Not All Data Is Created Equally

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Today's B2B marketing teams are awash in customer information. This flood of data can produce optimal marketing results and significant ROI opportunities, but not before it tasks marketers with putting it all into context. The right customer data leads to the right customer insight—ultimately providing accurate business foresight—but first, marketers have to catch, integrate, augment, and analyze all that information. That means knowing what kind of data is needed, what data is being received and reported, and how to capitalize on the information.

Direct Marketing News invited seven senior B2B marketers to a conversation about data capture, management, and optimization strategies for customer acquisition and retention. Integrated marketing solutions company Reach Marketing cohosted the discussion, which ranged from how to gather the right data from the best sources, to how to enrich that data; and from how to improve data management, to how to approach social media information.

 
 Front row (left to right): Danielle Brooks, director, business development, McVicker & Higginbotham; Joel Anker, senior director digital marketing, INTTRA; Peg Kuman, vice chairman, Relevate; Second row (left to right): Gil Levy, managing director, Ecommerce Partners; Greg Grdodian, partner, Reach Marketing; Ginger Conlon, editor-in-chief, Direct Marketing News; Adam Reinebach, EVP, marketing services, SourceMedia; Peter Westerman, chief audience officer, Summit Business Media

Editor-in-Chief Ginger Conlon, Direct Marketing News: Welcome, everyone. Let's start by discussing your role with data within your organization and by describing some of your current data efforts and challenges.

Adam Reinebach (SourceMedia): Our B2B publishing company has 28 key brands, and I run marketing solutions, which is a pseudonym for custom marketing, so content preference is a huge area of focus for us. I also run what we call ancillary revenues—list rentals, content licensing, and Web seminars. I'm split between the client-facing stuff and our internal efforts, [such as] our internal circulation. Our goal is to reduce our reliance on email marketing—that's the Holy Grail for us.

Joel Anker (INTTRA): Our software service company facilitates the flow and automates the processes of information between buyers and sellers of goods that go across the ocean. My role includes enriching that data to do customer retention programs most efficiently, to try to get upsell, cross-sell, and loyalty from our customers. We do use some tried-and-true methods, such as SEO and SEM. Our customers are the manufacturers—those that provide the commodities—as well as the ocean carriers, the containers.

I'm responsible for…lead generation. The challenge is trying to bring transactional data into a usable data warehouse that we can extract from and do some modeling with. We've got all this rich data that exists. So we can build out that profile of our existing customers, [determine] which are our best customers, and identify where we should go to get the next round of best customers. We're finding that trade publications tend to have the most targeted set of customers currently. [A question is] how do we use trade publications to reach out to those prospects to help them grow their business?

Peter Westerman (Summit Business Media): My company is an amalgam of lots of acquisitions in events, in traditional media, and in data products. My primary responsibility is to federate all of our database assets, order them in a way that's useful to the subordinate brands of the company, which means everything from building a new, centralized data warehouse to bringing in marketing automation tools to figuring out ways of segmenting the data. We have very large databases of regulatory filing information in the markets we're in—insurance, employee benefits, and financial services. One of our efforts now is to be systematic in leveraging our internal data in our data products group, so we can attach that to our audience customer records in the media group. We have a lot of heads-down work internally to do.

Peg Kuman (Relevate): We're a data developer and builder, a licensor of many multiple data sources, both business and residential, as well as some proprietary content. We use all of that information to enhance and enrich clients' databases. We also do digital marketing, so I'm doing a lot of work with the trading desks and trying to really get a handle on attribution, which everybody around this table is wrestling with. And we've had great success in B2B modeling.

Gil Levy (Ecommerce Partners): We're a marketing agency, but we're also in Web development. In our world it's very hard to do just the marketing and not have control over the website or the e-commerce. So, we provide the build and the hosting, but our primary source of revenue is from the marketing that comes afterwards, such as pay-per-click, affiliate management, list management, and segmentation. Right now we're starting to get into mobile.

Danielle Brooks (McVicker & Higginbotham Inc.): We're a personalized printer working with nonprofit organizations like MoMA and the Metropolitan Opera. I'm going to pull my comments from my [prior] experience in data management. We managed databases for numerous consumer and B2B organizations, and we also provided a resident list to a lot of organizations, consumer as well as business. Valpak was a big client and several large publishing firms that had B2B. Our clients were using the Dun & Bradstreet information or InfoUSA, but we felt that we needed to go other places, and we never attempted to bring in email addresses, because that seemed particularly hard in the B2B space. We also had difficulty in modeling for the B2B organizations.

Greg Grdodian (Reach Marketing): Reach Marketing is a fullservice, integrated marketing firm specializing in the B2B and digital space. We take a client's marketing from beginning to end, helping them develop their creative and introduce that effort to the top audience through the most efficient channel. For us, email is the initial communicator between our clients and their prospects and, potentially, their next customers. A lot of our offerings use email as the anchor to trigger additional responses and communications through other channels. Reverse append, email append, and firmographic append are probably the three most relevant and the most frequently offered services of ours.

DMN: Let's talk preferred channels and the data that you capture from them.

Levy: Email segmentation is the key in our business in terms of behavioral data. What do customers buy and in what categories? What we see constantly is this: The more you know about the customer, the better you [can] market to them and the longer you can retain them. We have stores that have multiple categories like funky shoes and dress shoes, etc., and putting customers in the right buckets [is an important step].

For us in the e-commerce world, email is…the biggest revenue generator. We do sweepstakes to acquire new clients, give all kinds of freebies. And once you have them in your list, that's the best source of revenue.

Westerman: Storage is cheap, processing power is cheap, and you never know a year from now what data is going to be useful for the business. So my attitude is, if you can collect it and measure it and it's a signal, store it somewhere, even if you don't have an immediate use for it, because you probably will some day.

Also, we're very interested to begin modeling and segmenting on phones versus tablets versus print versus websites, making sure that we understand the data that we're looking at. Most people are consuming our content on the phone, standing in line somewhere. That has to inform things like what the ad units should look like and how that user experience should be designed.

Reinebach: Sometimes you get enamored of having all this data, so you just blister customers with different offers. It doesn't always work.

There's so much data out there that could be useful in terms of how we target. I feel like the appetite for it is endless, but the trick is the application of it. We've got a Web-analytics tool that the telesales team looks at on a daily basis, and, say, if we see a lot of law firms looking at a particular story on cross-border regulations, we can tailor our marketing and sales efforts to it.

Kuman: We're finding event-driven information's extremely valuable. What are the interest levels? Is the interest continual or is it a one-off? Do they just buy the product? What are their opinions and what are their attitudes? That can be learned in conversations, by scraping email replies, and by looking at social. And those are the things that we see that are of greater value than just the firmographic information you're going to get.

The experts who are your customers are mouthpieces, and you start that dialogue, getting very rich data from both prospective and existing customers…plus, the opportunity to engage them.

DMN: What's the biggest inhibitor to using data today? Is it more technical or resource related?

Anker: I think from the inhibitor side, it's getting visibility of that data into our system. We're a Salesforce shop, so it's: How do we take all the data from the behavioral clicks, opened, websites, page use, transactional data, and put it at a company level? A lot of those tools do it at the individual-user level. [We need] to bring it to the company level and then have a view, a profile of that company to try to understand what they're doing and what their trends might be. I think that's the hardest part: aggregating.

Levy: Right now we have an overflow of information. The director of an e-commerce cosmetics brand has a full-time job, plus, for example, looking at analytics for a couple of minutes, looking at the data and the performance of the email. But nobody has the time to actually put them together and analyze them.

Kuman: I think the biggest challenge is normalizing and flattening out all of the attending data. There are a couple of things that I notice on the B2B side that are very different on the B2C side. If you make a commitment to social on the B2C side, you have to have a 365, 24/7 team that's monitoring your brand and your reputation all the time. It's not really being done on the B2B side for several reasons. One, it's an economic spend that people can't seem to justify at the moment. And two, most people in B2B are focusing on the LinkedIn play, which other than the breaches that they had last year, seems to be pretty normal.

Brooks: We were putting a database together from three different silos in a [client's] organization. And there was a lot of pushback in the middle management. Top management understood that you needed this all together. And these three groups were sending out messages and direct mail sometimes to the same people, so it was kind of a mess. They really wanted to keep their territories, but top management got through that and we put the database together and it's become much more successful in terms of not wasting a lot of money sending things to the same people. So, in that case the inhibitor was middle management, who wanted to keep its territories.

Reinebach: I think the biggest inhibitor is the disruption to the workflow for the sales rep and the marketing team. What we're trying to do to mitigate that is give [salespeople] a seat at the table…and we're saying, “We've got a reporting tool set up now. You can look at the data across the company. We're going to spend a lot of time to get granular, and when you go to that conference and you want to approach X number of clients, we've done all the homework for you.” Then they come back, they say, “Wow, I really buy in to this. You know, I just made my life much more efficient and I got plenty of sales as a result of it.”

DMN: Email is a core data source for most businesses. What type of data do you extract from email interactions that you find most useful?

Levy: Recently we started doing something that was kind of shocking to me: We do a pop-up when coming to a site, and the first thing you ask for [is] an email. If you give [visitors] something like 10% off the next purchase, they'll actually participate. And we increasingly get 20 to 30% who do.

Grdodian: We recommend highly to our clients to have a pop-up requesting that individuals provide their email address. We take our data asset and combine it with those results and start to truly understand why our clients' prospects are responding. Email is the most precious commodity out there.

But once you have email and once you're deploying these messages, behavioral data is important. Understanding how your audience is interacting with your content or your information is how you'll more effectively target a specific audience. Behavioral activities are actionable triggers to take the next step and try to convert these eyeballs and the behaviors into new customers, using, for example, retargeting via email. So, it really starts with having an email address for that individual and communicating with them through email.

DMN: What about social media? How are you integrating that data and where would you like to be with it?

Anker: We're looking to ask, can we build our own social network within our application? So when you register to become a user, it may not be all about the transaction, it may be about, “Join this vibrant network of freight forwarders and people looking to ship cargo.” Can we have that conversation occur on our platform, gather that data ourselves, and learn who [participants] are and what are the commodities they ship? Let them provide us the data, knowing that it's helping them build their business while helping us understand who our customers are.

Kuman: Many people using Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and other social media sites are doing it because their competition is, not because they're really using it properly. I spoke with someone on the consumer marketing side who has an e-comm play, a big, well-known brand, and he talked about fans and followers. And I asked, “How's that working for you?” He said, “I love fans and followers, but I like customers better.”

Again, I think it's about flattening out all the data, and identifying what to keep and what to kill. What's of value and what's not of value? Or, what's about engagement and opportunity and what's noise? It takes time and requires technology and people who understand technology. And, yes, if the folks doing the selling in the organization [aren't] using the information, put that on the kill list with a question, or until it gets validated by three or four resources.

Grdodian: It's really about being engaged and encouraging that engagement. You want to create an area [online] for individuals to start communicating: “What do you think about this content?” And then get engagement from other people saying, “Oh, that's interesting. Well, what about this? Well, what about that?” There's more value from three individuals going back and forth with comments than there is [from] 500 people clicking the article.

Brooks: Having a lot of data on people doesn't help if we can't do something with it or we don't know what's important to them. Clients are also stretched, so they don't have time to do the things they want to do. They're all doing two or three people's jobs at this point. If there are places where they can get help with that, it's a very good thing.

Reinebach: All of our sales reps now use LinkedIn for Salesforce. But that's one of many tools out there. I'm not doing a commercial for that particular tool, but what's great about it is, when the reps are in Salesforce they can see that [LinkedIn] pop-up right there, they don't have to open another browser. And then they can actually augment that data while they're looking at that record.

DMN: So, it all comes back around to capturing the “right” data and learning from it?

Grdodian: We've touched on a lot of best practices and on what individuals and executives are doing for their firms. Having as much data as possible is a priority; as is maintaining relevance with your audience and optimizing every opportunity you have with a potential customer—and data analytics help you do that.

And quality data is important. If you don't know who your audience is, if you don't know who your customer is, how can you be relevant?

Basically, it's confirmed: It's critical to have business intelligence. Critical.

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