July 29, 2014, 2:31 PM

Better use of data leads to better understanding of B2B customers

Many marketing organizations need to clean up their business customer data in order to use it properly, Forrester Research says.

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B2B marketers know they’re not making effective use of their client data, and Forrester Research Inc. issued a research note last month offering suggestions on how they can do a better job.

The key to anticipating what customers want, and when, is using data from web analytics and other sources to understand purchasing managers and their buyer behavior, Forrester says. “This process starts with identifying which attributes distinguish the best customers who influence the journey at every stage,” Forrester analysts Laura Ramos and Lori Wizdo write in the research brief.

The analysts used data from a June 2013 survey of nearly 200 B2B marketers, which found that only 10% said they were effectively using data analytics to improve how they market to customers. 30% said their data analytics were not effective; 57% termed their efforts “neutral,” and 3% said they didn’t know.

Forrester recommends a five-part data analytics approach to better customer service and B2B e-commerce selling. The first two steps are profiling existing customers to discover buying behavior and identifying primary and cross-selling opportunities. The next three stages involve using data to help determine sales and conversion goals, identifying which customers are most likely to purchase early in the buying cycle, and delving deeper into transactional data to increase repeat buying.

“B2B chief marketing officers must understand the roles played, actions taken and sources of information consumed by buyers from problem identification through purchase, adoption and ongoing use,” Ramos and Wizdo say.

Good business-to-business e-commerce marketers also need to put their house in order, Forrester says. Many data organizations continue to operate messy and often isolated marketing and customer information data stores. “Marketers rarely look beyond a limited set of demographic and buyer readiness criteria when overwhelmed with data,” Forrester says.

“Leading chief marketing officers find they must kick the habit of relying on data found in-house and look outside of their department to track down non-obvious insights about where buyers venture to inform purchase decisions,” Ramos and Wizdo say.

Another report, however, says B2B e-commerce companies are at least beginning to emphasize better data management, marketing and buyer understanding. In a recent survey of B2B executives by Oracle Corp. respondents described their “top areas of focus for 2014,” as “growing market share,” “customer loyalty and retention,” “increased promotions” and crafting “cross-channel” experiences. The Oracle survey also suggests that B2B e-commerce operators have recently increased investments in such areas as web analytics, e-mail marketing, customer relationship management and search.

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