Q&A: Balancing Data With Trust

Asking customers for data is a true balancing act. If marketers ask for too much too soon, it may put off customers. But if marketers don’t ask for enough, then they won’t be able to understand customers’ needs and struggles enough to take the appropriate action. Peter Bingaman, VP of marketing and communications for MSC Industrial Supply Co., discusses what data pitfalls marketers should avoid, and how they can initiate a constructive data exchange.

You come from a B2C background. What’s the biggest difference when asking for data from a B2B customer?

I think it’s important to treat B2B customers as if they’re B2C customers, which is something most B2B marketers don’t consider. From a data gathering perspective, this requires B2B marketers to gather more information than just name, role, responsibilities, and purchase data. I find that, more often than not, B2B customers are less willing to take the time to give you information, so we can’t just rely on asking them for it. B2B marketers have the opportunity to learn so much more by looking into their [customers’] online buying behavior, social interactions, and more—not unlike what we do for B2C customers.

What’s the number one misconception marketers have about data collection?

Data collection is [neither] a one-time event nor is it the sole responsibility of marketing. In fact, data collection may be one of the biggest opportunities for marketers to take a cross-functional leadership position in the company. There needs to be a strategy, a commitment to data gathering across all channels, analytics to inform the importance of the data, measuring progress, learning, and expanding on the opportunities to learn more. It’s a big deal.

What are some rookie mistakes marketers make when it comes to asking customers for data?

I think the more natural tendency for marketers is to get as much information as you can each time you’re in contact with a customer. That can create a poor customer experience if you’re not careful. Marketers are best served by being thoughtful about prioritizing the data they want to capture and building on it over time. Be patient and focus on building trust with your customers before trying to execute on the more self-serving need of data acquisition to grow your business. It will come.

Where should marketers who are struggling to facilitate this data exchange between customers and brands start?

I’d say start slow. There’s an unlimited amount of opportunity available when you start creating transparent exchanges of information between two parties. There’s also a great deal of sensitivities and security issues that exist. Starting small and proving out different scenarios is important to generate the trust of both parties…as you go along.

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