Nick Panayi, CSC, Head of Global Brand & Digital Marketing, is a marketing and strategic planning executive with 20 years of experience and a diverse background in technology-related industries. Hear him speak at INmarket about How To Build A Data-Driven Organization (July 8 in San Francisco).
6s: How would you describe the data-driven organization?
NP: Information is power. Data-driven basically says that we make decisions by starting with a foundation of facts. Data-driven doesn’t mean you have blinders on. Data never lies, but data alone can be misleading, so you have to be very, very careful how you use it. You start from a strong foundation of facts and then you apply business judgment to it. To me, that’s the simplest way of putting it. That’s what it’s all about.
This factual base can give you the beginning of a thought process that can then be better informed when you have real-world, environmental factors that can help color the full picture. Data won’t tell you everything, but it will give you a running start.
6s: What are three recommendations you’d give to a company that is not very data-driven or is struggling to become so? Where would they start?
NP: The first step is that you have to collect and curate the data. With a leak-free digital ecosystem every minute that goes by represents thousands of digital footprints that you can some day leverage to a great degree. You don’t know when you’ll need what data and for what reason. The most important thing is to begin to record and capture every interaction. We are lucky enough to live in a world where the cost of data itself — bits and bytes, storage and throughput –is ridiculously low. The potential benefit of saving everything far outweighs the cost of doing so. Don’t leave any data crumbs unrecorded. Maintain a view into everything that happens.
Because we live in a world where structured and unstructured data can be mixed-in and analyzed at very effectively, don’t worry as much about how you’ll use the data yet. Worry first about collection and curation. Every source matters – whether its a pure marketing source like marketing automation interactions, website traffic, social media activities but also customer satisfaction ratings, financial data, contractual data, services and support data. All of these things can go into your data repository. Make sure you are tracking all activities that can be tracked.
The second step is hiring the right people. Technology can only do so much. Technology by itself without smart, intuitive people is just a science experiment. Smart human operators guiding how the data flows and how it gets optimized is where you unlock the real value.
You need very smart data scientists to help guide your approach. It’s not a plug and play situation. You need to hire or engage some pretty smart people. You need “smart creatives” (a term that Eric Schmidt of Google came up with which I think is brilliant) who are people with both sides of the brain working. They are data scientists who also have strong business acumen and full appreciation of the softer side of the marketing profession. To squeeze the value out of the technology, you need people that get both the art and science of marketing.
The third step is to make sure that you build processes then to take advantage of that data. What do I do with the data? Can I build models with it? Yes. Can I use it to optimize my marketing spend? Yes. Can I inform my content creators about what to talk about? Yes. All of this can only be done if you have a clear set of definitions, processes and rules that allow you to use the data confidently and consistently. For example, if you are trying to figure out the optimal engagement path for qualified leads, it would help to have a process to assign campaign and channel codes to all activities, a consistent definition of what a qualified lead looks like etc.
To summarize, the three steps are:
- data collection and curation;
- smart people who know how to use data;
- business processes that allow you to optimize the data you have.
6s: SiriusDecisions recently unveiled some new research intended to “demystify” the B2B buyer’s journey. The survey calls into question the contribution of humans vs. digital interactions that contribute to a purchase decision. What are your thoughts on this?
NP: I saw it and tweeted about it. It is not a discussion about humans versus machines. Humans have always been involved. Even the CEB study didn’t say that 57% of decision-making was made without human interaction; it said that 57% of the decision-making was done before talking to sales.
The interactions that buyers take may be digital, but there are humans behind it all. Someone is writing that blog. Someone is doing social media outreach. Someone is writing the content on the website. This sales person can reach out to you on LinkedIn. There are all kinds of things happening within the 57% that are still human as well but communicating via digital channels versus traditional sales engagement methods.
It’s a valid study, and it reaffirms that people are important in the sales cycle, but it was positioned as if it counters the information that we had already. That’s not the case. It’s actually quite complementary to what we knew before about the importance of digital channels and interactions. We know that humans are and always will be important in the sales process, it’s just that the channels of communication are changing.
6s: Speaking of the study, one of the conclusions they drew was that “sales reps still matter.” How do sales reps benefit from a data-driven organization like yours?
NP: Information that you get about your buyers from the digital realm can help you optimize your sales outreach. The outreach is always important – even if it’s digital. For sales, relationship-selling skills are still vitally important – if anything more so than ever. But the sales reps that are in-tune with digital will be faster, better informed, and will be able to gracefully enter that buyer’s journey before the competition.
In sales you can help educate the customer early and earn trust along the way or you can be asked to supply a response to an RFP at the tail end. CEB data suggests that your chances of success are significantly improved if you do the former. . Salespeople who are blind to what transpires in the digital portion of the buyer’s journey will be relegated to being a competitive price point on a matrix at the tail end of the process with minimal ability to influence the decision. Modern marketing teams with the aid of analytics and tools like predictive modeling can help sales drive that win rate much higher. And that’s why marketing is now more relevant than ever.