ABM is more relevant than ever in the time of COVID

Demandbase and Triblio CEOs discuss COVID and their recent big corporate moves

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At a time when the B2B marketplace is struggling to adjust to the realities of a prolonged pandemic environment, two of the vendors serving B2B marketers made major moves.

ABM veteran, and a Forrester ‘leader’ in the space, Demandbase, acquired Engagio, while a Forrester ‘strong performer,’ Triblio, was itself acquired by tech media giant IDG. And all against the backdrop of a B2B environment in which ABM has never seemed more relevant. 

“If ABM is about anything,” said Triblio CEO Andre Yee, “It is about quality leads. It’s about discovering and engaging the active buyer. The old lead gen model perpetrated by marketing automation – a lot of it was just sending out emails. The problem with that is twofold. One, it got reduced to volume: how many MQLs can you generate to fill your quota? The second problem is that it was singularly focused on the email channel. I think today, you want to reach buyers who are actively in the purchase cycle. 

“With this whole COVID thing, there’s a return to quality. Right now, you cannot solve your demand gen problem by quantity of leads, because there’s just not enough out there – but there are active buyers. There are a lot of industries that still do well, but there are fewer, so you have to be more discriminating. Being able to discover the prospective buyer and engage them across channels and score them by activity – that all plays to the strengths of ABM.”

In conversations this week with Yee, and with Demandbase CEO Gabe Rogol, we asked them about the big changes at their respective companies, and talked about ABM under the shadow of COVID.

Demandbase and Engagio: the “whole picture”

Demandbase and Engagio had been widely perceived, said Rogol, as competitors in the ABM space. In fact, he argues, their approaches are complementary. “The functionality we’re most known for is mid- and upper-funnel functionality – digital marketing, field marketing, and advertising personas. Engagio is more known for lower funnel – marketing ops, sales ops, sales development reps. Very broadly, if the problem we’re trying to solve is that the modern customer journey is really complex, these different parts of the funnel have to work together.” Advertising and other top-of funnel outbounds elements should be aligned with the content an SDR is putting before clients to close the revenue loop. “That’s really powerful to put it all together, because then you have the whole picture.”

The secret sauce at Demandbase has long been it’s AI-powered ability to crawl the web for intent signals, anonymous at the individual level, but matched two accounts. It was left to Demandbase customers to map this third-party data onto their own first-party data. Engagio was working primarily with clients’ first-party CRM and marketing automation data, as well as tracking interactions between sales and marketing and customers. According to Rogol, for third-party data, they had to rely on companies like Bombora and Kickfire.

“Demandbase: intent, advertising, personalization – really strong,” he summarized. “Engagio is really strong with orchestration, lead to account mapping, sales insights. We were looking very closely at what our roadmap should be, and they had basically filled out what our roadmap was. We’re aiming for having the integrated platform this year.”

Related: See our playbook on ABM tactics that work.

Triblio: the next phase of growth

Founded in 2013 by Eloqua alumni, Triblio has really just started expanding its enterprise footprint in the last two years. “We know we can sell to enterprise companies, and make them successful, but how do we scale this?” was the question Yee had been asking.

“Enterprise companies want a full range of services, and 24/7 support,” Yee said. 

This would be a challenge for a vendor with 40 employees. 

“That’s why this acquisition was strategic for us,” he continued. “But they’re a tech media company, we’re a software company, and I wanted to make sure there was a good fit there.”

Indeed, IDG is the world’s largest tech media and events company, with a global audience. 

“With IDG, we automatically go international,” said Yee – but there are other benefits on the horizon. “It represents an opportunity to drive the next phase of our growth. There’s increased investment in R&D and customer success functions. With IDG we can probably double R&D in the next 18 months.”

IDG serves a tech audience, of course, while Triblio – like most ABM vendors – prospects for customers across a range of verticals. We asked Yee if that placed a constraint on what IDG could deliver to Triblio in terms of scaling awareness. “We do serve a number of different sectors, but I’d say 80 percent of ABM practitioners today tend to be in tech or tech-related companies. Tech marketers tend to be early adopters.”

The days of COVID

B2B marketers are facing two distinct challenges in the current environment. The brands offering products and services that support the remote working ecosystem have been overwhelmed with leads, while the rest of the marketplace has seen a decline in demand.

“A lot of it does depend on the market you serve,” Rogol said. “We actually had a pretty good tailwind in the initial days of COVID. A lot of our business is advertising, and you would think there would be a downturn in advertising. We found that our customers couldn’t do events any more, and enterprise companies have a lot of money earmarked for events and field marketing. How can we outreach? It’s advertising. So we had a really way over plan advertising quarter, that first quarter of COVID.”

Yee acknowledged the same experience: “As people have realized they’re not going to that event where they scan a thousand badges, all that budget for in-person events shifted to online strategies, and one of the key strategies, if you’re a B2B marketer, is ABM.”

Rogol agreed that COVID is accelerating the demise of the old lead gen model.  “The big thing for me is how it’s really driving the transformation of the buyer’s journey,” he said. “The movement from this linear handoff of inbound to sales, the baton pass. Now it’s more like a soccer team – there’s a lot happening at once, and sales and marketing have to move in unison.”

Perhaps the most important imperative in these times, however, is nurturing your existing customer base.  “In addition to cherishing the leads you’re getting, another strategy – especially for subscription and recurring revenue companies – is double down on your customer base. Once you’ve reached a certain level of maturity, the reality is that much more of your revenue is coming from your customers anyway, because it’s renewing every year. A lot of companies have even gone so far as to move salespeople into customer service roles.”

Yee agreed. “When you have this unique crisis, one of the first things marketers have to do is care about your customers. It sounds soft, but part of it is just empathizing with what your customers are going through, because this is a whole new world for a lot of folks. Along the way, you’re going to sell upgrades, and renew customers. I love this quote by Mark Cuban: ‘Selling is helping.’ Marketers that help their customers will also help themselves.

About the author

Kim Davis
Kim Davis is currently editor at large at MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for almost three decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Shortly thereafter he joined Third Door Media as Editorial Director at MarTech.

Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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