Leveraging B2B Customer Data: More Than a Numbers Game

With the ease of access to customer data, B2B sales leaders are better positioned than ever to leverage it for business growth, increased market share, and higher revenues. The insights that B2B customer data provides can help you accelerate your sales cycles and foster better relationships with your current customers.

Research backs this up. A McKinsey survey of more than 1,000 sales organizations worldwide found that 53% of those that are “high performing” rate themselves as effective users of analytics.

Fast-growing sales organizations use analytics more effectively, but most organizations struggle.

Companies rating their use of analytics as extremely effective or moderately effective, % of companies

1Fast growers are defined as companies growing faster than peers and > 6% per year (27% of the sample). Slow growers lag their peers and experience < 5% growth per year (35% of the sample).

Source: Unlocking the power of data in sales, McKinsey.com

There are so many ways data is useful to an organization. Customer data helps companies pinpoint their ideal customers, efficiently map the customer journey, prevent churn, improve the customer experience, and engage with buyers in ways that will create upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

According to a McKinsey report, “To maximize a company’s chances of success, sales and marketing must understand how to sense and respond to human and nonhuman buying signals in an aligned way to improve opportunity outcomes.”

In a real-world example given by McKinsey, a global chemicals company took aim at reducing customer churn. Its marketing analytics team built a predictive model based on more than 30 variables, from which it derived ten key factors that were pushing customers away. It is this kind of data-backed knowledge that, when applied to resolving human behaviors, can be most useful in fine-tuning sales performance and tuning up sales.

Yet, challenges abound when it comes to collecting and analyzing customer data. According to Deloitte Digital, companies have an average of 28 different data sources being collected by 17 different technology applications. Companies then have to determine what data is most relevant to look at, how to effectively merge that data, how to extract the most meaningful insights from it, and then transform those insights into actionable steps that will bring the desired results.

A Forrester Consulting study on behalf of Adobe found that 58% of business executives rated the ability to analyze data for insights as a major challenge. In the same study, 89% of practitioners expressed that their organizations’ most important priority is delivering personalized content and turning data into insights.

Ultimately, B2B sales and marketing organizations seek a “single source of truth” that brings all this data together for proper analysis. How does one bring all this data together properly without being overwhelmed by ‘analysis paralysis?’

Understanding the broad categories of B2B customer data that will be most beneficial to sales performance is the first step. Once you understand these data types, you will be better prepared to make decisions on gathering and analyzing data from disparate sources in a way that produces insightful and actionable results.

B2B Customer Data You Should Collect

The sheer volume of data you have at hand isn’t what matters; it’s the value of that data that counts. Quantitative and qualitative customer data helps you understand your customers and what makes them tick. When you can access and evaluate this kind of data, you can use it to adapt your sales process to fit your customers’ needs and interests.

Before analyzing any customer data, you need to know how to segment it and mine it for actionable information. Thanks to the plethora of available tech solutions, you can not only collect a huge amount of data but also sort out the most meaningful data pertaining to each prospect and customer. There are three main types of customer data to collect and a few tools you can use to do so.

Data Type #1: Who Your Customers Are

Your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is key to efficient prospecting. This data includes demographic, firmographic, and technographic data and, increasingly, behavioral—or intent—data.

But because today’s customers are “always on” in a myriad of online touchpoints, B2B organizations are challenged with internal alignment issues between marketing and sales engagements, and then interpreting the collected data from each touchpoint in a way that can most efficiently leverage the data for better outcomes. To capture these data points, tools such as Clearbit, ZoomInfo, and LinkedIn Sales Navigator can populate your CRM with information about each prospect or company. Data integrity across sales teams is essential to ensure accuracy, completeness, and consistency. Complete and accurate account, customer, and prospect data sets give your sales and marketing teams a solid foundation upon which they can build successful marketing campaigns and sales plays.

Data Type #2: The Buyer’s Journey

Today’s B2B buying journey is nuanced and complex. As B2B buyers access more information independently than ever before, B2B companies must navigate a web of B2B buyer touchpoints to track their activities. Some studies show that more than 70% of B2B buyers fully define their needs via online research before contacting a sales rep.

While the decision-making process is still lengthy (nine months before a prospect becomes a lead, 10 months before a lead becomes a sales qualified lead, 10 months before a sales qualified lead closes) and involves multiple buyer stakeholders (an average of 10 to 15), the rules of the game have changed.

B2B marketers and sellers are increasingly challenged with personalizing experiences that fit the distinct, individual needs within buying teams. How well this is executed depends on how well an organization is leveraging insights. In the Forrester Consulting survey, 83% of respondents felt that “sensitivity to a customer’s journey is more critical than ever.” Yet, customer loyalty and customer-centricity aren’t always measured and execution is lacking. When it comes to engaging customers effectively throughout the buying journey, 66% of B2B practitioners noted that they are hindered by marketing and sales alignment challenges.

Analyzing your buyer’s journey is best done using a marketing automation platform. Eloqua, Microsoft Dynamics, or Marketo, for example, can track the customer journey from lead to purchase. You could also use a tool like Bizible that allows you to determine which marketing channels and digital marketing campaigns are most successful and reveals every touchpoint the buyer has had during their journey.

You can also use predictive AI technology to create “lookalike” audiences or predict future purchase intent. Predictive AI tools analyze the behavior of your current customers to identify prospects with similar interests. Knowing which prospects are most likely to buy your product or service in the future, you can then prioritize these potential customers in your marketing or sales process and better understand your likelihood of closing a sale.

Additionally, this data can help you spot common roadblocks in the customer journey. Gartner identified six B2B buying “jobs” that customers must complete before they finalize a purchase:

1. Problem identification: Knowing they need to do something

‌2. Solution exploration: Searching for what will solve a problem

3. Requirements building: Determining what the product must do

‌4. Supplier selection: Evaluating whether the product does what it’s supposed to

5‌. Validation: Considering buying but want to make sure

‌6. Consensus creation: Getting everyone on board

By understanding these six stages and how they affect your customers’ journeys, your sales team can focus on providing information that is pertinent at each stage, thus allowing your customers to complete their jobs.

Data Type #3: How Satisfied Your Customers Are

Finally, you need to know how satisfied each customer is with your service or product, and what is contributing to or taking away from that satisfaction. When you know what makes your customers happy, you can focus on consistently doing those actions and optimizing your account management style. You can even adapt and personalize it to the individual.

The ability to acquire a complete picture of the satisfaction levels of your customers is one benefit of a comprehensive Customer Success measurement system. Customer Success applications such as Totango, Custify, or Gainsight can track and measure the effectiveness of every interaction your customer has with your brand. They deliver data you can use to ensure customers achieve desired outcomes, helping you improve customer relationships and ultimately increase customer retention and drive growth.

Customer Success also involves anticipating customer challenges and proactively finding solutions. It relies heavily on your customer’s “health,” which takes into consideration how the customer uses your product or service, whether they find it valuable, and whether they have issues with your product or service that can be improved.

Use this deep-dive knowledge to upgrade your delivery of optimal post-sale service and to gain referrals. You can also use customer satisfaction scores to discover the opportune time to propose an upsell or cross-sell.

And what if satisfaction level takes a nosedive? The data can point to situations which lead a client to leave. A support agent may have failed to solve their problem, for instance; or perhaps a vital piece of information about your renewal program or subscription service was never sent. Identifying these instances can help reduce churn and save accounts.

3 Types of Technology for Storing Customer Data

Knowing what data to collect isn’t enough. You need to know where to look for it, where to store it, and how to analyze it. The best technologies for doing this are customer relationship management systems, account-based marketing platforms, and B2B customer data platforms.

Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRMs)

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way sales teams operate. According to Gartner, sales reps spent about 46% of their time with a customer or at the customer’s workplace before the pandemic. In-person meetings let sales reps easily study customer body language and pick up and respond to non-verbal cues. Now, video meetings are the norm and sellers are learning how to effectively use video meetings to read facial expressions, but only as long as prospects keep their cameras on.

To navigate the challenges that result from a lack of face-to-face interaction, sellers need to ensure their CRMs are collecting buying signals and customer intelligence. This may mean that sales leaders need to introduce conversational engagement applications such as messaging apps or chatbots that can sync data to a CRM and further enhance sellers’ interactions with customers.

Many conversational engagement applications use AI algorithms to analyze the quality of conversations from phone calls, video calls, emails, and chatbots. Some of them also come with sentiment analysis tools that detect when negative sentiments have been expressed. Conversational application tools pick up on buying signals that would otherwise be lost when conducting meetings virtually.

Additionally, CRMs allow you to integrate intent data from other providers such as 6Sense or Bombora. Intent data offers clues into your customers’ buying signals based on their web behavior. You can use that data to identify early buying interest, personalize your outreach, and prioritize the customers who are most likely to make a purchase.

Account-Based Marketing Platforms

ABM platforms allow you to see which channels your customers are on and orchestrate customized channel activity based on prospect behavior (such as response to emails, for example) that is tracked in a marketing automation platform.

Platforms such as Demandbase or Terminus can aggregate a wealth of information collected through Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics and held in a CRM platform. ABM software enables you to get a broad view of the entire customer journey, including the ways prospects have engaged with your organization over time, what actions were taken to influence purchases, and what is of interest to them.

Used wisely, ABM tools deliver insights about customers that can guide marketing campaigns and sales plays, leading to more effective outreach and accelerated sales.

B2B Customer Data Platforms

Customer data, and the insights hidden within, need to be easily accessible to sellers for maximized impact. That’s where B2B customer data platforms (CDP) come into play.

These platforms can centralize your customer data from marketing, sales, enterprise systems, and third-party sources and bring it all into a unified view. It helps you see truths about your customers and their preferences that might be otherwise hard to clarify.

A B2B customer data platform, also known as an enterprise customer data platform, differs from a CRM in that the CDP automatically collects data from online and offline channels and uses it to build personal profiles, while a CRM only records disconnected interactions with buyers through manual entry.

CDP expert Nipul Chokshi notes, “The promise of a Customer Data Platform is simple yet enormous. It is the single source of marketing truth – allowing you to simplify your data, centralize your segmentation and audience creation, and deliver successful 1:1 omnichannel campaigns.

CDPs do this by building customer profiles and integrating data from a variety of sources. These sources include your CRM, marketing automation, transactional systems, web forms, email, social media activity, website and e-commerce behavioral data, and more. The profiles they create enable you to take a more personalized approach to your marketing and sales efforts.

With a CDP you can:

Bring together disjointed customer data. Aggregate customer data from every single touchpoint, both offline and online (e.g., email, install data, social media, online reviews, etc.).

Create a better view of customers. Combine disconnected data points about customers into unified customer profiles that guide how you interact with them.

Refine your ideal customer profile. Refine the attributes of your ideal customer profile beyond the usual data points of company size, revenue, industry, and perhaps geography and technology, so that you can have a more nuanced view and conduct more well-defined targeting.

Break data silos. Departments are sharing and accessing the same data about their customers. This means sales and marketing can align on messaging since they have the same views of the customer.

Enable operational efficiency. CDPs help businesses build and connect a tech stack that adapts to the fluctuating customer attributes and behaviors with turnkey integrations.

Knowledge Is Power

B2B sellers have access to a wealth of data, and advances in AI and new technologies allow you to harness that data and turn it into actionable insights. Knowledge about your customer is power. When you put that knowledge to use, you will be able to create more successful sales motions, drive more closed deals, and increase your revenue.

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Author: Karen Salamone

Author: Karen Salamone

Karen is Head of Marketing for MarketSource. She is a transformational B2B and B2B2C leader with a history of building marketing organizations, content teams, and demand generation centers of excellence from the ground up. She is recognized for delivering meaningful insights and fresh approaches and for earning best-in-class content, design, and multi-media awards.