Interview with Tasso Argyros, CEO, ActionIQ
Tell us about your role at ActionIQ and how you got here. What galvanized you to start a CDP?
Before ActionIQ, I founded Aster Data, a pioneer in big data that was acquired by database leader Teradata for $325M. In addition to founding Aster Data, I’ve worked with some of the top global firms across several industries to put customer data in the hands of marketers. In these roles, I found that often, getting customer data insights from the engineering team over to the marketing team was difficult, would take forever, and sometimes, would never even happen. And yet these insights could make the company millions of dollars.
If a company wants to truly deliver personalized marketing and customer experiences, they need to bring three things together: customer data, insights, and actions or experiences. Right now, these are all separate because the solutions that manage these different aspects of the customer journey require different skills. This is where I saw the opportunity for ActionIQ – to fill the data hole that previously hindered marketers from quickly connecting and leveraging a company’s data.
Given the changing dynamic of self-service data access by marketers, how do you see Customer Data Analytics platforms evolving by 2020?
By 2020, Enterprise CDPs will be widely adopted across industries, providing every marketer unhindered access to their customer data and the ability to create and change customer attributes in real-time.
Currently, marketers are being asked to decide what customer attributes and behavior to track for before even seeing the full customer data. For example, a marketer will be asked to define “active customer,” before realizing the different ways they can define an “active customer.” It could mean, for example a customer that has made a purchase or a customer that visited the website in the last month. However, let’s say once that’s decided, the marketer then launches a mobile app and customers using the mobile app are now active customers. This means the definition of an active customer has to change, which creates a new IT development cycle that can take months.
One of the biggest breakthroughs of next-generation Enterprise CDPs is that marketers at even the largest companies can create and change customer attributes on the fly rather than relying on their IT team to put changes into effect, putting the power of customer data directly in the hands of marketers.
How is the global market for Customer Data shaping up with the greater maturity of DMPs and AI-driven analytics?
The advent of AI finally makes it possible to truly unify customer data and predict behavior based on the complete customer experience. I know that “predictive” is an old buzzword, and some say it never delivered on its promise. The problem is that proper predictive modeling requires a solid data foundation, which most marketers lack, and constant customization by data scientists, which marketers cannot afford.
AI has the ability to solve both these problems as it will take on the heavy lifting, with marketers giving the commands. For example, AI might tell marketers that a certain percentage of their mobile transactions occurred during or after a retail store visit. But, AI is only as good as the data it can access, so it’s important marketers build and merge their customer data to create a strong foundation from which AI can draw insight.
How does the maturity of CDPs influence audience attention and audience conversion analytics within omnichannel commerce?
According to the American Marketing Association, the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day. That means marketers, now more than ever, need to ensure their customer engagement is truly personalized to cut through the noise.
Enterprise CDPs connect all customer data so that even non-technical marketers can access this data across multiple channels and optimize based on these channels’ performance. This results in a hyper-targeted and hyper-personalized customer experience, driving higher performance across a brand’s omnichannel commerce strategy and improving overall conversion rates.
How do you see the recent changes in data privacy laws (GDPR) impacting personalized customer experiences?
We are in favor of anything that gives the consumer more confidence to engage with brands and share their data. GDPR is a step in that direction and, even though it creates technology challenges for vendors like us, we are confident we can overcome them and we are supportive of the extra effort.
The vision behind ActionIQ is to help marketers be a lot more relevant and timely in their communications with consumers. Consumers have an adverse reaction to what they consider “spam” – irrelevant, untimely communications. ActionIQ is the antidote to that and if more marketers had access to such technology, brands would be able to comply with these regulations with confidence and ease.
Would the gap between data sets and experience delivery widen?
No, if anything, the gap will get smaller. As regulations around data increase, companies will look to new ways to tap into and leverage their existing data. The solution for many companies will be to use an Enterprise CDP to uncover and connect previously siloed data to create personalized experiences.
With growing noise across the offline, online, the web and social media, how does ActionIQ democratize disparate and complex data sets to build a singular definition of a customer?
What kills you is data complexity. In theory, all customer data should be in one place, neatly organized. However, that is never the case. This drives the need for IT teams and consults spending years massaging and transforming data. In industry parlance, that’s called ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load).
ActionIQ is innovating at the data layer to get rid of the requirement to ETL customer data before it’s connected to the Enterprise CDP or marketing system. This is a process marketers and IT teams are highly familiar with and is the single most frequent factor in delays in marketing IT projects.
By taking the ETL requirement out of the process, ActionIQ is able to keep the tens of billions of event data points (e.g. web clicks, mobile taps, SKU-level transaction records, etc. – data that’s often rendered useless by other marketing technology because of the format it’s stored in) into a format that makes this valuable event data always accessible and at the fingertips of the marketers. This saves marketers months of work and delays while providing them with an accessible and holistic view of customer data right at their fingertips.
What challenges must CMOs tackle to make their social selling decisions work with accurate marketing attribution?
A CMO leads much more than just marketing now as we factor in understanding data technology, analytics, and customer experiences, along with the usual creative initiatives. The role itself is changing rapidly and becoming much more critical to lead the digital transformation of a company and how it will win in the new digital economy.
The change will remain at a rapid pace as responsibilities for CMOs continue to grow more and more each year. CMOs fight the battle of not only building and maintaining a brand, but also the challenges of handling more technology, more analytics, and more data.
What startups are you watching/keen on right now?
I am a personal investor and advisor in several startups and I am always fascinated by the ever-accelerating pace of innovation. I am currently excited about a few different areas, including the revolution in how predictive models and machine learning is developed (e.g. startups like Databricks), the technology underlying the move to the cloud (e.g. Docker) and new services that power the next generation of global commerce (e.g. Flow.io)
What marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you use?
We do very little traditional sales and marketing automation. We are very selective with our clients and my counterparts, mostly CMOs and CCOs at Fortune 500, are too busy to reply to cold emails, read newsletters or answer their phone to strangers. As a result, we rely on our network, the success of our existing customers (and their network), as well as interest from the press and analysts to expand our business.
Could you tell us about a standout digital campaign at ActionIQ?
A very large Fortune 500 customer had to revamp a multi-channel global marketing campaign to combat a sudden move by a competitor over Thanksgiving weekend. With ActionIQ, they got it done in 2 days, not 2 months – which would have been too late, rendering the new campaign useless and futile. Having managed the execution of the campaign in a short period of time, the customer was then able to not only measure true incremental lift of the campaign but also how the different channels performed against one another.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
There is a lot of buzz around AI these days, and in fact, we see AI being used as a marketing term from many martech vendors. However, what most people fail to realize is that the #1 reason AI projects fail is lack of data. At ActionIQ, we focus on building the best data capabilities in the market – scalability, flexibility and speed of data – and building on top of this foundation we have an ambitious roadmap to deploy AI to make Marketers smarter and more successful.
How do you inspire people to work with technology?
We rely on technology for two main reasons: insights and automation. As a leader, I know that if I push my team to back their decisions and opinions with data, that will lead to more technology being deployed internally to capture and analyze that data. I also know that when I ask if we have exhausted our options to automate secondary tasks, so that our teams can focus on their core competency, that also drives technology options. The key is to push people to think about technology beyond its obvious use cases so they’re constantly stretching technological innovation across all areas of the business.
One word that best describes how you work.
Thoughtful. Most people, especially in startups, tend to overreact or make big moves just to prove they are ambitious and brave. I like big moves, too. But having built and sold another company before, I’m aware that every decision has long-term implications. I’m also aware that my team is much smarter than me, especially in their respective domains. So I always strive to get input and understand the long-term implications before I make an important decision.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
I am all about cloud-based solutions for their ability to provide seamless access across the organization, especially when we are on the road or working with remote resources. At ActionIQ we heavily rely on Google Apps and Slack for real-time collaboration.
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
My smartest work related shortcut is to start with a great team. If you build a team of smart, reliable people, you trust them to do great work and can focus on what you need to do to move the business forward.
What are you currently reading?
I subscribe to a few news publications, including The New York Times, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, the WSJ and the Financial Times. In addition, I try to do some reading especially on long flights. Right now I’m reading “Principles” by Ray Dalo.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
When I was a PhD at Stanford, my advisor was a Canadian professor named David Cheriton. David has had a spectacular career by any measure, having been a pioneer in computer science research, a successful entrepreneur and the first angel investor in Google. Back in 2005, I was considering starting my first company but I was too early in my PhD journey to graduate quickly. So I asked David if I should do both the startup and the PhD. He said, “the problem with doing two things is that you have to compete with people that only do one.” He was right! That taught me the value of focus in business.
Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
I always think long-term. It’s simple but nobody does it. Long-term thinking means you forego short-term satisfaction and success for long-term rewards. It takes patience, confidence and faith. But especially in our industry, where it can easily take 10 years for a company just to have a product and a decent presence in a large market, long-term s the only strategy that works.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
I’d be interested in responses by Lynn Vojvodich, former CMO and EVP for Salesforce. With a career spanning more than 20 years, Lynn has a unique breadth of experience in marketing and tech. She led Salesforce’s global marketing team, driving market leadership, global awareness and strategic events such as Dreamforce, Salesforce’s flagship event. She currently serves as a Member of the Board of Directors at several large enterprises, including Ford Motor Company, The Priceline Group, and ActionIQ, where her rare combination of technical vision and marketing expertise makes her a valuable asset as we continue to grow and scale.
Thank you Tasso! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Tasso Argyros is the founder and CEO of ActionIQ. Tasso is also Venture Partner at FirstMark, an early stage venture capital firm based in New York City. He is a serial entrepreneur who previously founded Aster Data, a pioneer in Big Data, which was ultimately acquired by Teradata for over $300MM.
ActionIQ is the leading enterprise Customer Data Platform, solving the biggest problem marketers face: the flow and scale of data, analytics, and campaigns.
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.