“Why Would you ever do Marketing Unless it was Account-Based?”: Conversations with our Partner Agencies

Today’s conversation is with Jill Melchionda, President of April Six, a global B2B marketing agency that works exclusively in the technology sector, and a certified member of the Demandbase partnership program. Jill has spent the majority of her career at advertising and marketing agencies, running them or contributing to their success, on both the B2B and B2C side. In this blog post, we chat about the evolution of rolling out ABM strategies with customers.

Q: What’s the value of April Six’s participation in the Demandbase Partner Program?
A: April Six launched 19 years ago as a technology marketing agency, very much focused on demand generation and market activation. We have always served a very specific B2B technology client base. We know this category really well, have a great deal of experience across a variety of clients. Over the years, we have evolved our team, capabilities and services to support our clients’ ever-expanding marketing needs. So while demand generation is embedded in nearly every client engagement, we also offer brand identity development, website development, integrated marketing programs, which includes content, PR & influencer capabilities, as well as sales and channel enablement. Our clients represent a mix of large enterprise brands like AWS, Rockwell Automation, HP, Symantec, but we also work with emerging brands who are inventing or disrupting a category. We’ve ridden several cyclical waves where our clients either want a generalist partner who can do lots of things well, or a specialist agency with deep expertise in a niche area of marketing. We’ve opted to expand our services in strategic ways based on our breadth of knowledge and experience and the value we provide to our customers. Our relationship with Demandbase is pivotal. We prioritize the due diligence to identify leaders and align ourselves accordingly. We can’t afford to be agnostic. Our customers demand informed and proven recommendations. Our relationship with Demandbase ensures our first-hand access to the latest ABM innovations and ABM education that is easily the best in the marketplace.

Q: I’ve heard you tell the story of a prospective customer’s Chief Revenue Officer who asked the question “Why would you ever do marketing unless it was account-based?” What sort of insight does that question reveal?
A: Frankly, this was a smart question from someone in his specific position who represented a very niche B2B offering and a narrow audience focus. With his audience and product, he shouldn’t be doing marketing unless it has an ABM foundation. But, that doesn’t mean you can build brand at the account level. More generally, as an agency, we are being asked to provide guidance around the development and implementation of an ABM philosophy on an increasingly frequent basis. The sophistication of even the initial ABM questions we get right out of the gate have been up-leveling and moving beyond “why” to “how”. But at the same time, the basic constraints haven’t gone anywhere; sales and marketing alignment, cultural and organizational shifts, technology, etc. are all still important considerations. In response to this transformation in the marketplace, we’ve arrived at a specialization that helps to establish an ABM model that maximizes insights, takes into considerations the nuances of our customers’ target markets and eschews any sort of cookie-cutter approach so they are set up for success from the outset. We understand that shifting to ABM requires a significant investment in time, resources and budget, so a “basic” approach or one-size-fits-all is not appropriate.

Q: If you had to quickly summarize how ABM has changed marketing for your clients, what word or phrase comes to mind?
A: Seamless. The removal of friction. This is the nirvana we aim to achieve. Technology has fundamentally altered how we interact with our prospects, buyers and customers. We all know that our prospective customers are 80% of the way down the buying journey by the time they arrive at our websites. Now there’s an imperative for us as marketers to re-establish the human connection and create relevant marketing in a digital world. The goal is to create communications that feel personalized and relevant, and that quickly get to the heart of our customers’ pain points, even if we don’t quite know with whom we are speaking. We want to provide them with the information that they need, almost before they know they need it so they can move confidently in the direction of becoming a customer.

Q: What have been some of the biggest surprises as your clients move to an ABM strategy?
A: People look at ABM as being innovative, but the introduction of ABM is actually a great way to fix core B2B marketing issues because the move to ABM is going to bring other fundamental issues to light. Stop talking about your product, start talking about your customers’ challenges. Stop focusing on leads and take a holistic look at your engagement with your target accounts. The success of your ABM strategy is going to rely upon getting the most basic stuff right.

Q: Is advising clients on ABM getting easier?
A: I wish I could give you the answer I think you are looking for! It is still very challenging and it can be more difficult for those organization with legacy systems and practices in place. While we have lots of experience as an agency, each engagement is new to the customer. We guide, coach and warn about potential obstacles, but most of the work still rests with the customer and there has to be a top-down commitment to investing for the long game.

Q: What best practices have emerged in your work with rolling out ABM strategies with clients?
A: Clear lines of delineation between who does what. We’ve created a slide that outlines our recommended approach for clients that are moving towards an ABM approach. The slide is simple, but clear expectations from the outset help the engagement move more smoothly for all the various stakeholders.

Q: Your clients depend on your domain expertise, how do you maintain the requisite level of knowledge, especially in the MarTech space where the pace of innovation can be challenging even for people immersed in the industry and I may or may not be speaking about myself at this point?
A: Focus. We purposefully maintain a highly targeted set of practice areas as well as a select group of focus partners. And we invest our time in training and product knowledge. We understand who the leaders are in each category and that’s where we allocate our time and resources. We also invest in internal training and development. Finally, we silo (in a positive way) our areas of expertise, for example marketing strategy or media planning and buying, and they can be paired with our clients on an as-needed basis.

Q: What’s your number one piece of advice for brands that are looking to engage with partners to roll out an ABM strategy in 2019?
A: Ignore the blogs. Ignore the top 10 lists. You’ve already read them all. Instead, ask your network for recommendations and to share what has worked and what has failed. It will save you so much time and energy.