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How big data limits B2B marketers’ impact

Advances in data analytics promises more access to more information than most B2B marketers could ever hope for. But will this world of big data actually make marketers less effective when it comes to driving growth?

Setting aside the whole issue that big data doesn’t automatically mean big insight, let’s look at where big data can help – and where it just might hurt.

First, where can big data really deliver on the hype for B2B marketers?

When it comes to understanding customers, customer satisfaction, and loyalty, the emergence of big data and analytics likely can perform better and deliver greater return than other methods of monitoring this information, like survey research.  Assuming, of course, that the company has systems in place to capture and mine the data in the first place.

Most companies are good at capturing detailed information about interaction with customers, whether it’s orders, contacts with account reps, or support.  Many companies are even pretty good about tracking interactions with prospects.  What that means is there will be plenty of rich data on customers – and probably on many prospects – to work with.  By mining this data, B2B marketers will no doubt be able to gain a deeper understanding of their customers than ever before.

Unfortunately, that data – as rich as it is – isn’t the whole story.

What about customers’ interactions with competitors?

What about the people who aren’t buying from you?

What about opportunities to capture new business through new use cases or integration with other parts of the supply chain?

In the diagram to the left, the shaded areas are the parts of the total market where marketers are most likely to have the data to mine.  That leaves a rather large portion of the market where big data and analytics won’t help you.

Yes, B2B marketers can drive incremental gains in revenue and profitability by leveraging data on current customer behavior. But, for most companies most of the time, the real growth comes from new products for new uses among new markets.

Big data and analytics won’t help here because the data doesn’t exist to extract insights from.

So, yes, big data and analytics should be an important part of the tool kit, but relying too heavily on internal databases will blind you to the biggest opportunities.

I hate grocery shopping

I know it probably sounds contradictory since I’m a shopper insights specialist.  But like many shoppers I’ve interviewed through shop-alongs, focus groups, and quant studies over the years — those with and without kids, full-time jobs or not – I consider grocery shopping a chore.

shopping cart in snowTo make it more bearable, I’ve got a ‘system’ for this weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) task…

  1. Create meal plan  — CREATIVE
  2. Search for new recipes (and cuisines) to try – FUN
  3. Make a shopping list including non-food items needed – RELATIVELY PAINLESS
  4. Figure out where I need to go and hit the road – JUST PLAIN ‘UGH’

Problem is, this is never a one-stop shopping experience.

In a typical week, my itinerary might look something like this…

–       Costco for personal care/household supplies and stocking up on a good deal (Where else can you buy three racks of ribs for $35?)

–       Whole Foods or farmer’s market for organic fresh produce, meat/poultry, eggs and dairy

–       Trader Joe’s for my cookie butter fix and kale spinach Greek yogurt dip

–       Roundy’s for fresh baked bread, condiments, and baking supplies

So, in order to complete my mission, I need to shop FOUR different stores.  Bottom line is, it’s inconvenient and time consuming.

There is, however, one exception – a visit that seems ‘fun’ every time.

I visit Trader Joe’s knowing exactly what I need to buy. Yet I still find something new that grabs my attention, causes me to linger and often results in an unexpected purchase. 

All I have to do is spend a minute looking at something when an employee appears to offer their assistance.  This usually leads to my asking a question like, “Have you tried these black bean quinoa chips?”

Then they’ll open the package and offer me a sample.  YUM!  I’ve just found my new snack.

In a store filled with ‘private label’ products, they sure know how to make shopping an adventure for me, every time.  And I find myself talking about my Trader Joe’s visits a lot.  (I can’t tell you how many people I’ve turned into “cookie butter fans.”)

Given my positive experiences at Trader Joe’s, I wonder…how can my other “chore stores” transform me into a curious and engaged shopper?

According to Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joe’s, companies should focus on culture and then build a strategy.

“Culture is the DNA of a company.  A successful company culture includes living the company’s core values and offering a consistent experience.”

This starts with happy employees.  Happy employees feel valued, embrace your company’s core beliefs and are enthusiastic about their job.  This translates to happy customers.

In practice…

  • Train employees to recognize and address shoppers’ needs and preferences
  • Give them the freedom to make product recommendations and offer samples
  • Encourage them to create a dialogue with customers that provides an ongoing source of feedback for improvements/innovation

Cloud Service Providers – Time To Master the Multi-Channel Marketing Challenge

cloudsIt’s no secret that businesses are adopting cloud services at an increasing rate.  It would even seem that we are now at the tipping point in cloud implementation where the conversation is changing from concern about a new way of operating to enthusiasm for a better way of operating.

A consequence of this is an ever-increasing number of companies with a collection of cloud implementations.  Perhaps some parts of the organization are running SaaS solutions like Salesforce and Google Apps, while there are applications and storage hosted by a IaaS providers like AWS or Rackspace.

The proliferation of this *aaS alphabet soup will quickly change the internal discussion from “how do we make this work?” to “how do we make this work together?”

As the market evolves, the issues of technical integration, access integration, and management integration will become increasingly important evaluation criteria for buyers.

Cloud service providers we’ve worked with have put great effort into understanding and addressing buyers’ performance and security concerns, but the focus has been largely on the CSP’s environment.  Integration issues have typically been secondary concerns.  As integration issues become more important, there are implications for how cloud service providers sell themselves to customers.

So, how will enterprises deal with multi-cloud implementations?

Many large enterprises will likely have the internal resources to manage multi-cloud implementations.  The good news is that the decision-makers won’t change, so relationships cultivated by sales teams will still be relevant.   But the buyers’ requirements and purchase criteria will certainly evolve to where integration and management issues become more important attributes.

Many others will elect to outsource that integration and management to an emerging collection of cloud brokerages.  These cloud brokerages are generally analogous to VARs and system integrators (in fact, many of them may very well end up being today’s VARs and system integrators), so a framework to understand how to deal with them exists.

However, they are still a new channel that many cloud service providers haven’t had to really deal with to date, as most market directly to their users.  Learning how to price and market in a multi-channel world will become necessary to succeed in the marketplace.

Regardless of which of the two management trends ends up dominating in the next few years, the rapid adoption of multi-cloud implementations will create a new challenge (or opportunity) for cloud service providers.

The best way to be on the opportunity side of the coin is to develop a good understanding of how (or if) buyers are developing multi-cloud integration strategies today. 

What you learn will help you adjust technical development, pricing, and marketing to match where the market is going.

Doing it today means you will be that much further ahead of your competitors and, quite possibly, could put you in a position to influence the direction of the entire conversation.

So why not talk to buyers?  You’ll be well-prepared…and likely ahead of your competitors.

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