Salesforce’s Mike Kostow on Why Marketers Should Trust Data Over Intuition

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The more that martech evolves, the more it sounds like some far-off future. Automation, AI, predictive analytics—what was once the realm of science fiction has now become reality for marketers.

One company leading that futuristic charge is software giant Salesforce, which announced its new AI late last year, aptly named Einstein. Though the project is still in its early stages, the company, like many Silicon Valley giants, sees AI as central to its future. This is particularly true for Salesforce Pardot (pronounced par-DOT), the company’s marketing automation software product, which has data and advanced analytics as core features.

Mike Kostow, who has been working at Salesforce for six years, is certainly no stranger to the complicated world of enterprise software. Now the SVP and GM of Pardot, he has been in the enterprise software business for more than 20 years.

During an in-depth interview, Kostow talked to us about the future of marketing, how Einstein will affect Pardot’s capabilities, and whether marketers should rely more on data or intuition.

To start off, can you run through how your year went with Pardot and what you’re excited for in 2017?

We have had an amazing year at Salesforce and an amazing year at Pardot. We are now the fastest growing and most widely deployed marketing automation solution for Salesforce customers, which is really exciting.

As I look to 2017, we’re seeing a lot of change in the marketplace. A lot of that, from my perspective and talking to customers, is driven by the B2B cycle changing dramatically. Now by the time prospects are coming to a company to buy something, they’ve done a lot of their research online, and they’re really close to making a purchase. Because of that changing behavior and because they’re able to do all that research online, it makes those engagements that companies are having with these prospects even more important than before.

I’ve been reading a lot about this movement where marketing becomes less about selling and more about creating this customer experience. How are you thinking about that with regard to Pardot?

Pardot is really centered on customer experience. We believe that marketing and sales alignment are the most important things to that customer experience.

If you have marketing and sales working off a single platform—if you have them operating in the same place—then that handoff between those two teams is critical to being able to actually close business, right? Because if marketing and sales are disconnected and operating out of different systems, then it’s very difficult in this new B2B buyer’s journey to convert prospects into customers. That’s really what we see.

With AI, you’re able to free up a marketer and you’re able to free up a salesperson to focus on things that are more strategic to the business.

As we look forward, we see that buying cycle changing even more. There’s the buyer’s journey change. That’s really one phase. The next phase is about AI and predictive analytics. That’s a big deal for our customers, and it’s a big deal for us.

For example, say you’re a salesperson: We’re going to be able to score leads in a way where it’s predictive, so salespeople are going to be able to follow up on the right leads at the right time and prioritize their work based on all of that rich information that Salesforce captures.

Is that all part of the Einstein AI program?

Exactly. With Einstein we’re able to look at all of this information that’s being generated across all of Salesforce’s customers to then see whether or not it’s the right lead for a salesperson to follow up on. Then salespeople and marketers can make much better decisions based on all of this rich data that we are able to generate and accumulate.

Another big trend has been account-based marketing. How are you building it into the platform—if you are—and how important do you think it is to B2B marketing’s future?

It’s funny because I talk to customers all the time and I get the question, “Hey, what does Pardot do for ABM?” and my retort to a lot of them is, “What exactly do you want to do?”

I think it’s really important for companies to think about what it is they’re trying to accomplish before deciding whether or not an ABM strategy is the right one for them. More often than not, it leads back to bringing marketing and sales together on the same platform. With that, you can have a single place to gather all of these interactions that these customers are taking on their buyer’s journeys and make sure that you are able to hit them at the right time as they move from a prospect to a customer. ABM, to us, is really just an extension of that.

Since we’re talking about AI and predictive analytics, I’m curious if you think there is ever going to be a time when marketing automation becomes so powerful that it can remove the marketer from the process, or at least put them in the backseat instead of the driver’s seat?

I think of it in a slightly different way. With AI, you’re able to free up a marketer and you’re able to free up a salesperson to focus on things that are more strategic to the business.

I think the shift is less about the marketer becoming irrelevant or the salesperson becoming obsolete, and more that they can really prioritize the things that they’re focused on that are higher value than they could before.

More and more, we as marketers are being told, “You have to look at the data to make decisions.” How much of your thought process and decision-making should be based on data versus just intuition?

My view is the vast majority of what you’re doing as a marketer and a salesperson should be based on data. If you’re a marketer, it’s very difficult for you to decide where to invest your budget this year if you don’t know what is generated or returned last year, right?

The vast majority of what you’re doing as a marketer and a salesperson should be based on data.

Marketers, more and more, are tied to pipeline goals, B2B marketers especially, and they’ve got to move very quickly and make sure that they’re generating a return on the investment. So I believe that, from a marketer’s perspective, everything is really data-driven and will continue to be. From the salesperson’s perspective, that’s the case as well. Salespeople really need to understand what is happening in their respective territory, like which lead they should follow up with first in order to make their quota.

Where do you think content plays into this? At Contently we always talk about how marketing needs to have the right content at the right time for the salesperson, so what are your thoughts on content’s role in the whole B2B marketing process?

I agree that you have to generate and build the right content to put in front of the right prospect at the right time. Our view is that content is really powerful for a marketer to put out into the market via a website and other content channels, but we also believe it’s really important for the salespeople to understand how people interact with that content.

A big part of our strategy is putting the power of marketing automation in the hands of salespeople. We have a product called Salesforce Engage, and with it a salesperson can actually see in real time how her prospects interact with her content. When that salesperson has a conversation with that prospect, that conversation is a whole heck of a lot more relevant because she knows exactly what that prospect is looking at.

For example, say you’re a prospect and you’re looking at the pricing and packaging page. If I’m the salesperson, then I know you’re doing that. So when I call you, I’m going to have a very different conversation with you than if you’re reading an e-book. We believe it’s really significant for salespeople to be able to understand how prospects interact with their content, engage at the right time, and have the right conversation.

Salesforce created a lot of talk last year by looking into acquiring Twitter. I don’t know how involved Pardot is with that, but could you give me your thoughts on social media, specifically how there seems to be more of a convergence of social media and martech companies?

I certainly see a lot more of our B2B customers using social media as a channel to market their brands. A lot of our B2B customers use social media to generate leads. But again, you can do all of the lead generation you want—what it really comes down to is how do you convert those leads that you are generating through a place like social media into someone who actually turns into a customer? That’s really what is most important to us.

What is the biggest challenge today for your typical B2B marketer?

The one that I hear more often than not when I talk to CMOs and marketing leaders is just all of the different solutions that are out there. Right now, marketing and sales solutions, more often than not, are really disconnected. So it’s very hard for them to see the full picture of what’s happening.

We co-commissioned a study with Harvard Business Review, and we asked marketers that question. More than 80 percent of them said they thought that having a marketing solution directly connected to their CRM was really important. When I talk to our customers, they’re really focused on how do I bring marketing automation and CRM closer together because when I bring those things more closely together, I know what’s happening in all phases of that buyer’s journey. So we believe putting marketing and sales into the same space, on a common platform, is the best way to drive results.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

Image by Unsplash / CC Zero

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