Business

Buying technology from startups: what marketing execs look for before they take the plunge

Debbie Landa is CEO of Dealmaker Media/Under the Radar.

With the Under the Radar conference coming up this week, I’ve been speaking to a lot of startups about how they’re managing to get their messages out to business decision makers. The conference is all about how the consumerization of IT is changing how startups design and market their products. And most recently I spoke to Aubrey Sabala (pictured, VP of marketing for “smart data” company Sailthru, to find out how she’s experiencing this change, both as the marketing lead of a startup and as a buyer of technology from other startups. Sabala (pictured below) pulls from quite a bit of experience — she’s previously worked on innovative marketing programs for some of the largest brands in technology, including Google, Facebook, Digg, and AOL and helped lead Facebook’s Consumer Marketing Team, serving as the executive producer for Facebook Live.

Here’s what she had to say.

Debbie Landa: We’ve heard from the likes of Gartner and others that CMOs are quickly outpacing CIOs in terms of technology spending. What types of technologies are you looking for today?

Aubrey Sabala: We’re very data driven here at Sailthru. We want to ensure that our marketing spend is going to the right place and that leads have been qualified. Software that can give us a very informed picture of how our marketing campaigns are converting, or who’s landing on our website — more than Google Analytics — is worth investing in. Our top priority is very accurately quantifying the success of the campaigns we’re working on. Of course, we also leverage Sailthru ourselves, which provides a lot of actionable insight.

Landa: How much of your overall budget is tied to technology purchases?

Aubrey Sabala

Above: Aubrey Sabala, Sailthru

Sabala: Because we create a marketing solution, we fall on the lower end, maybe 10-15% — but we expect that to increase. My guess is that the average CMO would say about 30%.

Landa: Do you find yourself competing with your CIO for IT budget?

Sabala: To date, no. It’s more of a challenge at other companies, but we’re spared from some of that drama because many of our tools are built in-house. One thing is true regardless: You need to be able to justify technology purchases. In B2C companies, that’s harder because consumer marketers build out social channels, which is not tied to sales acquisition in a direct or measurable way.

Landa: If you could wave a magic wand and solve specific business problems with technology, what would those be? Where should tomorrow’s entrepreneurs be putting their energy?

Sabala: Today there are many different touchpoints, channels, and data sources that businesses need to connect in order to understand customers. Integrating them is really challenging, and getting insights from them to inform your marketing efforts is even more difficult. However, it’s worth it for organizations of every size and it’s the very challenge we’re solving with Smart Data. I’d also love turnkey customized landing pages that tie into Salesforce so that we could go out and market directly. I’d also love to optimize the sales funnel even further so that we can really identify the best qualified leads — at the right time — so that we can turn them into sales.

Landa: How long does the typical buying process take, from initial pitch to deployment, and what does your vetting process look like?

Sabala: We want to make sure we’re investing wisely, so we ask a lot of questions and always ask for customer testimonials, referrals, case studies, etc., all of which adds time to the process. We want to know if we have the infrastructure in place, that the value outweighs the cost, that it’s solving a real pain, and that we’re buying solutions that will still work in the long-term. We always ask to speak with vendors’ customers to ask the pivotal question: “When you approach the time to renew and you’re evaluating your budget, would you renew or look elsewhere?” All that said, we’re typically able to deploy technology in a month or so.

Landa: What are the biggest challenges associated with choosing new startups to work with?

Sabala: Vendors need to be able to show that they’re proven; that means more data points and more case studies— as a vendor, it’s a challenge we face as well. Vendors should strive not to pitch, but to build trust and credibility. Both vendors and customers should be asking the right questions, connecting the dots with other customers with similar challenges, and diving deeper.

Landa: Many businesses make major purchasing decisions by looking at analyst reports and benchmarks. How important are those reports — like Gartner magic quadrants, Forrester Waves, etc. — in your buying decision?

Sabala: I take them into consideration, but it really depends on the size of the company. Many worthwhile startups don’t make the cut because they’re not big enough. I look at it like hiring an employee: Everything that’s on paper gives you a starting point, but the real story is in the backchannel conversations. Don’t stop at the standard, traditional sources like analyst houses — be proactive with technology exploration! When you think about adopting a technology solution, you want to be able to scale and invest in the long haul. Think more about the problems you’ll have in a year or two and evaluate solutions that solve those problems.

Landa: Why do you attend events like Under the Radar?

Sabala: I think that if you’re not looking at the future of these technologies, you’re already two steps behind. It’s a forward-thinking challenge to participate with entrepreneurs that are innovating in various spaces. I always leave these types of events thinking, “Wow, we will have some very cool tools in our toolbox in the near future!” 

Meet Aubrey Sabala and hear how technology factors into her marketing strategies at Under the Radar 2013, May 22-23, in San Francisco. Register today using special discount code VentureBeatVIP.

For more insight from our Under the Radar series, see our previous stories:

Top photo of a nervous businessman from Shutterstock.


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