Laura Ramos, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester, is a leading expert in business-to-business marketing. She helps Forrester’s B2B marketing clients plan, build, and deliver marketing programs that combine traditional, digital and social approaches that lead with business issues and fuel their company’s topline growth. Hear her speak at INmarket during her presentations, “How Analytics Help B2B Marketers Thrive In The Age Of The Customer” and “The CMO’s Perspective On How To Compete And Win” (July 8 in San Francisco).
6sense (6s): What holds B2B marketing teams back from understanding their buyers’ journey?
Laura Ramos (LR): I think there is a simple reason and a more complicated reason. The simple one is that many, many marketers really don’t understand how customers really use their solutions or products and the direct benefits they gain from using them. Product marketers and field marketers spend time and effort trying to promote what their products do; they don’t spend time learning what the same products do for their customers.
The more complicated reason – and the reason that holds back those marketers who do understand why their buyers buy – is that the B2B buyer’s journey is difficult to capture because it is a team event. B2C marketers can track the digital (and often physical) footsteps of their buyers because one or two people make the purchase decision typically. In B2B, it’s a group of six or more. And the decision makers are rarely the ultimate users of the solution. How do you map all this out in a way that’s meaningful to sales, who typically care about their accounts and whether or not a lead is really going to lead to a purchase decision short term?
6s: Do you believe that salespeople are less relevant than they used to be? Will we eventually get to a point where they’re entirely irrelevant?
LR: The operative word here is “are” — are they less relevant? Yes, because buyers have more information – and the ability to get information outside the sales process — than they have ever had before. This makes sales less relevant in early stage decision making.
The more interesting word is “should” – should sales be less relevant? The answer here is “no” — in our executive buyer survey from last year we found buyers (when they do engage with sales) want to work with vendors who understand them better. The want vendors who understand their business, their industry, their competition and their challenges. Half of our survey respondents said they want this from their vendors and find they are getting less of it.
I don’t think there will be a point where sales becomes irrelevant. As we continue to move more to a service-oriented society, the ability to analyze business problems, synthesize solutions, bring together partners and ensure the customer’s success will require more capable salespeople. What we call “consultative” sellers, not order takers.
6s: What are the top ways B2B marketers can benefit from analytics and predictive tools?
LR: In a recent report just published, I talked to top marketers, emerging vendors, and their customers about using predictive analytics in business marketing. These pioneers, who use terms like “early stage,” “nascent,” and “just adopting,” paint a picture of an emerging market of companies that leverage leading practices focused on lead scoring and conversion. While limited in scope, these early experiments show that predictive analytics can increase list targeting precision; predictive algorithms help winnow out poor prospects and pay list suppliers only for the contacts that fit their exact requirements. Such tools can expose early-stage problem-discovery behavior. By looking at the data prospects throw off as they research problems and new ideas, B2B marketers can tap into this data bounty to reveal hidden information about buyers’ interests, business relationships and backgrounds even before they visit their websites or provide any identifying information. They are evolving lead scoring from intuitive to scientific by identifying the specific combination of behaviors and fit characteristics that make a lead more promising to pursue. And they are helping salespeople add value when conversing with customers and turning sales into a valued resource rather than a basic order taker.
6s: What are some ways CMOs can sort through the available tools on the market and choose what will be most helpful to them?
LR: Selecting the right solution means weighing the relative sophistication of your marketing automation processes and team experience against the level of big data capability you are ready to absorb. Depending on the maturity of your lead-to-revenue initiatives, you should pick data analytic technologies that can help you do the following.
- Fill in the data blanks. When you simply need to get sales working with specific contacts at target accounts, size a market, grow an account, or enrich contact profiles, data alone can be the answer.
- Make demand generation more projectable. Basing lead scores on behavior alone, as a proxy for interest, is not always the best predictor of readiness to buy. B2B marketers are using analytics to make lead scoring more predictive. Optimal fit (determined by matching known criteria to unknown opportunities) and buyer intent (determined by looking for predictive patterns in behavior happening external to brand-managed properties) are the two analytic dimensions new vendors are bringing to the science of improving demand management.
- Increase the precision and relevance of sales interactions. Data analytics help support marketing’s sales enablement charter by helping to center messages and conversations on customers and their goals.
- Break into new market opportunities. Moving into a new industry or downstream, from enterprise to small-medium businesses (SMB), can cause concern when marketers lack insight or experience with these new buyers. A few, leading B2B marketers are using predictive marketing software to select market segments with the highest propensity to convert and concentrating marketing effort on those segments.
- Optimize customer interactions across their lifetime. For B2B marketers to put big data to work converting demand, we recommend they start by identifying ideal customer attributes and matching those to patterns found among unqualified leads or undifferentiated traffic. This means figuring out what distinguishes your best customers from the rest and then applying both explicit rules and discovered patterns to the process of predictably identifying demand across all stages of the purchase process, both in and out of the funnel.
6s: What are you most looking forward to or hoping to learn at INmarket on July 8 in San Francisco?
LR: How marketers are using predictive data and marketing analytics to really drive their business, especially in customer engagement outside the traditional funnel perspective. We see thriving companies using technology and data to connect customers and employees in ways that inform every employee, every moment, on every decision to provide deeper and more competent customer engagement. I’m looking for examples of these “customer activated enterprises” and I think the marketing data experts coming to this event will get close to this ideal.