CMO Insights: Peter Isaacson, CMO, Demandbase

February 26, 2019

Note: DemandBase acquired Engagio in 2020.

This week’s guest on CMO Insights is Peter Isaacson, CMO of Demandbase.

In this video, Peter talks about:

  • Category creation: facing but also embracing competition in the market.
  • Identifying ABM (Account-Base Marketing) as the category they wanted to create.
  • How the role of marketing is going to change as AI comes into its own.

Learn more about Peter from his LinkedIn profile and follow Demandbase on Twitter.

For more great CMO interviews like this one, please check out our other CMO Insights Videos or our YouTube channel.

Full Transcript

Jeff Pedowitz:

Hi, welcome to Revenue Marketing Television, the CMO Insights Series. I’m your host, Jeff Pedowitz, President and CEO of The Pedowitz Group. Today as our guest, we have Peter Isaacson, who is Chief Marketing Officer at DemandBase, one of the leading ABM vendors in the world. So Peter, welcome to the show.

Peter Isaacson:

Thanks, Jeff. Thanks for having me.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Abolutely. You know, DemandBase really is an amazing story. And, and I remember first working with the company, gosh, a good eight or nine years ago. It’s gone through several iterations, but what it’s doing today is really pretty impressive. What’s your take on that? Just obviously you’re now CMO, where where’s the company going?

Peter Isaacson:

Yeah, well so it’s been quite a ride. I joined about four and a half years ago. And one of the first things that we did when we joined was really identify ABM as the category that we wanted to create. And we just made a collective decision to double down on that. So part of my job became kind of the traditional aspects of, of a CMO demand gen developing opportunities creating some demand, things like that. But the other half of our job really was to create this new category called account based marketing. And that’s been in some respects, one of the more challenging, but also one of the more fun aspects of of

Jeff Pedowitz:

Our marketing jobs. So far trends are interesting, right? I think back three years ago, when four years ago, when you guys took up the mantle on this, you know, you know, John Nora Engagio, you can go to a show, you might see one or two vendors that were even mentioning ABM. We were at the B2B Amex show back in February. There had to be at least 30 vendors there heavily focused on, on ABM. So as a market leader yourself, you know what I guess, in part it’s validating, right? That, that everyone’s really starting to jump in, but then now have you I guess, how do you differentiate and separate from the pack?

Peter Isaacson:

Well, I got to say that’s part of the fun of creating a category because I’m four and a half years ago when I started talking about category creation to the rest of the company, we were really the only ones talking about account based marketing. And we really had an extremely differentiated product because we were really the only ones that could take a truly account based approach. What I was telling the company at the time though, was as we’re on this journey to create a category, the worst thing that will happen is if no other competition comes in the market, being the only company talking about what we’re calling a category does not a category make. So it sounds scary, but the best thing that’s going to happen to us is that we’re going to get some stiff competition that other vendors are going to see value in this market space and opportunity in the category and jump in and, and do it.

And that’s exactly what’s happened. And it’s been exactly, as I predicted, it’s been both rewarding and scary because we went from being really the only voice out there as a technology vendor, banging on the ABM drum. Now we track about 60 different companies that in varying degrees, talk about ABM, have an ABM solution building out an ABM platform. So for us, that’s required to change in strategy from I’m talking about kind of why ABM is great and, and what it is to how we’re better, how we’re differentiated, how you should think about ABM that DemandBase offers versus some of our competitors.

Jeff Pedowitz:

I think there’s some interesting parallels with the marketing automation market, right? So for one it was just Eloqua, right? And then, and then you had HubSpot and Marketo and all these other vendors coming in. And then in a lot of ways, that was good too, because as they start to compete with each other and create more education in the market, people really start to understand one of the things I see those as service provider for ABM is there are some prerequisites, right, but clients have to get right before they could move in data lead management, content alignment with sales just about the structure. Are there other things that you see that did that pave the way for successful ABM?

Peter Isaacson:

All of, all of the things that that you mentioned, although I will say that one thing that we advocate against is kind of Naval gazing for too long. Too often we see companies saying, you know, what we want to do ABM, but we’re just, we, we, we just have so much stuff to sort out, so we’re gonna, we’re gonna work on this or that, and we’re gonna talk to sales and we’re going to build out this data and that data, and we’re going to build out a strategy and figure out our change management plan, et cetera, et cetera. And the challenge I think with that is that you can spend a year kind of getting all the pieces in place when actually you can get an ABM program off the ground and getting driving impact with yourself fairly quickly. Mmm. That doesn’t mean it’s a comprehensive ABM strategy, but I think starting small and building is better than delaying for an excessive amount of time a year, year and a half. We’ve seen companies kind of dither and, and good, and, and really just better to jump in and start learning.

Jeff Pedowitz:

You know, what would be a good example, Peter, of an ABM program that a company could put in quickly?

Peter Isaacson:

I, you know, I think the first thing that that you can do is just getting a baseline, right? You’ve, you know, a lot of companies already have a target list of accounts that they’re going after. Sometimes it’s just the accounts that sales have chosen. Sometimes it’s a more coordinated where sales and marketing have come together and done some data analysis. Sometimes you’ve even used, you know, predictive tools or intent or something like that. But most companies that we start to work with say, yeah, we’ve got some form of a target account list. If you’ve got that, it might not be perfect, but get a baseline on it, find out like what’s going on with those target accounts. Are they coming to your website? If they’re coming to your website, are they engaging with the content that you’ve got? Are they bouncing very quickly? Just get a quick understanding of what’s happening with those target list of accounts.

 

The next thing that it is it is, I think can be a quick win, is segmenting a group of those accounts and initiating some account based advertising against them. Rarely do I talk to a company that they say, you know what, we’re good at the top of the funnel everything’s, everything’s set there. We’ve got all the companies that, you know, they’re engaged with everything like that. Usually most cases, most of the time companies have a top of the funnel issue. So initiating some account based advertising and get getting a win. There can be a fairly quick path to getting results and showing yourself your marketing team, your management team, your sales team, that an account based approach can actually drive some results for you. Important not to stop there. I think too often folks kind of equate account based marketing to advertising. So there’s, it’s a more comprehensive strategy than that.

 

But I think you can definitely get some quick wins off the ground fairly quickly with with an ABM approach. So let’s talk about drinking your own champagne, so to speak. So, cause it’s been about three and a half years, how does DemandBase implement DemandBase and ABM? Sure. you know, I, I probably shouldn’t even admit this, but the dirty little secret at DemandBase was when I first started. We weren’t using our own our, our own products very effectively. In fact, we weren’t doing ABM as a whole very effectively. We had when I came in the list of target accounts we had was something like 28,000 which I had to communicate like that’s not a target account list. That’s basically. And when I say a dirty little secret, we were literally running totally counter to what we were advocating in the market.

 

So it, it, it was not a good position to be in. We initiated what we called internally project alpha to eat our own dog food, drink our own champagne, if you will, we probably should have named it project those Clicko and, and it in the class, your name, but it was project alpha. And that was something that we just embarked on to say, you know what? We are not only going to be the primary power users of our technology. We also want to be customer zero for the product team. We want to be the true beta testers of everything that we do and provide a loop back on what we’re using, what we’re finding valuable, what we need to accomplish here. And that’s, that’s really been a journey that we’ve been on for the past four and a half years and something I’m proud of, but also the team is quite proud of because they’ve, they’ve really stepped up the game to be power users of not just DemandBase, but of marketing technology as a whole.

Jeff Pedowitz:

I mean, it’s very clear ABM. This is getting a very strong foothold. A lot of companies are starting to adopt it now, what are some of the bigger roadblocks though that you see? I mean, you had mentioned some people were trying to make it too complicated, maybe trying to do too much before they could even get started. What else?

Peter Isaacson:

One of the, one of the things that we see is you know, sometimes marketers just continue to have a massive divide with their sales team. And it’s one of those sad, but true kind of things that occurs out in B2B companies still far too often. And, you know, they try to engage their sales team and their they’re, you know, trying to get sales leadership on board and, you know, too often, and at certain types of companies certain verticals, the sales team just looks at marketing as you know, brochureware and and party planning. So getting sales on board can be a challenge for some folks as quite honestly, as astonishing as it seems in this day and age. But what we advocate is, you know, what, even if market, even if sales leadership, it is you know, against you, even if you know, the whole sales team won’t get on board, there’s always a few folks within the sales team that are leaning forward.

 

You’ve got her leaning in and willing to try new things and willing to partner with you. And, you know, sometimes it’s, you know, Bob who was managing the financial services vertical, and sometimes it’s Vanessa who is the Northeast territory manager, but find those sales people that are willing to lean in and work with them on an account based approach, show success with them. And one thing sales guys are sales, salespeople are really good at is they see when something’s working with their counterparts and they want to know exactly what they’re doing and how they’re getting those results. And you start with you know, a coalition of the willing, if you will. The folks in sales that are willing to kind of jump into this, get success with them. And then then you can progress through the sales organization.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Talk, let’s talk, talk a little bit more about your strategy. So the first part I was, so was repositioning and focusing on ABM and you guys are doing a great job with that now, from here. Is this mostly an upper market play for DemandBase? They, do you want to take to the world? I, you know, w where do you guys see yourself going?

Peter Isaacson:

Yeah. Certainly we’re having some success outside of North America. So we’ve got an office in in the UK now, and we’ve got a fairly decent percentage of our business. That’s coming from Europe. We do think that eventually this can go to Asia and, and other regions but truthfully, there’s so much opportunity Trinity here, domestically that that will continue to be a focus for us. I guess the couple of things that we’re thinking about in in terms of our strategy is I mentioned how we’ve kind of moved from the, what is ABM and why should you do it? Most folks are kind of giving us a yay. Yeah, we get that part. They want to know how they can do world-class AVM. So we’ve really transitioned our strategy, including our content and our demand gen efforts and everything else around how, like, how do you do world-class account based marketing?

 So that’s one aspect of it. We’ve also taken a sharper kind of point to what really differentiates DemandBase versus other folks, because, you know, as we all know a lot of, you know, the, the, the market goes out, does the research beforehand understands kind of who they’re who the competitors are, and now they want to know to understand how you’re differentiated. So we’ve really got very focused on that, but I think what’s really going to make a dramatic change in the next couple of years for marketers overall, but also folks that are, that are directing their attention at ABM is just how kind of things like next best action and how data is actually going to help trigger some automated activities and programs that we’ll make marketing far more efficient and far more Mmm. Their performance far greater and reaching kind of the right people at the right company with the right message. And I think that’s where it’s going to get really exciting for ABM.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah. I mean, there’s, there’s a lot of exciting things going on now with data and AI and predict the behavior, predictive activities. Yeah. how do you, how do you think the role of marketing is going to change? Because as technology becomes more prominent, right, we’re using AI more to help make decisions, does the amount of people they need the marketing go down? Do you need more specialization? Does it increase? I mean, how do you see the marketing organization of tomorrow looking?

Peter Isaacson:

Yeah, so I, I said this a while ago when someone asked me to comment about about artificial intelligence, and I said, artificial intelligence is eventually going to destroy the world, but not before it does really cool things for B to B marketing. So we’re kind of in that sweet spot where it hasn’t destroyed the world, and it’s doing some cool things for B to B marketing. So we’ve just got to take advantage of that time and that we’re in right now. Mmm. You know, I, I, I’m not doom and gloom kind of person that thinks that, you know, marketing teams will be cut in half and we’ll all be kind of, you know, feeding the robot and doing things like that. I think the world of B to B marketing has made so much more exciting and so much more powerful with artificial intelligence and machine learning.

I think that you’re always going to have to be directing your AI efforts, directing your machine learning, directing your technology Mmm. In a way that’s actually going to support your business, just like we’re doing right now, using AI with advertising, using AI with our sales insights. There are still people behind the curtain that are helping direct those efforts, and that’s really important, but I think what is truly gonna I, you know, I think there are two points that are really going to differentiate marketing in a future. One is going to be this continued focus on data and technology and enabling technology across your marketing department. And that’s going to continue to be premium. And there’s going to be a different skillset than existed 20 years ago, or even 10 years or five years ago for that. But I think the other thing that is starting to come back into fashion, and it’s kind of a shame that it ever fell out of favor, but is true messaging and creativity and storytelling. And that’s something that AI and machine learning really can’t match now, or probably in the next five or 10 years, at least it’s that kind of innovation and creativity that human beings are great at. And it’s a skill set that used to exist within marketing and kind of fell out of favor as we got obsessed with data. But I think that’ll make a, a, a pretty big comeback and already is.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah, I agree. There will, there is no substitute for the story right here you go back to the days of the Bible or a nomads and mythology. That’s what we did. Right. We went from a campfire, the campfire, we told stories, and that’s how we relate to everything. And the better, the story, the better the creativity, the more engaging of this technology, I think amplifies it or helps distribute it more, but it doesn’t, there is no replacement for any human creativity. Totally agree.

Peter Isaacson:

Totally agree.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Wow. Great points, Peter, a pleasure having you on the program fantastic to see all the success that DemandBase and all the great employees that you have over there. So thank you again for being on the show.

Peter Isaacson:

Thank you, Jeff. It was a pleasure.

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