B-to-b success depends on social, data clarity

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Participants in the B-to-b roundtable
Participants in the B-to-b roundtable

B-to-b marketers contend with an enormous amount of customer data coming into their organizations every day. Managing volumes of information located in various places within a company, coordinating sales and marketing teams and facing the dynamic rate at which b-to-b data decays, these marketers often have more steps to take than b-to-c marketers to make sure that their messages are relevant. The rise of social media is causing new issues for b-to-b marketers, as ambitious young salespeople may not realize that The Wall Street Journal is also on LinkedIn, and older salespeople need to learn about Facebook when their younger clients live there.


Direct Marketing News convened a diverse group of b-to-b database marketing executives in June for an editorial roundtable 
discussion, sponsored by ZoomInfo, to talk about several facets of b-to-b marketing strategy. In addition to the relationship between sales and marketing, the group discussed data governance, the need for social media training within an organization, the importance of integrating data and the challenge of list hygiene for b-to-b marketers. 


Direct Marketing News: What challenges do b-to-b marketers face with their marketing programs?

Kathy Greenler Sexton (ZoomInfo): The No. 1 challenge that b-to-b marketers have is keeping their database fresh. The Sales and Marketing Institute did some research, and looked at business cards and found that in 12 months on 72% of those business cards, something changed. If you're trying to do email or direct mail marketing, you're going to look like a fool because you don't have the right person. You don't have the right job title, you don't have the right name, and that's expensive. 


Lee Rosenthal (Experian Hitwise): On the consumer side, where you have content automation through the sales team, there is so much data. It's usually so secure, with one person who has access to it, and it lives someplace that no one can get to it. But on the b-to-b side, you have a sales team that has access to it and you have high turnover, so you have the challenge of keeping the data secure.


Monika Wilczak (Bloomberg): You have to look at data governance and master data management. You start small with a group of concepts, trying to expose all of the issues you are aware of. If you just talk about it within an organization, people don't know what you're talking about. You need to expose it. You need to show examples. You do a group of contacts and sometimes it doesn't work and you have to go back to where you started, but sometimes you make a breakthrough and move to the next step. That's a challenge in b-to-b. 


Prior to Bloomberg, I spent many years in financial services. One would think that this industry is quite sophisticated. It is from the consumer side, but from the commercial side, even the data governance is not sophisticated. Building such a process really is a big endeavor, but it can be done with a lot of persistence and a little bit of time.


Michael Frierman (SAP): You get all this turnover, so you need to put the infrastructure together. This isn't just about data governance, but one of the pieces is how do you continually refresh the data? How are you continually making sure you have a program that is both contact enhancement and contact discovery?


David Geisinger (MBS Insight/a GSI Commerce company): You hit the nail on the head, which is refreshing the data strategically. Having a consistent consumer dialogue that's relevant for that person buying will make sure that you're able to maintain fresh data. Unlike other industries, b-to-b has the gatekeeper concept. The only way you can break down that gatekeeper concept is if you have a relevant consumer or customer experience that you maintain over time. The data is important from an initial capture perspective, but maintaining it is what is actionable for b-to-b marketers in order to keep a relevant dialogue.


Leslie Reiser (IBM Corp.): For global companies like us, we have really significant challenges in certain countries where we operate. Obviously, you can't go between boundaries of countries with data because of all the privacy issues. When you're dealing with a country like China, where you have really embedded regulatory censorship kinds of issues and data is not freely given out, it presents a whole different dimension to having to build up data as a marketer.


Direct Marketing News: Are you integrating new channels like social media into your b-to-b marketing efforts?

Geisinger: The fact is that consumer markets really haven't figured out how to monetize it, let alone b-to-b channels. You hear a lot about social media as it relates to consumer faith in products, but, from a b-to-b perspective, I don't see a lot of organizations successfully using it, let alone using it from a lead generation perspective. Where I see organizations using social media is more from a social media monitoring perspective. 


What are people saying about your brand? Then, how do you react to that? You could use it to inform your product decisions and get ahead of some of the negative publicity. But from an actual lead and 
acquisition perspective, I challenge whether social media is mature enough at this point for an acquisition strategy, given the fact that even in consumer industries, people haven't figured out how to monetize it.


Debbie Reichig (Clear Channel Communications): We have two distinct business targets. From a national level, when we're dealing with major national advertisers, we already have relationships with them, and social media isn't going to help. But we also have 40 local branches, and on a very local level, when we're dealing with the "mom and pop" advertisers out there, that is a very good path to generate leads. 


Kristin Hambelton (Neolane): Not a day goes by when I don't get asked, "What is the return on the investment of your program?" This needs to be part of an integrated approach. How you reach out in 
this social ecosystem is a function of many different components. 


Geisinger: The reality of it is that any one of these silos can't be used on its own anymore. It truly has to be in an integrated fashion where it's conversation. It's customer experience. It's dialog management across all your channels, because no one particular customer in the b-to-b world is interacting with your brand in a single channel. Social media on its own will never be the end-all-be-all. It's how it interacts with direct, how it interacts with advertising, and so on.


Reiser: There is this misnomer that you slap up a 
Facebook page, form a LinkedIn group and call it a day. Anyone in the content publishing business knows that this is not so. It is tremendously labor intensive. It's a reflection of your brand image in a way that leaves a permanent digital footprint.


Rosenthal: We have a rare young sales force that is very enthusiastic and energetic. If we don't get in front of it and we don't control it, they are going to do it anyway. They're going to start communicating with their prospective customers on Facebook and LinkedIn, and so we're trying to figure out how we get in front of it. It's one of those things where it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of how or when for us.


Direct Marketing News: With a younger sales force, do you have social media rules 
in-house?

Hambelton: We have a global policy. It's a governance policy. It gives guidelines. The folks that run our social media efforts also do training with every single individual, from a security perspective, a branding perspective and a sales perspective, in terms of [guidelines such as] what not to do on LinkedIn, so that people can't figure out who your prospects are and things like that. 


Reiser: We've got 400,000 people working for us. Our challenge is not so much getting the young people, but the more entrenched traditionalists to buy into this and get involved, from the chairman on down. We have to recognize that there is a younger demographic that are becoming decisionmakers in companies, and they grew up with this stuff. We have to be relevant, and we have to provide information in the outlets that they are most comfortable interacting with.


Reichig: We have to be very cognizant of the fact that the people that we're selling to are very young themselves, disproportionately so for some strange reason. It is dealing with the more middle-aged person and reminding them that they have to form these 
relationships with every tool that they have, and especially when they are an older salesperson dealing with a younger buyer. You really have to make that extra effort to communicate with them on the level that they are used to.


Direct Marketing News: How are you measuring your ROI?

Greenler Sexton: It's all about revenue from b-to-b, and so if you can't track it, you're not going to be able to show your CEO. Between sales and marketing, you need service level agreement, you need common definitions, and what are those key performance indicators. I think social media, for many companies, is emerging, and the full ROI is really not proven yet. 


Reiser: There is a way to quantify and to assign a value to the influence the role that the conversation, that discussion and that a touchpoint have in influencing future purchase consideration. At IBM, we're dealing with long sales cycles, so this not a commoditized thing. They're not just going on the Web and clicking here buy it. It could be a six, 12 or 18-month process. It's really very difficult. But there are tools out there that can prove that the more chatter and the level of the conversation, the more engagement does have a role influencing future purchasing.


Geisinger: If you had a dollar to spend, where would you spend it? If you're talking about evaluating ROI and marketing ROI and whatever that metric is, make sure everybody agrees with it across the board. It means that you have a source of truth that everybody can be looking toward so your data is consolidated. 


Wilczak: You need to put people into places to gather data. You need to go deeper. There needs to be an investment to collect all the manual data. Select a business and select a specific type of campaign that will replicate in the future exactly. Gather the data, store it and analyze it. Find out what's really driving it, build the model, and then pool processes to see if the data that is critical for the model can be built as pipelines. Never build a model that has an input that has a high risk of not being able to be captured. It has to be something that is not as precise, but is more reliable and stable in the long run. 


Greenler Sexton: You need to have your database align with who your target prospects are. And you need to have the tools to understand what's working and what's not. How many calls from your sales team? What channels are getting new customers or refreshing that database or what's creating velocity within the pipeline. You need those tools to really understand all of that, and if you're not, you're wasting money. 


Rosenthal: One of the biggest challenges is can we get as scientific with b-to-b as with b-to-c? With b-to-c, the data's there, and it's usually pretty cost effective. B-to-b has so many factors to bring in. Don't forget to look at some of the challenges that your client is facing with 30 vendors calling and the challenge of how to do more with less. Getting your sales team to participate in social media is a cost-effective way to get the word out and begin to participate where there is no 
incremental expense.


Direct Marketing News: What does the future of database marketing look like?

Geisinger: The future of database marketing really comes down to the multichannel nature of marketing communications. It is about the ability to understand the customer experience. I know it's overused and it's cliché, but it's a 360-degree view of the customer that you're trying to reach. Not necessarily in how they transact with you, but how you reach them from a marketing perspective and master data management perspective. Marketers should think about standardization, data collection, consistent messaging and governance. They are all going to be the keys to successful database marketing and moving forward. 


In addition, database marketing is moving toward digital data integration. This is how you tap into the core metrics data, monitor that data, as well as the mobile and social data that is currently anonymous or unidentifiable, and then match that to individuals later on.


Greenler Sexton: I think the future of database marketing is bringing the knowledge that's around at the Fortune 1000 level and bringing it down to mid-market and SMBs. That really is where these companies will be able to use cloud services and really bring that 
sophistication to help them compete more effectively.


Rosenthal: I completely agree, but then ask the question in reverse. What if there wasn't database marketing? There is a tremendous amount of information that companies are collecting all over the place. Who's going to synthesize that? Who's going to understand that? That's exactly what database marketing does. Sometimes you have to make sure that your own people understand that concept and methodology. With that done, then build it and they will come. 


Reichig: As important as database marketing is, I just want to make sure that in the future that the softer more influential measures and pathways are not ignored. Just because you can't measure them doesn't mean that they are not equally effective. You can't have good database marketing without the other components to it. That makes me nervous for the future.


Wilczak: We don't have a shortage of data. We have a shortage of insight. There is too much data, that's the challenge. Everybody has access to it. Everybody with his or her own interpretation can mold the message of the truth and mold the idea.


Hambelton: B-to-b marketers in particular need their own view. It may be the same data in the same place, because I think master data management is important, but everybody else has their tool. Look across your executive team. Every other major function has automation but marketing has been last. If you don't have the tools, you can't measure them. We always use the expression, "Don't try to boil the ocean." Get a pilot and test it. Show the ROI. It is about getting that 360-degree marketing view.

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