How data analytics is transforming B2B marketing
- 06 January, 2015 08:16
With all the hype that has accompanied the digitisation of consumer marketing, it is easy to forget that another important field of marketing has been going through its own digital revolution.
While it might not boast the same massive data sets as those wielded by consumer marketers, business-to-business marketing (B2B) has been making steady strides in improving how it captures and utilises data to fine-tune the sales process.
B2B marketing is benefiting from many of the same automation and analytic technologies and techniques being used in consumer marketing, but applied to a much smaller range of targets and in a one-to-one fashion that many consumer marketers might only dream of.
In B2B, what you do with your data is far more important than how much of it you have.
At the heart of the changes in B2B marketing is the fusion of big data analytics with marketing automation. These technologies are forging closer bonds between B2B marketing and sales teams, and at times blurring the lines between the two.
Big data database technology company, MapR, reports increased interest in its technology from B2B sales organisations. According to its US-based chief applications architect, Ted Dunning, this is especially true for companies with highly-complex product lines, where a single rep cannot possibly be aware of everything the company sells.
According to Dunning, this work represents an evolution of the original CRM systems that first appeared well over a decade ago, as big data technology brings predictive analytics to the rule-based responses of original CRM systems.
“Some of our customers have over a million products, and even to imagine that a person knows 1 per cent of the product line is absurd,” Dunning says. “But an automated system can keep track of all of the contacts between the company and all of the Web visits by the customer, and use that information to figure out when particular people are going to be receptive to making decisions about particular products.
“Predictive analytics can really help by saying ‘here are the five products that this person is likely to be interested in this quarter’. But none of this would have even been on the table if we didn’t already have CRM systems in place to capture this data.”
Greater interaction analysis
The key difference between old and new forms of CRM is the ability to analyse a far greater number of interactions between the buyer and supplier, across different channels and product lines. However, lengthy time lines and complexity of engagement (and particularly the potential for cross-contamination when conducting AB testing) makes determining overall success of these initiatives difficult, particularly if they are just measured in revenue terms.
Hence Dunning says it is important marketers find appropriate proxies to use as guides to long-term success.
“Revenues are so delayed as a measure here, you have to come up with surrogates in the modelling process that you can measure quickly and more accurately,” he explains. “You should be measuring all actions your customers take. The question then is which of those metrics actually represent surrogates.”
The most common surrogate is when and where a customer engages with the sales team or digital content. Dunning says this undisputable data can often be more reliable than the reports created by salespeople, who by nature are eternal optimists.
“As we get more and more data, we can look at it more and more seriously,” he says. “The triggers for sales are very complex and they are definitely multiple sources to the attribution and multiple indicators. And the differentiator between cause and effect is extraordinarily difficult in these settings. So this is the kind of problem where big data is very much required.”
Up next: How Amcom is tightening sales and marketing through marketing automation
Tightening marketing and sales ties
The desire to improve the B2B sales and marketing journey was the motivation behind national communications and IT company, Amcom, implementing marketing automation platform from Marketo.
Its general manager for marketing and customer experience, Jon Amery, says the technology is moving his company to a point where it can see a more detailed return on investment on everything that is going into its marketing mix.
Amery says the sales and marketing journey for Amcom’s corporate customer base can last up to a year or more, making it vital for marketing to be able to hand leads over to its sales team at the most appropriate time.
“It’s a lot less about huge amounts of data and more about controlling the sales journey,” Amery says. “In the past, we would drop a piece of content into a channel and hope we were hitting the right person in the right part of the journey, and hope that they responded.
“Automation means we can start mapping out that sales and marketing funnel. Instead of just relying on throwing out information and hoping they have moved to the next level, we are controlling and measuring that movement.”
While he claims it is too early to determine the true impact of Marketo on Amcom’s sales success, the technology has delivered insight into the efficiency of what content created by Amcom works, and what doesn’t. The next step will be to use that knowledge to better optimise content and the right channel for specific leads.
“Instead of working with big data, it’s just data,” Amery says. “Unlike B2C organisations, which are more about macro-trends and applying those trends back to a large group of people, we are looking at the behaviour of individuals or smaller sets of customers. And that is a lot more interesting then massive trends.”
B2B marketing is also an area of focus for Salesforce. According to the company’s director of product marketing management for ExactTarget, Derek Laney, there is a strong movement to adopt data science practices into B2B marketing.
“Sales analysis and sales operations have been doing data analysis and crunching since Adam was a boy, but technology to make this accessible to everybody is relatively new,” Laney says.
Much of Salesforce’s efforts are wrapped up in its Wave platform, which seeks to make to take data and analytics out of the hands of specialists and make it more usable. One of the outcomes of Wave is the ability to interrogate very large data volumes and visualise them in real time on a mobile phone, as demonstrated through a pilot application in the commercial finance group at GE.
“GE has to crunch numbers quite a lot through the process of sales and marketing to custom create solutions,” Laney says. “That means staff want to pull up the analytics and interrogate the numbers on a mobile phone in real time and work with those in the field rather than push back to a specialist team in data analytics or ops.
“What we learnt from consumer technology is that if you make these types of tools interesting and fun to use, they are much more effective.”
The company has made a number of investments to bring this vision to life. In mid-2014 Salesforce acquired RelateIQ, which combines data from email systems, smartphone calls and appointments to assist sales teams in making better decisions.
“Rather than you having to figure out when the next best time to call someone is, this system looks at the call and email patterns and decides how you should be contacting people,” Laney says. “That’s an example of data science becoming more important and more obvious in a B2B selling environment to support the sales teams, and our focus over the next 12 months is to incorporate more of these technologies into our core offering.
“From a sales support point of view, these types of data science techniques are using the data we have available to make the sales people more effective.”
ExactTarget had also previously acquired B2B marketing automation technology maker, Pardot, in 2012. This company’s technology examines the behavioural data of customers and to determine how they are engaging with communications, to determine the right time to pass prospects across to the sales team.
“All of this is designed to get the top of the pipeline filled with high quality leads to make sales more efficient,” Laney says. “We are trying to give great service to everybody by providing automated campaigns and bring people through the sales funnel to a point where they are ready to talk to a salesperson.”
Pardot has been used by New Zealand peer-to-peer lending startup, Harmoney.
“The company has started from scratch to acquire a database using standard digital marketing techniques and use Pardot to nature and educate people around their model,” Laney says. “It’s about trying to educate a market and find people that are getting closer to the point of decision. Loans are a reasonably high-involvement product with a long sales cycle, but Harmoney has a limited number of resources to act on.
“The company uses Pardot to make sure it focuses people on the most sales-ready contacts, and for the rest of the people are using nurturing campaigns. That means the sales team doesn’t have to engage with those people until they exhibit behaviours that indicates they are sales ready.”