Anonymous Still Means Anonymous – Sales Needs More

Steve Niemiec

Chief Operating Officer & Chief Revenue Officer

Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

With something like 10,000 RevTech solutions out there, it’s become super hard to understand who really does what, and most importantly, whether or not what is being said really stands to help you deliver substantive value to your company at the end of the day. At TechTarget, we realize that while there’s very little real mystery in what we do, there’s absolutely magic in how it impacts our clients’ results. Toward helping you and ourselves navigate through the functionality fog that, at times, threatens to obscure what’s really necessary to make steady progress, we’ve put together a series of pieces that examine recent claims and present our case for a more transparent and pragmatic way to understand the issues involved.

Weak + Cold ≠ Great ROI

Every high-velocity GTM these days has both inbound and outbound components. For simplicity, I’ll focus on two that are really core for the vast majority of our enterprise tech clients. For inbound, there’s the company website. For outbound prospecting (on the Sales side), you’ve got your SDR teams. Despite many clear benefits, each of these core components also comes with a major challenge with respect to prospecting. On the inbound side, there’s the problem of significant volumes of anonymous visitors. On the outbound side, it’s how to optimize as you scale. When the two problems come together — as they do when we prescribe doing outbound to the accounts visiting our websites — these two challenges intersect. And, unless you make the most of available data sources, you stand to lose. The reason is that anonymous account visits really tell you very little that’s useful to sales. So by thinking that there’s added power there, you’re probably likely to simply add cost to what you’re already doing. Let’s drill into that:

When an account is said to be “visiting your website”, that insight is commonly coming from a reverse IP lookup-based approach. Reverse IP lookup is known to be very inaccurate, so vendors have a number of ways to ‘help’ make their efforts seem more valuable. But even if it were 100% accurate about the account (and obviously, with continued remote work further masking account IPs, that’s not happening any time soon), knowing that an account is visiting your website tells Sales essentially nothing that it hadn’t already factored in. We’re already targeting the accounts we want to target in our prospecting activities. We’ve ranked these accounts A-D or similarly. Let’s be frank, a few visits here or there is not going to affect our outreach patterns. For the seller, these accounts have already been qualified as prospects to go after; they don’t need an “MQA” input to alter how they should proceed. Anonymous visits add nothing actionable to the ICP scoring and call lists we’re already using.

Anonymous = Anonymous!

Anonymous still means anonymous, so if you can’t determine who’s actually conducting buying research, for me, you’re simply telling Sales to put the contacts they already have at that account into a cadence and then do a call blitz. Is that info worth the added cost of an additional solution in the stack? It’s certainly not enough additional information for me to have my teams reprioritize their activities.

Here’s my rationale: Since many of those anonymous visitors are customer accounts already, I’m already paying attention to them via my plan. If, within my customer accounts, they’re anonymous activity suggests they’re high priority cross-sell prospects, my reps on those accounts will want to know about new news; but at the same time, those reps better already be trying hard to cross sell there, because they’re already fully incentivized to do so. I just can’t understand how, If I can’t tell my reps who they should specifically go after, what assistance am I actually giving?

So what if we’re talking about white space acquisition accounts? I’ve got a dedicated team already working them per our learnings, plans, rankings and methods. A new, out of target MQA that doesn’t match all our planned targeting simply comes in out of left field. It makes very little sense to add this into our process. It’s an exception to our well-constructed SOP. So again, I don’t see how this kind of MQA information is helping me be much smarter than I’m already trying hard to be. Speaking as an investor in my business, I wouldn’t want much of my potential profit reinvested in a long shot like that.

Is this what you’re calling ABM? ABM ≠ Account-based advertising

When we sit down with Marketing to collaborate on ABM programs, we start with target account lists built around shared characteristics. We then devise programs specifically designed to open up these accounts because we strongly believe they warrant extra attention from us. Our ABM programs involve a lot of work designed for two specific purposes: First is to make sure we clearly see as many of the real opportunities that arise in accounts organically. We absolutely don’t want miss any of them. Second is so that we can improve the conditions necessary for our sellers to actually create new opportunities where none would otherwise exist. Marketing’s help is needed in both scenarios, but I don’t think either one is something an automation-focused martech system can help with very much, because this isn’t about volume. Rather than being about the volume gains that systems automation helps you with, these approaches depend instead on improvements in precision. What you really need is a capability that provides better clarity around people, topics and timing.

Advertising scale vs. Sales precision

While I’m a big fan of the air cover that advertising into an account can provide, (and I do want Marketing to provide that if we can afford it!), that’s really a very different proposition from whether such air cover can actually provide my teams with information that should compel them to act. Surges in account engagement from advertising tell me that our ads are resonating, which is good. But unless you can tell me exactly which of my solutions matters right now — for which people in the account, and to what degree — I still don’t have the inputs I need to make my next investment decision. If you expect me to tell my team to escalate to the next ABM step and dive in hard, I’m going to need to see a real opportunity arising – for example, a recognizable, actionable buying team appropriate for a very specific solution that aligns specifically to my portfolio. Advertising-oriented automation systems can’t provide this kind of information.

These ABM advertising suppliers are sourcing very generic signals about account interests, because that’s all that’s available to them. They can’t tell you very much at all about buying group solution fit and, unless you’ve also got a lot of leads at the account (which as you know is super rare) they can’t tell you who you should pursue hard. To me, they just can’t provide the justification required to order a sales activation.

A recent LinkedIn stat said some 50% of sales teams feel like “intent” isn’t worth their time. This advertising-oriented kind of situation is what I suspect they were reflecting on. This kind of “Intent” that’s stops at the account level. That’s the entirety of what a lot of these systems can provide. And it’s very, very different from the real purchase intent data that comes from reading the behaviors of known opt-in people, as individuals and as a group, to discern what they need help with. Real purchase intent data creates a level of clarity that puts Sales in a position to offer truly relevant decision support assistance. It’s this kind of decision support assistance that we’ve shown will make your ABM programs a truly impactful additional investment.

How we deliver for ABM

TechTarget shows you the real people whose individual and collective activity together suggest both a real need and an active effort at the account to solve it. You know there’s a project taking shape and you know who’s in the buying team – because you can actually see this in the data.

And since TechTarget’s Priority Engine™ does the initial multi-threading for you – we show you multiple active people in the buyer’s journey –  you can activate Sales earlier with much greater confidence. Thus your ABM sales motion can evolve, from one of simply trying to get a meeting using brute-force cold calling, to one that’s about creating meetings that are better for the buyer. Meetings that either accelerate opportunities for sellers or help them create new opportunities where none previously existed.

Dark pools? Dark social? Dark funnel? Dark iceberg? Why not just step into the light to begin with?

Dark pools allow institutional investors to trade invisible to the rest of us (I learned this in my reading in and around the last financial crisis!). Dark social is, among other things, the invisible interactions that occur on social messaging applications through “shares’ (they are prone to being mis-categorized by attribution analytics which is a big problem for advertisers in the B2C space). What exactly is all this fascination with darkness? With the financial stuff, it means that the big guys have an advantage over the rest of us. And in B2C, it means that really big advertising dollars can easily be misdirected.

But what about the ‘dark iceberg’ and the ‘dark funnel’? I had to turn to the folks at strategicabm, Cognism, and Refine Labs to try to sort these two out. What I discovered is that, somewhat like the confusion above about ABM advertising vs. really impactful sales-involved ABM, this darkness discussion is largely an advertising-focused thing and not a sales-relevant thing at all.

For advertising teams, it’s all about getting a clearer picture of what’s really working in the massive blasts of programmatic ad spend they’re doing. And that made a light go on for me. It made me realize that most of the B2B folks I deal with – most importantly, my sales peers – probably also missed that this ‘dark funnel’ stuff is mostly relevant only to super high-volume programmatic advertising. It’s strictly a one-to-many, many, many, thing. This dark funnel concept important to large advertisers because they’re essentially blind to so much behavior that they stand to waste tons of money advertising to the wrong people. But what if programmatic advertising isn’t a huge part of your go-to-market? Holy cow. This kind of volume aircover thinking is a completely different world view from my sales guys’ focus on precision targeting and super-personalized outreach!

Is dark funnel thinking relevant at all for collaborative sales and marketing actions?

Simply put, does ‘dark funnel’ have any relevance for sales?  Well, I think there might be something there, but only if you turn it completely around and think harder about what you can see rather than where there’s nothing actually there. Instead of thinking about the internet as a version of the universe, a mostly empty wide-open space that’s largely dark (did you see the amazing  pictures from the new Webb telescope?), you should instead be thinking about concentrating your attention on the points of light – the places where you know there’s relevant activity!

For my purposes, a sales guy’s purposes, that’s how the internet really works. I want my teams to spend an absolute minimum amount of time guessing where appropriate people might be and what they might be looking for. Instead, I want my teams focused solidly on where the largest aggregations of buyers actually regularly congregate. As I’ve said before, if I were in retail, I’d be selling in the mall. If I were in enterprise tech (and my clients are), I’d want to be selling hard on the websites that covered my category, the venues where I could be sure that in-market buyers would be doing the bulk of their pre-purchase research. If you’ve studied the internet at all, you already know that these places aren’t in the dark at all. They couldn’t be any more obvious. On the internet, it’s basically the same general principle in play that’s been used for decades by essentially every publisher in the world. If you provide the content that people want, people will come to you. If you provide consistent quality at scale, more folks will come to you repeatedly. If you do it objectively, because you’ve earned their trust, more will come to you than to any particular vendor in the space regardless of their predominance. It’s a simple concept. It’s obvious. There’s really no darkness involved at all. So that’s what we provide here at TechTarget. And because we have opt-ins from the people our websites serve, we can make it simple super simple for you to connect into our giant funnel, to connect all the work we’re doing directly into what you need to accomplish on your side.

Then why all the brouhaha? It’s still –”buyer beware”. It’s ‘marketing’!!

Creating FOMO by branding a concept is a tried-and-true messaging approach that still seems to work with every new crop of marketers on the way up. The approach is designed to make you feel there’s a miraculous solution to your complex needs or a way to solve a problem you didn’t even know you had. But there’s real risk for you in this environment. You should pay close attention. When you’re being told that B2B buying research spans thousands and thousands of web properties randomly distributed around the universe, but a data provider can’t show you the actual properties that are generating the data – the real context of the user activity – you should know something’s wrong.

Instead of being about providing the kind of precision you need to do a better job in target account selling, you’re actually being marketed a concept that’s built around the idea of a random distribution of demand. And this is an idea straight out of B2C that has no real application in our B2B world. B2C is a world where anyone, anywhere, at any time might want to buy something from you, if you only make the price right. But in B2B, price is only a small factor among many other considerations. It’s this price-driven promotional model that’s actually behind all the misdirected consumer advertising in our feeds. But ours is a completely different world. For us B2B folks, we’re not selling small-ticket low-involvement products. We’re not in a short sell-cycle, discretionary purchase-driven world. Price promotion simply doesn’t change the game. Programmatic advertising is a small piece of the pie, not the whole game at all.

Here’s the world my enterprise tech clients actually inhabit: According to Google, is the 15th most trafficked domain on the internet – the highest in all of B2B by far. With over 300K first page organic listings per month, the bulk of B2B tech buying research on the web intersects with TechTarget web properties. And all of this stuff isn’t dark; it’s completely visible to you. Furthermore, to make it super actionable, the same insight is embedded in the data that our Priority Engine platform delivers directly to your users and into your systems. You could say what we’re actually doing is lighting your way to greater business growth. I think of it as a level of precision that any Sales leader would recognize as a critical advantage for their teams.

This blog is one small part of my ongoing effort to both provide useful information and clearly explain why we’re so confident that Priority Engine will deliver fewer false positives, fewer false negatives, and many more opportunities into your pipeline, faster and more reliably at scale. As always, my team and I are here to help and to discuss this material at your convenience. I can be reached here. I hope very much to talk to you soon – Steve.

ABM, actionable purchase intent, B2B marketing, b2b sales, Priority Engine, real purchase intent data

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