Welcome to episode twenty-eight of the SaaS Backwards podcast, where we interview CEOs and CMOs of fast-growing SaaS firms to reveal what they are doing that's working, and lessons learned from things that didn't work as planned.
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How to successfully launch Account-Based Experiences with Bazaarvoice’s Jen Leaver
WithJen Leaver, Senior Global ABM Manager at Bazaarvoice
Edited for clarity and readability
Host, Ken Lempit:
Welcome everyone to SaaS Backwards, a podcast that helps SaaS CMOs and CEOs to accelerate growth and enhance profitability. Our guest today is Jen Leaver, who leads account-based marketing at Bazaarvoice, a SaaS that helps brands and retailers to grow revenue by leveraging user generated content. Before we get started, Jen, please tell our listeners a little bit about you and what Bazaarvoice does.
Thank you for the intro. I've been in the marketing space a little over a decade now. I've worked with B2C and B2B brands on the agency side and the client side. Moving into the B2B side of the world, I was introduced to ABM about six years ago, and it really resonated with me in terms of the strategy. It makes so much sense for B2B brands to be leaning into this framework and this go-to-market motion. So it's one that I've really leaned into and have been able to implement at a few companies at this point. So it's been a really fun journey.
And in terms of Bazaarvoice, like you mentioned, we provide eCommerce brands with the ability to showcase user generated content both on their ECOM sites and then across all of their retail partners. We get to work with some of the top brands around the world like Unilever, Nestle, L'Oreal, Nike, and many others.
ABM makes a lot of sense, if you can identify who your top customers and prospects are, right? You can really focus your energies on them, and that's going to be the topic of the podcast is how do we take advantage of an account-based orientation for our marketing and customer success.
When you came into the company, you mentioned that ABM was not really working, and you were brought to right the ship. Can you kind of set the table for us and what was happening and the kind of problems you saw with ABM?
We had done ABM in the past, but it was very ad hoc. It was more so around a particular product launch where we would identify maybe top 20 accounts that we wanted to go after.
The sales enablement process was very manual, and the sales team viewed it as just giving them a list to target and outreach to. And we also didn't have a way to scale it across both our SMB and enterprise accounts, looking at it through the acquisition, grow and retain lens.
When I came on board, the first step was to bring on an ABM tool to help us tap into intent data and engagement data so we could identify which accounts were currently in-market versus which ones we just think might be a good fit.
Leaning into the data helped to determine which accounts should make our strategic list, and then we could use the data and insights to enable our sales team.
I’m starting to think of ABM through the lens of account-based experience (ABX) because it goes beyond the marketing motion and includes the sales interactions. It includes customer success interactions. It includes how product marketing is thinking about activating these accounts and how we continue to evolve our solutions to really touch on and speak to the pain points that our key top personas are trying to solve for.
It’s fully baked into your go to market strategy as an organization when you start to move into that ABX model.
That’s why it was necessary to build out the tech stack to support that from the marketing side and also the sales enablement side, and then find a way for us to scale our campaigns, not only in North America, but across our global regions as well.
Product-led growth companies talk a lot about flipping their funnel or having an integrated view between acquisition and success and customer lifetime value. And it looks like this might be a framework to allow an enterprise approach with the same kind of integrated view of the life cycle of prospect and customer. I don't know if you've thought about it that way, but I'm just sort of wondering if it resonates for you?
Absolutely. I think that when you look at your customer base, that's your low hanging fruit, right? That is your easiest area for growth.
You should still consider your customers as prospects if:
- They haven't bought into every solution that you offer. So there's white space opportunity.
- To make sure that you're retaining those customers year over year. It's not a one and done sort of interaction or relationship that you have with your customer base. It goes on throughout the entire life cycle. And that's when you start to look at ABM outside of just the lens of driving revenue growth, but also figuring out how are we creating a community with our current customer base. How are we using that community to identify our best-in-class customers to build on the advocacy side of the house and then use that advocacy to help feed the beginning of the funnel and just have that full kind of flywheel effect with your customer base to help bring on those net new logos?
It comes full circle.
I also want to talk just a little bit about account-based experience. Maybe we can kind of define that a little bit and talk about it in terms of the context of being an evolution out of ABM.
ABM is when you start as an organization to look at how you’re treating strategic accounts differently than you treat every account that's within our ICP (Ideal Client Profile) or within our TAM (Total Addressable Market).
When you start to involve those other teams across the organization (sales and customer service), and you look at every touch point for this account, and how do to make it personalized and it tailored to them, then you start to move beyond it just being a marketing motion and it starts to become how are you moving these accounts through the funnel.
How are you continuing to grow and retain these accounts if they're already customers with all of those other levers being pulled in tandem?
So, it goes beyond that marketing motion--it's starting to involve sales, customer success, product marketing, and every touch point that you're putting that account through.
When you're looking at it through that lens, marketing is no longer doing this thing in a silo and they're just running targeted ads, it becomes a critical part of the organization's go-to-market strategy.
So that's the way I look at it--it starts to move beyond that marketing motion to incorporate those other teams across the organization to really make sure that we're creating that tailored custom experience for those accounts across every touchpoint they have with us.
That’s a beautiful vision and it makes perfect sense. But when you came in, ABM had a bad reputation, I guess would be fair to say. How did you work through the organization to get alignment around those concepts? How you get people, the stakeholders in your organization to join you in this journey?
One of the things I did was I had to look at it from how do I get my sales team on board and how do I get sales leadership on board? Because marketing traditionally is probably one of the first teams that's on board with ABM that get it.
They're like, “Yep, this makes total sense. This is super smart. Why haven't we done this?”
The hard sell is with sales, because it also requires a lot of change management to get them on board, especially if you're coming from a lead-based model and you're moving into an account-based model. So what I did is when we onboarded our ABM tool, our ABM software, I created a pilot program.
And I had a five-minute slot to sell this ABM tool to sales. And I basically said, "Look guys, I can show you. I can give you the data to show you exactly where to fish and what to use as bait in your messaging to your accounts. I can tell you which accounts are actually in the market and ready to have a conversation before they fill out a form on our website."
And so created kind of a lottery system for those sales reps to opt in and volunteer to be a part of this pilot program. So they got early exclusive access to this tool. There were about 16 of them in the group. And our sales force is a little under 200 people.
It sounds like you created some excitement and a little bit of sort of self-selecting the people that want to innovate. That's a great idea.
Absolutely. And so that helps you identify who your “sales friendly's” are.
It also helps identify who your top performers are on this sales team because you want to make sure that they're really going to lean into this tool and not just look at it as an easy out for them to make their quota and make their numbers or reach their activity numbers for the week.
Once you’ve got that sales team on board for the pilot, and you can show that they were able to open doors quicker, they were able to set meetings more quickly, they were able to open up opportunities and those opportunities were actually closing.
Then we had that kind of internal advocacy start to spread across the sales team. So at that point I was having my sales team sell to sales and it was also helping kind of create that sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) across the sales org too of, “Hey, they're closing X amount revenue, why don't I have access to it? How do I get my hands on that goodness?”
So, that was the way that we approached it at Bazaarvoice. And then it just really kind of took off from there.
I love that organic way of getting so sales engaged in the process. That's very cool.
Yeah. And another important note to make on starting with a pilot, especially when you're coming into an organization where they haven't done ABM before, there's going to be change management involved, and there's going to be a lot of kinks that you need to work out along the way.
When you're able to test that with a smaller group and streamline that process, leverage them to understand how you are using the data-(What's working, what's not, etc.) then you can build out dashboards and ensure that it's actionable for you as a salesperson.
That helps you create a very streamlined rollout for the wider sales org than just throwing it out there to the masses and then triaging everything else that might come back in.
That was another way for us to work out the kinks before rolling it out more broadly.
I want to talk a little bit more about that rollout and measurement. You hinted at it in terms of things that were outcomes of the program, but I'm wondering what are the KPIs that matter now to you and how did you influence the organization to look at measuring different things as important as form fills? You're away from the MQL now, so how did you get the organization to come along on that ride with you?
I think that's a really important point and I think it’s something that a lot of organizations miss when they're rolling out ABM, especially because ABM is such an exciting topic.
When people are talking about launching ABM, they think “We're going to close so many deals! We're going to earn so much revenue!” and it doesn't work like that overnight.
It’s important to make sure that you level-set based on expectations. The way that I like to back into it is I look at it through the lens of short term KPIs and where you can find the early wins, and what we should be looking for as indicators of success.
For example, I look at our click-through rates, impressions, and whether we're getting in front of the right accounts. Is our message resonating? How is that translating into website engagement? Are they starting to move from just engaging with our resources and starting to engage more with product pages or solution pages? What does that journey look like?
We also leverage content experiences that we make custom for specific accounts, whether it's us trying to upsell a particular product or industry specific or what have you.
We also want to look at what that engagement looks like from a content perspective. Are we seeing them reading and engaging with more content? How long does that engagement last? Who are the people who are actually engaging with it? Are we still just reaching our influencers? Are we starting to reach more of our decision makers, our VP level, our C-suite director level folks? And then with that engagement, then I start to look at it through the lens of how many net-new contacts are we starting to create. Who are those people that are those net new contacts that are coming into our database for sales to start to reach out to?
And then from those contacts, what does that sales engagement look like? And then how do we look at that from meeting sets?
Those are all early KPIs.
Then we start to move into the full funnel metrics because you're not going to have pipe generated and opportunities created and close one revenue right off the bat either.
So, looking at it from the early wins, moving into the full funnel metrics, then you can start to look at later stage sales funnel metrics like pipe generated opportunities, created average deal size, deal velocity, things of that nature.
With a large sales force, you can test the impact, right? Can you get statistically relevant in sites in terms of the account performance?
We can. And the other thing that I also like to do as an A/B test is if it's possible.
I like to also look at things through having a group of accounts that we are targeting actively versus a control group. There are lookalike accounts, firmographic, demographic-- they all look the same, but some of them are in our active campaigns and they have that active sales outreach happening in tandem with marketing.
Others are sitting out there not getting the same level of love that some of our target accounts are. And so when you're able to actually look at how we are moving accounts forward in the funnel (the ones that we're actually targeting versus the ones that are sitting in the control group) you can show that lift.
That’s also an important way to look at it so you can show how you're moving the needle forward. And it's not just everything kind of being lumped into one target account list or one segment.
Awesome. Let’s come back to that because I know you had a case study you wanted to touch on. So you have sales involvement, but I think in the prep session, you also talked about much higher level involvement within your organization. Can you shed some light on what you're doing and why you're doing it?
Sure—again, you can have sales involved, but if you don't have the necessary support from the top down, it's going to fall flat.
One of the things that I worked hard to do is to make sure that I had biweekly syncs with sales leadership, both on the SMB side and the enterprise side, and then our global revenue leaders as well, just to have a touch base. Sometimes it's just us getting together and just talking about life. And other times it's us getting into the weeds of the metrics and campaign success and who's going to be on our list for our next one to one account and things of that nature.
It's important to make sure that you establish those relationships both on the business side and just on the personal side, just like you would in sales, right? That to me is my target audience that I need to make sure that I continue to keep engaged.
So, having those ongoing syncs sharing the data, sharing the insights that you're seeing from the success of your campaigns helps keep them excited and helps them understand the value that ABM is bringing to the table when you have that sales and marketing motion running alongside each other.
You also mentioned that getting your C-suite engaged with customers at that same level. Is that something you also test the impact of?
Yes. So when it comes to our strategic one-to-one accounts, typically those campaigns are reserved for our enterprise level accounts and we try to match stakeholders from our side to C-level stakeholders on the account side.
We also do a lot of research around the account so that we understand what they are saying in their annual review calls, what they’re saying out in the public, what the press is saying about them, whether or not there are any interviews.
We pull any sort of messaging about X company that we can leverage when we approach them. That way, we're aligning our partnership to their business goals. We also do a deep dive on the industry as well, just to understand trends and how that might be affecting the decisions that they're making on their end.
And then we tailor that and bake that into custom assets that our C-suite uses as door openers, or as ways to engage with the C-suite on the account side. That is things like custom e-Brochures or eBooks that feature the stakeholders on the account side, personalized videos from our CMO or our CEO, that they're sending directly to their counterparts at the account.
So there's a lot of different ways that we engage. We also do intimate events like sales VIPs, lunch and learns to help build those relationships with some of those higher ups and make those connections.
I think that's awesome. It's good to just reveal a little bit of that, because I think it's too easy to just see it as a technology play within the marketing organization and it's really a holistic relationship with your clients and prospects.
Well it's the same way that I look at how I activate my sales team, right? There's a way that I activate my day to day sales reps. And then there's a way that I activate and engage with my sales leadership.
It's the same way with the account because you have to have that top down approach and you've got to pull different levers based on the audience that you're trying to get in front of and move the needle forward with.
One idea we touched on in the prep session was that lead generation doesn't go away, demand generation doesn't go away. I think there's potential for people to feel threatened when ABM is introduced into an organization. Can you speak briefly about the synergy that you see among the main activities of a marketing organization that's deeply invested in ABX?
Yeah. I think that when you think about marketing holistically, you must understand what the intersection looks like between brand demand and advocacy.
Those all have a place in the marketing function and demand gen and looking at things from a lead basis, I don't believe it should necessarily go away because you should always be capturing demand.
You should always be creating that avenue to bring in net new accounts and net new contacts. You're also always going to have hand raisers that come to your website and fill out the contact form, right?
So why would you ignore those leads that are coming in and only look at things through an account-based lens?
I do think that there is a world where both should be running in tandem and that you shouldn't necessarily replace one for the other because both bring different value to the table.
Well, sure. Your lead generation is not going to be helping you grow an existing account at least unlikely to, right?
Right. Exactly. It might help surface net-new contacts, but for the most part, if you really understand your account inside and out, you know who those stakeholders are. You look at it through a completely different lens at that point.
Absolutely. You had mentioned a case study that you wanted to talk about briefly, is this a good time just to sort of talk about a specific account and what you did and what the outcomes were?
Yeah. This is one example that I launched last year targeting a particular industry that we're trying to get into. It was my first attempt at having a truly ABM centric campaign in-market, and then having that sales motion run alongside it.
What I did was I partnered with two sales reps (I mentioned earlier, we have around 200 globally) and we targeted the food and beverage industry. There were 141 total accounts that rolled up to them. We looked at those accounts and we said, "Okay, out of those 141, which ones are actually in-market? Which ones are showing intent? Which ones are showing engagement? Let’s shorten that or narrow that universe down just a little bit so it was digestible for the sales rep to manage and for us to leverage.
This also helped us create a control group.
We whittled 141 total accounts down to 32 that were showing intent (showing in market signals). And the goal was to drive pipeline and new business and increase the velocity across those target accounts.
We then launched targeted display ads in LinkedIn to those in-market targets.
Those ran for about three weeks before sales started stepping in with Outreach (to help us create awareness within those buying groups.) We targeted everyone from director level and above at those target accounts, and then we used industry specific messaging and imagery in the ads, pointing to industry specific content experiences—content curated for food and beverage and the challenges they're trying to solve.
We also had email banner marketing that the sales reps used when they were doing outreach.
So, the message they were seeing online was also being seen when the salesperson was interacting with them.
We launched custom chatbot playbooks and used direct mail. So from a channel and tactics perspective, that was kind of our mix. That ran it for about six months.
The first thing that I looked at was the early KPIs. For example, our click through rates. They were two times higher than any click through rate that we had ever had with broader stage campaigns.
Our LinkedIn click through rate was four times higher than our typical LinkedIn campaigns.
And then we saw a website engagement lift of 34% across those target accounts. Having that control group really allowed us to see and compare apples to apples.
We also saw huge engagement metrics within the content experiences that we created.
Unique visitors increased, our number of sessions increased, our average session time, number of assets viewed--all of those were trending in the right direction.
From that we were able to gain 33 net new contacts across those 35 accounts. We had five meetings created.
In terms of full funnel metrics, we were able to increase pipeline generation by 129%, opportunities created increased by 57%, opp one increased by a hundred percent, our deal velocity increased by 122%. Triple digit numbers across the board.
At the end of the day, we won just under $75,000 in closed/won revenue within the first six months of this campaign.
It was a really incredible start!
Using that pilot program and using those “sales friendly's” to help drive this forward was definitely key in showing the success and in getting other people on board with it.
That's awesome. Thank you for sharing so much there. Tell me about the future. What are you planning next? How will ABX continue to expand at Bazaarvoice?
We’re leaning more into the one-to-one side of things and looking at our book of business in terms of our current customer base where we have white space opportunity.
Bazaarvoice was fortunate enough to acquire two new companies over the last three years, and we have new service offerings that we can use to really expand and grow these current accounts.
We also want to make sure that we're providing and being the best partner for our current customer base. So definitely making the switch to look at things more so from the customer lens while still having the acquisition plays in-market, but really kind of doubling down on how do we really grow our customer base and get them to lean into those holistic UGC strategies that we can bring to the table for them. So that's the evolution that we're looking at Bazaarvoice, at least in the short term time horizon.
Cool. And you sort of mentioned there's some technology operating here, but what's the main elements of the tech stack for you guys in this domain?
Yeah. So do you want me to list out specific names that I'm using?
Sure. Why not?
Specific partners I'm working with? Yeah. So when I first came on board, we had just Marketo Salesforce. We had Salesloft, so super sales heavy on the tech side. Over the last two years, we were able to bring on our ABM tech. So we started with Terminus and then we just moved into a relationship with 6sense. We've also brought on Cigster for the email marketing banners, Sendoso for direct mail, Drift for the chat bot plays on our website. And then we also partner with Pathfactory for those curated content experiences. So definitely an evolution from when I started back in 2020, we have a lot more MarTech in place to help support ABM and scale.
Yeah. So it's interesting. We had Helen Baptist of PathFactory on the show. It was a great episode for those who haven't heard it.
I love her.
You also talk about intent data in this space, and I think I just want to make sure people understand what intent data is, but also, what are the intent signals you're looking at that make for a potential prospect for Bazaarvoice?
Great question. We look at if we can bring in any branded keywords.
Luckily, Bazaarvoice is an intent topic that we can bring in, so that helps. We also look at anything that is product specific and then broader product terms--things like user-generated content or product launch-- things that would indicate that there is a need for a particular solution that we offer.
And then the way that we serve that up to sales is to cluster that based on our product grouping. Then we can say, "Okay, if an account is spiking on these 10 terms that are related to sampling, there's probably a pretty strong play here in terms of a sampling opportunity that could be created with the account."
And then we also look at competitors, because we want to understand who else has a seat at the table right now in the conversation from an acquisition standpoint.
From a grow/retain standpoint, we want to know what we need to be aware of going into a renewal or going into a quarterly business review. Who else might they be researching, or do they maybe only think of us as a ratings and reviews provider and not a company that can provide social commerce or sampling opportunities for them?
It helps us identify and validate. We think we have this white space with the account. What is the intent telling us in terms of whether there's a need for that product within that account right now?
There are lots of different ways that we slice and dice the intent data.
That was a really great drill down on that. I think that's a great place to land our episode. We've talked about the strategic, the tactical and gone right down into the brass tacks of how you parse some of the data that comes through the tools. If people want to learn more about Bazaarvoice or get in touch with you, how can they do that?
You can look up bazaarvoice.com. And then I'm happy to connect with anybody on LinkedIn. So if you just search “Jennifer Leaver”, you'll see me pop up and be happy to connect and do a deep dive with anybody that might have questions.
Thanks for listening to the SaaS Backwards podcast brought to you by Austin Lawrence Group. We are a growth marketing agency that helps SaaS firms reduce churn, accelerate sales, and generate demand. Learn more about us at www.austinlawrence.com. You can email Ken Lempit at firstname.lastname@example.org about any SaaS marketing or customer retention subject. We hope you'll subscribe, and thanks again for listening.