, etc, to her counterpart who's the Retail Sales Head.
And what we did there is, apart from those two objectives that I mentioned, there was an additional objective, which was to just try and get an early sense of what are some of the accounts or clusters of accounts that we could focus on.
And after we'd got the buy-in from the top-two layers of the Sales team, so as to speak, we then made sure that we also got the entire Sales team onboard. So each ABM industry lead, for example, the Retail ABM lead, presented to the entire Retail Sales team, explained the methodology and what the roles and responsibilities of the Sales team would be.
So we did this in a methodical way and it was definitely arduous and time consuming. But it's the one space where I don't recommend any shortcuts because I think what really helped us be successful, apart from laying out that solid foundation in terms of the operating models, etc, is making sure that we set the right expectations with the Sales team, both in terms of how ABM would come to life and also in terms of what the commitment is that we need from them. What are their roles and responsibilities going to be?
Declan (strategicabm) - I think that's very thorough. I think people will be taking notes at home actually and listening to the approach you're taking. So I haven't really heard anybody explain it in such detail before. And I think going to that extra length in terms of all those presentations, getting everyone around the table, I think that at least from my experience of working with Sales teams, that really helps them to kind of build that trust, right, and helps you to build that Sales and Marketing alignment and trust, which is so important to ABM.
Let's talk a little bit about Account Insights, because I know when we were speaking previously to this recording and just learning a little bit more about your program, you mentioned that obviously Account Insights, it's a really important part of any ABM strategy. Why do you think they are so important?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - I think overall, as Marketing, we are custodians of customers. I think one of our biggest duties is to really represent the voice of customers internally within the organization.
And I think that this becomes a lot more pronounced with Account-based Marketing. Because you not only have to be able to walk in your customer's shoes, but almost get under their skin and really understand, what are their pain points? What are their drivers? What are their priorities and things like that?
So I think it's critical to understand that as a starting point before building anything out. And so we make sure that we are looking at all of our internal data and signals, be it intent data, propensity models that have been built. What's the engagement with accounts currently? And things like that.
We also make sure that we talk to a lot of the customer-facing teams, such as the Sales team, the Business Development team, and so on. Because there's a certain tribal knowledge there that exists, which may not be captured in numbers and reports but is absolutely priceless.
And then we want to make sure that we don't have any blind spots. So we also have a number of external agencies that actually help us understand our industries better, our accounts better, and even the people in these accounts better.
So we take a mix of these internal signals and external signals and study each customer in depth and really let them speak to us in terms of how it is that we can help them before we even start creating any program.
Declan (strategicabm) - Excellent, Akriti. Excellent approach there. I've been talking a lot on LinkedIn recently about Demand Generation and ABM and just trying to kind of clarify a little bit about, what is the use case of one? What is the use case of the other? Where does Demand Gen start? Where does Demand Gen finish? Where does ABM start? Where does ABM finish? What's your take? How do you see the two disciplines?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - It honestly surprises me, Declan, when I hear about this debate, Demand Gen versus ABM, because over the last 15 years, I've been in different parts of B2B marketing, ABM, Enterprise, Field, Digital, Demand Generation, Campaigns, Product, Brand, etc, and I can't think of any one function that's dispensable.
I think we need all of them to coexist and work well together in order for our business as well as our customers to be successful. And the way I think of Marketing is, it's like an orchestra. I mean, there are different instruments with distinct purposes, doing different things, but they all work together harmoniously and that's what creates a symphony.
And so I don't think Demand Generation can exist in isolation. I don't think ABM can exist in isolation. I think they work best when they all work together.
Declan (strategicabm) - Well, I think that's a lovely way of putting it actually, and the fact that all the different types of strategies that can be deployed in any kind of go-to-market campaign, it makes sense to kind of choose the right approach for each business outcome that you're looking to achieve and to get them working together in tandem.
Just a couple more questions to finish off with, Akriti. So we often talk about ABM as being a journey, and with any journey, you can take the wrong turn, you can get lost, you can get a flat tire, etc, or maybe that's just my bad luck. But what's been your greatest learning from your journey, from your ABM journey?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - I think firstly having the patience to build the right foundation in a thoughtful way to set the program up for success.
Secondly, the partnership with Sales, making sure that that's always top of mind, and a lot of energy and time is investing into making sure that partnership is working well and working both ways.
And thirdly, I would say, hiring passionate ABMers, because like you said, it's a journey. For a lot of marketers, it can get almost frustrating to not see pipeline and dollar results very quickly.
With ABM, it takes time, and so you need passionate people who are going to be going on that journey and understand that things take time and they're building towards a larger goal and larger success.
So I would say those are my biggest learnings. Having patience to build it the right way. Making sure that we're investing in that partnership with Sales. And also hiring passionate ABMers. So there are '3 Ps' for you there.
Declan (strategicabm) - Was that Philip Kotler is it?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - Absolutely. I mean, I think he started with the '4 Ps' but I used to follow him a lot when I was in business school.
Declan (strategicabm) - Yeah, me too. I'm sure I have got his book here somewhere. So let's just finish off now with a couple of final questions then, Akriti. So what do you think is the hardest part of ABM?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - I think the most challenging part of ABM is the need for speed and the need to get it right, like balancing these two needs. And it is very difficult, for sure, but it's not impossible to do it.
And I think the way that one can approach it is, firstly, setting the right expectations and taking time to really evangelize the ABM model and how it works with all stakeholders, especially Sales. Not overcommitting but really taking time to explain to them that it takes time to build this the right way.
The other thing is making sure that we are practicing strategic over-communication, as we like to call it, when it comes to Sales. So just as we have a multi-channel, multi-task approach with ABM, make sure that we do the same with our Sales team to make sure that they know what's going on, what's top of mind, what are some of the things they can expect, and so on.
With the Sales team, we make sure we lay out the entire journey. So they know exactly what milestones to expect and when. So even if they're not seeing revenue right away, they know that they're going to be building new relationships, deepening up existing relationships, opening new doors, and so on.
And I think the other thing is, really, celebrating early wins. Making sure that everyone's excited about the program and kept motivated to continue to invest in it by showcasing some of the early wins that are coming in and also showcasing certain people who are making those wins happen.
So for example, we've started this program through which every month we highlight a Salesperson who's been leveraging the ABM program and partnering with us in the best way. And so it's a nice way to let the entire Sales team know that there is a lot of benefit that they can get from it and here's how one of their colleagues has used it.
Declan (strategicabm) - I loved that, and particularly the last point around over-communicating. I think it's really important.
There's all those statistics about how many times you need to tell somebody something for them to remember, because we've got so much noise, right, and there's so many things coming in, that you need to over-communicate, as you've quite rightly said, in order to make sure that the message is received and the message is actually understood.
And I think I love that, particularly with ABM and what we're trying to do. I think you may well have answered my very last question, but I'll ask you because you may have a different angle.
But imagine, Akriti, you get a call on a Friday evening. You're just about to close your laptop to spend some well-earned rest with your family, and an old colleague calls you and they say, "Hey, Akriti, I need to present on Monday morning some ideas around ABM." What advice do you give them for that Monday morning presentation that they need to give?
Akriti (Google Cloud) - I mean, firstly, I'd say come over. Let's have some wine if they're in the same city. But it's a Friday evening after all. But it would depend on what stage they're at. Do they have the team built out? Do they have the go-to-market model built out and so on.
In more generic terms, I think what I would advise them to do is, firstly, take time to build the right foundation and the operating model. Secondly, invest in building the relationship with Sales. Identify Sales and Marketing Exec sponsors as well. That's critical.
Thirdly, make sure that you have the right reporting methodology, because that's one that I think we are almost always challenged with, making sure that ABM is reported in the right way.
And then lastly, as I said before, hire a really passionate set of people if you haven't got them already, who know this is for the long haul and are in it with you for the long haul.
Declan (strategicabm) - That's fantastic advice, and I think that would probably be at least one bottle of wine probably to get that advice over the line. So, Akriti, thanks so much for sharing your ABM journey with us today. And I wish you and the team there at Google Cloud every success for the future. Thank you for your time.
Akriti (Google Cloud) - Thank you for your time, Declan. Thank you for having me and for giving us this opportunity to share how we've been going about running our ABM programs.
Declan (strategicabm) - Thank you, Akriti.