Salesforce B2B marketing GM: ABM, single source of truth and aligning with sales

CMO chats with Salesforce SVP and Pardot GM, Michael Kostow, on the rise of account-based marketing, plus innovations in data analytics and articifical intelligence for B2B marketers


“If there are two sources of truth, there is no truth.”

It’s a comment that screams common sense. Yet when you look at the state of the relationship between marketing and sales teams, it’s still not often the case, agrees Salesforce SVP and GM of Pardot, Michael Kostow.

“You have a set of silos in a company – the sales organisation doing one thing, marketing doing another, service is a third. When disjointed, it’s very hard to make sense of what’s going on, and you have no single source of truth for the customer,” Kostow told CMO during a recent interview at the vendor’s Dreamforce conference.

“I can’t count the number of customer cases and all the leads generated, and opportunities existing in three different systems.”

But with the rise of integrated technology platforms, unified analytics based on single sources of data, and account-based marketing (ABM) at scale, the B2B marketing leader sees opportunity to finally bridge this divide. Kostow, who has part of Salesforce for nearly 10 years, has spent the last five as part of the B2B marketing business, firstly as chief marketing officer then as GM, following the vendor’s acquisition of marketing automation platform, Pardot, in 2013.

Pardot became part of Salesforce via the vendor’s ExactTarget acquisition in that year, with ExactTarget purchasing the marketing automation vendor in 2012 for US$95.5 million million.

Here, Kostow shares his views on the state of B2B marketing, where tech innovation is helping fuel a better approach, and what it takes to embrace ABM.

What are some of the big innovations in B2B marketing this year you see disrupting the status quo?

Michael Kostow: There are big three impacting our customers. The first is ABM. People have been doing ABM tactically for some time to complement a broad-based marketing strategy. Now technology is allowing people to do ABM at scale.

If you think about the role of marketer, it used to be all about generating leads. ABM is more sophisticated in that you’re influencing an entire buyer committee. Sure, there is an ultimate decision maker but there’s also a committee of influencers driving that decision over a period of time. If your product has a longer sales cycle and is a more considered purchase, it’s very important for you to be influencing a number of people.

Technology now allows you to deliver those personal experiences and at scale, and it’s made ABM core to pretty much every customer we are talking to.

The second big trend is around analytics. It’s something you’d think is foundational as a marketer. But again, when you have disparate data and you’re trying to bring it together, everyone has their own sense of what the right source of truth is. We’ve invested a lot in the Einstein Analytics platform to bring all sales and marketing data together in one place, pull in third-party data sources, and have sales and marketing leaders looking at the same dashboards. It may sound overly simplistic, but it’s really not.  

Michael KostowCredit: Salesforce
Michael Kostow


Bringing those insights into Salesforce and allowing sales and marketing to see what’s going on in real time, is an important focus. It’s everything from sales pipeline, to events and looking at campaigns to see what’s performing and not. It allows the marketer to make real-time decisions on where to place their bets. This content may be driving top of the funnel, while these events are helping close deals. Seeing this alongside your sales counterpart is very important.  

The third disruption is artificial intelligence (AI). Seventy-five per cent of marketers are thinking about AI but haven’t done anything yet; 10 per cent roughly have built the foundations and they’re sophisticated enough to start leveraging Einstein. We have sales and marketing data, and we’re leveraging machine learning on top of that to help marketers on what campaigns to run, who to target with those campaigns. It’s then telling sales people these are you leads, call these three first, as this one looks a lot like a lead you had six months ago that closed in 30 days.

The other thing is these B2B marketing teams aren’t scaling up. So it’s about how they use technology to be more productive and to help guide them.

Marketing automation and platforms such as Pardot, Marketo have been the foundations for B2B marketing for several years now. Do you see marketing automation disappearing as we mature and embrace strategies like ABM, or integrated platforms? Or is marketing automation still something people corral around?

Kostow: The language is still there, but different customers are at different stages of the journey. I’ll talk to companies who can be large and sophisticated organisations but are just doing email. They want to graduate from doing email to marketing automation. Then you have customers globally using marketing automation, who can do it at scale, and are thinking much more broadly about things like ABM strategy, and how to use the tech investments made to help them do ABM at scale.

Our customer, Zoom, is a good example of that – the company is thinking less around specific marketing automation, and more about how to transform the business by doing ABM. Zoom has built an incredible product [in video conferencing] disrupting an industry, and is using a combined Salesforce platform to transform the business and bring these [sales and marketing] functions together. This in turn has allowed it to pursue international expansion, and  allowed ABM and Zoom teams to cross-sell and upsell back into the base.

In a recent feature written by CMO, several industry commentators suggested maturing ABM platforms could supersede marketing automation technology. Do you have an opinion on whether we will see these two platforms converge?

Kostow: I don’t see it as a versus. I see many customers using marketing automation to do ABM. In the absence of marketing automation, I don’t see how you’d be able to successfully execute on ABM.

ABM is a strategy, then there’s a set of technologies helping you execute on it. Marketing automation is an important part. I view a lot of ABM solutions in market as being very complementary to what we’re doing. If you look at the partnerships we’ve developed with Pardot over recent years, these include relationships with DemandBase, 6Sense – some of the larger, more established ABM players as defined by the analyst community. We see these as solutions surrounding marketing automation. We have lots of joint customers using us together, more so than one than the other.

The ABM landscape is full of vendors doing lots of different things. And it’s been a very hot topic, so a lot of people have tied their brand and positioning to ABM, even if they service a small part of that picture.

Do you think we’ll see Salesforce buying up these ABM technologies?

Kostow: I haven’t seen anything yet to suggest that. I also wouldn’t be able to comment.

Looking at innovations in the ABM space, how much confusion do you think still surrounds ABM?

Kostow: If you ask a customer if they’re trying to identify their top accounts and deliver a set of unique, personalised experiences to them in order to get them to become a customer, every one would say yes.  So I don’t think the concept of ABM is foreign. But it depends on where these companies are at with adoption of technology and how much they understand how and what is possible, to be able to do ABM at scale.

I agree people have different definitions when we talk to them about this. I’d say it’s more mature in the US, versus when I go to Europe.

Is there a common stumbling block preventing customers getting ABM as a more strategic approach? Do you worry many still think the technology will just solve everything?

Kostow: A lot of companies are refining their own marketing strategy, and it’s understanding what it is they’re trying to accomplish, and those top set of accounts to go after. The technology can help, but there needs to be a marketing strategy in front of it that helps you think about who it is and the profile of customer you’re trying to go after.

For those trying to get further ahead with ABM, what specific capabilities must you have in place to succeed?

Kostow: If you’re trying to find prospects that look like your top customers, it’s important to understand who your top customers are and their top attributes. Who are they, who’s the buyer, what’s the value proposition? If you start with that and understand your core market, finding prospects that look like those top customers becomes a lot easier. That also ties to understanding your unique value proposition as an organisation.

What takeaways would you like B2B marketers to leave Dreamforce with?

Kostow: It goes back to those themes: How do you ABM well? And at scale? How do you have the right analytics strategy in place to understand what’s going on across your marketing and sales channels and make sense of what’s happening in the business and respond in real time? Then it’s about how to harness the power of AI and building the confidence to take advantage of that.

- Nadia Cameron travelled to Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce.

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