After our Seed round last summer, our team at Astronomer decided to pursue an Account Based Marketing (ABM) strategy. Doing so required not just re-thinking what companies we want to work with and how, but also the capability to closely track successes and failures in various marketing channels so that we focus on the right audience in the right way. The effort we put into it has been well-worth it, because of what we learned along the way.
But first, why ABM?
We are a data engineering platform. Data engineering, in a nutshell, is the act of accessing, processing, enriching, cleaning and/or otherwise orchestrating data analysis. So we connect and route data for companies of all sizes across numerous industries. Because of our potential market size, however, we have to be really deliberate about who we target. As most marketers understand, we found that when we try to target everyone, we really didn’t target anyone.
ABM gave us a starting point for product, too. Astronomer is a platform that makes it easy to create and schedule data pipelines, even for business users. Functionally, at least on the standard level, it’s a library of plug-and-play data pipelines enabling business users to connect all their apps, tools and any other data sources—a library that had to be built from scratch. With 3,500 tools for marketers alone, it was hard to know where to begin. Through ABM, we disciplined ourselves to target a specific audience with both marketing and product. And we learned a lot along the way about who are target should be.
Here are 5 major discoveries:
1) Our Target Role Is Different with Every Prospect
We’re not referring to the well-known fact that companies call similar roles by different names, like a Chief Technical Officer vs. Chief Digital Officer. What we discovered is that we have to appeal to totally different skill sets because purchasing ownership can live within multiple roles with varying areas of expertise. Sometimes, it is a CTO or technical guru. Other times, it’s a CEO who has to sign off but isn’t technical at all. Or maybe, a marketer needs it and a VP has to sign off, but that VP vets the product with a developer in IT first.
We have to have content ready to fish for the decision-maker and target a critical mass within a company. That way, when the decision-maker or the main user brings it up, everybody else is already bought in.
What gets tricky is grouping these communications effectively. As our account list grew, we knew clarity around what’s working and the ability to appeal to the right audience at the right time could disappear.
With Engagio, we were able to customize to a myriad of targeted roles while improving personalization with every outbound communication through the utilization of personas. Having a Marketing Orchestration platform also allowed us to maintain visibility and control across our team, who were targeting multiple roles across an org, in different ways. As each team member sent numerous custom campaigns, they received reminders about the status of each one, all while leads and contacts were aggregated in Salesforce.
This need for ubiquity among an organization sparked another learning:
2) Everyone Is A Prospect
While we targeted certain roles, the question became, how? We knew there had to be patterns. What if certain roles/roles emerged as key decision-makers within an industry? What if a specific marketing campaign or channel seemed to resonate with certain roles? We needed to cast a very wide net to see what stuck.
As a company that’s all about data, we began tracking everything from the get-go as if we were our own customer. Our use case was simple: we had to vigilant about ROI in each marketing channel. So we constructed the data pipelines to push data from Engagio, Salesforce, Google Analytics, Facebook Ads and Hubspot to Redshift. Then we visualized it via a custom Chartio dashboard.
In doing so, we quickly realized that ABM isn’t a replacement for traditional marketing; it’s an amplification. To truly “swarm” a company so that every potential user, buyer, influencer or friend has brand awareness, we needed Astronomer to be everywhere.
What’s funny is we felt this most poignantly when it was done to us. A marketing enablement company reached out to Steve, our Director of Growth Experimentation, directly. He hadn’t heard of them and liked the personal communication, but wasn’t impressed enough to respond. Yet.
From that day on, though, he saw their logo seemingly everywhere. They retargeted not just him but the whole company. Other Astronomers brought the company up organically. A psychological phenomena seemed to occur where Steve went from thinking they were a no-name company to thinking of them as a major player in the marketing world.
We are pursuing general outreach in our email campaigns, events, travel, retargeting and any other marketing effort. At the same time, however, we’re acting on this next lesson…
3) Some Prospects Require Special Treatment
While everybody is a prospect, some prospects should get the VIP treatment. Why? Because they are potential VIPs. Our favorite part of ABM is that it forced us to cherry-pick a few personas and industries and really button up the prospects that we wanted to focus on most seriously. To do so, we focused on firmographic info. Instead of role and industry alone, we honed in on size and location—and how we talk about quantitative or qualitative data among different dimensions.
To start, we “batched and blasted” anyone we could reach via family, friends or VCs. But from there, we reigned it in. Size and performance factored in heavily when it came to good-fit companies. So we broke our target into three tiers: (1) large enterprise organizations with whom we have a relationship, (2) large, aggressive-growth companies that are well-established and data-centric and (3) data-obsessed startups.
Among those tiers, we chose five industries and personas, based on customer patterns, and built a list of 800 contacts in those five verticals who fell into one of the three tiers. Then we crafted messaging and curated high-value content just for them. The best part? Our efforts forced us to button up our focus across the organization: in sales, product and even engineering.
But we didn’t button too tightly because we know that at any moment, our 4th lesson could come into play.
4) Our Target Could Change
To chase the right audience relentlessly, we constantly need a holistic view of where our resources are going, where our leads are coming in and how conversions are made. Every day, we ask, how can we spend the same amount of money and get a better return? In fact, how can we can refine targeting and messaging to generate five times the leads?
To figure these things out, we track everything, like:
- Success of every customer touchpoint
- Entry point and end-to-end journey of every conversion
- The use of any one piece of content
This allows us to be intelligent—to tweak and grow. For example, when we started our very first ABM outreach, we targeted five roles. As we tracked conversion rates, we realized we needed to kick three roles out. So we did, immediately. Iterating and making changes isn’t always about positive change but also negative influencers—it’s just as valuable to know what’s wrong.
We really do let our data be our guide. Right now, as we mentioned, we have 800 accounts based on industry and roles within tiers, and 10 contacts per account. That’s 8000 individuals who need umbrella messaging and even more who need demand gen. We realize one tier might fare far better or worse than another—or we might have to kick some accounts out again, and replace them others. In the data, we’ll discover more about our target. Which leads us to our fifth and final (for now) lesson:
5) There’s Only One Way ABM Works
ABM only works when you really commit to it. For a while, we toyed with ABM, threw a few account-based campaigns out there, even tracked results. But there were too many variables for any solid learnings. So we went all-in: We renamed our sales development reps account development reps to double down on the effort both consciously and subconsciously. We invested resources in an orchestration tool (Engagio!).
And because we believe nothing should be done in the dark, we tracked everything. When the data told us to do something, we did (which, by the way, kept us nimble—another important trait). This final lesson is plain and simple, but it’s one worth including. We committed to ABM and we committed to our data. As a result, we feel more committed to our target market than ever.
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