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Charting the Evolution of ABM: An In-Depth Perspective on Modern Marketing Practices

In Conversation with Kevin England

For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Kevin England, CEO/President of Vonazon, Inc., a full-service marketing agency, located in Ventura, California. He unveils the intricate dance between technology and marketing. From navigating the tumultuous waters of entrepreneurship to pioneering personalized approaches, Kevin shares insights on leveraging AI and automation for crafting tailored strategies. Dive into the evolving landscape of account-based marketing and discover the secrets behind building genuine human connections in the digital realm.

Watch the episode now for more insights!

While automation ensures efficiency, the content itself has to be crafted with that personalized touch.

Kevin England
CEO/President of Vonazon, Inc.

Hi, everyone. Welcome to your show, E-Coffee with Experts. This is Ranmay here. Today, we have none other than Kevin England, who is the CEO and President at Vonazon, Inc. with us. Hey, Kevin.

Hi. How are you? Hello, everyone.

Hey, Kevin. All good, yeah? How are you?

I’m doing great. Having a wonderful day here in Ventura, California.

Lovely. Kevin, before we move forward, why don’t you let a lot of people who already know, but why don’t you talk us through your journey? How did you get into the space and what has been your journey so far? And talk us through, Vonazon, Inc., as well, how you formed it and where is it now.

Sure. So welcome. Wow, the story associated with that. I had owned another business just before it. I owned a company called the IT Group, which was an IT company that I sold to Gateway Computers. I don’t know if you remember them or not. They were the cow boxes. I sold that business off to Gateway Computers, and I had a couple of years where I could sit and think and maybe spend some time with family. Then some of those customers, a couple of the customers that I used to work with over with the IT business, called me up and said, Hey, we’re having a real challenge, especially as we went into, it was around 2000, 2007, 2008, where we were going into this recession. They said We’re having a real challenge trying to work in our trade show to build a return on investment in our trade show. They’re like, Come out here to CES, which is a trade show that’s going on right now, to CES and help us build an ROI around it. I went out there and I built out this sales and marketing strategy. I said, Here you go, guys.

This is a great strategy that you could implement and build out based on the audience and based on the event and all these great things. They said, Good, now you do it. I said, Wait a minute. Me? He said I’m an IT guy. They went, No, I need you to do it. Great strategy. That’s how we started. I then started building out and implementing this strategy in and around trade and events and webinars and all these types of things. It’s what’s called a pre-, during, and post-marketing strategy. That launched our business basically out of a little of my office in my home. Now we’ve grown dramatically since that period. But that was the beginning stages of Vonazon, Inc. Now we’re a full-service digital sales and marketing agency, as I mentioned, located in Ventura, California. But we have employees all over the world and customers all over.

Quite a story, I must say. And given you are deeply passionate about sales and marketing yourself, right? Our digital landscape is evolving like anything. How do you ensure that Vonazon, Inc. stage at the forefront of marketing technology and trends to maintain that competitive edge?

Yeah, that’s a great question. Good started the question in that capacity. I guess at that point, I have to reflect on my journey as a young entrepreneur. At the age of 19, when I first started in business, I was navigating all these tumultuous waters of business with minimal guidance. We have no guidance. To be honest, it was like a game of trial and error, where error took the lead. I just started in business It’s just a lot of errors until you finally figure it out. The key to my growth was understanding and seeking out teams or people and learning from those individuals who had walked in my path before. Now, it’s decades of lessons and mentors that I’ve worked with and experienced that have shaped my perspective, today, I see myself as a guide to others who are walking in the same shoes that I did, regardless of age. Not that I’m suggesting that it’s going to be this fresh-based 19-year like I was. Many of our clients possess expertise in their respective trades but grapple with the intricacies of marketing their businesses to achieve sustainable success. The success, not just for themselves or their business, but also for their families, because that’s really why we all work anyways, is to support ourselves, and our families.

Now, let’s get to the technological aspect of it. When I mentioned this, early on, I had this inclination towards technology, which led me to establish the first tech business that I got involved with. My mission at that time was to bolster companies to achieve their tech-driven goals. The foundation was made for me to help navigate this ever-changing landscape of technology, sales, and marketing as I started thinking about how to build out a sales and marketing business. I continued to strive to discern which emerging technologies align best with our client’s aspirations. I’m constantly focused on that. I believe that equipping my team with that same knowledge of innovations and change is part of my process. I get together and I teach my team about all the new evolving and emerging technologies that are out there. Then together, we engage with our customers, we find out what audiences are going after, and we look at the types of technologies that are available, and we bring the two together so that we can help our customers achieve their goals in marketing as it pertains to sales or marketing with the best technology that’s available to them.

Hopefully, that was probably a long way to the answer.

That makes sense. Kevin, you’re a thought reader in the ABM segment, and you have likely witnessed the evolution of ABM strategies over the years. What is your perspective on how the overall ABM segment has transformed and what emerging trends or tactics do you believe will shape the future in the coming years for ABM in particular?

Let’s just talk about, first of all, where ABM comes from. I appreciate you bringing up account-based marketing. Account-based marketing is like how our firm focuses strategies to associate with our customers and their audiences. If we do this deep dive into ABM, we have to grasp the essence and almost revisit the definition and the understanding of account-based marketing and the evolutionary journey that marketers have taken to comprehend this strategy. Even though ABM, it’s more like a recent term. Account-based marketing is more of a recent term defined over the most recent years. But the conceptual roots go back so much further because we’ve been doing this forever. I had a recent keynote at HubSpots Inbound, where I was speaking about account-based marketing. I asked the audience, I said, Look if you ask a thousand different marketers, and I did this, I asked a bunch of different marketers in the audience before I said this, but if you ask a thousand different marketers to define ABM, account-based marketing, We’re going to get a thousand different answers. The reason why is that the diversity stems from the fact that many companies shape their definition of ABM around their products, services, and personal interpretations of the theory rather than the practical implementation of ABM.

Historically, the core concept of ABM, is, now we’ll define it, tailoring one’s marketing effort to a specific audience. Again, ABM is about tailoring one’s specific marketing efforts to a specific audience, and that’s not new. Again, that’s been going on for centuries, where we’ve always been trying to tailor our products and services to a specific audience with information. However, modern advancements in sales and marketing technologies have truly revolutionized the way that we approach ABN. Gone are the days that we’re solely focused on TV and magazines or newspapers to disseminate information to our potential customers. Now, thanks to evolving technology, which we talked about before, we can identify our target customers with pinpoint accuracy, leveraging the wealth of data based on our prospective buyers. And ABM helps us to refine that approach, ensuring that individuals receive content that is more tailored precisely. And that’s the essence of more tailored precisely to their business and their preferences. And the horizon of ABM is so vast and promising, especially with the introduction of artificial intelligence. And as you throw that into the mix, and I’m not going to get into that right now. I can talk about it a little bit later.

But with AI, the potential to personalize content for every individual audience, regardless of their position within the company that they represent, has exponentially grown. AI underscores, and it’s just technology, underscores the necessity now, especially more, of personalization, which is a core concept of account-based marketing and the account-based marketing strategy.

Absolutely. Then talking about the personalized approach for account-based marketing, how does this personalized approach contribute to deeper human connections with target accounts throughout their customer journey?

I love how you picked up that. Your personalization, how you picked up on that with this question.

I thought there were so many steps to a customer buying process these days, and then so many options for that matter. How do you divide those strategies to have those connections and trigger that decision-buying or the decision-making process for that matter?

That’s great. You even bring up the process in there. That fits into that conversation a great deal. Account-based marketing, ABM, stands out literally in this vast sea of marketing strategies, primarily focused on the personalized approach. Talked about that. Now, why is personalization so integral? It’s a question that many ask, why is it so integral? How does that correlate to a deeper human connection? Let’s get into that, especially from a business context. All I can say is this. Let’s imagine you walk into a café, right? Use that. The barista remembers your name and your regular order. Hi, Bob. Was it going to be the vanilla latte today? That sense of acknowledgment of being seen and recognized, you’re not just another customer, right? You’re you. That’s the essence of personalization that we want to get to. Now, you translate that to the world of ABM when businesses employ a more personalized approach, they’re essentially saying, We see you. We understand your needs. We’re here to cater specifically to them. This direct focus on individual audiences and accounts isn’t just about selling your products and services. It’s about building a relationship. When discussing account-based marketing and its personalized approach, I can’t think, but you’ll love this.

It’s a parallel that I drew at the HubSpot Inbound event. I like various phases, and I’ll get into those phases of a company’s marketing strategy and the process that we all go through in our human relationships, like dating, from online dating to the expansion of the family. It’s a journey, right? A journey much like love, where we constantly work to understand and connect deeper with one another, with each of us as human beings. You talk about the phases in your question. We look at it as there are five phases of account-based marketing. Brand awareness, building the pipeline or building the sales pipeline, pipeline acceleration, which sales acceleration, becoming a customer and customer retention, and then customer expansion. I’ll give you a little bit of insight into how I liken this to the world of dating, which is a fun thing. When you look at brand awareness, it’s online dating. When you first put yourself out there on the dating platform and you’re typing up all the good information about yourself, you’re putting it out there, then you’re swiping right, then swiping left, you’re essentially trying to generate interest into who you are.

Your personalized awareness. Similarly, with ABN brand awareness or with businesses, companies use marketing tactics to introduce themselves. Same type of thing, introduce themselves to potential clients, giving them a taste of their brand, maybe a little bit about their products and services, but who they are as individuals. From there, you transition to building the pipeline. This reminds me of the process of actually dating. At first, we’re just doing everything online. Now, we’re in the process of dating and moving towards exclusivity as human beings and in the dating world. We’ve moved beyond the initial interactions that we’re doing, and now we’re diving deeper to understand each other, the needs and the aspirations of another human being. Let’s liken that to the business world. Let’s liken that to ABM. This is when we start engaging our target audiences and accounts more deeply, providing them with a richer understanding of our products and services and how we can provide value to them. Then, just like in the dating world, which then moves towards, we’ll call the next one, sales acceleration or pipeline acceleration. It feels like entering at this point, pipeline acceleration is starting to enter a committed relationship.

We, as humans, look at established trust, and there’s a deeper emotional connection that we have as human beings. Similarly, with the business world or ABM, this is the phase, this pipeline acceleration where potential leads are becoming actual, genuine opportunities. We’ve engaged with them enough. They’re genuinely interested now in nurturing that interest and guiding them towards a purchase, towards this committed relationship that we’re all trying to do as humans. Same thing in the business world. That’s where the next phase comes from, becoming a customer and customer retention. I often equated that, or I did at least at this event, I equated that to marriage. It doesn’t have to be marriage, it could be buying a home. But it’s committing a relationship. It’s the long haul. It’s ensuring the relationship thrives and grows. It’s so funny that when people become customers, marketers, this is the big mistake marketers make, is that they stop marketing, they go back to trying to get net new people. Now, think about that from a human relationship perspective. If you got into a marriage and all of a sudden the day after the marriage, you stop trying, that’s a problem. That’s a common mistake.

At this point, you want to continuously provide value to your customers and make them feel cherished. Finally, it’s that customer expansion phase, and it’s about growing and evolving together. I know that to become a family, children, things like that, creating that committed relationship. You deepen the relationship even further. I could only use, say, our business from our agency for that example. It’s continuously offering more value, almost turning a one-time project, which we all have as businesses, into a fruitful relationship, or partnership with a customer. That takes you through the entire process. In essence, ABM just isn’t about selling your product and services. It’s about building a bond, a connection. Just like in love, Love, Relations, the journey matters just as much, if not more, than the actual destination.

Lovely. I just love the way you put it.

It was a lot of fun to do that up on stage, especially when I started to say, Okay, we’re going to talk about love, and I felt a little weird about it, but it was funny.

Yeah, it is. Everyone can resonate with this analogy, right? Yeah.

You can see the women in the audience going, Yeah, you’re right. Even you guys are going, Yeah, I get it.

Absolutely. I was like, Yeah, I can relate to this.

Yeah. It was a great way to explain the journey, and how account-based marketing came together, and then we know we can expand on.

Absolutely. Then moving forward, you’re talking about technology like you mentioned during our game room conversation. AI and automation machine learning hit our industry. It was always there, but it hit our industry around last year, in fact, December, around the end of 2022. How do you feel, while it is integral to account-based marketing, how do you feel businesses can leverage these technologies to scale their ABM efforts? Also, after you have taken us through this ABM strategy with your charismatic approach, I’d wanted to know from you, where you feel are we headed with AI, machine learning, and all this tech moving forward.

Yeah, that’s a great question. I know I mentioned AI earlier, but I only touched on it. Now let’s expand that out a little bit. It’s fascinating to look at how technology is changing our world every day and how quickly it’s changed our world. And the ability to create and sustain person-like connections with a targeted audience. Artificial intelligence has become a huge part of that process. But at its core, AI and ABM, ABM is about understanding and nurturing individual accounts as their audience in their market. This is where AI comes in and plays magnificently. Ai-driven analytics can help businesses deeply understand their ideal customer profile. What is AI? It’s the ICP, Ideal Customer Profile. Who are you selling your products and services to every day? By analyzing vast amounts of data at literally break-next speeds, because none of us could analyze the data speeds at which the AI tools can do that. AI tools can identify patterns, preferences, and pain points of different audiences and accounts, and effectively take your ICP, your ideal customer profile, into your target account list, which is who your prospects are. It can take that into that very easily for you and do it automatically, whereas it was much more difficult to create that on your own.

As the accounts move through the different stages of brand awareness, building the pipeline acceleration, AI helps to refine and narrow down these segments based on how they interact, the feedback they provide, and their behaviors. You can analyze this information. By the time the journey the customer gets to pipeline acceleration, you move from what they call a one-to-many, which is the beginning stage, one-to-many approach, to a more tailored one-to-pew approach. Now you’re dealing with prospects that have a genuine interest, and AI helps in that. AI and automation, I’ll say. What it does, is ensure consistency and timeliness. Let me explain that. It ensures that at every stage of the journey, from brand awareness through customer expansion, relevance, is the key, relevant content is delivered, and we use the same word that we’ve heard a million times, to the right person at the right time. AI is perfect with that. But here’s the thing. While automation ensures efficiency, the content itself has to be crafted with that personalized text. That’s where the balance comes in. The balance between artificial intelligence and tools and the content that you’re using is such an important part of that.

The analogy that I used earlier about connecting and building based on human relationships, we have to consider AI and automation as a tool to help us remember things like anniversaries and likes and dislikes and habits of a relationship. It’s a great tool that helps us to remember all these things. While they aid in ensuring that you don’t forget and that you’re always showing up, genuine love, care, and effort in maintaining and deepening the relationship still has to be a personal approach. AI is the tool that we use, and then the content is the love and the connection that we have. You bring the two of them together and you have this wonderful method to build out a strategy. As you move through the different stages, like customer retention, which I akin to marriage, and things like, AI helps to understand more about your customers, interactions, purchases, feedback, and things like that. On the relationship side, it’s helping you to remember, again, your spouse’s favorite food or song, things like that. It helps us to do that. It does it in a timely fashion so that we are better at what we do.

It’s not just about upselling or cross-selling. It’s based on a genuine need from previous behaviors of an audience. AI is a great tool. It’s imperative for your audience. I think we could end this with this, is that your audience to understand that the human part, that human touch, and the content that we create are so important Where gifts and gestures are essential, but the genuine connection is truly irreplaceable. In ABM, genuine engagement, an authentic connection, cannot necessarily be fully replaced by technology. It can be augmented, it can be enhanced, it can be made more efficient. But at the heart of the interaction, that still needs to remain truly human. There you go.

Absolutely. While it does and answers our efficiency, it is not a final deliverable product. You still have to put some humanization is what we call it at the end of it to make it consumable in terms of content for the end users. That’s still there. It’s still not up to speed in terms of replacing us for sure.

That’s correct. Don’t I get too scared, everybody out there? It’s not going to replace us in that because that human element still always needs to be there, especially with the content that we create and disseminate to our audiences and customers.

Absolutely. Great. Lovely, Kevin. But before I let you go, I would like to play a quick rapid-fire with you, and I’m sure you would be game for it.

All right. Let’s go with it.

All right. Your celebrity crush.

My celebrity crush is Wonder Woman, I don’t remember her name.

Okay. Even I don’t. But I can relate. All right. Your last Google search.

I was looking up a hand tool for a gazebo that I’m about to build. I needed a specific tool for it.

Okay. What is the weirdest thing that you’ve done in your life so far?

The weirdest thing that I’ve done in my life so far. I don’t know if it’s weird. I’m an adventure person, skydiving and bungee jumping and those things. I love that stuff. I don’t know if that’s weird or not, but it takes you to that next level in life. I call it strange.

Okay. How do your college or school faculties or teachers look at you? What would they say about you? How are you as a kid, as a student?

Great one. In other words, how did my teachers, and professionals look at me as a student? They thought I would never make anything of myself. I went into a counselor meeting in high school, and they said, The counselor says, You will be a loser. He says this to me, You will be a loser for the rest of your life because I had long long hair, and I was like a little surfer kid. I just looked at him and it didn’t resonate with me until later in life. I look back at that moment in my life and I think this guy thought I was going to be a loser because I had long hair and I was a little surfer kid. But in reality, you’re doing what you’re doing, and I think I’ve done okay for myself in life.

For sure. Okay, the last one will not be any further. Where do we find Kevin on Friday evenings?

You’re going to find Kevin. I have a club that I go to with a bunch of guys that all are a bunch of because I live in Ventura and we surf a lot. It’s a bunch of guys that all we do is talk about what we did, who’s going to Costa Rica to surf, or if we’re going to fly out to Nicaragua or we’re going to do something like that. On a Friday evening, I’m probably having a beer with a bunch of guys hanging out and just laughing and having a really good time letting go of the week, chilling and relaxing. But two different kinds of life. That surf life of mine, I’m also more of a spiritual guy, so it’s just relaxation. Meditation is all part of my life as well.

Great. Lovely. Kevin, let’s say our listeners want to reach out to you, how do they do that?

The company Vonazon, Inc. Also, I have my site. You can go do that. I have a podcast that I did a while ago, but it’s called Figuring It Out. It gives you a little insight. It’s a lot of my life. Figuring It Out has always been how I’ve approached almost everything. You can look up those types of things, but Google me, that’s okay as well.

Okay. Great, Kevin. Thank you so much for doing this with us. I appreciate it.

Thank you. Not a problem. Great to talk with you. Good to meet with you. I look forward to our next conversation. You take care.



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