I cringe at the monosyllabic simplicity of the term, but I appreciate that Big Data is a convenient way to present a complicated idea in a punchy format. (All the good acronyms were taken, I suppose.) Big Data is yet another technological warning that we should all be careful what we wish for, lest we get it. It is a reminder that everyone with an Internet connection has free, legal access to more media than they could ever hope to consume even in a lifetime of nothing but leisure. And, as it relates to the business which brings us all to Direct Marketing News, grappling with Big Data may mean a reversal of the traditional sales and marketing dynamic.
For some time now conventional wisdom has held that (charm and good personal hygiene and all else being equal) the most informed salesperson would win. Competing marketing departments could focus on promotions and lead generation, but the salesperson who understood the customer best could close the deal. So companies threw data at their salespeople. They filled up CRM databases with it. They encouraged their salespeople to learn, connect, and share information with and about customers and prospects. And they have—so much so that according to research by CSO Insights, salespeople now spend almost one-quarter of their time seeking out information to prepare for customer contacts. It’s not that they can’t find it—it’s that there’s too much of it.
I spoke with Brian Kardon, CMO of Big Data analytics firm Lattice Engines, about this problem, and his contentions intrigued me. First, that companies cannot hope to solve their Big Data sales and marketing challenges without admitting that it is the day of the quant, the analyst, the algorithmic thinker. He has seen the future and it is full of mathematicians and algorithms.
Second, that marketers have done a much better job embracing this data-driven reality than salespeople. Third, and most importantly, that the same algorithms and analytics that have enabled direct marketers to cut through the chaff and devise campaign strategies planned out to the hour and can be changed by the minute can be used to rescue sales from their Big Data paralysis. “The marketing function isn’t purely about creating awareness and filling the top of the funnel anymore,” he says. “Marketing people can help write the algorithms that tell salespeople which person to call first, and what to say on the phone.”
Rather than clutter their desktops with tab after tab of LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, EDGAR, and all manner of other searches, he envisions the sales workstation of the near future will automatically pop high-value prospects to the top of the queue and deliver present pre-filtered, significant data capsules for each. Time to sell to a prospect because they’ve just made a key executive change? Time to give up on another because they just canceled all their job postings and are turtling for a long, hard, loss-making year? Marketing’s got that information, and can package it for daily rounds.
I can hear the old guard, relationship-minded salespeople screaming even now. And yet here we are, in a world with so much customer data that to manage it by feel is to shrug and rely on luck. Maybe there really is a new boss.