Jessica Fewless, Author and ABM Leader at Inverta, on How to Build Winning Revenue-Generating Marketing Strategies

In this episode of Selling in the Cloud, our guest is Jessica Fewless, a multi-channel marketer with over twenty years of experience in B2B marketing and sales, with an emphasis on account-based marketing (ABM).

With companies large and small, Jessica has focused on demand generation, field, customer, and partner marketing – and how all of these functions can help acquire and retain customers in concert with their sales counterparts.

She is also the author of Account-Based Marketing: How to Target and Engage Companies That Will Grow Your Revenue.


Full Transcript

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:09] Hello, everyone, and welcome to Selling in the Cloud, a podcast about the business of cloud sales and marketing brought to you by intricately the authoritative source of digital product adoption usage and spend data for sales and marketing teams. I'm Sarah Brown and I'm here with Michael Pollack. And we are your co-hosts. Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Pollack [00:00:40] Sarah, it's great to be here

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:41] in this episode, we're speaking with Jessica Fewless, co-author of Account-Based Marketing: How to Target and Engage the Companies That Will Grow Your Revenue. And, Client Partner at Inverta. Jessica was formerly at Demandbase for more than six years, where she was most recently VP of ABM and Customer Experience. We're looking forward to diving into how cloud marketers can leverage ABM best practices and align with sales and customer success to grow revenue. Shall we dive in?

Michael Pollack [00:01:08] Yeah, let's do it, Jessica. Welcome to the show.

Jessica Fewless [00:01:11] Thanks for having me.

Sarah E. Brown [00:01:12] Can you give a brief introduction and share who you are and brief background for how you got to be where you are today?

Jessica Fewless [00:01:19] Yeah, well, that could be a whole half an hour podcast in and of itself, because it's been definitely a circuitous route for me. But my name is Jessica Fewless and I am now a client partner at Inverta, which is a B2B marketing agency, but probably most recent history. And what's going to be of most interest to your crowd is that I, prior to Avatar, spent about seven years at Demandbase helping build the album category. And it was a really exciting time. You know, when I started at Demandbase, it was like everybody trying to figure out what it was then. They're like, OK, I get it, but how do I do it? Right. And then we had to teach him how to do it, all of that. So at the end of my six years on the marketing side of Demandbase, I was largely an ABM evangelist going around talking to prospects and customers about how do you do ABM? Right. I was spending a good seventy five percent of my time on the road. So much enjoyed the break because of the covid travel restrictions. But then after that, I actually spent my last year at Demandbase and customer experience, which is honestly a experience I wouldn't give up for the world because it's really translated well into my role now. And and Berta, because every customer we're working with. Yes, they want to talk about a cult based marketing or demand jet or leave nurture and those sorts of things. But it always comes around to customer marketing because a lot of marketing teams refocused it on customer marketing as part of not being able to sell as much new business during kind of the cocaine epidemic. So they want to focus on how do we retain and grow as much of our customer business. And so having had that year on that side of the house has really helped with kind of my conversations with folks to help and really think about not just customer marketing, but the full customer lifecycle. And where does marketing actually fit into that?

Michael Pollack [00:02:52] I love that background. I think that makes a lot of sense. And from a trajectory like a career trajectory, that makes enormous sense to move in that direction. I'm curious because you are an expert on ABM and for our audience, which predominantly is marketers and sales leaders. You know, I think ABM's interesting in that for a long time, I'd say with sales, people are doing a relationship based sales is kind of the oldest form of ABM. And I've always viewed ABM is taking what really good relationships sellers are doing and then migrating it into something marketing can do to some extent at scale and in a targeted fashion. I'd ask you, you know, there's a lot of technology that's built around ABM as a concept, and it's a rallying cry. In your point of view, is it as simple as building good relationships with the right prospects in the right messages? Is it more complicated than that? I'm always curious to hear somebody explain AVM to me, like maybe I'm a child or how would you explain it to a child. But I think that's an interesting thing. If something gets lost in some of the noise around babies is its own ecosystem, maybe a means a lot of different things to different people. And it's a multi-billion dollar industry of tools and products and whatnot.

Jessica Fewless [00:03:59] Yeah. So the one thing I've been saying for seven years, to the dismay of probably the sales reps that I worked with at Demandbase, was you can't buy your way into an ABM strategy. Right. Like, you just can't. Like, you have a strategy and you can buy technology to help deploy it and help get the most efficiency and effectiveness out of it. But you've got to start with the fundamentals. Right? And I mean, I have been around so long that I remember target account selling back in the day, which was kind of sales its first it. Right. But it was purely a sales play. And every once in a while they would come to marketing and say, hey, I need a custom deck or I need you to send them something like that was kind of the way sales and marketing cooperated around target accounts selling, then flip that on its head. Them ABM came out and I would argue we probably misnamed it a based marketing. Right, because it's much more it has to be a coordinated effort between sales and marketing. Right. So marketing responded because what was happening was, you know, marketing had previously been trying to play the numbers game and generate more and more and more leads to make sure that they got enough in that bucket that would actually turn into an opportunity or close one business and marketing teams going to keep scaling like that. Budget and resources just didn't allow for it to marketers how to think smarter about how they could do to manage it and how they could make their budgets go further and have a greater impact to revenue. Right. And that impact on revenue is, I would say, a new focus of marketers in the last five to 10 years. Right before that, it was all about leads, volume. So when the concept of a based marketing started to come around first, it came around around the one to one. So kind of that target account selling one to one ABM, where instead of marketing, just doing sales, spinning when they needed a custom demo or something like that, marketing and sales would actually sit down at the table together and say, OK, for our plan for this year, here's how we're going to surround and tackle this account. Right. So that's kind of where one to one album came from. Right. But as its email tell you, each marketer can really only handle three to five accounts, Max, on that one to one basis. So it doesn't scale really well. So then fast forward to like twenty eleven. When Chris Golok started Demandbase, he's like, that's great. But there's got to be a way to scale this. And that's kind of where Demandbase was born from, was that ability to scale ABM to what we now call one Domine ABM and what folks over in the UK will say every time I would present over there, they're like, well one of many ABM that's just good marketing. And you're like, you're right. It is. It is just good marketing. Right? It's like, why try and find these channels and tactics that can, like, get to everybody you could possibly ever sell to write like your budget doesn't go very far that way or rearrange that budget and work with your sales team, pick their top set of accounts that they want to bring in, want to sell to bring some data to the table to actually validate that list, not just sales as a wish list. And then once everybody aligns on that list, OK, once again, just like the one to one Abia, what role does marketing play? What role does sales play? How are they coordinated? How do they work together to increase close rates, funnel velocity and average deal size?

Michael Pollack [00:07:16] You made a comment in there that just stuck with me about the notion that ABM fundamentally moves marketing closer to the revenue, which I think completely makes sense. And I guess I'd ask you, is the ultimate validation of ABM being effective today that most modern marketing awards have a revenue pipeline goal? Is that the validation that prior to ABIM they were the deliver the leads deliver the leads type department and now it's much more about we're in enablement function for our sales counterparts are we help accelerate that function? Do my characterizing that right?

Jessica Fewless [00:07:52] One hundred percent. And part of it was because marketing really didn't do much but top of the funnel. Right. So they were like, well we don't really have an impact on revenue. Right. That's sales job. Right. We get all the names in the context of the leads and then we toss them over to sales and good luck. Right. But now marketers, I don't know if they've been expected to or if they chose to. That would be an interesting conversation, you know, be more attached to that revenue number. Right. And work further and further down the funnel. So it's not just top of the funnel stuff, but even after an account is talking to a sales rep. Right. What can marketing do? How can they change their message to help ensure that that account keeps talking, keeps moving down the funnel? Right. And one of the proposals in front of that, what can marketing do? I mean, a lot of marketers today still don't think that they have a role to play. There's also sales reps out there who are like, I got this right. Like, I don't really need to talk. I don't need marketing in my account. They're just going to screw it up. Right. Like, I got this. So so there's definitely still even though ABM has been kind of a household name, I'd say, for at least the last five, six years, there's still some convincing that has to go on. I mean, I'm working with a client right now where their sales teams, like no trade shows, are the best way for us to get soon. So. So you had no leads in the last year and a half? Oh, no. Our digital team has been doing stuff and like. So did you hit your number last year? Well, yeah. So digital marketing worked. Yeah. But we just can't wait to get back to trade shows. So it's going to take a little while to bring them around. But I mean, it's a much more fulfilling way to be a marketer, quite honestly, to say, hey, I did that. I ran a program that generated that much revenue for the company. Like, that's huge. I mean, that's just I don't know. To me, it's much, much more fun being a marketer in that respect.

Michael Pollack [00:09:40] One thing that always struck me as a company's marketing made a comment that it probably is not named correctly, but really it's accountability based marketing to some extent, and it's accountability around. We're producing pipeline. Let's quantify and validate that pipeline works. And like anything that's scientific in orientation, you can easily assess it and understand where it's working and not working versus, say, trade shows. We were like, hey, look, we counted all the business cards that were in the fishbowl and we got a lot of them, you know, and who knows? We'll see how they turn out. So it is an interesting thing just around things that get measured, get managed and once things get managed to get approved. And so, again, moving to an accountability approach, the quantified approach or an approach that's easily ascertainable in that way makes much more sense.

Jessica Fewless [00:10:28] Well, an even trade shows like it's all about how you think about them. Like, I'm not saying you shouldn't do trade shows. Right. Or virtual events or those sorts of things, but it's your approach to them. And this was six or seven years ago now. But when we switch to marketing at Demandbase, we lost three event managers in a row because we said, well, you're accountable for a pipeline. No, not just a number of scams or people who attend our party. Right. You're accountable for pipeline, which is a very different mindset for a lot of folks. I think event managers caught up with the trend. Now they get it. But it's like, no, it's not about the booze scandal. It's about quality interactions. And how do you enable those quality interactions as the person running the event? Right. To your point, is that accountability? Right. Are you being accountable to that revenue?

Sarah E. Brown [00:11:14] I love what you mentioned about events, managers having pipeline numbers. And I'm thinking about what you said earlier around aligning sales and marketing and and even bringing in customer success across the entire lifecycle. I'm curious, what role do marketers play in aligning all of these functions? And in the ABM programs, maybe you are running with your clients. How do you help them think about that and do that successfully?

Jessica Fewless [00:11:36] Yeah, it's really interesting because I have clients where ABB is actually being led by marketing and then I have others where it's being led by sales, which is a unique kind of perspective. And then when you start talking to customer success or customer marketing, they're like, well, we've always, whatever, because they're like we've got a discrete customer list that there are countless year. So it's really interesting talking to all of those. But that's actually the really fun part of my job, is that I actually get to come in as like marriage counselor between sales and marketing. One's on board and one's kind of on the fence, right. Coming in and just talking about the like, hey, you know, here's the give to get right. If you give a little bit on the sales side, give us a little bit of your time to help inform our strategy. Here's what you're going to actually get in return. And yeah, I know it seems scary because you're going to get less leads, right. But they're going to be higher quality at least, or you're going to be chasing less junk. Right. Or your SDR is going to be chasing less junk so they can focus on outbound. Right. And you just start having that kind of circular reasoning conversation. And most sales reps on the sale side will come along. Most sales leaders these days get it right. It's the sales reps sometimes that need to come along. But like I said, I've seen it on the other side where sales is like we want to call based marketing and the marketing teams just like, well, but that's not the way we do things and we're not set up to do it that way. And, you know, and it's like, hey, guys, look. And I can look at some of these budget and get them the ten reasons why they need to do avium. Right. It's like, wow, you're spending a lot of money on trade shows, but like, what are you getting for it? But can you actually tell me what you're getting for those trade shows? You spent a lot on Google AdWords, OK, what are you getting for that? Right. And really start going line by line item and saying, hey, look, guys, if you shuffled a little bit here and a little bit there, you'd have a much more efficient set of tactics. And, oh, by the way, sales might actually value what you do because today they don't. They see you guys as the arts and crafts to. Right, and so when your CMO goes and asks for more budget next year and he doesn't get it. You wonder why, right? You need to tie yourself to the revenue to get more budget, more headcount to continue to grow with the company,

Michael Pollack [00:13:46] you know, as I listen to this, it's just so interesting, like when we talk to our customers about ABM and again, we're a data provider. So we're in this ecosystem. And I generally find that I simply replace the word ABM with the word focus. And people are like, oh, yeah, focus. That makes complete sense. But ABM, that's totally confusing. And you're like, huh, interesting. That's so strange that you can't see the distinction. But it's an interesting thing. And there's something you said and I have a theory a little bit just around that the fundamental job of most organizations today, particularly marketing, is not to spend a lot of time qualifying, but to build systems and processes that disqualify efficiently. The fundamental challenge is most sales organizations and most salespeople in general are predisposed to try and turn every maybe into a yes. And most customers would much rather say maybe than no. And so what you have is this vicious cycle where the sales organization spends all this time trying to turn maybes to yesses when in reality there's lots of ugly yeses all around them that they don't want to see. And therein is the fundamental challenge. And again, sales and marketing collectively are art and science at different points. And the more you can deploy that science to support the art, the more it's likely to be successful. But it's interesting, we spend a lot of time with our customers saying that actually you want less leads and immediately people viscerally are like, how dare you? That's a ridiculous comment. But no, if you're a sales organization could be leaner and more efficient and spend less time with less maybes and more time with more yeses, you run a wildly more efficient organization. You have less people doing less busy work. And it's interesting that to your point, many organizations are architected. I don't want to say that they're fat and lazy or something like that, but that they're built in such a way that it's really hard to make those cuts. It's really hard to say, wow, we could actually cut our sales team in half and not change the bottom line at all because we could focus those efforts. And I think therein is the interesting challenge that some marketers existentially are quantitatively oriented who say, how can I do it any other way? And then I think there's a subset of sales and marketing organizations where they say, no, I've been doing it this way and it worked for me. Trade show is being one example. We're going to pick on that, when used correctly, make an enormous amount of sense. But when used casually, it's easy to call maybe them for the boondoggle that they can be, but not always our kind of thing.

Jessica Fewless [00:16:17] Right. And getting to the data side of things like my favorite thing to do with companies when they're embarking on account based marketing, there's an art and a science to building the target account list, but there's also an art and science to the whole funnel, you know, workflow and lead management. And so my favorite question, when crafting the target of countless and also talking about kind of the lead flow is, hey, customer success. What accounts do you want to have? Right, and talking to them about like what accounts are good accounts for you, which accounts are going to turn right? Because I can't remember which one of you said it, but it's like, what deals do you want to walk away from when it is really hard for sales to take? But that's where that alignment at the highest, most level becomes really important to say, look, like CEO, you care about not only new business, but you also care about your retention rate. And so if we continue to sell this category of deal, it's going to churn at a 50 percent rate. Do you want to tell your board that or should we stop selling those deals? OK, great, you agree on that. So now you have to tell your CRO. You need to tell their sales leaders that we will no longer be selling those deals and, you know, SDR all the way down to the SDR level. They're not going to get their quota or whatever their KPIs are. It's not going to go towards their goals. Right. Because it's a deal that falls outside of the ICP, of the company that everybody up and down the company has aligned to, including pro sales and sales marketing all the way up to the CEO. Right.

Sarah E. Brown [00:17:53] I love what you're talking about. In terms of ICP. It's actually something that we talk about with our customers a lot and our prospects of actually your ICP changes. And you have to stay on top of who are really your target buyers. And how do we use data, you know, a variety of sources of data, including data that marketers, they shouldn't be holding for themselves, they should be sharing. And so how do you share that data and ensure that customer success and sales get to see it and understand it so along those lines. I'm curious, you know, working with your prospects of revenue leaders, what's something you wish they knew? Maybe this is a conversation you find yourself having, even with sort of elite marketers and sellers. What's something that you wish everyone in the industry knew that maybe they don't know out of the gate?

Jessica Fewless [00:18:33] ABIM is not a cure all for things that are broken inside of your organization. My favorite question to ask a company, when I you know, we've already sold the deal, I come in first meeting with them. I'm like, why do you guys want to do a billion? And I let them tell me, it's like, what do you think I'm going to sell for you? Right. It's like I know you've hired us to do EBM, but I just want to make sure we're on the same page here as to what ABMs going to do for you. Right. And it's not a catch all if you're going to do it. Well, you know, everybody always wants to do a pilot and it's like, OK, you can ascertain some things from a pilot, but it is a fundamental organizational change to do account based marketing versus traditional demand, a fundamental right. And like I said, all the way, depending on the size of the organization, potentially up to the CEO needs to understand a core base marketing and why the whole revenue organization, and I would argue marketing is part of the revenue organization, should be moving towards a core based marketing. And so with that in mind, it's like, hey, we can lay out a five step process that's going to get you to be like a bam nirvana. But it's not going to be overnight and you can't just do quick wins. You need to think about it as a fundamental shift in the way you go to market. So that's what I wish they all understood.

Michael Pollack [00:19:50] I think that's a great point, and I think it's just so interesting to think about where this problem emanates from. If you look at about a decade ago or maybe even a decade and a half ago, with the rise of true marketing automation products, you could blast emails to this large universe, right? You could use digital marketing to get to this large universe. But if you just, like, think about how you would sell in a physical storefront, you wouldn't just, like, shout at people to come into your store. You wouldn't just, like, bombard anybody. When people are in your store and they're browsing and they're behaving like their buyers, you'd allocate salespeople to them. If there were like children playing in your store who probably aren't going to spend money in your store, you might not spend time with them. And it's totally logical how most people look at an in-person sales situation and say, OK, wait, I'm going to allocate my energy to focus on the people who look or anticipate what I think or have some signal are most likely to buy. And yet, in a digital construct, that kind of goes out the window sometimes and again, because of the cornucopia of tools that are out there and like the fact that most marketing words, I'd say potentially have gorged at the tool buffet buying all these tools, the notion of taking a step back and saying how do we focus? So again, we put the most amount of wood behind. The least amount of arrow is almost counterintuitive because, again, it leads to a more focused, potentially less spend, less sized up or which again, for a lot of people is a tough pill to swallow, even though it may mean it's better for the organization, it's better for your sales counterparts, it's better for the board and the CEO who's trying to say I'm focused. And so it's so interesting when you think about the problem, because it seems so obvious. But I recognize for many of the customers you work with and from many of our clients, are people working through this, it's not that easy to see. And the biggest challenge to the point you raised around you can't buy ABM is process debt and process challenge that needs to be fixed before you can get the benefits of strategy and tactics changes. But I don't know. That's my observation.

Jessica Fewless [00:21:56] Well, old habits are hard to break, you know. I mean, that's the other thing, too, as B2B marketers for decades that we've been trained in quantity, quantity, quantity. And like I'm working with a client now who's hosting their annual that used to be their annual like conference. And it was more of an industry conference, not a product conference, but they moved it online, obviously, last year. They're doing it again online. And I mean, the registration goal is just like, wait, what? Like, why do you need that many people? Right. And then I asked, I'm like, OK, so that's your goal. Tens of thousands of people call, what's your pipeline goal? Great. And like, I can get you to your pipeline, go on half as many registrants if we focus on getting the right people to attend the event. Right. It's like you don't need to have tens of thousands to hit that pipeline. No pipeline numbers, actually, not that big. So it's like, is this just a popularity thing? Like if you have tens of thousand people sign up for your conference, like you do feel popular? Like what? So what's the point of, like, stressing out your marketing team to hit this number when really the important number is the pipeline goal? Right. And you can do that with a lot fewer registrants right now. That's coming from a CEO and not a bad CEO, great CEO. But he's just used to some of these like more vanity metrics.

Sarah E. Brown [00:23:20] I love your use of the phrase vanity metrics. And what I'm also appreciating is you're saying, you know, these tactics can work. We need to use them the right way and we need to target the right accounts, the right people within those accounts to make sure they're impactful. And so just for anyone listening to this, we are not saying no trade shows. We are saying to them strategically,

Jessica Fewless [00:23:38] I know that's what you're conveying.

Sarah E. Brown [00:23:40] Know, I'm wondering in that vein, what advice would you give for folks who are maybe they've done their pilots, maybe they've bought into the ABM. They've read your book, which is phenomenal, by the way, and we'll link to it in the show notes. But they're ready to scale. They're ready for the next stage. What advice would you give those people listening to take it to the next level and increase their ROIC?

Jessica Fewless [00:23:59] I think really, like I said, it needs to be an organizational change and make sure that at the highest levels of the sales organization, they're on board. That's the first thing like the CMO and the CRO have to be on board. If they're not, there's so many different areas where there can be cracks, chink in the armor, cracks. And in your strategy, if those two folks that I've worked with, Fortune 500 companies, and that's a big ask to get those people on board, but it kind of has to be done otherwise because the goals, the strategies, the KPIs all come from the top. And so if you're CMO is still holding you accountable to lead metrics. Right. But the crossing what we care about Pipeline and your SDR team is in the middle. Right. Who do they listen to? Who they care about? Well, the person who's going to pay their paycheck, which is probably on the sales side. Right. So they're not going to follow up on all your marketing campaigns. Right. So it really needs to come from the top and you really need to kind of explain the the efficiency and that. And there's so many companies out there now that have success stories. Right, like round account based marketing. This isn't an unproven strategy. It's different. Right. And to your point, if you're like, yep. And you're going to get less leads, scary. But when you can say, I mean, I've got a million pocket stories and I can say like, hey, I decreased leads by 20 percent at one company, but increase their conversion rate from by 50 percent. Guess which one ended up being better off for everybody, right, but it's a leap of faith. But like I said, you know, at this point, nobody is going to be the first person to do it. Nobody's going to lose their job for doing ABM. But you have to take the time and you have to do it right and you have to gain that alignment at the highest level. Otherwise it will sputter. It may still succeed, but it won't have the kinds of gains that you expect out of an ABM strategy.

Sarah E. Brown [00:25:49] That's awesome. So for people who are listening, who'd like to learn more about you and your work, where should we direct them to?

Jessica Fewless [00:25:54] Yeah, so I am the only Jessica Fewless, on LinkedIn, so you can find me there very easily. I'm with a company called Inverta. So Inverta dot com is our website and I'm always open to connections on LinkedIn. I'm open to emails. I love geeking out about a company's marketing, if you can't tell. So always happy to answer questions, then, you know, when the world opens up again. I actually have three requests in my inbox right now on LinkedIn from people to actually sign their books, which is really, I was like, wow, OK, so that's a thing! Cool. And they're like, well when when we start going to trade shows, I'll just bring it with me. OK, I'll bring my pink Sharpie and we'll be off to the races.

Sarah E. Brown [00:26:39] Fantastic. Jessica, thank you so much.

Jessica Fewless [00:26:41] Thank you both.

Michael Pollack [00:26:42] Well, that's it for us. And this episode may be over, but we can continue the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #SellingInTheCloud. On Twitter. I'm @MRPollack.

Sarah E. Brown [00:26:52] And I'm @SEBMarketing.

Michael Pollack [00:26:53] Thanks to everyone for joining us for this episode of Selling the Cloud, brought to you by the Intricately, the authoritative source of digital product adoption, usage, and spend data. If you like the show, head on over to iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, and please give us a review. We appreciate it. Until next time.

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