How CMOs can make big data relevant to the sales team

Marketing teams, armed with data-driven analytics, can help sales team be more than just order takers

Big data is requiring marketers to provide the right data and intelligence to sales in order to achieve business impact.

Author and futurist, John Naisbitt, famously wrote, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge”.

Mind you, that was in 1982 - before we texted, tweeted, linked, liked, posted or pinned. In fact, it was before most of us had ever heard of the Internet, in an era then big data might have referred to the 8-inch floppy disk drive that shipped with the newly released IBM PC 5150.

Fast-forward to the present. It is hard to imagine that even Naisbitt himself could have imagined the volume, variety and velocity of pure data that would be available to CMOs today through transaction records, web analytics, public records and a multitude of other sources.

According to Wired magazine contributing editor, Clive Thompson, social media alone currently accounts for 52 trillion words every day… the equivalent of 520 million books.

You would think that with all of this information and transparency, it would be easier than ever for companies to understand and influence customers through marketing technology. So how can marketing departments leverage big data to help their organisations increase revenue?

Buyers don’t need you anymore

By the time your sales reps have the opportunity to interface with potential buyers, those prospects have already travelled through a big part of the buyer’s journey. They have compared your offering to those of your competitors on the Web, researched peer reviews and public articles, and made their own conclusions without you.

When they finally arrive at the point of purchase, they have often made up their minds and see your sales team merely as a means to accept their order. But a sales team that is properly armed (by your CMO and marketing department) can add value for those buyers and move them toward a sale with their solution.

Provide the right information to sales

Most large companies do a decent job of tracking large amounts of structured data, such as information found in their CRM, marketing automation, data management, Web analytics and content management systems. If the marketing team is feeding information from these systems into a system being used by the sales team (usually the CRM system), then sales will have access to real-time data associated with either an individual or an account.

If the marketing team hasn’t tackled this integration issue, then it may represent the lowest hanging fruit for the CMO to provide significant value.

Data is available from other sources that can prove extremely valuable to the sales team. It may be available from marketing intelligence systems like InsideView or from social listening tools like Radian6.

The good news is that most of these tools are integrated with leading CRM systems, so your job isn’t one of integration but one of education and change management to help sales become effective with these tools.

Example 1: Social media listening

Let’s say you are monitoring your buyer’s Twitter feed and have a best practice in place to share tweets with your sales reps. One of your reps sees a particular tweet just as he is about to leave for a sales call with a buyer.

The buyer tweeted a question related to one of their current ongoing business problems. As a result of his awareness of the tweet, the sales rep is able to bring answers directly related to the buyer’s business problem to the call, speeding up the sales cycle. Had he not received the tweet, that sales call would likely have been wasted with probing for information, and the rep would have had to go back at a later date to address the business problem.

The most complex type of data is unstructured data that requires interpretation and summarisation to make it useful.

Example 2: Marketing intelligence

Let’s say you are tracking the trending patterns of the term “security”. One of the segments to which you sell is health care, where the term “security” grows significantly faster than in other industries. Your marketing department not only reported this finding to the sales teams selling to health care, but also went a step further to analyse what was causing this increased level of interest.

It turns out that certain regulations made their way through various governmental organisations that would make security more important in one of your focus areas. Your marketing team modified existing value propositions to create a greater emphasis on the security portion of their solution within health care.

The marketing team then delivered the value proposition, along with the business case driving the heightened level of concern within the healthcare industry to the sales teams. This enabled the sales teams to immediately demonstrate their relevance when communicating to their buyers in health care.

Here is where CMOs are in a position to make a huge impact on revenue. Armed with relevant and timely data insights, sales reps can engage with customers earlier in the buyer’s journey and be seen as trusted advisors with value to add rather than merely as order takers.

Begin with a pilot

For corporations to effectively leverage big data to impact revenue, they really need to take a fresh look at how their marketing and sales departments interact. Many organisations view marketing simply as a prospect pipeline and—let’s face it—a cost centre. CMOs must take a lead role in shifting this perspective.

One effective way to do this is to set up joint pilot programs, where marketing provides big data-derived insights to sales and teaches them where and how to meet buyers early and often in the buyer’s journey, armed with that awareness.

It’s useful in such a program to begin with a very narrow area of focus, allowing marketing to distill highly targeted insights from the data available and cherry-pick sales reps with the greatest ability and willingness to become champions of the pilot program. By starting with such a narrow focus, the results of the pilot can easily be evaluated against established metrics to demonstrate return on the internal investment needed to launch the program.

It’s critical in such a program that CMOs get full buy-in from the sales department head so that reps remain invested and positive results are celebrated and rewarded when achieved.

The new world of big data calls for a new definition of the role of the CMO. No longer merely in charge of brand building and demand generation, marketing departments in the big data era have a crucial role to play in directly impacting sales by distilling useful knowledge from the torrent of information to which customers now have access.

Those organisations that catch on the earliest are in a position to leapfrog their competitors.

About the author

Glenn Gow is the founder of Silicon Valley-based marketing firm Crimson Marketing. He is an expert in marketing strategy for tech companies and author of Revenue and the CMO. Follow his insights on tech marketing on the Crimson Technology Marketing Blog.

This article originally appeared in the CMO Council’s Peersphere magazine, Volume 4, Number 3, 2014.

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