In focus: B2B marketing's data challenge

We explore the state of data-driven marketing in B2B marketing teams and what's holding their martech investment and innovation back

We live in a golden era of data-driven driven marketing. Data now helps with everything from discovering and enriching audiences to surfacing high-value targets and nursing them along their buyer’s journey.

In fact, for many marketers there has never been a better time for finding and converting potential customers. At least in B2C-based companies anyway.

B2B-based organisations, however, continue to live in a comparative data dark age. They have access to data – that resides in countless spreadsheets and CRM systems. But the B2B sector has experienced nothing like the blitz of technology-driven innovation that has been bestowed on their B2C counterparts.

The result has been a lag in the adoption of technology in B2B marketing overall. It’s something well-noted by LinkedIn director of marketing solutions, Prue Cox.

“We did some research earlier this year where we looked into the adoption of technology by marketers across APAC, and one of the things we did find was B2C marketers were ahead of B2B in the adoption of technology,” Cox tells CMO. “So when we think about simple things like marketing automation platforms, and where AI is playing into it, B2C was definitely more ahead.”

According to the LinkedIn research, 65 per cent of B2C marketers expected their teams to grow, compared to only 46 per cent for B2B. The research also founded B2C marketers using a broader range of marketing technologies, with B2B marketers slow to move beyond data analytics. B2B marketers were, however, looking to increase their usage of marketing technologies, particularly in terms of analytics, automation and Internet of Things (IoT).

This contrasts with the early days of sales and marketing tech enablement, where B2B sales organisations were somewhat pioneers of data-driven sales models, stretching all the way back to 1980s-era spreadsheets and tools such as Act!.

In the early 2000s the market was reignited by the emergence of Salesforce.com and a new era of CRM tools, followed by marketing automation tools such as Eloqua (now owned by Oracle) and Pardot (now owned by Salesforce).

The customer data issue

A persistent problem for B2B organisations is data. Unlike for their B2C counterparts, who are able to harvest data from the seemingly limitless oceans of the Internet, B2B organisations are much more reliant on human sales agents who are rarely motivated or trained in using data effectively, regardless of how strongly they might benefit from it.

Against this, there is an emerging cadre of solutions seeking to put data back at the forefront of B2B. For example, the need to get data into the hands of sales professionals has been the core principle propelling Australian startup, SalesPreso, which has built a tool to automatically extract data from a range of systems and use it to pre-populate sales presentations.

Company founder, Joel Thomson, says SalesPreso boasts 20 enterprise clients including Telstra, News Corp, REA Group and beverages company, Lion.

“We help businesses use the data they have access to, whether it is external data sources or their own internal customer data, to populate sales presentations automatically,” Thomson says. “We automate the creation of customer-relevant presentations by integrating our slides with relevant customer data. It is used to help to tell the story and to shorten the sales process.”

In many ways, SalesPreso is automating what the best sales people would have traditionally done by working with data analysts inside their company to dig numbers out of relevant systems to pull together proposals. However, Thomson says few sales people have the time to undertake this kind of research now, with SalesPreso estimating it saves its customers an average of 22 hours per week, per salesperson. The result is a 34 per cent increase in customer satisfaction and a 29 per cent increase in customer coverage.

Thomson says while the increase in sophistication of B2C data technology has been remarkable, the ‘old school’ culture and practices of B2B organisations have to date withstood many of these developments. But he notes this situation is changing rapidly. Like many trends that have swept sales and marketing in the past decade, changes are being very clearly driven by customer behaviour, as they increase their capabilities for market assessment and come to rely less on relationship-driven buying.

LinkedIn has also noted changes in B2B buying, with the most prominent being the shift away from singular decision makers in favour of informal or even formal buying committees.

“So the strategy then is of understanding who that buying committee,” Cox says. “When [salespeople] are thinking about how they build audience and how they build awareness through to nurturing, they are not focusing on one single decision-maker.”

Cox says B2B organisations are having to become much more sophisticated in how they target and nurture leads. Hence she says LinkedIn is working more closely with clients to integrate its services into their CRM systems to create custom segments and nurture strategies.

“We are certainly seeing a shift in customers wanting to understand more,” Cox says. “A lot of B2B companies have assumptions about who their buyers are, or have worked within a traditional customer pool and have continued to farm that. Now they are wanting to understand where new target companies could be, or what different job functions are coming into the buying committee that their sales team hasn’t been talking to.”

Oracle director of CX strategy and transformation for APAC, Kristi Mansfield, agrees there has been an acceleration of B2B companies developing and deploying data-driven customer experience programs in the past two years.

“Part of that is using the marketing automation tools and data tools that the B2C organisations have taken for granted and moving that into the B2B space,” she says.

This has been particularly important for those B2B brands traditionally intermediated through a third-party channel such as retailers, who now strive to have a direct engagement with consumers. Mansfield says some of the biggest opportunities Oracle has seen have been around creating new business models for the intermediated market.

“In the intermediated markets we are seeing traditional B2B organisations going directly to consumers, but also value-adding through different innovations for their customers,” she says. “We see data being really quite central to that – having the ability to use the data they have within their own organisation, data purchased through external sources or aggregated through partners channels to go to market faster as a joint proposition.”

The goal for Oracle’s clients is to create a single data model across their operations, taking the data from their CRM and other systems and making that data available to everyone who needs it.

“We are using the same techniques in many B2B environments that the B2C market has been using for many years,” Mansfield says. “Ultimately, B2B buyers are still consumers, so there is an expectation speed and digital and personalisation will be there.”

Up next: What automation through data can do for B2B marketers

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