Inverta investigates to uncover the truth: Who Killed ABM?

Chapter 4

A Study in Strategy

Last time on Who Killed ABM?, we sat down with Brian Journey, a longtime rival of ABM. Brian also seems to have an alibi—though it doesn’t entirely discount the possibility of him working together with other suspects to kill ABM. This brings us to our next suspect: ABM’s frenemy, Strata Ji—alias “Strategy.” To outsiders, ABM and Strata Ji seemed like two peas in a pod. Strata wouldn't stop gushing about ABM in public. But in private, she bad-mouthed her, disregarded her insights, and insisted on doing things her own way. That leaves us to wonder—was ABM starting to get in Strata’s way? Seems like it’s time we paid her a visit to see if we can get some answers.

No items found.

The next clue: a well-worn, demand gen playbook

ABM came on the scene with a lot of excitement in the mid-2010s. But the majority of its enthusiastic supporters—especially senior-level people—had never done ABM before. The CMOs who found themselves spearheading these new ABM initiatives rose to their positions of power and prominence by repeatedly running the demand generation waterfall: the traditional flow where a prospect moves from initial inquiry to becoming a marketing qualified lead, then a sales qualified lead, and finally a customer. 

We’ve spent a lot of time in the past few episodes unpacking all the ways the demand waterfall didn’t work. It incentivized lead volume over quality and encouraged marketers to optimize for arbitrary metrics rather than the things that truly mattered (i.e. conversion rates, pipeline, and revenue). But to give credit where credit is due, this volume-first strategy made perfect sense in the early days of digital marketing when tracking was poor or nonexistent and buyers were mostly anonymous. To succeed in that landscape, you needed to reach as many people as possible because only a tiny percentage would ever convert. The greater the volume, the better your chances of success. 

But then, things started to change. The rise of the internet and review sites gave buyers the power to research endlessly, learn your pricing, and get honest appraisals of how well your product works—before ever talking to a sales rep. Today, when B2B buyers are considering a purchase, they spend just 17 percent of their evaluation speaking with their potential supplier and the rest conducting their own independent research and decision-making. (If they’re considering multiple vendors, it’s even less.) What’s more, 83 percent of the time, the buyer actually initiates the contact, and 84 percent of the time, they end up going with the first vendor they reach out to!

Luckily, at the same time as marketers and salespeople were losing their positions as the gatekeepers of how customers engaged with their brands, a whole suite of new tools to understand buyer behavior started to emerge. Intent data. Tracking pixels. Retargeting. Stuff Ogilvy could have only dreamed of. Even though we had much less direct contact with buyers, we could track them in all these new ways and also target them much more precisely. So, it all worked out. Right? Right???

Well, not quite. 

Old habits die hard. The world changed and marketing strategy didn’t keep up. CMOs struggled to let go of an increasingly out-of-touch demand gen playbook. But it wasn't entirely their fault—their boards and finance teams were still setting lead and MQL targets and holding them to these metrics. For board members, the vast majority of whom do not have any marketing experience, it might have seemed like a good enough proxy for marketing success. 

However, the result was that marketing teams were not being measured on what truly mattered— their contributions to the bottom line. Plus, they had all these ingrained demand gen habits that were oh so easy to fall back into. Host a webinar for just my fifteen biggest target accounts? Feels risky. Why don’t I just open it up to everyone instead? 

So while Strata Ji was supporting ABM in the open, behind the scenes she was undermining her in favor of her time-tested demand gen playbook. Was she getting tired of leading this double life? Would it have been more convenient if ABM were simply…out of the way? 

Let’s get her side of the story. 

Strata Ji’s alibi 

Strata Ji laughs ruefully. “So you found out about all that, did you?” 

“We’d like to hear how you tell it,” we say. 

“Well, you’ve got the beginning right. You know I worked with Brian Journey at Conan Doyle Industries.* Before we got our act together, we did a lot of what we called ‘point in time’ campaigns. For a month or two, we’d focus our marketing around a specific goal—maybe a conference that was coming up or a feature we wanted to push. Then a couple of months later, we’d do something entirely different. There was no consistent drumbeat for any specific audience.” 

“Go on,” we say. 

“I was always upping the volume to meet my goals. My boss came to me and told me we needed two hundred more pipeline opportunities, so I turned around and told the team we needed to create five more campaigns. I’m guilty of everything you accused me of. But—” she pauses meaningfully.,“I didn’t kill ABM.” 


“Brian Journey insisted we try a 1:many ABM campaign. You know me, I can’t say no to a test,” she shrugged. “I thought, hey, if it fails—which I assumed it would—we can all finally stop talking about this damned ABM. So I made the plan.” 

She pulls a crisp photocopy from a folder on her desk. We take a look. 

We let out a low whistle. “That’s a program strategy alright. And not some cheater’s strategy, but a real one. But I have one question: Did it work?” 

“Sure did,” Strata says. “I know, I’m just as surprised as you. But revenue is revenue and I know better than to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” 

“How long did it take you to build this thing anyway?

“Eight weeks,” she responds. 

“Really? You were willing to sink that much time into a test?” 

“Oh don’t look so shocked—we had to create five different streams for the different stages of the buyer’s journey and automate it in our ABM platform so when an account moved from pre-awareness to awareness, they would automatically get different messaging. Multiply that by all the ad creative, email nurtures, and chatbot scripts we needed to produce and it adds up.”

“I’m just surprised you went that in depth.” 

“I had to. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been a real test. Besides, I don’t do things halfway.”

“You’re an enigma, Ms. Ji. You tell me you were secretly hoping ABM wouldn’t work, then you put in all this effort to make it happen. Which is it?”

“Can’t a marketer’s thinking evolve?” she asks. 

“I suppose so,” we say, pensively. 

Either Strata really did change her mind, or she’s the world’s slickest liar. But why go to all the trouble to just kill ABM at the end of it? 

So did Strata Ji kill ABM? 

While Strata Ji admits to focusing on volume plays, she claims that was all from her demand gen days—before she really committed to ABM. And with Brian Journey’s testimony to back her up, this case is leaving us with more open questions than answers. 

While it’s clear Strata didn’t always like ABM, she seemed to develop a begrudging respect for her. And why confess to her earlier wrongdoings if she truly were the murderer? 

We’re only not even halfway through our list of suspects, so there’s still plenty of time to uncover the answers we need. Someone has got to know something

Join us next time where we’ll investigate Sal Parson, alias “Sales.”

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