The B2B marketplace has been in an ABM renaissance, if you will, for the past several years. The ad tech space, in particular, has seen itself homing in on account-focused offerings to help organizations get in front of the right stakeholders at target accounts — where and when they need to engage.
According to AdWeek, Forrester Research predicts a three-quarter drop in venture capital for ad tech companies, so there is a possibility for major consolidation within the space as other martech vendors look to offer end-to-end platforms that meet marketers' need for enhanced account engagement and easier campaign monitoring.
Toby Gabriner has been at the helm of the AdRoll Group as the company’s CEO since November 2017, and he has garnered a reputation for helping the company develop its two offerings — RollWorks, the B2B growth platform, and AdRoll, the E-commerce growth platform. This development aims to help position companies to not only fuel growth within their businesses, but also within their customers’ businesses.
I had a chance to sit down with Gabriner at AdRoll’s NYC office and discuss the current state of ad tech in the B2B marketplace. He also shared his thoughts on recurring themes, challenges and goals he’s heard from discussions with RollWorks and AdRoll customers, as well as where he expects ad tech to find a home in the martech ecosystem in the coming years thanks to the growing adoption of ABM.
Demand Gen Report: What, in your opinion, is the current state of the ad tech space? Where does ad tech stand in the B2B marketplace and where are you expecting it to go?
Toby Gabriner: I think the big headline in the market today is a real connection between advertisement technologies and marketing technologies. They’ve historically grown up separate from one another; but the reality is that, as a pure marketer, you’re trying to do your best to understand the audiences that you’re going after and really have deep insights into those audiences. You want to engage the buyer throughout his or her journey, and then effectively measure that.
What I think you’re starting to see now is a real consolidation driven by the fact that the marketer feels like it’s too complicated to manage the customer journey across all their disparate technologies. It’s happening in waves. Initially, there were companies like Segment.io and Particle that were starting to consolidate or make data transferring between systems work better. I think that with the next wave, you’ll start to see that there are actually platforms that really connect these different capabilities together. That has been AdRoll’s mission as we move forward.
On the B2B side, I think with the current renaissance going on — driven largely by this whole new account-based marketing focus — account-based activities really are dependent on having deep insight around the accounts that you’re going after, where those accounts are in their buying lifecycle and who the personas are in those accounts — but then being able to really intelligently activate against all that information.
Lastly, focus has been on how to effectively understand how different efforts have ultimately driven the prospect through the pipeline. From a RollWorks perspective, we have historically come out more from the engagement and activation focuses of technology. But as a company, we’ve amassed a ton of data. We’ve always been data- and AI-driven [since] our foundation. Over the last few years, we’ve invested heavily in developing our capabilities on the account discovery and selection side of the business. We continue to invest in that area using our identity graph [capabilities] as a core driver. Then, on the other end of it, we’ve built our attribution solutions historically on the B2C side but are now starting to build up on the B2B side. We’re ultimately looking to offer marketers that full end-to-end view of the buyer journey.
DGR: What common themes, challenges, concerns and goals do you hear from your customer base when you talk with them about topics like ABM and using your technology for it?
Gabriner: The two biggest things we hear from our customers are understanding the accounts that they’re going after and where those accounts are in their journey. Really, you’ve got this fragmented ecosystem and all these different channels that marketers are playing, and understanding attribution is a huge, huge challenge that we see marketers trying to solve for. I think in terms of the ordering and priority that we often hear and where people are in their journey with ABM, it starts with really a deeper understanding of the accounts that they’re going after, and then being able to activate. I think that the next big wave is going to be around measurement and attribution and starting to have a much better understanding of the different channels that marketers are operating in.
DGR: When it comes to ad tech and B2B, where do you expect it to go with all these major concerns around disparate data? Can you share what you and your team are focusing on incorporating into the product and continuing to evolve to meet those expectations?
Gabriner: I don’t know if this is deemed to be as an analogy of what I see happening in the space, but in the ‘80s and ‘90s, enterprise resource planning and supply chain management became these hot phrases. There were lots of companies that came barreling in and optimized different parts of that. What you saw over a decade or so [ago] was a real consolidation of all those disparate technologies into one seamless supply chain management or ERP. Eventually, it became really robust and end-to-end.
I think what you’re seeing overall, when it comes to ad tech, is that it’s a similar kind of analogy where you’ve got all these technologies that marketers are trying to use, but it’s so fragmented and challenging. What you’re starting to see is the big consolidation of those technologies. I think it’s a bit of a misnomer to say that ad tech is like a dying area. It’s becoming consolidated with marketing technologies. If you think about it, advertising is still by far the largest budget for those companies outside of the humans that they employ. Just in terms of the big trends, I think that’s what we’re seeing now.
In terms of where we’re focused in our product roadmap going forward, one is around what we call the ‘identity graph.’ It’s really around helping our clients better understand the accounts that they’re going after through data combined with AI. We’re also investing heavily in both working with third-party data vendors and leveraging our own data to apply real intelligence. This can help our customers definitively understand the accounts that they should be focused on, and then the personas within them to develop really smart engagement programs.
The other piece in that is around personalization, which is also where we have done quite a bit of work and we’ll continue to be hyper-focused on. When we talk about personalization, we mean that across all the engagement channels — enabling personalization in ads, but also in email, on site and having that as an orchestrated set of programs that we’ll offer our customers.
Then the last thing is in attribution and providing really good measurement insights. Those are the three big product areas; we have teams that are focused in each of those areas. One of the things you should know about AdRoll Group is that we truly are a technology company. Forty percent of our staff are in the [research & development] portion of our business. We are heavily invested in humans that are building products on behalf of our customers.
DGR: There has been a lot of conversation in the space around the idea of accelerating growth and positioning yourself to scale. What does it take for today’s B2B businesses to position themselves to grow in this type of a market?
Gabriner: We came about two areas that we beat the drum around: growth and this notion of ambition.
From a growth perspective, it’s in a myriad of areas. As a company, we’re obviously very focused on growing. But more importantly — and this is specific with the B2B marketers that we work with — it’s about really enabling them to become growth engines for their customers. It’s widely written about how CMOs tend to have short tenures, and they often come under fire very quickly because they can’t necessarily demonstrate the efficacy of what they’re contributing.
Our mission is really to enable marketers to become revenue drivers for their organizations. We’re hyper-focused on giving them both the tools and the ability to measure what they’ve done — to be able to go back and show that they targeted these accounts, moved them through the buying cycle, got involved with the sales organization and actually closed deals.
That whole notion of marketers becoming a growth engine is a big part of our focus. We marry that with this notion that today’s marketers are ambitious. They want to be contributors in that way; they’re always looking at new tools and technologies that will help them be successful at becoming those growth engines.