We spoke with Nate Skinner, VP of Marketing for Salesforce’s Pardot to pick his brain on some high-level topics that are top of mind for B2B marketers. At Pardot, Nate has the unique position of being part of “a B2B marketing team that markets a B2B marketing product to B2B marketers.” Many of his interactions with prospects and customers, then, are informative of the industry as a whole.
Key topics he’s thinking about in the near future include:
- ABM: how marketers should be more fully targeting their top accounts.
- AI in B2B marketing: how our tech can be raising insights we wouldn’t otherwise know to look for.
- Conversational marketing: how we can create more inbound motion with our target accounts.
- Analytics which is “always on the list” — but also making sure we run tests and look for leading indicators of success, versus just looking retroactively at trailing indicators.
Skinner has been at Pardot since February 2017. His previous roles include Chief Customer Officer of Campaign Monitor and Head of Global Marketing for Amazon Web Services (AWS).
(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
ClickZ: Tell us a bit about your background and areas of expertise.
Nate Skinner: I’ve been working in the enterprise software space for 20 years as of this year, which is crazy. My first software job was as an inside sales rep in 1999. And for the last 20 years, my career has fallen into two pretty neat buckets. The first ten years, I spent in field-facing roles like sales, pre-sales, engineering, and product management.
The last ten years, since 2009, I’ve been in marketing roles. Actually, I think the experience in the field talking with customers has very much informed how I am as a marketer and the way I think about marketing, both to my benefit and to the benefit of my team.
Sometimes you meet people who have been doing marketing forever but they don’t have either the empathy for the sales team, or a real understanding of what it’s like to think like a customer. I didn’t realize it when I got into marketing, but this empathy for sales and customers has really helped me.
CZ: What made you want to make that shift?
NS: I got asked that same question when I interviewed here with our CMO back in 2009. At the time, he asked me, why do you want to get into marketing? And I said, “I don’t. I never intended to. I always thought marketing was for people who didn’t know how to sell and didn’t know how to code.” He said that’s how he felt too — until he got to Salesforce.
What I’ve come to love about marketing is that when done well, when world-class, marketing can create the space for sales and product to operate. We set the vision and direction around where customers want to be. We address their needs and where they’re headed. And we help sales and product teams get what they need to create for the business.
Salesforce does it better than most. But when you think about the most successful marketing programs, especially for B2B, they are ahead of the curve with regard to the way the customer is thinking about the problem and the solution. They give the opportunity to set a vision that product and sales can fill in.
CZ: Tell us about your current role?
NS: I lead the marketing team for Pardot, the B2B marketing automation solution from Salesforce built on our CRM platform.
It’s fun because we’re a B2B marketing team that markets a B2B marketing product to B2B marketers.
It’s like if you were a real estate agent and your only customers were other real estate agents. You have to be really good at it — or at least better than most. They expect that what you’re doing will be best in class.
We always think in terms of the problems we’re trying to solve. We have the unique position of doing the job that our customers do and doing it with our products. Our whole team has that empathy for our customer.
People talk about product-market fit and how you know if you have it — we know we do because we use our product, and we get benefits from new features. Then as users, we can immediately translate that to our customers because they’re just like us.
CZ: What problems do you or your customers have that you think are some of the most significant ones right now?
NS: The biggest problem we’re seeing and that I perceive to continue to be front and center for our customers is the proliferation of data — I call it a “data-palooza.” Everything creates data.
This is the age of connected devices, and it’s not restricted to just B2B. Everything generates data: your thermostat, car, toothbrush — and that’s not even scratching the surface of the data we’re getting on the B2B side around buying patterns, selling patterns and behaviors, engagement data, etc. Data is everywhere, and that represents a challenge and an opportunity to B2B marketers and our customers.
If you can get your head around data, you can do extraordinary things with it.
I sat with a CMO here in Atlanta a couple weeks ago. After we talked about what we could do to help her, one of the first things she said was, “we probably need to take a look at our data first, because I’m sure we have a data hygiene issue.” That’s a real-time example where this was top of mind for a CMO two weeks ago.
The challenge and opportunity is: if you can get your head around the data issue at your company, the benefits can be manifest in extraordinary ways. But most customers are struggling with the how. How do I do that? How do I take advantage of all this data, all these different systems and sources, and pull it together in a meaningful way without being a data scientist?
The opportunity is to use tech to do that for you. In Salesforce’s case, we have Einstein AI, which is our machine learning layer across the entire platform.
Because it’s there, our customers are getting the benefits of this predictive capability by default, automatically. It’s helping our B2B marketing customers start to see things they didn’t even know to ask to see.
For example, let’s take market segmentation. I want to market my service or solution to this geography, or this persona.
Einstein and the power of AI, if applied to a large dataset, can say “here are the segments you identified, but here are the segments you haven’t looked at that you should.”
That is tremendously powerful. You wouldn’t even know to ask for it. Most marketers are not data scientists by trade. They cut the data the best they can, they understand their top five or 10 segments the best they can. They pick their lowest-hanging fruit and off they go. What AI can do is bring to light things you didn’t even know were in the data and give you compelling insights that can lead you down even more extraordinary paths.
CZ: Thinking about your customers or prospects, what’s the current state of what they’re able to get out of the tools they have, and what’s the before and after of what they’re able to accomplish with Pardot?
NS: Most prospects have this “data-palooza.” And even if they can get their heads around it, work with sales teams, with marketing and engagement teams, with all their systems, and if they can pull that all together, then they can take snapshots in time of understanding. That’s the best-case scenario, and that’s state of the art.
The average B2B marketer today uses 21 different products, all generating data. They’re trying to make sense of it all but they’re not very far along in the process. That’s where a lot of people are in the market.
Now let’s look at some companies who’ve gone down this path with us, customers like VMWare, Amazon Business, or Stanley Black & Decker.
They have their data in one source, in the CRM that Salesforce provides. Marketing automation from Pardot is built on top of that. And this gives them a single source of truth about their customer. Not just what’s in the database, but prospects, leads, engagement history — everything they’ve generated over time.
Now using Einstein, and using the tools we provide in the platform, they’re able to ask “what is my next best offer? What accounts should we be really profiling and going the extra mile with an account-centric approach?” They’re able to say things like “look we’ve never marketed to this segment before but we should, and here’s why.” Looking at data can tell them that the highest-performing campaigns they’ve ever run look a lot like this campaign they should run next.
That’s where our customers are — at the edge of what’s possible when you bring all that data together on the same platform and apply a singular machine learning Einstein AI view to it all.
CZ: What’s an example of a client success story?
NS: One favorite success story is about Amazon Business and how they’ve grown. The origin of Amazon Business came from one day when they noticed something about all the data they’d been collecting: Sometimes, people did things that looked like businesses. Buying 1000 reams of paper, for instance.
They started to look at their data model and built an algorithm to find a library of products that people were buying in bulk, that 92% of the time were businesses. It just happened that those people were using their personal Amazon accounts and paying with corporate credit cards.
So they asked, “What if we gave those people a different experience — everything about Amazon that you love, but for business?” They offered volume discounts, options to pay with a purchase order, net 30 payments, etc. Because of that insight, they were able to build Amazon Business. Now, it’s a massive business, and it’s one of those amazing success stories within the Amazon family.
Now, as soon as you create an Amazon Business account, that starts your customer journey with them using Salesforce and Pardot. It applies all the personalization and experience of Amazon, but to a business. It’s changing what businesses expect. And that’s what’s exciting about B2B marketing today — how do we deliver on that expectation?
CZ: How can marketers better prepare and equip themselves for the future of the marketing technology industry? What should be top of mind for people in the next 6-12 months?
NS: First, account-based marketing / account-centric marketing, especially for B2B marketers. Your sales team is selling at the account level. Yes, they talk to people, but in the end they’re forecasting and creating opportunities for accounts.
Marketing should be thinking that way as well. Who are our most important accounts? How do we engage them deeply in a unique experience that’s different from everybody else? How do we deliver that message to them on channels they want? ABM is definitely top of mind, and has been over the last 24 months or so. It’s starting to hit its apex.
Second, taking advantage of AI and thinking about how to put it to work at your company if you do it right. People throw AI around all the time: “it’s on your phone or, or in your house with Alexa.” But how do you use it in a B2B context to take advantage of all that data you’re getting to find new insights? Definitely top of mind.
The third one is starting to become clearer but is not necessarily obvious to everyone: how do you create inbound or conversational marketing motion? If you’ve done the account identification and found your 200 most important accounts, you know you want to market to them differently than you market to everyone else. If I randomly land on the website and I’m a target account person, I should immediately be engaged with the account rep. Conversational marketing is a practice / mechanism that’s giving companies the ability to do that, and it’s becoming more top of mind.
We have a great integration with a new company called Qualified.com, which gives our customers conversational marketing capabilities integrated with Salesforce and Pardot. A lot of interest in that topic has been coming up when I’ve been talking with customers.
And four, analytics. There’s no end to the need to understand all this data and to understand the performance of campaigns. Marketers, especially B2B, are metrics- and revenue-oriented these days. If you’re not, you’re probably in the wrong line of work.
The more we can give marketers the really easy-to-understand analytics, and the ability to create their own reports and dashboards, without having to get the ops team or data science team involved, the more productive they can be and the more value they can add quickly. This is not a new topic, but it’s always on the list.
CZ: At Salesforce, you have the unique perspective of being able to do the job that your customers are doing. What takeaways or insights do you have from that experience that would be valuable for others to learn from?
NS: One that comes to mind immediately is our alignment with sales. It never ceases to amaze me, and consistently shows up in customer interactions I have, that marketers are over here doing marketing stuff and the sales team is over there doing sales stuff. And there’s either no relationship between those two parties, or worse, a bad relationship.
Nowadays, they’re both part of the revenue engine of a company, especially in B2B. I would tell people to partner with their sales counterparts sooner rather than later. Avoidance is not a strategy. Partner with them, and give them the opportunity to share in the strategy you’re developing.
Together, your chances of success increase dramatically. I’ve seen it too often where marketers do their thing and don’t think about or try to engage or collaborate with their sales counterparts. That’s a recipe for disaster in the long term.
Another takeaway would be: Don’t become a victim of metrics paralysis. So much about B2B marketing is metrics-driven.
Metrics have a place for sure, but they’re a trailing indicator of success. They’re not a leading indicator. If all you’re doing is looking at metrics, you’re not looking ahead, thinking about possibilities, and testing new things.
The world is changing so rapidly, and customer expectations are changing so quickly. We can’t always be looking in the rear-view mirror.
At Pardot, we test new things all the time. If budget and time in a quarter equals 100, 20 of that will be testing and trying new things. At the beginning of a quarter, we do a brainstorm on tests we want to try, and then we all get behind one. I’m not a huge fan of “peanut buttering” (as in, spreading around resources on a bunch of different things). If you don’t put enough resources behind a test of something new, then you won’t have enough data to measure whether it actually worked.
For example, last year we did 19 third-party events. This year we’re going to do four. The reason is that we tried those 19 events over the course of a year, doing four or five per quarter. This year we’re doing just four, which frees up 15 events’ worth of resources, time, money, etc. to do other things.
The reason we’re not doing those other 15 is that they didn’t perform as well. But we wouldn’t have known that if we had not tried them. It’s a relatively low-cost, low-calorie way to test and measure. Those that didn’t work, we turned off. And those that did, we doubled down on. If we had peanut buttered it and said, “Let’s do 19 events but also all these other things,” then we wouldn’t actually have the insight we got from just focusing on events as a test.