ABM Is Not A Destination, It’s A Journey (With ThoughtSpot’s Scott Holden)
Tricia Gellman: Hi, everybody. I'm Tricia Gellman and I'm the CMO of Drift. And here we are in a new episode of CMO Conversations. Today, I'm joined by the CMO of ThoughtSpot, somebody that I worked with years ago at Salesforce, and we had a lot of fun there, but we're going to talk today about his experience at ThoughtSpot and ThoughtSpot is really pushing the envelope in the ideas around AI search and analytics. So Scott, why don't you start by helping us understand just a really little bit about yourself and ThoughtSpot?
Scott: Yeah. Hi, Tricia. Thanks for having me back on the show. I'm excited to be here and for people that might've listened to us before, I won't go into a lot of detail on my background, but I'm the CMO at ThoughtSpot. I've been at the company for about six years. I've had a good run here in marketing, obviously with you at Salesforce for about seven years prior to ThoughtSpot. And I tell people, this is my third career. I was an investment banker, then in logistics and now marketing. I just love marketing. It's one of those things that it allows you to be creative. It's this great combination of the world's moving so fast in the world of marketing and it's moving so fast in the world of technology. When you combine those two things, it's just a place that I know I'd never get bored and have a ton of fun. So I'm happy to be on the show today and share my experience.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, I also think you kind of highlighted to me one of the main benefits of being the CMO is that you're across all parts of marketing. You don't have to really live in just one part and go deep, but you get to kind of play with all the tools and really work the team together, but then different tools for different times in terms of what it is that you need to do to be successful.
Scott: Yeah, it's funny. When I took the job at ThoughtSpot, I ran marketing teams at Salesforce, their sales product, their platform product. You remember at Salesforce, we had these kind of cross- functional groups where I sort of led the marketing teams, but some of the functions didn't direct line to me, they dotted lined into functional areas, things like marketing operations and events, dotted line and other people. And so coming into ThoughtSpot, I was excited to kind of own all of it, as well as the employer branding side of things, the technology side of things, the PR, the events, pieces that I didn't have full responsibility for before. It's been a lot of fun. I mean, I think for most of us learning and growing is a huge part of our careers and what keeps it interesting. And so I've gotten to do a bunch of new things, which is always fun.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, that's great. Well, so last time we spoke, we spoke a lot about messaging. We spoke about thought leadership, but I mean, I think that kind of leads to an area that you have owned, which is analytics and BI. You have your own tool that really puts you in the driver's seat in terms of having that data. So maybe tell us a little bit about how you use your own tool to do your job at ThoughtSpot.
Scott: ThoughtSpot's a next- generation BI analytics product where we've created this category called Search and AI- Driven Analytics. And the idea is simple that business people like you and me, Tricia, non- technical data analysts should be able to use our product, ask questions through a simple search interface, if you know how to use Google, you should be able to use ThoughtSpot and get answers back and not be dependent on an analyst to understand what's going on with your business. That was a huge draw for me to the company, given my quantitative background, I was a total spreadsheet guy back in my banking days. And even when I was at Salesforce, I really wanted analytics to be easier than it was. We struggled with data and just crosstalk.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. Well, we were in the early days, I think. I remember my first week I sat down and did training on Omniture and then brought the data to the team and they're like," Oh, we can do that. We know all that information."
Scott: It's kind of the dirty secret of analytics that there's been this kind of renaissance over the last 10 years, maybe where people talk about self- service, but the dirty secret is it self- service just means you're not coding. You still have to go to multi- day long training classes to get these things to work. And that's just not okay. I remember we had business objects in Salesforce. I've sat in on Tableau training classes. These products are powerful, but they're not easy. And so ThoughtSpot is trying to make it easy. We're trying to make it search box simple to ask questions of your data and get insights. That's kind of what drew me to ThoughtSpot. And I mentioned just being able to do new things. I was really excited to come over and also start with a blank slate. So when I joined ThoughtSpot, about six years ago, we didn't have any technology. So I got to make all of the decisions and build the stack from the ground up. And I partnered with our Head of Ops in Demand Gen, a guy named Kaushik, shout out to Kaushik. He's awesome. We got to craft something that we really wanted to be special. And coming from Salesforce, I'd seen so many broken Salesforce instances over the years and seen a lot of what I didn't want to do. And so it was fun to kind of take on that project and build our stack and do it in a way that would be beneficial to us in the long run. I wanted to make decisions that we didn't have to clean up messes. It's something that marketers don't talk about a lot, but data's often messy and dirty and hard to... People make decisions in an interest to be expedient. And they end up spending a lot of time down the road, cleaning up the mess. And so we've tried to be thoughtful about our stacks in the beginning. I'll give you a little bit of background on it. We use Salesforce as our main system of record. We use Pardot. We actually switched from Marketo recently. We use 6sense and Demandbase and Hushly and Splash. There's so many great companies out there that are part of our stack, but some of the things that I'm excited about is that we've taken just a really tight ship approach to data, no duplicates in the system. We want it to be really clean, which ultimately leads to better outcomes when it comes to analyzing data. And so-
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I mean, I think that it's a really good point. I think one of the problems that people have, and I've kind of observed this over the past 10 years is it's really hard to continue to drive the growth engine for a company. And so people say," Oh- oh, if I add marketing automation, then that's going to help me drive the growth," and they add in a marketing automation tool. You just said you switched from Marketo to Pardot. And then maybe that gives a little lift, but over time they're like," Oh, this isn't the right thing. Oh, well, the next new thing is ABM. Okay, we're going to Demandbase. We're going to do 6sense." All of a sudden you have all these data silos and the more tools you have, the more data silos you have, the less easy it is to make decisions.
Scott: You've just described the primary use case for an analytics product like ThoughtSpot. Yeah, it's to be able to see across all these different data sources and analyze across them to get insights that go from one end to the other. And that's just been a really fun part to orchestrate. And so it's crazy. After all those years at Salesforce, I very rarely log into Salesforce. I try to look at my business entirely through ThoughtSpot. I'm doing it every day. And if there's something I can't see, I'm often thinking about how do I get it into ThoughtSpot so I can see it. We're big partners with Snowflake. And so we're actually going through a Snowflake implementation now. And I know that's another way that you can aggregate data to be able to analyze. And so a lot of our customers are doing that. And that's just another way to bring things that might not talk to each other too easily together so that business people like us can ask questions and follow the thread.
Tricia Gellman: I think it's key. And I mean, so frustrating as a marketer, if you want to be a data-driven marketer, which I think gives you the seat at the table today. So it's like not really a negotiable, but let's say you want to be more data- driven, if you have this challenge of analytics and silos, really partnering to get that data together, working with an ops person, whoever it might need to be to put in place Snowflake, think about ThoughtSpot. Another part of it is like, how do you action the data? And one of the big benefits for Drift is that we allow people to pump all this data just directly into Drift. And so then you can take action on your website based on the data, depending on sort of which data set that person fits into. So you show up on the website, oh, you're in the Marketo, the data marketing automation tool, great. We're going to give you the messages based off of that. And then you don't really have to have the single view of the customer. You just have to be able to quickly identify who that person is, whether it's a prospect or a customer. So there's different ways to skin the cat, but for sure, spending too much time trying to do that, trying to get to the answers is super painful. So I can see the value of ThoughtSpot. The more that we talk, the more I'm like, oh, we should look at ThoughtSpot so I can get my own answers.
Scott: The beauty of it is that the thing that... There's a lot of dashboards out there that help people look at macro trends and you kind of know one big metrics upwards down. But what we allow people to do is to get into the details. Like I want to know how much pipeline did a specific campaign create for a specific region yesterday or last week, or right now. And that is traditionally hard to do. And it's hard to do fast and I can type a few keywords and get that answer immediately. That's one of the exciting parts about this industry right now is that we've come a long way since you and I first met back in Salesforce, in what feels like archaic ways of some of the marketing operations things that we did back then. It's a whole new world.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I think it's super exciting. And it really empowers you to offer value in the company because you can see the impact on what you're doing in your marketing. And you can have a conversation, not just about the fact that you launched a cool, shiny campaign, but the fact that it had impact and it really drove value for the business.
Scott: I would say, one of the crazy things is that we don't have any data analysts in our marketing team, zero. We're a little over 30 people, so we're not huge, but normally companies have analysts to do work for them. And we're able through the ease of use of the product, not have them. You'll often hear about people having analysts overseas and lots of data, like spreadsheet work happening. For us, it's all done in one spot. There are no spreadsheets. There are no analysts. It's just right there whenever you need it. And there's a huge amount of efficiency that comes from that. Especially if you're trying to be a lean marketing organization and you don't want to put all your headcount, all your resources into just keeping the lights on, it's a good way to move faster.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I mean, multiple jobs. I've been told that if I want to have better analytics, I need to have a person who can write SQL. And the last thing that I want to do with my marketing headcount is spend it on a person who's writing SQL. I'm like, no, kill me now. I'm not going to give up my headcount for a person who's going to write SQL. That's just not happening. So anyway, I'm with you on that.
Scott: That's actually the backstory of why I joined ThoughtSpot when I worked at Walmart, and this was a decade ago, and ran logistics for walmart. com, I hired a person to sit next to me to write SQL. And it gave me a lot of power because especially in a cost- conscious business with lots of data points, it was absolutely the right move at the time, given the technology limitations. Thankfully we don't need to do that anymore with products like ThoughtSpot, making it easy to use natural language search to ask questions. But yeah, I've been there. So I think that was one of the things that like, if I can have this, I don't need to do all that. Yes, please. And it's been a fun story to tell too.
Tricia Gellman: I think it's great. And it's always great when you can work somewhere and use your tool because it just helps you to be the better marketer in terms of talking about it. But let's talk about the rest of your stack. You talked about two different tools that I think people would put into the category of a company's marketing. And I know that you have the, I would call it a plus, but maybe it's a plus and a minus of really mostly going after sort of a higher- end customer, a company's marketing probably has a very high return for you. Talk a little bit about what that means for you and sort of how you are thinking about a company's marketing.
Scott: Yeah. Account- based marketing is huge for us, huge to put it in context. We sell to the mid- market and the large enterprise, and we've had a ton of success selling to some of the world's largest companies in the world. So Walmart, Hulu, Caterpillar, RBC, Verizon, it's really kind of a who's who of some of the world's biggest companies. We're working with the chief data officers and the EDPs of business lines to try and help them transform how they use data. And so our ASP is roughly$300, 000 in those big accounts as a land and it can be 700 to a million dollar expansion. So, big business. And so understanding those accounts and helping our sellers penetrate those accounts, because you can use ThoughtSpot in every division, all the different departments, lots of different use cases. So we're really thoughtful about helping the sales team get in and prove value once they do get a foothold for the next use case, the next use case and the next use case. So we've dedicated a lot of time to ABM. Probably the first thing that comes to mind as I talk about it is that one of the things I see companies' marketing teams do is like, we need to hire someone to do ABM. And I'm always totally confused by that because to me it's like, you're either an ABM marketing team or you're not. I mean, I think you can have a team that focuses more on ABM motion and maybe a team that focuses more on kind of casting a wide net, but it has to be teams or a team sport. It can't just be like," Oh, we hired an ABM marketer," because it's a full... Like if I unpack all the different things that we're doing, two thirds of my team for sure is doing some form of ABM activity at any given point in time. And so I just think it's now like we are an ABM marketing team and it's been a massive lift for the business. It's also been a journey. I've been at the company now almost six years and probably the biggest learning about it is that you need to be completely aligned with your sales team if you want to do this well. And just given, I think the nature of that we're an early stage company, everybody's just running really fast to slow down and be thoughtful and strategic, which are our top accounts? How are we going to do this? It's hard to do in the early days. I think there's tons of value if you can do it, but it became an evolution. And now where we are, it's just pretty awesome to see. So I'm happy to unpack it and talk through our key learnings and what we've done, but there's nothing that we do that's had more impact, especially on our sales productivity than our ABM efforts.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I think it would be interesting to talk a little bit more about the partnership with sales. I think we started talking about the analytics you're able to drive. Having that versus just talking about a bunch of leads is obviously giving you a bigger seat at the table with sales already. Now we're talking about ABM where you're talking about the exact same accounts and you're not driving a list of accounts to come in the door that are different than the ones that the sales team is selling to. So what does that look like in terms of the way that you partner with sales? How often are you meeting to talking about which accounts you have in your ABM program? And is it just about new account acquisition or is it about maturation as well?
Scott: I'll try to break this down and not geek out too hard on you.
Tricia Gellman: Fine.
Scott: It starts with the framework, right? And so we've segmented our customer base. And the easiest way to think about it is we've divided the line basically around a billion dollars. A billion and above in revenue is diamond accounts and a billion and below is gold accounts. And for our direct sellers, they're really only focused on diamond. And we have our partner ecosystem that sells into gold. And we've got an insights team that helps facilitate that. In the diamond business, we've broken that into three parts. And that's really where most of our ABM activities happen. At the top, we've got probably 30 to 40 accounts that you kind of call them lighthouse accounts. Probably two thirds of them are existing customers. These are accounts where we think we can get a million dollars plus in revenue from. With those accounts, we basically will pull out all the stops. So whatever you need to do, we will do it and put our people on it. I'll give you some examples, custom websites, custom bespoke demos. So we'll actually take the customer's data, build a demo video, put it up on a private website, password protected, distribute to the customer, show different use cases. It gets really involved. And so we've just had tremendous success there. As a customer in analytics, seeing your own data in a new product with a radically innovative approach like ours, where you can search to ask questions of your data, seeing is believing. And so that's just been a huge lever for us. And so for our top accounts, we do a lot of really bespoke things like that. And then probably where it's the most interesting though is in tier two and tier three, because the tier two basically incorporates all of the named accounts that our sellers go after. We really have them focused on a limited number, like five to 10 accounts, because we just think that there's so much opportunity there and we want them focused. My CEO always says that focus is like oxygen to a seller. And you'd think in analytics, it's kind of counterintuitive that you could sell it to every department, every industry, yay, it's everywhere, and it's actually sort of suffocating to have that many options. So we give them focus. And there's a real... The shifts from what tier two accounts are heating up to become tier one and get that extra level of customization within it, or what tier three, and these are accounts that are not named, that are hand- raisers that may be warming up that if you're one of our account execs and two or three of your accounts, just nothing's happening, you've been trying, they're just not interested for whatever reason, how can we quickly cycle them out with some tier three that have been putting their hand up and really actively engaged in the marketing cycle? That's basically been a framework we've had for a couple of different years and it's been really hard to execute and I'm thrilled to see now... Like I just came from a meeting this week where we've got an account scoring model where we're starting to work with the regional sales leaders and go account exec by account exec, look at what they've chosen, look at accounts in their patches that they haven't chosen. Are there accounts that have heated up that they should be looking at and put in their focus zone that they're not? And so that I think is easier said than done. It requires people looking at data and kind of actively engaging. We're doing this all in ThoughtSpot, which has been a nice factor, but it takes effort and coordination. But if done right, that's really where the flywheel, especially if you've got large ASPs, customers that have the propensity to buy a lot, it makes all the difference in the world.
Tricia Gellman: Thank you for sharing that level of detail. I think our listeners will really like going below the surface level and ABM's been a buzzword for probably seven years, if not longer. And yet I think everyone has different definitions of what it is. So to hear from you, how you think about it and how it stratifies across 30 to 40 accounts down to hundreds of counts, I think it's really helpful.
Scott: There's actually like one kind of summary thought that I have that I think sort of teases apart, the problem with ABM in terms of how people might think about it. And I thought about it this way too. Is that generally when you say account- based marketing, I think people think let's go pick the accounts they're going to market to. And it's actually the opposite. It's really what accounts are raising their hands that they want you to engage? Then those are the ones that you go sell to. And so it's a little bit of a inverse from, I think the way people would naturally tend to think about it. Once you get that clear, I think it helps the conversation internally, especially as you're trying to sell that to your sales team, who's trying to figure out what this new fangled account- based marketing thing is and why it's important. I've found that to be a crystallizing concept for folks.
Tricia Gellman: I really like that concept because I think there is so much potential, especially when you get to account scoring to really identify where should people focus. And then that unlocks huge potential in sales because people focus not on the list of the account they thought was going to be the best one to make the year, but instead on how they're actually going to make the year with the account that's raising their hand. So that brings me to my final question on this, which is, if you're talking to somebody who's going to start an ABM program, they haven't done it at all. Where do you think they should start? Should they start on evaluating a tech stack to support ABM or should they start on aligning on accounts on the strategy with sales?
Scott: Absolutely, the strategy. For us, it was a journey. And so I think as a team, you need to come up with a framework and an idea. It's almost like, basically, I built a little internal ABM pitch deck where I would just sell the idea like, this is what good looks like. Anybody want to do this right now? I'd go around like, are we ready? And it was like, yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Well, actually in the early days, people didn't see it. And then the pitch got better. And a couple of things happened. We had this framework, I'd say we slowly started building the tools in the backend because we knew that we needed to do this. And even if the sales team wasn't quite ready, we wanted to be ready when they were ready. And so using ThoughtSpot, using products like 6sense and Demandbase and kind of building what I would just call the infrastructure, our custom websites, our tracking, our analytics. And then in the whole tiering strategy we had it all, basically the segmentation built inside Salesforce, that we look at it in ThoughtSpot. And then once we got to the place where they were ready to really take it... Like at one point, I think our sellers had 30 accounts and really go focus on 10 or less. That's when we were really bringing it. And I would say bringing data into the conversation, bringing structure, and then also having those key wins, so the little custom things we do that actually take quite a bit of work, but as a marketer, those are offerings to the sales team. Like, look what we can do for you when you give us guidance. When you choose accounts, we can help you. And like, here's how, and they were like," Oh my gosh, this custom video just totally blew away our champion. They sent it to the CEO. Everybody's raving." That buys you another conversation to say, here's how we can take this ABM program to another level. We're cooking with gas now, but it's been a journey. And so you need to have all those pieces lined up and be constantly selling it to the rest of the organization and the value that can come from it.
Tricia Gellman: I like the idea that it's a journey. And I think a lot of times people think ABM is a destination and they get really hung up on like, what is this complete all encompassing ABM program? And the idea of it as a journey and you can sort of start and you can learn along the way, you can build the tech stack along the way, I think that's a great approach. Anything else you want to add here? Because I think this has been a great conversation and we could wrap here. I think that was a great close in terms of how to do ABM successfully and what's worked for you.
Scott: Yeah. I'll wrap with one closing thought on it. It's probably a quote that you know, which is ABM is totally a journey. And what I found is that as we executed different tactics and we got different buy- in, different proof points as we did it, it really started to crystallize the value behind it. I stood up at a sales kickoff last year and showed metrics and walked the company through it. And people were like," Oh, we can start to see it." It was a tactical journey. And one of the quotes I've always loved from Benioff at Salesforce, the CEO is that he would always say," Tactics dictate strategy." I think that it totally messed with people's heads. They're," Wait a minute. Here's one of the most brilliant strategic thinkers, marketers of all time. And he's saying tactics before strategy. What?" But I think he's right. I think there's a high level strategy, but sometimes you just need to get the pieces going. And as they kind of get on the board, the strategy and the proof of the strategy becomes more clear. If you put a couple of tactical pieces on the board and the strategy gets foggier, you're going in the wrong direction. That's been a learning for me as we've gone through it and helped shape my thinking.
Tricia Gellman: I love that. And we used to always repeat that back when we were at Salesforce, but it doesn't get old. I do think, have a good idea, have that idea of what the end game looks like. You also talked about your pitch deck internally and how you kind of painted what good looks like. So you were telling people where you're trying to go, but then you're implementing a tactic to get there along that journey. And then being able to come back to people to say," Hey, look, we set out on this journey. We said, this is what good looks like. We did one thing. We're not at the end. Let's now go to the next thing. Let's go to the next thing." And that also builds your credibility. It builds a momentum within the team. I always talk about how it's not worth it to try and build the super ultimate Maserati when in fact, if you start with a bicycle, you might be okay. It's important to get that win with the bicycle, with the thing that you can get on right away and then get to the next level, the next level and build on it, which it sounds like you've done.
Scott: Yeah. I think that's a great way to summarize it. Start with the bicycle, not the Maserati.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for joining us. It's been great to have you on the second episode. I think there's so many topics we could talk about. I mean, you've worked with lots of different sales leaders, and I think you're talking here about the success that ABM has had and analytics in terms of working with sales, but lots of different facets to being a CMO. And I think the tenure that you've had really has allowed you to also do different things and learn and grow with the team, which is also a testament to what you've been able to do in the company. So thanks for sharing your wisdom with us. And again, thank you listeners. We strive to bring some of the smartest, best CMOs onto CMO Conversations. But if you liked this episode, if you have another topic you want us to talk about, please post those things in the notes and help us to promote the series so that we can continue to reach more people and help them improve the marketing that they bring out into the market. The partnership that marketers have with sales, with leadership, I mean, all of these things, we are the brand ambassadors of what good marketing looks like. Thank you, Scott, because you are definitely a top marketer and we're happy to have you on the show.
Scott: It's been a ton of fun. Thanks for having me.