Trendspotting: 2015 — The Year of Data-Driven Sales and Marketing

Trendspotting: 2015 — The Year of Data-Driven Sales and Marketing

(This post was originally published on the DiscoverOrg Blog.)

As we reach the end of the current year, our eyes turn to the New Year and contemplate what it might bring. DiscoverOrg recently pulled together a panel of three innovative CEOs to discuss data-driven marketing and its impacts on the sales process. Our own CEO, Henry Schuck, was joined by two others, Craig Harris of HG Data and Nadim Hossain of BrightFunnel. Below are some of the most important developments they anticipate in 2015.

The Rise of Predictive Analytics

Nadim Hossain of BrightFunnel anticipates that lead scoring—the science of “What are your best bets?”—will give way to models that can deliver even more intelligence to the sales process. Lead scoring currently tracks activity between a prospect and an organization and tries to predict—at the very first stage—what is going to turn into an opportunity. Hossain notes that in the future these analytics will go much further, “looking at the whole funnel to understand how things are going to move from stage to stage all the way to revenue—really predicting the pipeline and the revenue in a way that marketers can actually react.  “The future of predictive analytics in marketing is not just predictive, but really being prescriptive.

Many predictive analytics tools are currently being developed that will be available both as stand-alone and integrations into popular CRM platforms. Henry Schuck of DiscoverOrg points out, “Salesforce recently bought RelateIQ, which was basically a CRM that was built around analytics. I think that they’re realizing salespeople want to be able to see which prospects convert best and how that translates to other prospects who might follow the same pattern.” The tools are designed to help salespeople map out those high-likelihood prospects and use that template to identify more high-likelihood prospects. The process of identifying the best prospects will require less guesswork and sales efforts will be more effective as analytical tools become more widely available.

Craig Harris of HG Data anticipates “more and more toolsets that enable large and even small companies to build these predictive models themselves. This is a very exciting time for sales and predictive analytics.”

Shift in the Marketing Role

This year, we have seen an even more dramatic shift in the marketing department’s increased role in both sales and IT processes. The primary driver behind the change is the data-driven nature of sales and marketing today, pushing marketing to be more technical and analytical in nature.

To this point, Nadim Hossain said, “Business-to-business marketers are ultimately going to be much more data-driven than even business-to-consumer. What has happened in the last five years or so is that marketing automation platforms have matured. With this basic foundation of tools in place, B2B marketers can take it to the next level, integrating new advanced tools. The time for data-driven sales and marketing is here.”

What this shift brings us to is an evolution of what the marketing department even looks like, who is hired and what they do. Henry Schuck says, “Marketing is becoming more of a technical position than it is an artistic or creative position. I think a technical background is critically important and will continue to become even more important. Marketers are coming from math and engineering backgrounds now.”

Hossain adds, “What you’re seeing is the rise of Marketing Operations. A trend I am seeing is that some companies are even combining sales and marketing operations, with the marketing operations team responsible for forecasting and prediction. Some companies are calling this team a revenue operations team, or revenue marketing.”

The Importance of Integrated Toolsets

One issue that organizations have been facing (that is possibly going to get worse before it gets better) is being able to compile intelligent data and effectively apply analytics to produce usable intelligence about sales and prospects.

It is essential to choose tools that not only integrate between the systems used by sales and marketing teams, but also that fuel intelligent conversations with prospects. Henry Shuck points out, “Complete data in a well-integrated system will go beyond low-value commodity lead information (name, main business phone, email). Predictive analytics applied to your data will put you in front of your highest value prospects with the right solution at the right time. ” CRM systems populated with complete prospect data that includes sales triggers, events, insights and context (job functions, reporting structures, spending initiatives, online behavior) enables your sales people to be more effective in their prospecting efforts and more able to cut through the noise.

Harris points out, “Of course data-driven marketing is not a panacea. If not done right, it will create more problems than it solves. If you go down the data-driven marketing path, you need to make a long-term commitment to it: you need to hire the right talent; you need to populate the system with good data; and you need to understand how to measure efforts. Don’t get scared when you have your first couple of hiccups. We are at the forefront right now, and those that are really investing in data-driven marketing are the early adopters and you are helping to figure it out for the rest of them.”

Work Smarter, Not Harder in 2015

The amount of information available to sales and marketing teams this year (and even more so in 2015) is overwhelming. However, aligning the expertise of your marketing team to the technology available and integrating the information collected across platforms will set your organization up for success… and ahead of the curve in terms of adoption of such practices.

Hossain summed it up well: By implementing these systems to tame the data and get the most out of your efforts, “you’re getting the best leads, but also throughout the funnel you are shortening sales cycles, accelerating the velocity and increasing the deal size.”

To learn more about how predictive analytics can help your company connect marketing to revenue, prove ROI, and make more intelligent marketing decisions, watch a recording of the webinar, or schedule a BrightFunnel demo today. 

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How To Answer The 5 W’s of B2B Marketing With Predictive Analytics

How To Answer The 5 W’s of B2B Marketing With Predictive Analytics

Marketers are drowning in data. Across any number of platforms (Salesforce, Marketo, Google Analytics, etc.) we track everything and, as a result, we amass more records than most can effectively manage and interpret. We know that if analyzed correctly, this data contains powerful insights, but too often analysis leaves CMOs and their teams with more questions than answers.

Today, smart marketers are replacing pivot tables and manual analysis with technology to automate the process and help them identify what’s working, intelligently plan and forecast, and draw a direct correlation between marketing activity and revenue. In doing so, they’re able to take control of marketing, transforming it into a true revenue function.

The ubiquity and availability of data has brought us into a new era of data-driven marketing—allowing us to finally answer the most challenging questions in marketing. The following are the five key questions that predictive B2B analytics can help address:

Who: Target Audience

As marketers, we must cater to any number of audiences throughout the sales cycle. B2B purchase decisions often require the input of many stakeholders and an intimate familiarity with the characteristics of these target influencers is critical. Using data-driven insights, it’s now possible to identify which profiles are most vital to a sale. Blending traditional demographics with behavioral patterns—how prospects interact with both native and external touchpoints—helps us develop precise profiles of those with the highest propensity to buy. With these insights, marketers can more effectively target marketing to ensure they’re mapping activity and messaging to the most receptive audience.

What: Campaigns and Themes

70% of B2B marketers are creating more content than they did just last year, but how much of this content is actually providing value to the prospect? How much of it is presenting a message that truly aligns to a target’s interests and pain points? Content and messaging are too often developed in silos, based chiefly on Marketing’s perception of which themes will resonate with an audience. Predictive analytics allows marketers to leave the guesswork behind and embrace data-driven messaging. By analyzing everyday activity captured in CRM and marketing automation systems we can gain strategic insights that can be applied to the more granular elements of messaging—ideal theme, audience, product, region, and which cohorts work most effectively together. Predictive analytics helps automate this process, tagging themes and associated cohorts to tie messaging directly to sales.

Where: Which Channels

B2B Marketers use an average of 15 different channels in demand generation activities. For many, this number can far, far higher. Prospects engage with your brand across so many touch points—online and off—and it’s imperative that B2B marketers understand the role that each of these channels play in the evaluation process. While a webinar found through LinkedIn may be the final push to move an opportunity to sale, it’s irresponsible to discount prior campaigns and channels that also helped move the needle.

Most marketers still rely on single-touch attribution models—crediting a sale to only the first or last touch—but multi-touch attribution is necessary for full visibility into channel efficacy. With proper crediting of all channels involved in the path to sale, marketers can accurately model and measure the buyers’ journey taken by prospects, and tailor investments accordingly.

When: Targeting and Velocity

The B2B buyer’s journey is complex, spanning numerous stakeholders across any range of touchpoints, and Marketing now owns 75% of the sales cycle. With predictive analytics, marketers gain visibility into where targets will be most receptive to various schools of messaging along the path to purchase. Do eBooks work well as a first touch asset? Where in my nurturing track should I introduce case studies? After how many touches should Sales contact a lead? Specific content offers are more relevant to specific stages of the buyers’ journey and identifying the “when” is key to providing value to prospects.

Furthermore, by tracking progress along the complete revenue waterfall, predictive analytics can help marketers get a grip on velocity. Where are leads falling off or slowing down? Which efforts produce the shortest velocity results? When can I expect an investment to translate to revenue? With visibility into velocity patterns, B2B marketers can accurately forecast future revenue impact and align their plans to company goals.

Why: Data-backed insights facilitate confident bets

Arguably the most important of the set, understanding why something is or isn’t working is critical to making the big decisions that can transform marketing. Being able to answer why an activity was successful (i.e. the specific intersection of who, what, where, and when), builds respect, accountability, and helps secure/protect budget. The same is true for planning and forecasting. By understanding why certain programming has worked in the past, marketers can now predict precisely when and how much revenue will be produced as a result of their efforts. Predictive analytics helps facilitate smarter bets and justify there investments with the ability to accurately predict why/when an investment will turn into revenue.

Bonus: The “How”

Of course, we’d be remiss in not mentioning the red-headed stepchild of the group, the “how.” The past year has seen the rise of “analytics cloud” solutions promising to be everything to everybody—one-stop shops for organization-wide analytics. The reality is: most of these technologies aren’t built with marketing in mind, and traditional BI tools fall short when it comes to the unique needs of marketers. Marketing needs its own analytics and thankfully, the tools exist to help gain complete visibility into marketing’s impact on sales.

Predictive analytics solutions are facilitating data-driven marketing operations for companies of all sizes. Rather than adding headcount for manual analysis, smart B2B CMOs have embraced technology that’s helping them take control of marketing, tie efforts directly to revenue, and answer the big questions with the power to make or break a company. Data-driven marketing has arrived and the pioneers who are already using predictive technology are being met with significant competitive advantage. In the age of data-driven marketing, only one question remains: will your organization embrace predictive analytics… or risk being left in the dust?

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The 6 Strategic Themes That B2B CMOs Must Address

The 6 Strategic Themes That B2B CMOs Must Address

Since starting BrightFunnel two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to hundreds of B2B CMOs and marketing executives. From those discussions, I’ve noticed that the issues over which CMOs were losing sleep tended to cluster into six strategic themes. What’s interesting is that all six themes are related to marketing ROI and performance measurement. While this is by no means a scientific study, I think that by itself is a testament to the data-rich and insight-poor times we live in.

These findings are based on the 373 conversations with B2B marketers for which I took notes. The sample set is not representative of all B2B companies, and it’s heavily biased towards data-driven B2B marketers—particularly Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors and other high tech companies. But it’s more broadly relevant, as those are the folks that tend to be the early adopters and trendsetters in the marketing technology landscape.

My goals in sharing these findings broadly are simple: I hope that they may help other B2B marketers to anticipate strategic challenges before they arise, and that they foster discussion about these topics:

1. Campaign Effectiveness – Know what’s working

Which campaigns were most effective in sourcing MQLs?

Which campaigns were effective in influencing Opportunities?

Which efforts produce the fastest velocity results?

What types of campaigns perform best?

This first theme is the most basic building block of marketing performance measurement. At the most basic level—even for companies with long sales cycles where marketing plays a significant role in the middle and bottom of the funnel—marketing should be bringing potential new business into the top of the funnel. The top is often measured by metrics such as sourced Inquiries or MQLs. While stopping at such metrics leaves a lot to be desired, it is certainly a good place to start, and where smaller companies (< 50 people) typically remain. But surprisingly, many larger companies feel that they don’t have a handle on these basic questions.

2. Revenue Waterfall – Track progress across stages

How are MQLs generated last quarter performing today?

Where are my leads getting stuck?

What are the buyers’ journeys that work best?

It seems that every modern B2B marketer these days has adopted a multi-stage sales and marketing framework, such as the Sirius Decisions Demand Waterfall framework. That is a good thing. Yet paradoxically, when it comes to measurement, many of these same companies only track initial creation of Inquiries or MQLs. If you’re trying to measure demand generation performance, clearly, what matters is the eventual outcome of the leads created, and where they’re falling off or slowing down.

3. Multi-Touch Attribution – Accurately measure revenue impact

How much revenue and pipeline did past campaigns source?

How can I move to an advanced, multi-touch model that makes sense for our buyers’ journey?

How can I measure results at an account level?

The simplest way to think about multi-touch attribution in a B2B context is that it is an attempt to accurately model and measure the buyers’ journey taken by your customers. Often times, this translates to dozens or even hundreds of touches. Let’s say there are 10 people involved in a buying process, with 5 touches each, across several months. You have 50 distinct marketing interactions to keep track of. While that idea might give you a headache, consider the alternative: instead of making a full account of how you drove the prospect through the 75% of buying cycle that you own, you rely on your lazy busy sales team to do data entry, to attach Contacts to Opportunities, and arbitrarily pick a single touch to get all the glory. Smart CMOs understand this, and that is why it is a recurring theme (nightmare?) that keeps them up at night.

4. Plan & Predict – Plan against future goals

What investments should I make now to achieve my goals?

How much revenue will marketing generate next quarter?

Across all our efforts, what do we expect to mature into revenue in a given period?

CMOs increasingly understand that to be strategic to the Board of Directors, they must not just offer insights about the past, but also about how they can help achieve future goals. Conveniently, those future goals are also where sales and marketing are most aligned, because marketing can uniquely have an impact today, on the future several quarters out. We must sow the seeds today that our Sales brethren can reap tomorrow. But too often, we make those decisions in a vacuum, without an understanding of the likely future outcomes. That will no longer be acceptable in 2015. 

5. Strategy – Identify the messages that work

What marketing themes should we bet the company on?

What are the patterns in efficacy of themes/messages across audiences/products/regions?

High growth companies often face bet-the-company decisions, such as focusing on one customer segment over another. And CMOs care deeply about identifying signals from that sometimes-noisy data. The answers are often right there in your own data. Yet for a majority of B2B CMOs, this is a completely missed opportunity. Too often they aren’t even aware that rich strategic insights on segmentation and focus can be mined from everyday demand generation activity captured in CRM and marketing automation systems.

6. Data & Process – Ensure clean data and process

How can I identify potential gaps in my data?

What measures can I take to overcome bad historical data, without having to change all of it?

How can I handle ongoing process gaps, such a sales rep not entering the right info?

How can we find insights across a complex web of account and campaign hierarchies globally? 

It seems that every CMO thinks their data is bad. And there are legions of service providers who prey on that low data self-esteem, like so many diet book writers. But what’s often missed is that the solution isn’t relentless cleaning and scraping the data, but it is to intelligently analyze the data in a way that takes into account its limitations. CMOs are rightfully worried about bad data, but they often wrongly prescribe a solution that only focuses on cleanup, not intelligent analysis.

So those are the 6 strategic themes that I’ve heard over and over, though I’m sure there are some that I’m missing. I’d welcome your input: what questions are you trying to answer? Where have you struggled?

At BrightFunnel, we’re working to address these themes and help data-driven marketers connect marketing to revenue, prove ROI, and make more intelligent marketing decisions. To learn more about how we can help you take control of marketing in the coming year, schedule a demo today.

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