April 8, 2014, 1:04 PM

Put B2B data to work to sell more, not just measure past campaigns

In order to close more sales, marketers need to figure out how buyers buy—which means it’s time to change their relationship with analytics, a new Forrester Research report says.

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Most business-to-business marketers, 90%, admit that they aren’t effectively using data to guide their actions, according to a new Forrester Research Inc. report, “B2B Marketing’s Big DataDestiny,” by analyst Laura Ramos. Rather than using customer data to make predictions that will drive sales—such as to calculate the return on investment of purchasing an online ad or buying space at a trade show—those marketers are primarily using data to measure their own performance in past marketing campaigns, say 61% of the 174 marketing executives interviewed for the report. That is, they’re being reactive, not proactive, Forrester says.

Ramos outlines three strategies B2B marketers can use to make data sing sweet tales of opportunity, not belt out last week’s sales figures. First, they should analyze their most-valuable accounts to identify the individuals at client businesses who influence purchasing at each stage, what information they rely on to make decisions, and where they go to get that information, the report says. That way, a marketer can provide more nuanced information and language to speak to the chief information officer at one stage in the buying cycle, for instance, versus the finance department at another stage.

Then, a marketer should look for patterns within those top accounts and apply the lessons to their other clients, the report says. Advanced statistical modeling, made possible with big data engines like Hadoop, can help the marketer to create a new campaign and predict weeks or months in advance how much profit it will drive. By having a more accurate, early grasp of a campaign’s likely effectiveness, a marketer can better allocate funding without having to wait for results from the campaign to come in first, the report says.

Such predictions segue well into Ramos’ third tip for B2B marketers: “Use data insights to better identify and target early market opportunities and better allocate market spending and sales efforts on audiences that best match these patterns.” Big data allows marketers’ to crunch not only past data, but to incorporate recent changes in market demand or customer behavior. For instance, customer service technology provider Zendesk Inc. uses big data analytics to identify which groups of customers in call center queues require more immediate attention—typically those closer to buying—and routes agents to those customers first, the report says. That saves money by making sure more high-value requests are being addressed, while agents waste less energy on interactions that are less likely to lead to profits.

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