Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 193: Q & A with Nani Shaffer @Demandbase


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This week’s episode is entitled How ABM is Evolving: New Best Practices and Pitfallswith Nani Shaffer, Senior Director, Demand Generation & Operations at Demandbase

Demandbase is synonymous with account based marketing. They have done a ton over the years to really develop the definition of account based marketing to really set some benchmarks and drive a lot of great thought leadership around it. The concept of ABM has been around now for at least three, four plus years. Demandbase has been involved in this category now for a long time as well.

In this episode, I ask Nani:

  • How she has seen ABM evolve?
  • What is ABM here at the beginning of 2020?
  • Can a company’s marketing be applied to any target?
  • Do you think for companies that continue to go down this maturity curve  this won’t be a separate effort, that this will just evolve into the sort of table stakes of how companies market to their targets?
  • What sales role is in driving effective ABM programs and what does it take to get a sales organization aligned with the marketing efforts to create a truly integrated ABM approach?
  • What are some key lessons you’ve learned about what it takes to take this great idea and actually land it? (how does it work on Tuesday?)
  • How do you make this not just a campaign but a culture change?
  • What are some things you’ve learned that are key to making that work?
  • And lots more!

Listen in or read the entire conversation below:

Matt:  Thank you everyone for joining us here on Sales Pipeline Radio. If you’re joining us live on the Funnel Media Radio Network, thank you for joining us in the midst of your work day. I appreciate that. And if you are joining us on the podcast, thanks so much for joining us. Our listenership continues to go up and I’m very humbled to have so many of you on the podcast with us. We are recording this live today, Paul, actually in San Francisco, which now that I think about it is a little ridiculous because our guest may very well be sitting in an office like three blocks from me. I’m here for an event with Oracle, at the Parc 55 Hotel and very excited to have today. Our guest is Nani Shaffer. She is the Senior Director of Demand Generation and Marketing Operations for Demandbase. Nani, thanks so much for joining us.

Nani Shaffer:  I’m very excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Matt:  Now, are you legitimately, are you in the Demandbase office? Which means you’re legit like three blocks away from where I am right now?

Nani Shaffer:  Oh, I am three blocks away. I was just checking to see whether I could see the building that you’re in and I think I actually can see a corner of it. So, hello from over here.

Matt:  Hi. I should’ve planned this a little better. What’s funny is every once in a while we will do a show where we’ll get two people in the same room, and then we don’t have the equipment. Because I’m literally just with iPods right now sitting in an abandoned conference room in the hotel. But whatever works.

Nani Shaffer:  Yeah, we’re very high tech here. Yeah.

Matt:  We piece it and the show must go on. Well, I appreciate you joining today and we’re looking forward to talking about a number of things. I think when I think of Demandbase, I think Demandbase is synonymous with account based marketing. You guys have done a ton over the years to really develop the definition of account based marketing to really set some benchmarks and really drive a lot of great thought leadership around it. I feel like the content of ABM has been around now for at least three, four plus years. And you’ve been involved in this category now for a long time as well. How have you seen ABM evolve? What is ABM here at the beginning of 2020?

Nani Shaffer:  Yeah, I think that’s a great question. And frankly, if I’m being honest with myself, I think ABM in some way, shape, or form has really been around for decades and in a lot of ways I think it has a lot to do with how B2B marketers are figuring out how to capitalize and understand the types of lessons we’ve all learned through B2C marketing and translate those into a B2B world. And that’s what’s kind of driving the evolution of ABM into how we see it today. And so I’d say what’s happened or what’s changed over the last few years compared to say the last couple of decades is whereas, and maybe I should back up a second and talk about what I think of sort of what ABM is in general.

So account based marketing is really all about being focused on a distinct set of accounts that you expect to perform better for your business than another group of accounts, right? So being really focused on accounts that can and should, putting out buying signals that they’re ready to buy from you. And so I think whereas in decades prior, that sort of came to life through much more manual, hands-on, sort of one-to-one marketing. In today’s world, we’ve got the advantage of being able to scale that same type of personalized attention and focus to a much broader set of accounts.

So whereas before ABM would have been limited to tens or dozens of accounts, in today’s world you can escalate that and scale that out to hundreds, if not thousands of accounts to be doing that same type of specialized marketing to. So for me, what’s changed in the last year is the arrival of technology and the arrival of this bringing in AI and machine learning into that process so that we can personalize at scale, so that we can understand better precisely who it is we should be targeting and when and helping those accounts kind of through their buying cycle.

Matt:  So the way you just described that, you just said about ABM. And the one thing I didn’t hear anywhere was taking into consideration the size of the organization, because I think a lot of people think of ABM as, “Oh, this is an enterprise marketing strategy,” but what you just described about being personal, about customizing the approach and the message to the company and to the individual and the members of the buying committee, that doesn’t necessarily imply a minimum size company. So could ABM, can a company’s marketing be applied to any target?

Nani Shaffer:  Yeah, yeah. And it’s actually a question that we get all the time, right? Because I think the initial instinct is, to your point, right? “Oh, oh, we’re doing ABM, and that means that’s my field marketing team that are executing things for our super, super high paying customers or prospects.” Right? But the reality is, although sometimes we see customers that cut their sort of broad target account list, which is really sort of the foundation of everything ABM, is this sort of core most of the time, single target account list. Figuring out how to segment that into different levels and the way that you stack those up, you can think of like a pyramid, right? And at the top, yes. Those you’re going to be putting really heavy investment into. That might be closer to that initial one-to-one marketing that we think of.

But as you move yourself from that top triangle down into the trapezoids up the pyramid, right? That’s where you get into that scales ABM approach. While that does typically mean that you’re investing slightly less, doing less precise personalization, less one-to-one, and you’re doing things that can be applied more broadly to a broader set of accounts, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re smaller targets, right? It could be if you wanted to split them up that way, that might not be how you decide your level of investment, but rather that you decide what your message is to that account. Right?

It’s relevant to you that that account is smaller than another one if your solution or the problem that you’re solving is different, right? Or if you’re buying committee looks different at a small account than a large one, then yeah, you’re going to be taking different motions with that account and that’s a perfectly fine way of segmenting, but it isn’t necessarily how you’re prioritizing. You could have just as rich an audience and in mid-market as you would an enterprise.

Matt:  Okay. So let’s follow this thread then to the next maybe potentially logical question, which is, we call this account based marketing and maybe this is just a revision or an upgrade on the marketing we’ve always been doing. I think five, six years ago there was a lot of frothiness around the topic of social selling. I don’t hear that topic as much now because I think the tactics around social selling have just become a part of selling. It’s just become sort of an integrated part of how successful people are selling. Is that where we’re going with account based marketing as well? Do you think that for companies that continue to go down this maturity curve that this won’t be a separate effort, that this will just evolve into the sort of table stakes of how companies market to their targets?

Nani Shaffer:  It really could, honestly. I sort of waiver back and forth between, is ABM synonymous with B2B, right? Is that what we’re really talking about here is being intelligent about the way that we’re marketing to individual companies? Because if you ask any B2B marketer and you’re like, “Hey, would you rather spend money on a company or a person that can’t buy from you or one that can?” Well, obviously they’re going to go with the one that they can, right? It’s only the ability using technology now to be able to be precise in our marketing that enables us to do ABM in a different way.

The other element I would add that we’ve seen with a number of our customers is thinking about often when companies are beginning, right? When they’re thinking about, “Oh, I should probably like do this ABM thing, it’s pretty popular. Someone asked me to,” or whatever. Often they’ll start in a pilot program with having a single leader or a group that’s running things and that’s their ABM team, right? Or that’s their ABM initiative or pilot or whatever.

As those companies continue to mature through their sort of growth into leveraging ABM as a strategy, those lines become much more blurred and you won’t have an individual who necessarily has ABM in their title, right? But rather the entire organization has shifted to focusing on these accounts that can buy from you and because the concept of ABM is so broad now that it encompasses really, not necessarily as broad as your total addressable market, all the companies that can buy from you, but it does at least encompass that one layer closer to the center of the companies that should buy from you that are going to be good long-term customers.

That now means that it’s not that there is one person in a corner that’s thinking about how to do ABM but rather that everyone on the team .is doing it and I find that, too. It’s funny, I get surveys all the time about maybe maturity and looking for trends or patterns or things and when I get the question of, “What percentage of your budget are you dedicating to ABM?” Well, I get confused. I’m like, “100%?” I mean, nothing that we’re doing is not ABM. So I’ve always kind of been like, “Huh, everything.”

Matt:  Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I think if you have the choice of sending one message to diverse set of people versus one message to a more precise set of people or precise individual it stands to reason you’re going to get better response, better impact, better engagement on the latter. You mentioned earlier sort of the fact that as this evolves, everyone’s doing ABM and I think that applies obviously not just to marketing but to sales as well. Can you talk a little bit before we have to take a break here about what sales role is in driving effective ABM programs and what it takes to get a sales organization aligned with the marketing efforts to create a truly integrated ABM approach?

Nani Shaffer:  No, that’s a great question. And you know, in reality sales is the key. Outside of maybe getting executive buy in, I think sales has to be invested in an ABM strategy. The good news for marketers out there who might be thinking right now, “Well, bummer. That’s a nonstarter,” is that in reality when you think about account based marketing and the organizational shifts and the sort of changes in my favorite topic, right? Around how we measure ourselves or think about performance, those shifts largely happen on the marketing side of the house. So it’s marketers understanding now, how to view the world through a sales lens, right? Understand that rather than thinking about pure leads or interactions on the site or clicks or downloads, that we’re now shifting and thinking more holistically about the health of an account, engagement within that account, the buyers that might be important to include at a buying cycle.

And we’re tying ourselves to revenue and to pipeline in the same way that sales obviously has forever. And so we’re sort of volunteering ourselves to hop into the car with sales. But that isn’t to say that they’re not an important part and a more part than they have been historically in helping us to understand how to do things further up in the funnel, rather than having marketing be the ones that are responsible for the top of the funnel and we at some point just sort of shove things over to sales and hope for the best. Now there’s a joint partnership right from the beginning where sales is invested in helping us. One of the sort of key tasks or areas that they’re helping with an ABM strategy is in the selection of our target account list, right? So they’re validating that our hypotheses about the right accounts to be selling into are, indeed, the right accounts to be selling into.

That’s a huge component of an ABM strategy and sales has to be invested and bought into that because what we’re saying as a marketing organization is, “Okay, you have now agreed with us that this is the right market for us to be selling into.” When we get engagement, when we see whether it’s spikes and activity on the website, whether it’s engagement through other programs on the ground or digitally, whether it’s intense data that we’re seeing out on the web anywhere. When we give you those insights about these specific accounts, you’re going to be ready, eager, and willing to react to that. Right? And to be proactive about sort of going after these accounts together, and that can take some time. Right? That often takes results. That takes sales seeing that this is working and that, indeed, these target accounts that we’re investing heavily in from a marketing standpoint are converting at really high rates.

Matt:  Yep. Got it. Well, we’re going to take quick break, pay some bills. We’ll be back with more with our guest, Nani Shaffer. We’re going to ask her to talk a little bit about where ABM programs stall and what they’ll look for to make sure your programs stay on track. Talk a little bit about what it’s like to work at an ABM company. Got a little meta there, doing ABM at an ABM company. Might even see what our prediction is in terms of which red team’s going to win next week. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.


Paul:  Okay, we’re back with Matt and his guest and I’m amazed she didn’t come right out and say that San Francisco 49ers are going to win. I don’t know if there’s confidence in the city up there.

Matt:  Well, I mean, not everyone in San Francisco is from San Francisco. Right? I mean, you have family that sways you another way. I grew up down here and my dad, even though I grew up in the era of Montana and Rice and Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott and the amazing late eighties, nineties teams, my dad raised me a Bears fan as a Midwest guy. So I didn’t have a lot of choice in that matter when I was an eight year old. Are you from here, and/or do you have a horse in this race come Super Bowl Sunday?

Nani Shaffer:  I am from here. I am a huge 49ers fan. Now, I only got onto that bandwagon. I came into football and the NFL as a true fan really in the Harbaugh-Kaepernick era. So I’m not that storied in my NFL fandom, but yes, it’s been a very, I have to say, this is one of the most interesting things about being a fan is that I can’t decide whether it’s better or worse to be rooting for a good team. And in a lot of ways I think it might be worse to be rooting for a really good team where every weekend you get so anxious all the time. Whereas say last year or two seasons ago, it would be adorable if they got a first down, right? And now expecting them to win his hard. So same thing with the Warriors, too. Oh, we’re spoiled here where it’s like, every time they don’t make a three, until this year, it was a complete disaster and yell at TV and it’s like, no, people miss shots every once in a while.

Matt:  As a formerly long-suffering Cubs fan, I can certainly attest to that. I mean, there were years and years and years where you wanted the Cubs to win, but you just knew that they weren’t.

Nani Shaffer:  Exactly.

Matt:  And then about four years ago they win a World Series and now everyone’s really upset that they’re potentially not competitive. It is a lot harder, I think, to make that in that kind of a mode.

Nani Shaffer:  Yeah, there’s something so easy about sitting back and enjoying a good game of football without having any huge expectations. But they’ve been amazing this year. So fun to watch. So I’m excited.

Matt:  It is fun to watch.

Nani Shaffer:  It’ll be a good match up.

Matt:  It takes your mind off the Warriors, which I wasn’t going to bring up, but not as awesome.

Nani Shaffer:  Yeah. Yeah. It’s been a year.

Matt:  Yeah. Well anyway, I know we’ve just got a few more minutes with our guest today, Nani Shaffer. She’s the Senior Director of Marketing Operations and Demand Generation for Demandbase. So you’ve got a little meta thing going on here, right? We’re talking about account based marketing here at a company that sells an account based marketing platform. We don’t have to make this salesy, but it’s interesting. You get to see a lot of companies doing ABM, but then you’re also doing account based marketing yourself and I’m just curious, what are some key lessons you’ve learned about what it takes to take this great idea, right? And actually land it? Actually sort of figure out how does it work on Tuesday? How do you make this not just a campaign but a culture change? What are some things you’ve learned that are key to making that work?

Nani Shaffer:  Yeah, no, I think that’s actually a great point that you bring up is that this isn’t a campaign, it’s a culture change. And one of the things that I’ve been vaguely surprised by in a lot of ways, and I’ve been at Demandbase now for just about six years, so been through kind of a lot in our own internal ABM journey. And one of the things that we do as well is we track all of these things, right? We have sort of Demandbase on Demandbase and it does get meta, but it’s helpful to kind of think through how is it that we’re not only leveraging just our technology, but how are we practicing what we preach when it comes to developing and executing a world-class stadium strategy? And frankly, that can put a lot of pressure on us, right? Because if we screw it up, that’s not a great look, if we’re not doing ABM.

And so one of the things that I would say, getting back to that kind of culture shift, is that the thing that can be easy to forget as you grow as an organization is that this isn’t something that you can ever really take for granted. And when you’re initially setting out and shifting to an ABM strategy. It can be a heavy lift, right? And getting buy-in and making sure you’ve got support and that you’ve got the right data and that you’ve got the right tools and you’ve got the right people and you’ve got all of this stuff set up to shift to an ABM strategy is one thing, but it can actually be easy to forget how quickly that buy-in and that mindset and that mind frame can begin to erode.

And so we constantly do have to be forcing ourselves to be deliberate about how we market to these target accounts to not get sort of wrapped up into the temptation of marketing more broadly or falling back on those surface level metrics that really aren’t moving the needle.

And one of the sort of very basic examples of this is just in the maintenance of the target account list itself, right? And so we’ve actually had a really sort of big shift as we’ve grown, we’ve evolved the definition and the meaning and the thought process behind that, how that list is developed and maintained over the past six years. And that’s been one of the most interesting things to me is just to see how we’ve gotten more sophisticated about picking it, right? We started with kind of a, frankly, gut feel about who our best customers were and how we might find other companies or opportunities like that, to now really leveraging not only a much more sophisticated data about how we can find the right accounts, but then also figuring out how we prioritize them, how we make clear, how do we leverage intent data, right?

How do we segment these audiences into smaller segments that really matter, that we can measure differently that that warrant a different message. And so that’s sort of one of those things. It’s just easy to forget, right? That you do need to keep that sort of mantra alive. And last thing I’ll say on that, too, that’s probably more relevant for this particular session, too, is, keeping sales excited about this. It sounds so silly, particularly at a company that’s selling ABM, but making sure that they’re seeing and being reminded of the need to be careful about who it is that we’re investing their time in. Right? Time is their most precious resource and we want to make sure that we’re not delivering anything to them that they shouldn’t be selling into.

Matt:  Yeah, no doubt. Well, we just got a couple more minutes with our guest here and I think I wanted to make sure, give you guys credit for not just sort of creating a great ABM product, but also really investing in the community. I think you guys have done a great job around building the ABM certification and helping people build some of the initial skill sets to be able to sort of adjust the way they’re thinking about marketing. And I think you guys run one of the better ABM conferences and communities that I see in the market today. And so I want to give you a chance to talk about the upcoming ABM Innovation Summit and what, for people that are heavily invested in ABM, people thinking about it, talk about the community benefit of being there and maybe give us some teasers on some of the speakers you’re going to have there this year.

Nani Shaffer:  Yeah, yeah. Really excited for it. And thank you for the plug. That was very exciting. Yeah, so we’ve got our ABM Innovation Summit coming up in San Francisco at Pier 27 March 17th and 18th. And really, I think what’s great about this conference in general is that there truly is something for everyone. It’s certainly not a user conference. There’s no need to be a Demandbase customer, but it’s about bringing together thought leaders who can help to teach each other about really how to take it to the next level with account based marketing and having sort of real life practitioners in and speaking and talking about what they’re doing in their sort of everyday ABM strategies I think is one of the central elements of the conference that’s most important, right? Is that we do try and stay away from the sort of fluffy or high level content and get into, show us what your dashboard looks like. Tell us what step one is. How am I going to take this and apply this to my job tomorrow?

So that’s a really big focus for us. And then of course having sort of inspirational content as well where we can get excited about things. Can you imagine even beyond ABM, right?

Matt:  What?

Nani Shaffer:  But thinking about our lives, I think about nothing else, but for others that want to be inspired. I think, we’re having a keynote from the Challenged Athletes Foundation come in and we’re having Megan Rapinoe come in and really, really talk about how we think about ourselves in the broader context of the world. And then I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the conference offers a great opportunity to, as you mentioned, get certified in account based marketing. And we’ve got two levels of certification this year and it’s an excellent way for anyone. Frankly, whether you’re just starting or you’re at the most advanced levels of ABM, to come and learn what it takes to kind of take that to the next level.

Matt:  There’s a lot of user conferences out there, a lot of companies do conferences for themselves and there is a lot of very self-serving content. I’ve been to your conference a number of years in a row now and I’ve just always been impressed with just how well you guys curate content. And you’re right, for people attending, if you’re looking for actual tactical best practices but also some great community, great inspiration, inspirational speakers. You guys do a great job of that.

Go to Check that out. Coming up here this spring in San Francisco. We are unfortunately out of time. I’m getting the big wave from Paul over here, so we’re going to have to wrap it up. Thank you so much to our guest, Nani Shaffer from Demandbase, for sharing some new best practices and trends around account based marketing in 2020. We’ve got some great guests coming up here in the next few weeks as we head into February and continue to make our way into Q1 and 2020, but for today, on behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.

Sales Pipeline Radio is hosted by Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing which is a program on the Funnel Radio Channel.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


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