If you think Big Data is something only B2C marketers need worry about, you’d be wrong.
As business buyers turn to the digital world to help them explore and solve pressing business problems, marketers will find that the data needed to propel their firms into the digital future is increasingly big.
The challenges we face in closing the gap between the amount of data available and our ability to get value from it are equally big. Nevertheless, to become customer obsessed requires understanding your buyers much better and data is the key to that understanding. During Forrester’s Forum for Marketing Leaders last week, I told B2B marketers that it’s time to make a date with their big data destiny. (The prior link is to our forum coming up in London -- you can also listen to my April 30 webinar to learn more on this topic.)
My colleague Brian Hopkins believes that - to exploit the business opportunity hiding in big piles of data - marketers must understand that data is increasingly:
Here at the Adobe Summit in Salt Lake City, one announcement that’s creating buzz among the 6000-plus attendees is a new customer profiling feature. Called Master Marketing Profile (MMP), Adobe says this new capability gives marketers a view of customer data that spans a broad range of third-party systems, real-time analytics, and behavioral sources. (First of its kind in the industry? Not sure; Demandbase may care to differ, but I’ll let them settle that score separately.)
Dynamic customer profiling is something all marketers should get excited about.
It’s the type of technology evolution, when coupled with the right marketing practices, that is closing the gap between the amount of data available to us as marketers and our ability to get value from it. From my perspective, B2B marketers need to make a date with their big data destiny, and the time to schedule this appointment is now.
Empowered business buyers — sporting digital devices giving them information about and access to the products they want as consumers — now bring these always-on, always addressable expectations into the office. This presents big problems to B2B marketers, content to lead with products and features, who now find they need to fulfill these expanding digital expectations by getting closer to customers and knowing much more about them — a tough problem if access to, quality of, and practices around using customer data are underdeveloped.
In 2010, we entered a new 20-year business cycle where successful companies will be those that better understand and serve increasingly powerful customers. But what happens when government authorities with very specific rules about how companies communicate with customers regulate these interactions?
Wealth management, insurance, and pharmaceuticals come to mind as example industries where marketers and relationship managers feel this oversight most acutely. How do you thrive in the age of the customer when how you interact — and the data you maintain — is controlled by law?
These are questions that I plan to explore next week with marketing and client experience executives from the financial services industry at "The Forward Thinker" sponsored by EarthIntegrate. Thinking through the issues around how to be more customer-obsessed in an industry where every communication could be monitored or audited, I believe that the main challenge is not to stray outside the regulatory guidelines while meeting growing client expectations for responsive, online, anytime, anywhere engagement — all while maintaining the intimacy that high-net-worth investors, for example, expect of their advisor relationships or that insurance members expect of brokers.
This certainly doesn't mean most marketing is useless, but it's a telling statistic about the divide that separates marketing messages that operate at 30,000 feet from sales conversations that happen at 3 feet — the average distance between a salesperson and a prospect during a sit-down meeting.
In this digital age, it's increasingly important for marketing to play a bigger role in helping sales not just get "your" message in front of a customer, but to make it "their" message — something that the buyer cares enough about to talk to your rep and to do something that upsets the status quo as a result. It's about creating content that can play dual roles: attracting and educating buyers while giving sales a deeper understanding about what's attracting that attention in the first place. To achieve both, marketers have to understand their buyers. Better. Deeply. Obsessively.
In this research (subscription required), we found that, on average, B2B marketers expect to see budgets increase by 6%, compared with last year. This outlook is cautiously optimistic since 45% of respondents hope to hold budgets flat with 2013 and another 22% expect to see still more decreases. Pressure to hold the line on spending continues as 73% of respondents say they still feel budget pressure. (You can also see AdAge coverage of this survey here. And from CRM.com here.)
But here's the kicker; managing leads to revenue shouldn't end with a signed contract but should continue across the entire customer life cyle. It's about turning leads into long-term loyal customers. After all, a revenue event is a revenue event; it doesn't matter if it happens from engaging with a prospect or with an existing customer.
Why do I feel so strongly? Because the business case for lead-to-revenue management delivers credible improvements in marketing program and sales productivity and can no longer be sidelined or ignored.
In research published earlier this month (subscription required), I talked to marketers, technology vendors, and marketing service providers deep into transitioning from competent campaigners to owners of the new customer relationship. Those involved in marketing automation today recognize that these systems not only affect revenue generation efficiency but also deepen the bonds between buyers and the firms that serve them.
If companies are to thrive in this digital age — where buyers, empowered by technology, are in control — what should B2B marketing leadership do to evolve and survive the current pace of change?
Evolution is one of those great marketing clichés. The progression of man from ape to Homo sapien in five simple steps is one of those popular images most of us are guilty of using at one point to illustrate progressive change. But cliché also implies recognizable. Ask anyone to describe Charles Darwin's theory in one short sentence, and you will hear, "Well, it's about the survival of the fittest."
It's interesting to note, on the 154th anniversary month of the first publication of On the Origin of Species, that this description doesn't quite go far enough. What Darwin said was, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." (Image source: Wikipedia shows the only image in the original publication of On the Origin of Species — Darwin's handwritten diagram showing how characteristics diverge over time.)
Listen up, B2B marketing leadership, this means you.
Stacey and I caught up last week, and she peppered me with some interesting questions about the business value of thought leadership, how to organize/staff around thought leadership, and what are the leadership/governance models that work. We thought it would be fun to write up our chat in the form of a (rather lengthy) Q&A, shared with you below.
Reading through it, I think it's important to approach thought leadership as an organization, and not just a marketing activity or program. True thought leadership happens when the market talks back, and you get to exchange valuable insight with other leading thinkers on the topic. Kinda like Stacey and I do here.
Yet B2B CMOs can't continue to rely on measures like brand awareness, trade show scans, or website traffic to demonstrate the benefit their departments deliver. Those who do will be shown to the door as CEOs and CFOs raise the bar on accountability -- and getting the right attention here is a substantial challenge when so few execs rely on marketing data in their decision making (see figure to the right.)