Avanish Sahai of Demandbase: B2B Marketing Focuses on Accounts Not Individuals

Marketing to individual consumers is a lot different than marketing your products and services to other businesses. That is why Avanish Sahai, chief product officer for Demandbase, a targeting and personalization marketing platform for B2B marketers, says account-based marketing can improve your efforts to bring on more business customers.

Sahai explains what account-based marketing is and how it helps align sales and marketing efforts. He also discusses the impact it can have on new customer acquisition as well as extending the lifetime of existing customer relationship to uncover cross-sell/up-sell opportunities. (This transcript has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the audio player at the end of this article.)

Avanish Sahai PhotoSmall Business Trends: Maybe you can give us a little bit of your personal background.

Avanish: I joined the company about a year ago from Salesforce.com, where I ran the global partner program called The Ad Exchange. And I’ve been in tech for over 20 years, have done multiple start-ups, have also been at established companies like Oracle and have also been in the consulting world at a firm called McKinsey & Company.

Small Business Trends: Tell us a little bit about Demandbase.

Avanish: Demandbase is a very unique offering for a very specific part of the marketing area. We focus on business-to-business marketing and provide what we call the B2B marketing cloud. It’s a set of solutions designed to address the needs for business-to-business marketers, and how they can leverage unique elements of technology to address what we think is a huge opportunity in improving the interaction between business sellers and business buyers.

Small Business Trends: What are the biggest differences between marketing to consumers versus marketing to companies?

Avanish: In the world of business-to-consumer, B2C, the notion of experience — someone shows up on a website whether it’s Amazon or eBay, whether it’s any one of these sites — they’re typically going to make a decision right then and there. If they don’t, they may be followed around by a cookie that retargets them. But it’s a very unique, one-to-one experience.

In the world of B2B, the process itself — most of the time — is very long. It takes months, right? You’re not completing a transaction in one visit to a website. Two, the size of the purchase is obviously very different, right? You’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of dollars in a transaction.

Three, there is not a single buyer. In B2B, it’s a buying committee. You will have between 10 and 14 people on a buying committee, right? So you’re not selling to individuals. You’re selling to that account, that organization.

Those are some of the big differences between B2B and B2C. And therefore, they require different ways of addressing that, and different technologies to meet those requirements.

Small Business Trends: How does something like what you’re talking about — a B2B marketing cloud — help the marketing side and the sales side get aligned and be able to address the needs of the business customer today?

Avanish: Typically, with marketing and sales, there’s a big gap in pretty much all organizations that we talk to. B2B marketers talk about leads. They talk about personas. They focus on quantity, right? And they look for individuals. They’re looking for what we call “spray and pray.” And hopefully I can identify potential buyers for my product.

The sales team talks about opportunities. They’re looking not at an individual, but looking at who are those maybe seven, 10, 14 people that collectively are going to make that decision. And frankly, instead of quantity, they’re really focused on quality. They want to find the right buyer, the right influencers. And ultimately, rather than individuals, the sales organization wants to talk about accounts. The account as a whole; as a buyer. So that chasm is typically where you find in most B2B organizations — and it doesn’t matter the size. Small, medium, large — we see that all the time.

You need a way of bridging that gap. One framework we find more customers using is something called account-based marketing. Account-based marketing requires sales and marketing to sit together and define whom they’re going to sell to.

The first order of business is creating a common framework and a common way to think. And frankly from there a common language. That almost always is also missing. And in our world what that common language really translates into is having a common set of data and a common set of dashboards and reports so you’re looking at things in the same way.

Small Business Trends: What’s the different approach from a B2B marketing standpoint in today’s market between going after new customers and extending the life of the current relationships you have with current customers?

Avanish: Something like Demandbase can help that. We map the world of IP addresses to companies; about 40 different attributes about those companies. Among them is the fact that a particular company is a current customer of mine or they are a prospect.

If they’re a customer, I want to be able to address them as soon as they show up on my website, in a very personalized way as a current customer. How I engage with them should not be a generic, ‘Hey, you’re just a potential customer off the street’. I know what you have. I know what some of your prior engagements with us have been. Therefore, I’m going to present content to you that compliments that. That potentially is trying to up sell you something, but taking into account that you’re already with us.

If you’re a new prospect, you want a different kind of engagement. And in the world of B2B, really, it’s the notion of personalization. What a core part of our technology does is personalize that experience at an account level. If it’s a new prospect, you want the ability to tailor that engagement, personalize that in real time by understanding who’s showing up on your site, what do they have, what might they need, etc. That creates a very, very different set of value drivers.

Small Business Trends: What kind of expectations for seeing tangible benefits would a company have if they are totally new to this kind of B2B marketing approach?

Avanish: Companies need to think about adopting newer processes along with new technologies that work together, right? And that’s one of the biggest elements of where the prior gaps have been. The organizations are siloed, and the technology they use to engage with the customer is siloed. So how do you really enable a much better connective tissue, across all the different silos — organization and technology?

That is part of the change management process. We have very large customers like Adobe, and Salesforce, as well as very high-growth customers like Box and DocuSign. They are structuring their marketing processes and sales processes to align around technologies like Demandbase to bring that customer journey in a highly personalized way from the top of the funnel. From advertising to the right target accounts, to the personalization that they experience when they show up on your website, to how someone in the sales organization handles them because they understand what their behavior has been throughout that journey. And that is a big part of the change that we’re seeing happen.

Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more?

Avanish: The best place to find more information is www.demandbase.com.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.