B2B Marketers Must Stop Relying on Customer Data Found In-House, Forrester Research Finds

According to a new report from Forrester Research, internal data systems contain only a small percentage of the buyer data that B2B marketers need to gauge a deep understanding of their customers. Despite the growing amount and availability of customer data, marketers continue to rely on limited data points in areas that include budget, authority, need, and timing. "B2B CMOs who make business decisions based on internal data, with all of its imperfections and gaps, risk the same fate as hikers who head off into the wilderness without a compass or map," Laura Ramos, a Forrester analyst, writes in the report.

Because they're looking at insufficient data, marketers often end up with a buyer journey map that is "fraught with holes, suppositions, and inaccuracies," according to Ramos. The vastness of operational systems that contain internal data make it difficult to manage, and buyer-specific questions regarding the industries served, geographies supported, solution options, and purchase stages often slow down journey mapping. Organizational silos are a hindrance to mapping as well, because specialized data structures tasked with analyzing data in the context of a specific tool don't reveal enough about macro signals, such as intent to buy. Finally, the report states, "technology that helps with 'what' but not 'why'" further complicates the process. "Most marketing technology and reporting tools focus on transactions; they don't explain how to segment an audience, decide where to spend, or help sales present an offer," Ramos says.

To overcome some of the challenges and limitations associated with a strong reliance on internal-only data, marketers have to expand their analytics outlooks and carefully track customers' behaviors to home in on what drive purchasing intent. At its core, the analytics strategy should involve "identifying which attributes distinguish the best customers and working in reverse to match these characteristics to patterns found among unqualified leads or undifferentiated traffic," according to Ramos. To that end, the report recommends that marketers take three key steps.

First, B2B marketers need to analyze their most-valuable accounts and pinpoint who influences the journey at each stage, focusing on "what information they rely on to make decisions, and where they go to get it," according to the report. Marketers must then determine the marketing messages and sales interactions that are associated with their best customers, and leverage that insight to improve close rates. "Marketers that put this collected insight to use can intercept decision-makers as they explore solutions and give them more targeted information that helps accelerate the purchase process," Ramos says.

Lastly, Ramos suggests that marketers use data insights to better identify and target early market opportunities as well as allocate market spending and sales efforts more efficiently to target audiences that best match these patterns. "Digital tools and social networks allow early-stage buyers to self-educate anonymously and avoid sales contact until after they've made up their minds," Ramos says. "Marketers need to sift through undifferentiated top-of-the-funnel activity—on owned digital properties and elsewhere—to spot and cultivate the new leads," she adds.

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