Jon Miller, CMO at Demandbase, on ABM's Role in Generating Post-Sale Revenue

In this episode, our guest is Jon Miller, CMO at Demandbase, the leading account-based marketing platform.

Prior to joining Demandbase, Jon was the CEO and founder of Engagio (acquired by Demandbase) as well as the co-founder at Marketo, a leader in marketing automation.


Show Notes

On emphasizing lead quality over quantity

"It's going to be disruptive to marketing departments to really break their focus on net-new leads. Important, but disruptive." 

On B2B marketers' #1 priority

"As B2B marketers, we should be doing everything we can to decrease fear and increase trust for our buyers. The two main ways you can do that are through thought leadership and social proof." 

On starting a marketing F.I.R.E.

"The 'F' is 'fit'. Is this an account I should be going after?" 

"The 'I' stands for 'intent'. As more and more buying research happens off of our websites, we want to track which accounts are showing potential interest. When you see trends and spikes in that content consumption for your category, that's a pretty interesting sign that maybe you should be reaching out now." 

"The 'R' stands for a 'relationship', which is the context of, did you just have a closed/lost opportunity with this account last week? If so, it's probably not time to call them up right now." 

"And then the 'E' stands for the 'engagement'. Does this account spend time with you on your website? Do they download your content, the things that you can track for your first party data?"

Full Transcript

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:09] Hello, everyone, and welcome to Selling in the Cloud, a podcast about the business of cloud sales and marketing, brought to you by Intricately, the authoritative source of digital product adoption, usage, and spend data for cloud sales and marketing teams. I'm Sarah E. Brown and I'm here with Michael Pollack, and we are your co-hosts.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:28] Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Pollack [00:00:41] It's great to be here. I'm pretty excited today. We've got an absolute legend. We've got Mr. Jon Miller, who leads the product and marketing organizations at Demandbase. Prior to Demandbase, Jon was the co-founder at Engagio and Marketo, and is just an absolutely luminary on all things marketing.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:58] Looking forward to chatting with Jon.

Michael Pollack [00:00:59] Absolutely. Jon, welcome to the show.

Jon Miller [00:01:01] I'm really glad to be here.

Sarah E. Brown [00:01:03] Tell us a bit about your background and a brief history of how you got to be where you are today at Demandbase, running marketing and product.

Jon Miller [00:01:10] So I actually started my career – I studied physics for my undergraduate degree and actually spent my summers doing research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on fusion. I thought I'd go be an academic and actually got into MIT for a PhD program, but I just felt like I just never even considered a career in business and all my friends were doing it. So I was like, I should at least give it a try. I deferred MIT for a year and got a job in management consulting where my analytic background actually served me really well because I got on all the projects where there's like a ton of data about our customers and what should we do with these customers, and so on. So I enjoyed it and said, all right, I'm going to stick with this for a little while instead of the PhD program. And that led me to a consulting company that actually also had a technology arm because they realized that they were advising people, we were advising people on how to manage your customer relationships better, but clients couldn't implement the advice without technology to support it. That company eventually spun out and became IPO. This company called Exchange, or Exchange Applications, which was arguably the leading martech solution in the mid 90s.

So I left and went to grad school. When I was leaving grad school, I managed to get a job at a company called Epiphany. You know, I had no business, to be honest, getting a job in high tech at that time because I had no high tech experience. But they knew they were going to compete against Exchange and felt like, all right, I must know something about it because I had worked with the sister company and that's how I got into sort of martech myself. With them for about seven years. It was probably the hottest IPO, you know, the hottest martech company in the Internet bubble. And then we sold it in 2005, and that's when Phil Fernandez and I, who was the president of Epiphany, started talking about and started Marketo. And we really had a vision of providing enterprise-class software, but that was really easy to buy, easy to own, and easy to use, using software-as-a-service. So that was the vision of Marketo. And I spent nine years there, at Marketo, as the original CMO. And after nine years, I started getting itchy to start a new company again, just kind of go back to the startup roots and I remembered the experience that I had at Marketo, trying to go after different kinds of accounts. I mean, Marketo was obviously great demand generation, what I like to call fishing with nets. You just do your campaigns and you don't care who responds, you just care if you catch enough. But sometimes we wanted to fish with spears and go after big accounts and enterprises, not wait for them to come to us, but reach out to them proactively. And we did it at Marketo, but honestly, it was harder with that technology.

And so that's what inspired me to start Engagio in 2015, to be a platform to help companies do this new kind of outbound spearfishing, which became known as an account-based marketing. So as I sort of finish that long journey, I was CEO at Engagio for five years and really built that as one of the leading ABM platforms. But in the beginning of 2020, I started talking with the new CEO of Demandbase, which was another ABM platform, and yet we realized the two products together would be unbeatable, that there was actually very little overlap between what we did and what Demandbase did. But it was the best in class solution across the entire ABM suite if we were to combine these things. So that was a – to me, too compelling of a vision to pass up. So we merged the companies middle of 2020, moved like the wind, so I joined as the chief product officer to really focus first on integrating the platforms, which we did. We got done. I'm really proud of how well and quickly we did that. And then I sort of realized, OK, we've now got the best product. We don't necessarily have the best go-to-market to match it. So I was like, all right, I want to be the CMO now. And let's really show the world that this is a whole new Demandbase with the best product in the category. So that's the journey in four minutes or less. It's one of those things where it's like twisty and turny along the way, but kind of all makes sense when you look back on it.

Michael Pollack [00:05:22] I love that walk through. And I have to say for our audience, there's a number of things along the way that I just want to unpack that I think are incredibly impressive and I think are worth just digging into just for a second. Epiphany is a fascinating company. And if you know Steve Blank and the Four Steps to Epiphany, that is like the seminal text book on how to build a startup that unleashed a lot of the lean startups that we see today, so to be part of that – had to be an amazing thing. For Marketo in particular, at the time, the startup I was that... we were a relatively early Marketo customer in 2010 or 2011, and I remember it literally exploding our brains on the versatility of that product to be able to use highly targeted messaging, to be able to get to businesses who could use some portion of our product. And we talked about this ability to do multivariate based marketing based on a different campaign flow or some kind of something. And I just it was an amazing thing to me. And so I remember the evolution of that product. And I'm curious to ask you, as you look at how the ability to qualify has improved over the past decade, you think about how, I guess kind of embryonic that was with Marketo a decade ago. And today, with the tools that Demandbase has and other companies are out there, I'm curious your thoughts on this notion of potentially over qualification or that qualification has become such a quantity driven exercise because it's so much easier than it used to be. How do you think about that, that for sales today, I feel like their marketing counterpart, a lot of time is wrapped up in quantity and not as much in quality. Is your point of view that that is a challenge? That's not a challenge? How do you think about that?

Jon Miller [00:07:02] Well, when any kind of scoring system, you know, kind of ranking qualification system or whatever, you have the risk of false positives and false negatives. A false positive would be your qualification saying, hey, this is an awesome account you should go after, when they're not actually very good. Or they're not actually ready. A false negative, though, is missing out on a hot account that you should really be talking to. And the cost of a false negative is a lot higher than the cost of a false positive. Obviously, false positives are annoying; it's annoying to the customer, it's annoying to the sales rep. There's not zero cost, but the cost of the false negative is you miss out on a deal – which, especially if your deal sizes are pretty big, could be very significant. So as a result of that, in any scoring rule, you probably don't want to be too tight, too restrictive. You know, if anything, you do want to kind of make sure you're reaching out to layers and strata, different layers of qualification so that you find that right balance and quality versus quantity.

Michael Pollack [00:08:09] That balance of quality versus quantity. It's interesting, we provide data to customers and many of our customers use our data to disqualify. And I think that's a good thing because many marketing organizations are incredibly focused on the qualification at all costs. Do you find for customers today because of the tools to qualify, it's easier to qualify than ever? You made a comment about Marketo and batch and blast, the ability to go from nets to spears. Is the role of disqualification today more important than it was previously, or it's the same as it's always been? And maybe that hasn't changed.

Jon Miller [00:08:45] I don't really think it's necessarily changed, per say. I think there's going to be multiple dimensions to how you think about where you're going to focus your time and energy and qualification. And so I actually like to use an acronym, the F.I.R.E acronym, to kind of think about those different dimensions. So we've mostly been talking about the F so far, which is fit. Is this an account? Is it one I should be going after? Right. And there's both the positive signals like, hey, this is one that makes them interesting, as well as the negative signals, this makes them uninteresting. I think technographics and the kinds of data that you guys provide is a really kind of key part of that "F" in fit.

Jon Miller [00:09:33] The "I" stands for intent. As more and more buying research happens off of our websites, we want to track which accounts and which people are showing potential interest. And intent is the ability to know what content people at different accounts are reading out on the open web. And when you see trends and spikes in that content consumption for your category, that's a pretty interesting sign that maybe you should be reaching out now.

Jon Miller [00:10:02] The "R" stands for a relationship, which is really the context. You know, part of qualification should be, did you just have a closed lost opportunity at this count last week? If so, it's probably not time to call them up right again. Conversely, if the sales rep has a meeting scheduled for the next week, it doesn't do anybody any good to say, hey, here's a hot account you should be talking to because the sales rep already knows they're talking to them. So you need that "R", that relationship context.

Jon Miller [00:10:31] And then the "E" stands for the engagement, which is really, does that account spend time with you on your website? Do they download your content, the things that you can track for your first party data? And together, I think that "fire" is what gives you your qualification, your ability to kind of focus on the quote unquote "hot" accounts.

Sarah E. Brown [00:10:55] You know, Jon, you mentioned the go-to-market strategy of Demandbase. Would love to hear more about how you're thinking about approaching your target market, given your history in the space, your leadership in the space. Who are you selling to and how do you know when companies are ready for your solution?

Jon Miller [00:11:09] So we sell to B2B go-to-market teams. Generally speaking, that means that our buyers, often the marketing department, but the product is used across go-to-market. So the sales team, the SDR team, even customer success, are all playing with it. In terms of the hard qualification we talked about, we see companies need to at least have some size and maturity to really be able to adopt an account-based marketing strategy. So we're going to typically look at company sizes of twenty five million of annual revenue or higher. And then beyond that, it's all about the F.I.R.E acronym. What we do is we break our accounts up into an account journey. Different stages of the process. So we'll take an account and we'll say, well, maybe they're in what we call the qualified stage, which is, they're a fit for us. They're somebody we would like to sell to, but they're not really showing much heat yet. We have an awareness stage, this is showing that account might be showing intent, they might be researching our industry and our topics, but they're not really engaging with us yet. Which leads us to an engaged stage, which is obviously pretty self-explanatory, they're now coming to our site and doing some stuff, but the magic stage is the one that we call marketing qualified accounts, or MQA. This is obviously a play on the classic MQL, except obviously in an account-based world, it's accounts, not leads. And this is where we're combining all four of those F.I.R.E attributes to really say, hey, we think this account is in market. They're going to be entering the opportunity stage, say, in the next month or so. And they're showing the same behavior patterns as our other opportunity showed as they were leading up to them becoming opportunities. And so this is one that we really should be kind of focusing our time and energy on. So it's really about knowing where the account is in the journey and then aligning our go-to-market to the right thing for each stage of the journey.

Michael Pollack [00:13:08] When you talk about that journey and in particular as it pertains to Demandbase, I'm curious, have you found that – and I think your background is unique in that you've been a marketer now across a range of products – in your opinion, is the buying journey fairly consistent across businesses? Obviously, for each product, there's a different journey. But I'm saying, do you have a pretty high degree of confidence now that you're like, hey, when people buy Demandbase, businesses tend to buy it in a fairly similar way, even though those businesses could be really different? Do you see consistency or I guess like homogeneity or in that group or not as much as you'd think? How would you characterize that?

Jon Miller [00:13:48] Yeah, well, it makes me think of two pieces. You know, first of all, the buying process is not linear, right? I mean, buyers are moving forward and backwards and jumping all around. And yeah, I just describe these very four very steady linear stages. The analogy I like to use is yard lines on an American football field, where obviously if you look at the actual path a ball takes, football takes as it goes towards the end zone, that is very nonlinear. It gets punted back and forth, tossed back and forth, and all sorts of crazy stuff. But the yard lines tell us something. The yard lines tell us how close we are to the end goal... how likely we are to score... and that gives insights about what plays we should run. Obviously, if I'm on my 10 yard line, I might have to go long. If I'm on first and one for a touchdown, then obviously you're going to run, for example. So I think regardless of your particular buyer's non-linear journey, I think you can still also put yard lines on it to help you kind of measure the process and kind of know what to do. So the way I interpret your question is that consistent across different companies is like, should everybody have the same yard lines? And we see about half our customers customize their journey in our product. We ship the out-of-the-box ones that are similar to what I just described. But a lot of companies like, you know what? I also want to have a meeting stage. You know, to sort of track accounts between MQA and opportunity. Or they might have sort of different levels of engagement because they might want to track light engagement versus heavy engagement. And I think that's OK. I mean, companies should be able to customize their exchanges to match their unique business needs.

Sarah E. Brown [00:15:33] You know, I'm curious, as you're thinking about your yard lines and your customers' yard lines, how does that also relate to sort of the customer lifecycle and customer journey? Because some of this, of course, is also for lifetime value of a customer and post-sale. So I'm curious if you've aligned that model at all, thinking about the entire lifecycle?

Jon Miller [00:15:51] Yeah, that's actually a great question. And I sort of was remiss because I sort of just stopped at MQA, you know, these lifecycles. I mean, they need to go beyond a closed sale. This is something, at Marketo, we did a terrible job of that, right. Opportunity's created, we're done, yay. And yet in any recurring revenue business, so much of the value happens after that initial sale. But it is where multiple journeys start to come into place, because once someone's a customer, they might be on one journey to become an advocate, and it might be on a different journey to buy separate product where they're very early in the process, and then there's the third journey to renew them. So I think the similar concept of breaking the end state, you want into yard lines to track along the way, but it's not going to be one size fits all after the sale for all those different stages.

Michael Pollack [00:16:42] When you think about the role of marketing programs, I'm interested in how you think about it today at Demandbase. As I think back to my time when I was a Marketo customer and I can viscerally remember the value that the Definitive Guide Series had in my career in a positive way of just like, those definitive guide books that the Marketo marketing team used to produce were phenomenal. They were like Bibles, and they did an amazing job of explaining a journey. I always attribute Marketo as one of the better content marketers out there and doing an amazing job, building high quality content and really building the marketers' toolbox and creating this notion that marketers need tools to do their job. And Marketo was that tool for a very long time and maybe still is in some respects. Today at Demandbase, have you seen an evolution from there? Do you still believe it's about the content and about empowering your prospects and suspects and customers? Do you think about it differently today? How is your opinion evolved or shifted there?

Jon Miller [00:17:44] I'm still a big fan of thought leadership to build your brand, to define your business. I think that B2B purchases are inherently risky for the decision maker. You make a good purchase, your company is better off, you make a bad purchase, you can lose your job. And we know emotions play such a big role in buying. Whether people are thinking about it logically or not, their emotions are affecting their decision making. And that fear of making the wrong decision, really, I do think affects B2B buying. So what that means is as B2B marketers, we should be doing everything we can to decrease fear and increase trust for our buyers. The two main ways you can do that are one, thought leadership, by putting great, really educational information out there – because people trust experts. And so if you're seen as the one who's really teaching and guiding, then that will help build the trust in your brand.

Jon Miller [00:18:40] And then the other vector marketers should really be focusing a lot of time and energy on is social proof, because we trust what other people tell us that we should trust. And so that's where customer advocacy and social marketing and all those other vectors are so important as part of your brand, because it builds that trust, right. Brand is a lot more than your color and your logo. It's about what people are saying about you.

Sarah E. Brown [00:19:06] So you mentioned education. You've talked about it being central to your strategy. What's something that you wish Demandbase prospects knew that maybe they don't know about you yet. If you could tell them on this podcast, what would that be?

Jon Miller [00:19:18] Yeah, it's a really interesting marketing challenge – because Demandbase has been around for 15 years and means we have a really good brand awareness. Almost every marketer out there has heard of Demandbase, but that probably means they have some perception of demand, right? Maybe Demandbase does just advertising, or maybe, Demandbase is expensive or whatever it is. And my job as a marketer is to tell the whole world this is the all new Demandbase. This is not your grandfather's Demandbase. This is the next hot new B2B company with the best product in the emerging category. And it's the one that you kind of need to pay attention to. So that's a cool challenge as a marketer, because basically reinvigorating and reinventing a 15 year old brand that's well respected, right, I'm not throwing the brand out, but I got to give it some extra sparkle.

Michael Pollack [00:20:14] Reinvigorating, doubling down even, one might say. But you know, there's something you said there that I think is relevant for our audience, it's something that's come up again, another podcasts, which is the shifting role of marketing from just getting new customers, particularly in a recurring revenue business, to nurturing and expanding the existing ones. You made a really good point about Marketo. And I have some personal experience in Marketo, obviously, you have a tremendous amount. But Marketo, to some extent was an amazing business in terms of capturing customers. I don't know if it was equally as great at expansion and maintaining those customers. And so if you look at today's modern SaaS universe, where, to your point, getting the customer in the door is only the first step of the journey. I'm curious for you, as a CMO who's been at this for now multiple decades, have you felt and seen your time shift from finding new customers to really being creative and thoughtful about maintaining the existing ones' expansion and just seeing how your efforts have kind of shifted or your focus has shifted? Can you comment on that?

Jon Miller [00:21:16] I am certainly paying a lot more attention in my marketing department to the post-sale. I mean, literally at Marketo, if we got a campaign response from one of our customers, we literally threw it away, like we didn't count it. When we talk about our goals for the month or whatever, like responses from customers didn't count. That's completely whack-a-job when you think about it. And so right now, like my marketing team, we have a quota for pipeline creation that we have one for new business and one for expansion business. And we look at both – my demand gen team thinks about both equally. Now, I think that's fairly progressive as I talk to other CMOs out there. I would say it's probably more common that people are still focused on new business. And that's a real disconnect between what the CEO and the CFO are thinking and where marketing departments are. I think that ABM is a good driver for changing that. But it's going to be disruptive to marketing departments to sort of break their focus on the net new leads. Important but disruptive.

Michael Pollack [00:22:28] And so when you make that point in the Marketo example, these kind of in hindsight, it's crazy to think about. But, you know, it's funny to look back on some of those things. So, you know, you think about once upon a time that marketing is kind of key partner with sales. And increasingly what's happening for a lot of our customers that we're seeing is it's marketing and CS. I just wanted to see if you could quickly comment on the relationship you have with CS. And if that's changed as this transition or this focus on existing customers is increased.

Jon Miller [00:22:55] Well, you know, CS means different things to different people, right. So, you know, whether it's sales, or sales development or CS, I think one of my jobs as a marketer is to make sure that they have the insights they need about their accounts and so for the SDR that might be, hey, which accounts are showing buying signs that you should call? For a customer success manager, maybe it's which of their accounts are starting to show intent for their competitors, you know, and that like maybe you should be sort of worrying about something here. Or something more prosaic, like, hey, here's a contact at one of your accounts that you haven't spoken to, but is actually interacting and doing stuff, you should maybe kind of reach out to them. So definitely, I think a lot about, because we're sort of the owners of the single view of the count, making sure that we're able to expose the key insights to the entire go-to-market function.

Sarah E. Brown [00:23:50] Jon, we could talk to you all day. I know we have to wrap up here and especially appreciate you spending time with us talking about these topics. We'll have to have you on again. For those who are interested in learning more about you and your work, where should we direct them to?

Jon Miller [00:24:02] Well, obviously, check out Demandbase. I'll give a little sneak peek here. I'm actually writing my next clear and complete guide, which will be publishing hopefully in May. So not too long after people hear this podcast, I hope. And then if you want to connect with me more personally, find me on LinkedIn and just mention that you heard me here on this podcast.

Sarah E. Brown [00:24:21] Fantastic. Thank you so much, Jon. Really appreciate it.

Michael Pollack [00:24:23] Thank you.

Michael Pollack [00:24:24] Thank you, John. We appreciate it.

Sarah E. Brown [00:24:25] That's it for us. This episode may be over, but we can continue the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #SellingInTheCloud. On Twitter, I'm @SEBMarketing.

Michael Pollack [00:24:34] And I'm @MRPollack.

Sarah E. Brown [00:24:36] Thanks to everyone for joining us on this episode of Selling in the Cloud, brought to you by Intricately, the authoritative source of digital product adoption, usage, and spend data for cloud sales and marketing teams. If you like the show, head on over to iTunes, or ever you listen to podcasts, and please give us a review. We appreciate it. Until next time.

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