No doubt, Data has transformed the way the Business-To-Consumer (B2C) companies plan, promote, price, and distribute their goods. Marketers use it to personalize mass emailing, online advertising, brand websites, mobile apps, and social presence. Indeed, the most advanced companies add CRM, ERP, and offline data to build sophisticated Data Management Platforms (DMPs), a kind of digital nervous systems from which they plan, budget, and execute all of their upstream and downstream marketing. But Data goes where differentiation, personalization, and optimization are absent or nascent.
Data can transform the B2B sector
As in the B2C sector, the Internet shifted the power to clients. It made information widely available to clients to conduct diagnostic studies, scope out projects, and manage procurements on their own. In 2012, CEB has conducted a study on more than 1,400 B2B clients and found that nearly 60% of these clients made their purchasing decisions before even having a conversation with a vendor.
B2B companies have no choice but to look at their Marketing and Sales to change their relation with clients. It is the single lever to build differentiation and implement personalization. Otherwise, they may enter and still stuck in a price war that not only will hinder their effort for margins but also will put in danger the sales of their sophisticated products.
But the news is not all bad. Data can solve the new playbook equation. There are many areas where Data can be leveraged to regain market intimacy, client loyalty, and operational productivity. To keep the post short, we will focus on four major ones: strategic positioning, lead generation, collateral material management, and subject-matter expertise localization.
Data can help in strategic positioning
Marketing always starts with positioning, one if not the most complicated tasks of Marketing. Frameworks exist to help to analyze the competition, segment markets, develop messages, and proof value propositions. The most known frameworks are Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy for established companies, Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing The Chasm for high-tech start-ups, and Chan Kim and Renée Maubourgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy for new entrants into a mature market. But with frameworks, we get the strategy but not the implementation. Data technologies for web sensing and text mining can help here.
Marketing can exploit these technologies to identify unknown competitors by crawling the entire Web, build a competition map by scrapping their competitors’ websites. Both techniques transform unstructured data on the Web into structured data that can be stored in databases and processed by Data Analytics tools that are already in use in the B2C sector. Just search in Google “crawling” and “scrapping” and you will get a plenty of tech vendors that provide from simple tools to complex solutions.
Data can help in lead generation
Sales always start with leads but lead generation is not so simple as one may think. Crawling and scrapping can help here as well.
Marketing can use them to crawl/scrap the Web and learn from the patterns that differentiate target clients from non targeted clients. Data Publica is one of those tech start-ups that focuses on the B2B sector. It uses the list of existing clients, the list of non-targeted clients, and from these two lists proposes prospects from the Web.
Indeed, crawling and scrapping are excellent ways to define alerts to monitor the Web for issues or changes that a target company or industry might have experienced in the few past days. When a company posts a change or a securities analyst flags an issue, it may be an opportunity for you to pitch your offer if it accompanies the change or solves the issue at hand. IFTTT and Zapier are examples of websites that enable everybody to define events that will automatically trigger alerts each time an occurrence of those events happen. Alerts come in the form of emails and text messages.
Data can help in managing collateral materials
B2B sales take months of high-touch care to bring together the entire client interest groups that impinge on the buying decision. Often, the Sales experience gaps between what the Marketing has produced and what they want to emphasize. The gaps hinder their progress. To bridge the gaps, they customize the collateral materials. This causes the Sales to develop messages on the fly, which ends by a plethora of collateral materials that no organization controls from end to end.
Data can play a major role here as well. Marketing can build and maintain collateral pieces in a single collateral factory database. Before any call or visit, the Sales can use their navigators to automatically assemble the core messages into tailor-made collateral materials that are always up-to-date and personalized to the audience at hand. The process of replacing unordered masses of materials with tidy messages from which custom materials can be assembled reduces the redundancy of information without losing any piece of it whatsoever.
We could even envision the process taking into account the objectives of the sales call, the person to visit, the stage of the sale cycle, and so on in the same way Data enabled personalization in the B2C sector. What was done to personalize websites, emails, posts, and tweets can be done to personalize white papers, presentations, demos, data-sheets, success stories, and prices.
Data can localize subject-matter experts
Localizing internal expertise is another problem that is persistent in Marketing and Sales organizations, in particular those who are spread in different countries. During a response to a Request For Proposals, a Sales professional in a country asks a question, he or she may be waiting for days before getting the right answer.
We could envision a marketing system that forwards that question to the right expert… How? By learning from the numbers of stars the Sales professionals give to the experts who answered previous questions. Here again, there is no need for a new technology to invent. It is the same used by recommendation engines on the Web. Hippon is an example of tech start-ups that uses statistics to rate subject-matter experts within a company.
Data has no limit
As the examples above show, Data can empower strategic work within Marketing and automate tactical work within the Sales. In fact, Data has no limit. It goes where differentiation, personalization, and optimization is absent or nascent. And in the B2B sector, Marketing and Sales is still an untapped ground where it can achieve the biggest transformation. Think of lead qualification and routing, automated FAQs and support, self-service diagnosis of equipment, client satisfaction measurement. Each of these areas is an opportunity project to leverage data captured online or offline to differentiate, personalize, and optimize products and services.
Automating those tactical areas of Marketing, Sales, and Servicing is not new. In the past, tech vendors such as Cisco and Dell used Business Rules to automate support functions. But Business Rules do not learn from data it manipulates. They only capture some of the knowledge of how people process routine work. With all of the data now available at almost no cost, B2B companies can build systems that will continuously learn from data to optimize this work. This may sound magic but it is all about Data Analytics.