Data is central to the marketing world, and in many ways it has fundamentally altered both the power structure within companies and given CMOs much more clout than they have ever enjoyed in the past. And to a great extent, data has shifted the process of the complex B2B sale.
Business-to-business transactions are no longer driven by sales working on a huge quantity of unqualified leads handed off by marketing. Instead, the marketing team and sales team work in concert defining what exactly a "qualified lead" looks like within their specific sales funnel. They then take people from anonymous names to satisfied customers through a sales process that might take a year or longer depending on the industry and product or service being sold. And all of this is taking place under the backdrop of hyper-informed buyers and overly-abundant data sets.
Though data is still a challenge for marketers, and the concept of "analysis paralysis" is a real issue facing today’s B2B marketer, it is the fuel that drives the entire process.
There are good reasons why CMOs and their marketing teams should take control of corporate data. From buying the technology that they will be intimately be working with as well as developing cross-division relationships within the corporate structure, having a better handle on data will help marketing teams make better decisions and develop more cohesive relationships with groups from sales to IT and business intelligence. As data continues to seep into every turn of the complex B2B sales process, business marketers are tasked with finding ways to take control over data.
James Smith, CMO at OneLogin, a cloud-based software company, spoke to Marketing Dive about some of the subtle but significant changes they made at the company and how data has helped inform its sales pipeline. He believes part of the challenge marketers have with data is that they are increasingly under pressure to collect customer information and convert that information into actionable data points. However, digging through all that data is easier said than done. The catch, though, is that to engage customers more effectively, marketers are faced with having to parse through data more quickly.
Making a key change at OneLogin
According to Smith and other experts, analysis paralysis is a main pitfall marketers have with data. "When marketers have access to diverse sets of data, they often experience more difficulty interpreting it and turning it into action," he said, explaining that due to the abundance of data, marketers often are trying to deal with more than they can handle.
He said marketers need to "develop an in-depth understanding of the metrics they need to make informed decisions. Having access to too much data can be paralyzing, but keeping metrics simple and action-oriented can make all the difference."
One solution he suggested was to implement a centralized dashboard that condenses key metrics so that marketers can better track their data without being distracted by irrelevant analytics.
"When I joined OneLogin, the main metrics for marketing were web-site visitors and MQL creation. MQL’s are marketing qualified leads and Marketing typically decides based on lead scoring what is determined as an MQL. This leads to self-fulfilling metrics," he said.
The change was to move from MQL’s where Marketing was essentially working in a silo on the team considered a lead and shifted to a focus on conversion rates further down the funnel with metrics based on sales qualified leads (SQLs). This meant the sales team had input into how a qualified lead was defined within the company and that the key performance indicators became opportunity conversions.
This shift, Smith said, meant those conversions became the true metrics on how well OneLogin’s marketing campaigns were performing. For example, where before website visitors had been a misleading metric, the new focus became monitoring higher converting content such as demos, trials and sign-ups for gated content.
3 tactics B2B marketers can take advantage of right now
In meeting the data challenge, Smith offered three tactics that can help get B2B marketers on the right path,
1.Constantly test: B2B marketers should always be testing to identify their optimal creative direction, messaging and spend. However, it’s important marketers don’t get lost in the process. After testing, marketers must remember to measure which tests and variables were most effective in order to execute more impactful strategies going forward.
2.Steer away from benchmark bias: As a result of using a variety of leads and opportunities to shape the sales and marketing funnel, many marketers believe the numbers they’ve seen in one company can be used as a benchmark for another. However, this is far from the truth. All companies construct their sales and marketing funnel differently, and marketers must be aware of this when working with different organizations.
3.Start slow with marketing technology: Marketing automation technologies offer big promises, however deploying multiple systems at once can wreak havoc on an organization. Marketers should wait until they’ve received a desired outcome with one marketing automation tool before moving to the next one. Taking this gradual approach will allow marketers to see more effective and immediate results.
Testing within the data-driven marketing world is perhaps the most crucial strategy any team can take and should be part of standard practice.
"Even the smallest change put through a simple A/B test may have huge impact on actual conversions," Smith said, adding that it's important to always be testing. Rather than run one test, continually challenge results.
It's a mobile-first world and B2B engagement is no exception to that reality. Part of building out a strong mobile strategy for business marketers requires carrying out tests to see what works and how they can best create cohesive solutions throughout the marketing funnel.
"Today we’re always connected wherever we are," Smith said. "Everyone, including B2B, expects to get same level of experience whether it’s from a laptop, tablet or mobile device. It’s not a separate experience; it all needs to be integrated."
Data is a powerful aspect of marketing, and it is a challenge that today’s B2B marketer has to meet and solve. A good mantra to keep in mind when analysis paralysis begins to set in is to keep metrics simple and action-oriented, and avoid getting caught over-analyzing data sets that don't provide meaningful improvement in the sales pipeline.