Digital Marketing

Break Free B2B Marketing: Gary Gerber on Scaling ABM without Losing Focus

Break Free B2B Series: Gary Gerber

Break Free B2B Series: Gary Gerber

When people think of account-based marketing (ABM), they tend to think of it as a smaller-scale practice. Since ABM is fundamentally built around focus in the aligned pursuit of high-value accounts, it’s often associated with a significant reduction in target market scope (i.e., “Let’s narrow down to our 20-30 most promising accounts).

This itself is a constraint from which B2B marketers need to break free, which is why Gary Gerber stood out as a fitting guest for the first interview in our second season of Break Free B2B. At B2B Marketing Exchange in February, he sat with TopRank Marketing President Susan Misukanis to unpack what’s needed to bring ABM to the next level.

Gary and his team at Folloze helped Cisco develop a sophisticated and highly effective ABM program that targeted 20,000 customers through one-on-one, personalized content and messaging.

How can other B2B marketers achieve this level of scalability in their ABM efforts, overcoming one of the biggest remaining hurdles holding back this fast-growing approach? In large part it’s about rethinking our tools, Gary suggests, while leaning on a rather literal metaphor.

“You have to focus away from blunt instrument tools,” he says. “I’m not bashing blunt instruments, by the way, because a hammer is one of the most useful tools in your toolkit, but you wouldn’t use it to repair a watch. So you need to migrate to tools that let you [achieve] that kind of precision, because that’s the only way you’re going to build trust with your customers.”

“A hammer is one of the most useful tools in your toolkit, but you wouldn’t use it to repair a watch.” @Gary_Gerber of @Folloze on the need for more precision in #ABM. #BreakFreeB2B Click To Tweet

Solutions like Folloze’s platform, which enables the delivery of personalized experiences at scale, are helping pave the way. But it’s not just about technology. Reaching a state of advanced ABM also requires shifts in organizational mindset, philosophy, and operation.

Gary and Susan cover the gamut in their 18-minute conversation. You can watch, listen, or find key excerpts and takeaways below.

Break Free B2B Interview with Gary Gerber

If you’re interested in checking out a particular portion of the discussion, you can find a quick general outline below, as well as a few excerpts that stood out to us.

  • 1:30 – Recognizing that change is inevitable
  • 2:30 – Where is ABM in terms of market maturity?
  • 4:45 – Helping clients recognize shortcomings and make incremental progress
  • 6:30 – Approaching the marketing funnel from an ABM standpoint
  • 9:30 – Re-centering on the fundamentals of ABM targeting
  • 11:15 – Where are you seeing successes in ABM?
  • 13:15 – Optimizing for the future by taking the right steps right now
  • 16:00 – Gary’s personal hobbies and philosophies
  • 17:15 – How can modern digital marketers break free?

Susan: What’s your consulting approach? As marketers, we can’t just tell our clients, “You’re wrong, do it my way.” How do you inch them toward making incremental progress?

Gary: It’s an interesting question because when we talk to people, the tools that people are using are the same ones that worked well 10 or 15 years ago. People built their careers on tools like marketing automation and things like that. So it is challenging to tell them, “Those tools are blunt instruments by today’s standards.”

You have to focus the other way, on what’s not working, on the pain. Because there is pain there, especially if they’re under the gun for an account-based program, and for pushing things through the funnel, right? We like to talk about the three symptoms that marketers today are subject to: funnel starvation, pipeline constipation, and sales frustration. They can’t get stuff into the top of the funnel anymore, whatever they get in the funnel doesn’t come out, and they’re under the gun there because sales and the entire organization is looking to them to move opportunities and it’s not happening. So if you can put it in terms along those lines most marketers will eventually have to concede. ‘Cause everyone’s feeling that pain in B2B.

“We like to talk about the three symptoms that marketers today are subject to: funnel starvation, pipeline constipation, and sales frustration.” @Gary_Gerber @Folloze #BreakFreeB2B #ABM Click To Tweet

Susan: Do you counsel equal focus on the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel to try to get things moving? Or is the first thing, you gotta fix the top of the funnel? What’s your methodology?

Gary: Well, if you think about what ABM is, especially if you’re doing it right, it’s almost not a funnel mentality at all anymore, right? We refer to it as full cycle personalization, or some people are saying bow tie. If you’re approaching it with that funnel mentality, you’ve almost doomed yourself to failure right from the start in 2020.

“If you’re approaching #ABM with that funnel mentality, you’ve almost doomed yourself to failure right from the start in 2020.” @Gary_Gerber @Folloze #BreakFreeB2B Click To Tweet

There’s an analogy others are using and I agree with it: it’s like a football team or a soccer team running down the field together. So the focus isn’t on top of funnel or middle of funnel, it’s on — by definition — the accounts themselves. And as sales and marketing are running down the field, they’re bringing the account and the individuals together along with them. It’s a journey.

And so how do you do that? You can’t do that by sending them mass emails because everybody’s getting that. Ultimately what it’s about, and I’ve said this to other people, it’s about building that relationship with them. More importantly, it’s about building a relationship that’s built on trust, not on hype. Because if you’ve built that trust and you’re adding that value to them that they trust you’re interested in their success, and you’re providing information and content and messaging and whatever it is, that will help them be successful. They’ll happily march down the field with you because you’re adding to their success.

Susan: So let’s talk about what’s working in ABM these days. Where are smart modern marketers really experiencing some great progress from your perspective?

Gary: Most people think of ABM, as you mentioned before, as, “Well, I’m going to pick my top 20 accounts and I’m going to focus everything I got on them, and the rest of the 88,000 or whatever, oh well too bad, them we’ll just spray and pray with a nurture campaign or something like that.” And it’s interesting because when you stop and think about it logically, limiting it to your 20 or 25 or whatever, that’s a technical limitation, right? It’s because I can’t do what I want to do — create a deeply personalized, individualized, valuable, trust building experience — with more than those 20 people because there’s me and this person, that’s all that we can do.

But there is no procedural reason for that. If you could do [personalization] for everybody, then you would, but you can’t. And so, Cisco is a really awesome example. What they’ve been able to do is actually automate a lot of what’s manual to create these very individualized experiences where they’re getting content, and imagery, and messaging, and information, and everything that is very salient to them, that they used to have to build by hand, so it took hours for each … it’s automated, so they kind of wind it up once and this goes out. So Cisco is actually doing one of the largest ABM programs in the country.

Stay tuned to the TopRank Marketing Blog and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more Break Free B2B interviews. Here are a few interviews to whet your appetite: