Nani Shaffer

Episode 6

Nani Shaffer

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Franco Caporale:

Hello and welcome to the DemandGen Club Podcast. I'm your host Franco Caporale. Today, I'm happy to welcome Nani Shaffer, Vice president of Account-Based Marketing at Demandbase. Demandbase is the end to end ABM platform that helps B2B companies identify, win, and grow the accounts that matter the most. In her role, Nani and her team are responsible for ABM strategy, education, and empowering B2B marketers to become highly successful ABM leaders. Nani is a proven marketing professional with over a decade of expertise in B2B marketing. Since joining Demandbase over six years ago, Nani has held several critical marketing positions, including demand generation, product marketing, and marketing operations. So I'm thrilled to welcome today Nani Shaffer, VP of Account-Based Marketing at Demandbase.

Franco Caporale:
Nani, it is great to have you on the show today. Thank you again for joining us.

Nani Shaffer:

Thanks. Glad to be here.

Franco Caporale:

So I'd like to ask you about a way about your current title, your background. What's your process? What was your career like to end up becoming the VP of ABM at Demandbase?

Nani Shaffer:

My career has actually mostly been in B2B marketing, my entire career has been, at a couple of different companies, and over the course of my career, I've explored a lot of different areas of marketing. I've been in product marketing, in demand gen, in marketing operations for a pretty significant chunk of time. Did some content marketing as well. And today I own the Account-Based Marketing  team at Demandbase. So what that means for us, because we're an Account-Based Marketing  company, is that it's really about having a point of view on what Account-Based Marketing  is and evangelizing that internally and externally, both through the overall approach to account based marketing, and frankly delving broadly into B2B marketing, but also specifically how that gets factored into using our own solutions and products. So that's what my team is tasked with today.

Franco Caporale:

You have been at Demandbase for now over six years. So how did you see the company changing and obviously your role changed significantly. How do you see that path of Demandbase becoming what it is today?

Nani Shaffer:

Yeah, it's a really great question. And frankly, the past six plus years at Demandbase have been quite the adventure. At the outset, when I came to join the company, frankly, we weren't even talking about ABM at all. In fact, I remember there was a debate about whether it was going to be TAM, target account marketing, but everyone already knew that as total addressable market, so I remember those discussions around the concept of ABM at all. So from my perspective, I think the most exciting transition in the first year or two at Demandbase was really beginning to develop a category. And I think that a lot of marketers have been practicing ABM for quite some time, frankly decades, that we have been executing some of the best practices or strategies that were ABM, but to define a new category, this new ABM category was tremendously exciting.

Nani Shaffer:

So that was definitely a big turning point for the company in the first few years, that certainly that I was a part of the company. It had been around much longer than that. But then being able to see as well, just shifts in the focus of the company overall to make sure that we've really got every part of the customer journey addressed, from identifying target accounts to attracting them and engaging with them, converting them, and of course my favorite part, personally measuring them. So seeing that all come together was a really fascinating part of the company's journey as well.

Franco Caporale:

And there is a lot of debate obviously around ABM and what it means, and I heard a lot of different opinions of the people that are more purist about ABM, that you have to really target one single account at a time, versus those that practice more the vertical marketing or targeting a specific niche. How do you see ABM and how does Demandbase fit into this profile?

Nani Shaffer:

Yeah, it's a great question, and one that is near and dear to my heart. I take a more inclusive approach to ABM. And frankly, I understand when people say, "Well, isn't that B2B marketing?" And in some ways it is. It's good, smart, focused, B2B marketing is really what account based marketing is all about. So I do know that there are folks who, to your point, the quote unquote "purists" that talk about the real ABM only being one to one ABM. In my view, the beauty of account based marketing as it can be practiced today is that you can scale that one to one approach to a one to few and one to many approach as well. So whereas in the past, and I talked a little bit about ABM has been around for decades, you can always have a one to one plan for accounts if you have the resources available.

Nani Shaffer:

But beyond that, how do you scale that out? How do you create that same level of engagement, that same level of personalization and VIP touch and attention to accounts in the hundreds and thousands rather than more in the dozens? And that's where technology comes into play. You can't have that scaled ABM unless you've got technology to back it up, and that's the world that we're living in today. So to me, because we've had these advancements in technology, we can now expand the definition of account based marketing to include more than one to one. And we actually spent a lot of time thinking about this, this blended approach to ABM, where you've got yes, one to one accounts that are going to be a part of your strategy, but there are also those one to few accounts and one to many. And even all of those are still a subset of your total addressable market. So you're still being very focused on only high value accounts that you want to proactively put resources against.

Franco Caporale:

But does it always make sense to personalize at the account level for everyone? Or when do you draw the line of saying this level of personalization is enough for this segment of accounts?

Nani Shaffer:

Yeah, it's a great question. It depends. So there are certainly rules of thumb. There are certain verticals, I'll point out things like financial services, not huge fans of personalizing at the individual account level. There's companies that are very focused on security, may find it disconcerting to see their individual account name called out, even if it's done in totally privacy secured ways. So we've learned that over time. The other thing I would say is certain elements, as you're moving up the pyramid of personalization, make more sense. So for example, your customers might be much more comfortable with being called out because you do have a relationship with them. So they want to be exposed to content that really makes sense for the situation that they're in, the solutions that they have, the solutions that they don't have. They want to get that tailored experience. They shouldn't be treated like strangers. So that's a simple differentiation to think through.

Nani Shaffer:

And then the other thing I would say is it all comes down to testing. So find out whether an increased level of personalization is making an impact in a certain segment or not, and try it out. Because it may be to your point that you get to some degree or some level where it just doesn't make sense. And frankly, if you don't have a differentiated message, personalization doesn't make. So for example, if you have decided that you want to split apart different verticals, if you don't have a different message or different... You don't necessarily need different content, different content assets, but if you don't have a different point of view or a different approach or a different thing to say based on that segmentation, it's probably not worth the extra time and effort that you're putting into it.

Nani Shaffer:

So I always talk about that, because we have the flexibility and the freedom to segment our target account list in infinite ways, and some of them are stupid. Some of them just don't make sense. You could segment based off of whether the headquarters of the target accounts are glass or metal, but that wouldn't make sense unless you're selling glass or metal. That wouldn't make sense for the software solution you might be selling them because there's not a different message or a different approach based on that segmentation

Franco Caporale:

And another part of ABM is it's very, or at least is perceived to be very resource intensive. How is your team structured today now that you are VP of ABM?

Nani Shaffer:

Yeah, it's a good question. We've got a little bit of a different flavor because my account based marketing team is focused on more evangelizing ABM and educating around ABM and defining ABM strategy both internally and externally. We work very, very closely with our growth marketing team who is doing the actual execution of integrated ABM campaigns. So the way that we're structured right now, I've got customer education, customer strategy on my team, and then importantly, I do have ABM operations on my team, and that's where we're laying the groundwork, the foundation for our ABM approach, and I cannot emphasize enough how critical that component of an ABM strategy is.

Nani Shaffer:

So our ABM operations team is responsible for defining our target account list that we call our DB4k. It's responsible for defining the segmentation strategy beyond that. So how do we get to those one to few, one to one tiered approach to ABM? How do we differentiate customers, verticals, whatever it might be. And very importantly as well, my team is also responsible for the measurement, the performance metrics that go along with our ABM strategy. So in that way, we're very much in the weeds of an ABM strategy internally. I would say for most marketing teams, they probably also would have an execution element within their ABM team who are actually running those campaigns. Because Demandbase is basically exclusively an ABM company, you could argue our whole marketing team is really our ABM team. So in order to execute something end to end, we're involving other members of the team.

Franco Caporale:

Do you think this is something that even a early stage company can execute? And if yes, what kind of people, what kind of roles do they have to hire for in order to be able to execute this strategy?

Nani Shaffer:

Absolutely. In fact, I would argue that ABM is the place to start. It makes so much more sense than taking a broad base spray and pray approach. I would advise any company, particularly companies as they're resource strapped, that they frankly have to be even more disciplined than anyone else about making sure that they're using their resources against the accounts that can and should buy from them. So whereas it might be tempting to get a broad message out and to plaster the world and whatever you can, ultimately, the reality of being a B2B company is that you don't need your message everywhere. You don't need it exposed to the entire universe. And as an early stage company, you have to be extra careful about not wasting any resources on people or accounts that can't buy from you.

Nani Shaffer:

So I'd say actually the opposite, that ABM should not be considered an advanced level of marketing, but really should be the foundation of any B2B marketing strategy, just defining your... Beyond, again, that total addressable market, what's your target market? Not only who can sell to you, but who should or... Not only who can you sell to, but who should you be selling to as a starting point, and then making sure that you're in lock step with your sales org in terms of bringing in those accounts that are going to be highly valuable to the company overall.

Franco Caporale:

So ABM is off often compared with Inbound Marketing, which is kind of seen as the... It was the previous trend, let's call it that way, when Marketo and HubSpot came out in 2006. What place do you think inbound marketing has in the overall strategy today?

Nani Shaffer:

I do think that inbound marketing still has a role to play, and I think that being open and receptive to inbound interest is important. That being said, I think the benefit of having an ABM strategy and approach is around prioritization. So understanding what to do with that inbound interest and how to quickly sort through what's worth the time and the followup by an individual sales rep, for example, or an SDR, that's the value that you're bringing to the table. So we don't necessarily have any issue with inbound coming in that's even outside of our target account list, but we do have a different level of expectation, both on followup and on additional resources that we would put against those accounts. So if you think about ABM, one very important element is to understand that the firmographic, technographic reality of the accounts that you should be selling to is unchanging and the behavioral and intent data that you can factor into that gets layered on top of it rather than the reverse.

Nani Shaffer:

So what I mean is, just because an account or an individual is showing wild interest in your company doesn't mean that you should sell to them. It might mean that they're doing a research project. It might mean that they're a tiny company that's ultimately going to churn because they can't afford you. So not getting too caught up in our temptation as marketers to say, "Oh, look at all this interest that we drew in," it's really about qualified interest and making sure that the first slice that we take is, is this a target account or not? And if it's not, we've got a different workflow and a different set of very limited, if any, resources that would go into to those accounts. So I think that, for me, is the real benefit, and that approach has to go through not just marketing, but also into sales.

Nani Shaffer:

So in our case, we've got the majority of our SDR team focused on our target account list, and they essentially have, in some ways kind of a patch, like an AE would, they've got a territory and named accounts that they're going to be following up on inbound, and that they would be going after outbound. We have a smaller group of SDRs that are tasked with sorting through inbound interest that's from non-target accounts and determining whether they do meet the qualification standards to continue. Because as we know, time is our most precious resource, so what we don't want to do is start, frankly, bothering sales with inquiries from accounts that aren't right for them that aren't going to be able to close.

Franco Caporale:

I agree 100% on this. I see too many companies still today where their scoring is too skew towards the interest and the behavior of a prospect, an account, versus the actual qualification. Is that an account that you do you want to have as a customer? Is that an ideal account?

Nani Shaffer:

Exactly, exactly. And frankly, we had in, all transparency, made that error ourselves. And I think the advent of, with intent data in particular hitting the scene, there was so much excitement around being able to identify accounts at the earliest stages of research that we forgot, momentarily, how important it was, to your point, to make sure that these were still meeting the minimum threshold of qualification first, that that came first. And understanding intent after that is very important and helpful, but if they're not qualified accounts or they don't meet our criteria, then we don't want to be going after them.

Franco Caporale:

And talking about pipeline and metrics, what are the KPIs that you measure that are important from an ABM perspective and also how do you then track attributions for the pipeline generation?

Nani Shaffer:

So as I mentioned, our core KPI, I would say the thing that we're most honed in on, is pipeline. I do want to talk about that one as being super critical. One of the things that has been really powerful for us as we've developed our own ABM strategy is making sure that our pipeline goal is precisely the same as the sales team's pipeline goal. So we go through an exercise where we look at the sales team's quotas, collective quotas, and make sure we waterfall backwards into the amount of pipeline that it's going to take for them to meet their quotas, and we do that based off of the average deal size, the funnel velocity, meaning some pipeline that we're generating this quarter is actually going to be about deals closing next quarter or the following quarter or three quarters out, and then the close rates as well. So what percentage of these pipeline opportunities are actually going to close?

Nani Shaffer:

So we develop those, and actually it is my team, the ABM operations team, that would be developing the pipeline goals for a given quarter that are shared across marketing and sales. That's super, super critical because what we don't want to do as a company, and I do think that this, A, is good for an ABM strategy, but also just for alignment and not getting into attribution work there, we don't differentiate between marketing and sales quote unquote "generated" opportunities. From our perspective, we don't have an ecommerce option, so every opportunity is generated by sales when you think about it. Whether or not it was influenced or impacted or touched by marketing. And what we don't want to do is end up in a situation where marketing is meeting its goals and sales isn't.

Nani Shaffer:

So we sign on for that entire pipeline goal every quarter and collectively as a team need to reach that. When we layer on top of that what percent of those opportunities should be influenced by different marketing campaigns, that's the second level of granularity where we get into that. So pipeline, super, super critical. The other thing, and I had mentioned this a little bit, is overall engagement with our target accounts. So in our case, if we want to talk specifics, we have a target account list of about 4,000 accounts, and in a given quarter, we want to make sure that we're getting engagement with, meaning engagement with an actual marketing campaign membership in a Salesforce campaign, from 1600 of those accounts. And that's based on the amount of pipeline, again, we need to generate because about 75% of our pipeline comes from our target account list.

Nani Shaffer:

So a lot factoring into that, but engagement overall, and the reason that one's critical for us is because it's a good gut check on whether that pipeline goal is going to be able to be met. So if our pipeline goal is, say, 500 and our engagement goal is only 800, well that means they're going to have to convert an awfully huge percentage of those engaged accounts into pipeline opportunities, and that can be a red flag or alarm bell. So we want to make sure as a marketing team that we're delivering what we need to and driving engagement with those accounts to warm them up for sales. So those are two critical ones.

Nani Shaffer:

Last thing I did want to just touch on is attribution. And I think that is, frankly, an area that leaves a lot to be desired, and I think that there is value in trying to piece apart which individual channels are contributing to what revenue dollars, but right now the models are relatively problematic. So my general point of view is that we like to approach things from that holistic account based approach. So when we run campaigns, almost always they're going to be integrated campaigns anyway. We rarely want to run a campaign that's a single channel in a vacuum. Even if we do something like direct mail, a direct mail campaign might be the final piece, the grand ta-da, the thing with a bow around it at the end of the day. But there are emails associated with it. There are webinars that might accompany it. There's advertising that's going out. There's personalization on the website. All related around the same messaging topic or theme, often the same creative and look and feel. It's a really truly integrated multichannel campaign.

Nani Shaffer:

And what that means is that we want to take that cohort of accounts that are receiving that, say there's 500 accounts that are a part of that campaign, and I want to understand how that overall campaign is impacting those 500 accounts and their closeness to becoming customers, and then being able to do comparisons, whether that's against a baseline or against accounts that didn't receive that treatment, because I want to talk about incremental changes, the incremental difference that we're making on that cohort. So rather than saying, if we think about those 500 accounts, at the end of the campaign, we can turn around, or maybe three months after the campaign, we turn around and we say, "Okay there were 500 accounts in that campaign and 100 of them became customers." That would be great.

Nani Shaffer:

What does that mean? Would that have happened anyway? Are we taking credit for all of them? Are we saying zero accounts would have closed? So rather than just saying, "Okay, 100 of them closed, ta-da," we want to be able to compare that cohort to a different group of accounts that didn't receive that multichannel integrated campaign, so it's a different set of firmographically identical 500 accounts and maybe 20 of them closed. So what we can say is, "Well, that means the accounts that were a part of this campaign were five times more likely to close," rather than saying, "Oh, a 100 closed in a vacuum." We can talk about that incremental difference. It's much more helpful language then than trying to assign the credit or blame, I suppose, to any one channel or any one campaign, et cetera.

Franco Caporale:

And so my last question here, in 30 seconds, can you talk to us about the relationship with the SDR and sales team and how do you keep that alignment that is necessarily for ABM?

Nani Shaffer:

The most critical part of an ABM strategy is creating and retaining that relationship with sales and the SDR team. Couple of different things that we've got going on with our SDR team, I would say that campaign owners are extremely close with SDRs overall. Daily communications with individuals, checking in on things, back and forth. They've got a real in depth day to day relationship. We also have more formalized marketing and SDR meetings on a monthly cadence. One thing that's helpful just tactically there, is that we use that as an opportunity to have to shine a spotlight on SDRs that have done a really good job or have found a new or creative way of leveraging a certain type of campaign. So for example, in our last one we did, we had an SDR talk about how they were leveraging e-gifting and they get to share that with each other and it's very helpful for our marketing team also to hear what's working and what's not to maintain that.

Nani Shaffer:

With sales, I think that one of the things that's most helpful for us, we, to this day, and this has been all six plus years that I've been at Demandbase, this meeting has existed, but we have actually a weekly marketing and sales management meeting that we meet every Friday, it's called our funnel working group, and we use that... It's run by ABM operations, so on my team, and we use that as an opportunity to review where we are, first and foremost against our pipeline goals for a given quarter, which is that meeting point between marketing and sales, but that spins off into all sorts of important conversations around breaking that down. Is it particular parts of the business that have a healthy pipeline or unhealthy pipeline? What's broken? Who, and what, and how are we going to fix things? So that is a really healthy relationship to maintain there, or way of maintaining that relationship.

Nani Shaffer:

And then the last point I would make is no matter how advanced or far you are into an account based strategy, or just your B2B strategy in general, it needs to be a continuous cycle with the sales org. It has to be continually nurtured, particularly now when we're all at home and separate from each other. So be sure that you're in constant communication with sales about what you're doing to support them and getting feedback from them about what's working and what's not, and looking to the data to help reinforce and inform what it is that you're doing going forward. So that is really important, because it's easy to see those relationships fizzle out, again, particularly when we're apart from each other.

Franco Caporale:

Nani, It was fantastic having you as a guest on the episode today. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, so thanks again for joining us.

Nani Shaffer:

Thanks so much.