B2B Data is Becoming More Human – Don’t Get Left Behind

November 21, 2016 Ari Soffer

It’s always fun bumping into old friends or colleagues in unexpected places. The longer it’s been since you were last in touch, the more interesting such encounters tend to be.

Usually, the first thing to flash through your mind is how much has changed since the last time the two of you met.

Sometimes the paths they took offer no real surprises. The talented musician who fronts her own band; the hyper-ambitious, talented colleague from way back, who’s now a CEO; your exhaustingly opinionated classmate who’s now a lawyer or a journalist; that kid from the military family who’s now – surprise surprise – in the military.

But perhaps just as often, a former acquaintance’s professional or personal trajectory can really throw you.

Like that goofy guy who couldn’t sit still in college and scored straight Cs in math – who’s now a highly successful accountant (what?!), of all things. Or the unendearingly serious, super-boring bookworm – who’s now in a job so cool that life suddenly seems excruciatingly unfair. It can leave you wondering what radical epiphany or life-changing experience you missed out on between then and now.

But chances are, there wasn’t one.

The bottom line is: people just don’t stay the same. Sometimes those changes are more abrupt, but more often than not it happens incrementally. We just gradually develop over time; our opinions change, our priorities change, our personal circumstances change – and, without fail, at some point our jobs change.

Consider how much you’ve changed since your first job. Or since college or high school. Or even since you started your current job for that matter. We’re all products of our life experiences, of lessons learned and of… well… just the passage of time.

Don’t get caught off-guard by your own data

In the B2B world this is arguably truer than in most other fields. The data in any company’s CRM and marketing automation systems is invariably degenerating over time, as leads constantly shift positions, companies, or even professions.

Herein lies the challenge for lead generation professionals: keeping your finger on the pulse. How can you increase lead generation, when the proportion of quality data you’re working with is actively decreasing all the time. Given that your data isn’t static, how can you ensure your database is keeping up?

Many companies simply don’t bother. Their databases gradually degenerate, so they just buy more data from data vendors (which promptly begins to decompose in their CRM or marketing automation system). Or they ramp up their inbound efforts (which means more inaccurate, incomplete, or just plain made-up leads injected directly into your database together with the good ones).

Eventually though, it simply ends up with sales and marketing being pushed gradually harder and harder to produce better results – with progressively less useful data. Productivity stagnates or decreases, so the pressure increases, so you buy more data, and so on.

This vicious cycle can only be broken once your company recognizes one crucial fact:

Your database isn’t filled with data. It’s filled with people.

(…OK, it’s filled with data about people, to be more precise. But that sounds less punchy.)

The point is, your leads are human beings. They change. They get promoted. They get fired. They find a better job. Their responsibilities shift. Their job titles evolve at a dizzying pace (albeit sometimes for no discernible reason). They gain more experience, develop additional skills, and become familiar with new, more sophisticated technologies.

Somewhere in the frantic drive to increase lead generation, this can be easy to forget. But that human data needs to be reflected in your databases. If it isn’t, your marketing campaigns are bound to under-perform.

How to humanize your data

Humanizing your data has many requirements, some of which we’ve covered in this previous post.

For example, the fact that CRMs and marketing automation systems typically include just a few basic fields of information about your leads and contacts is a major obstacle. You can’t engage with your prospects effectively – nevermind meaningfully increase lead generation – when you barely know anything about them.

But even if you are able to enrich your database with the most minute insights into your leads, that alone won’t solve your problem in the long-term. In fact, it will eventually mean more obsolete – and potentially misleading – data to corrupt future campaigns.

To humanize your data, it needs to evolve together with the people it represents. After all, B2B sales and marketing professionals have enough to contend with without chasing shadows.

This is one of the major problems with most data vendors and data enrichment platforms out there. Many of them can’t provide detailed or accurate enough insights to be truly useful in the first place – while even those who can do so, often don’t have real-time or on-demand refresh/enrichment capabilities.

It’s simple really: If you humanize your data, you’ll increase lead generation

The importance of human data transcends any particular marketing solution or strategy, no matter how advanced. The quality of your underlying data will always be your company’s greatest asset – or biggest liability.

Take account-based marketing (ABM). Yes, ABM offers a highly-targeted, very effective and efficient approach to lead generation. Yes, studies have proven it gets results (60% of companies who adopted ABM reported increased revenue in the first 12 months, while 92% of companies surveyed by SiriusDecisions said they recognized the value of ABM). We’ve seen these stats validated by our own customers’ experiences, too. But pursuing ABM without quality data is like being up a creak with no paddle.

ABM looks great in theory, but it won’t actually increase lead generation without accurate, granular information on two tiers: 1) Your target accounts (companies), including their evolving, sometimes intricate infrastructures of local branches and subsidiaries; and 2) The most important influencers (leads) within each account – the decision-makers.

Targeting named accounts, performing lead-to-account matching and site-level matching – all crucial ingredients of ABM – are impossible without quality, accurate, up-to-date, human data.

AI without human data isn’t intelligent

The same is true for artificial intelligence (AI) – another craze which is currently sweeping the B2B world.

As has been highlighted repeatedly in this blog, AI does indeed hold massive potential for B2B companies on so many levels. It’s evolving the way B2B marketers work, and spurring some truly revolutionary innovations for demand generation.

Yet, like any technical solution, the fuel which powers AI is data. With bad data, even the most sophisticated AI platform will disappoint. If your database doesn’t reflect the human beings it represents, no artificial intelligence platform can be expected to relate to them as such.

These days, there’s simply no justification for outdated data

The challenge most data providers still haven’t managed to overcome brings us full circle.

The world of big data has evolved rapidly over the past decade. On the one hand, there is more information out there than ever before – including third party data and social signals scattered across the open web and on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. And, just like the average CRM or marketing automation system, traditional data providers haven’t evolved rapidly enough to collect, sort and verify all of that information at scale.

But on the other hand, from a demand gen perspective, with all that valuable data available out there it just seems ridiculous to wield “big data” as a blunt instrument. Your leads are leaving priceless, remarkably precise data trails everywhere they go – how can you justify not making use of that level of intelligence?

Data providers risk falling by the wayside if they can’t keep up. On-demand data enrichment – particularly if coupled with artificial intelligence solutions like predictive analytics, which add a further layer of advanced intelligence – offers B2B companies an opportunity they can’t afford to miss out on.

 

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Image from Pixabay | CC0 Public Domain

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