Interview with Craig Harris, Founder and Chairman of the Board, HG Data

Craig Harris

“We use ML and NLP to help process billions of structured and unstructured documents to curate highly valuable technographic information that our customers use to inform their sales and marketing outreach.”

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Tell us about your role and how you got here. What inspired you to launch a sales intelligence platform?

When I launched HG Data 8 years ago, the driving force for me was the notion that my team and I could build highly valuable datasets for sales and marketing teams – data that we knew the market needed, data that we knew we could uncover, but data that was very difficult to collect with accuracy and scale.  We thought of it as the pursuit of “The Holy Grail of Data” – something that inspired us so strongly that we named the company after the pursuit!  At the time, our focus was more about “building the database” and less about how to eventually get the data in the hands of those that needed it. It took us a few years to realize that just having amazing data was not enough…in fact, that was just one leg of the stool. Today it’s all about rounding out all three legs of the stool: (1) the best data on the planet, (2) delivered inside the workflows where sales and marketing teams spend most of their time, (3) supported by a world-class customer service and support organization.

How are ‘Audience Building’ and ‘Audience Targeting’ technologies relevant to a CMO’s tech stack in 2018?

They work hand in hand. If you have technology that can help you target the right accounts, then you are building and cultivating the right audience from the start. Without effective targeting, you can’t attract and retain the audience that matters to you. These two technologies are wholly dependent on one another for a contemporary, effective CMO tech stack.

How can businesses better leverage data-driven sales automation platforms to build unique customer engagement?
It starts with having high quality, reliable data. For first-party internal data, this means keeping good clean records in your CRM.  This includes fresh, updated firmographic data (address/e-mails/phone numbers/company names), and it means having the discipline as an organization to keep account touch points tracked inside your CRM. For third-party data, this means using vendors that are reputable and transparent about the data sources and methods of compilation.   There are numerous “mystery meat” data vendors out there, and it is important for organizations to do their diligence on the vendors prior to using the data.

What are the core tenets of HG Data’s digital targeting products?

HG Data Audience segments allow B2B marketers to hyper-target prospective customers or entire market categories with online advertising based on the installed technologies and other business needs and conditions discoverable by HG Data. We believe, and we’ve seen this through customer experience, that there isn’t a better way to strike a contextually relevant chord with prospective companies than through display channels. Engaging someone based on what they use in their organizations to conduct their work is a tremendous personalization tactic. And when you think about how B2B technology is often about being interoperable with other technologies or set to displace installed technologies, we’re delivering tremendous power to our core customers.

What are your predictions for predictive analytics and intent data platforms in 2018? How do you see technographic engagements growing in size in terms of revenue and adoption budget?

I still believe we are in the very early innings for both predictive analytics and intent data. For predictive analytics, there are a few entrenched vendors including Lattice Engines and Everstring (and others) that have weathered the early innings and they will continue to find their way as the market evolves and catches up.  HG is, of course, rooting for success for all of the predictive vendors given that technographics has already proven to be one of the most insightful and predictive components in most predictive vendor offerings.
Perhaps the wild card in 2018 will be the extent to which Salesforce productizes Einstein for predictive marketing analytics, as this has the potential to make a substantive impact in both the short and long term. Salesforce has already paved the way for this via the launch of Lightning Data on the AppExchange, which solves for one of the key building blocks for any successful predictive analytics programs, the seamless provision of third- party data inside of predictive analytics platforms. Looking out beyond 2018, I’m interested to see if the other major AI initiatives start pointing their solutions to marketers, including IBM Watson, Amazon Alexa, Oracle Adaptive Intelligent Apps and Adobe Sensei.

Regarding “Intent Data” it still feels to me that we’re in the top of the first inning. I would be happy if by the end of 2018 the market could at least agree on some definitions around “Intent Data.” A lot of what I’m seeing out there feels more like “engagement data” versus intent.

What startups in the martech industry are you watching/keen on right now?

In the “intent” space, as mentioned above, both Bombora and Big Willow are interesting. I’m also following a small, but interesting company named Datarista who is building solutions to make it easier to get third-party data inside of CRMs and MAPs – they are still small and early stage, but I’m enamored with their mission and I’m rooting from the sidelines. I’m also a fan of Owler as I’d love to see their crowdsourced approach to building out the competitive graph and company firmographics be successful.

What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2018?

We use SFDC for tracking sales activity and managing account lists. Pardot for marketing automation. Lean Data for lead-to-account matching. And perhaps obviously, we use HG Data for Salesforce to score accounts and create targeted messaging, and we use HG Data Audience to create highly targeted display advertising audiences. And those are being executed through a variety of DSPs — all third-party solutions.

Would you tell us about your standout global digital campaign at HG Data?

Late last year, we ran an ABM campaign that was targeted to a number of mid-sized software companies. The content experience for each target was highly customized in that each touch point (e-mail/display/BDR outreach) referenced specific competitors that we knew would resonate, along with details and examples of the coverage HG had for each of those competitors. We used the campaign to drive signups of our free products (HG for Salesforce Lite). Once we had X number of signups in a given target account, we then focused our messaging on the marketing team budget holders.  By the time we had the budget holders on the phone we already had multiple sales users from their organizations signed up and using our free products and creating buzz inside of those accounts. We had great engagement in this campaign, achieving e-mail open rates of 25-43%, while also increasing the number of appointments set by our SDRs by 300%. This resulted in us closing multiple new customers, and in each case, the marketing budget holders were able to see firsthand (from their sales teams) the effectiveness of HG’s insights before we even had our first call!

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader? How do you leverage AI technologies at HG Data?

Part of preparing for AI is understanding the technology and using it on a daily basis. At HG, AI is built into the internal processes we use to generate our business intelligence. For example, we use machine learning and natural language processing to help process billions of structured and unstructured documents in order to extract and curate the highly valuable technographic information our customers use to inform their sales and marketing outreach. By using AI on a daily basis, we also understand the need to add human validation to the mix. That’s where our quality team comes in to perform validation testing, not to mention our data scientists who are constantly refining our algorithms so that we continue to deliver comprehensive and accurate technographic data at scale. In short, preparing for AI means understanding what it can do for you while also understanding what it cannot do without the help of real people.
It’s a bit of a balancing act, but we work hard to get it right because we know that one of the key components to having success with an AI-based sales or marketing platform is having comprehensive and accurate data to power it. This is what we provide and we’re looking forward to seeing how our customers leverage our technographic data in their AI platforms this year!

How do you bring people and technology together at one place?

Thinking about this question from the lens of HG’s team, unfortunately, advances in technology make it more challenging to bring people together in a literal sense. With all of our devices and virtual meetings and virtual private networks and virtual everythings, we’ve found that having excessive amounts of delicious food at the office on a regular basis is really the only thing that is guaranteed to bring people together physically in one place!

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Aside from the virtual stuff mentioned above (Zoom meeting, VPN’s), and Tableau to see HG’s data manifest itself in beautiful ways, I personally can’t live without Surfline for mindsurfing, and Audible for speed reading.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

Using slack in lieu of emails with HG team members. And using HG for Salesforce Lite in preparation for almost every call I make.

What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)

My current reading mullet is “B2B Data-Driven Marketing” by Stevens & Kushner in the front, and “50 Places to Surf Before You Die” in the back. Both hard copies. Audible for everything else.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

A few years back when I was contemplating a big decision, a mentor said to me “I’d like to offer you another lens from which to think about this decision. Imagine yourself 100 years old and on your deathbed. Do you think you are more likely to say at that time that you were glad you decided to do X, Y or Z, or will you be glad you decided against it?” As simple as this advice was it has had a profound impact on my decision making.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

I’d have to say Auren Hoffman, former CEO & Co-Founder of LiveRamp. Although I’ve never met him in person I am a big fan of his occasional writings. When it comes to data and content he has a sixth sense.

Thank you Craig! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Craig Harris has more than 15 years of successful entrepreneurial leadership in both the philanthropy and business intelligence sectors. Craig currently serves as Co-founder and Chairman of the Board at HG Data. Prior to launching HG Data, Craig served as the Founder and CEO of NOZA, Inc. which was acquired by Blackbaud, Inc. in October 2010. Founded in 2005, NOZA developed technology to convert unstructured public data into searchable relational databases, and with this platform built the world’s largest research database of philanthropy data for use by the nonprofit, political and financial services markets. Before entering the business intelligence field Craig spent several years as a fundraising consultant in Santa Barbara, helping numerous charitable organizations plan and execute their capital fundraising campaigns. His nonprofit sector work began when he joined the Peace Corps in 1995 following graduation from University of California, Santa Barbara.

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HG Data uses advanced data science to deliver actionable insights that give B2B companies the competitive advantage they need to succeed. A best-in-class leader for accurate technographics, based on machine learning and advanced data science, HG Data provides B2B marketers with better intelligence to increase their ability to analyze, segment, and speak to their target markets, while innovative OEMs use our information to enhance and differentiate their product offerings. Our proprietary processing platform continuously analyzes billions of documents to curate a comprehensive and unparalleled business intelligence library of the software and hardware that companies use to run their business. HG Data delivers precision targeting at scale. Learn more at

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The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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