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Are B2B Marketers Drowning In Data?


As a journalist, I’ve covered the evolution of marketing and advertising for 15+ years, with a focus on direct and digital marketing. Direct marketers in particular have been powerful advocates of predictive analytics and data mining for one-to-one customer success for more than a decade, yet it is only recently that B2B marketers have begun to adopt predictive analytics and powerful customer engagement tools.

The difference is obviously in the technology and the ability to apply that to automate these processes. That technology is available in abundance, but the majority of marketers have yet to take advantage of it. Two reports came out this week to address the issue from different angles.

Merkle, a database marketing provider, released its fifth annual “Marketing Imperatives” report this week, which details the continuing evolution of digital marketing. The report includes a closer look at the diverse and fragmented landscape of digital platforms.

“The emergence of addressable digital platforms has given rise to countless possibilities for building individual-level customer relationships,” the report said.

“By the end of the decade, we’ll be navigating thousands of platforms in our quest to master people-based marketing. As a holder of first-party data, your brand now has access to a vast and growing ecosystem within which to activate it in new and innovative ways. But be aware, the execution landscape for people-based marketing is diverse and fragmented, and while the market works toward bringing it all together, there are still several people-based ecosystems to navigate.” Indeed.

Another survey published this week, this one by Accenture, found that while automation and the growing sophistication of tools is transforming sales organizations, with Global 2000 firms spending $2.4 trillion on digital sales channels and tools, companies have yet to maximize their potential.  The company outlined several reasons for this particular disconnect and suggested ways to solve it.

According to the survey, 80% of companies have adopted a CRM system and a majority of them have deployed tools across the entire sales process. Despite that, turnover rates of sales reps are up 22% and 60% of respondents said they lack confidence in meeting their targets. At the root of these results is a disconnect between the sales executives who design and implement the tools and the reps who use them, according to the company.

“Empowering Your Sales Force: It’s Not Just Automation, It’s Personal,” conducted by Accenture Interactive among more than 800 sales professionals, found that companies have an opportunity to rethink their approach to sales enablement by aligning digital tools to the sales reps’ and customers’ needs. The study was combined with data from the CSO Insights: 2015 Sales Performance Optimization Study to gain a comprehensive understanding of sales tools usage and perceptions.

Misaligned Objectives

In the Accenture study, sales leaders cited “capturing new accounts” as their number one objective (58%), while sales reps cite “improving customer satisfaction” as their biggest goal (36%). The reps’ approach has evolved toward pull-based, collaborative, guided selling with a focus on deepening customer relationships. That means sales leadership is providing tools for new account capture, while sales reps are actually seeking tools to help collaborative selling efforts.

“As companies strive to improve sales effectiveness, they need to fundamentally rethink their approach to digital within their sales organizations,” said Jose Goncalves, MD and Global Digital Sales Lead, Accenture Interactive. “Rather than a top-down, enterprise approach, companies need to take a people-first approach that listens to the sales force and marries their needs with tools that deliver data-driven, flexible and personalized omnichannel experiences that help them sell smarter and drive the bottom line.”

And while sales tools grow increasingly sophisticated, only 13% of salespeople said they use their full capabilities. Seventy-five percent acknowledged the sales tools provided to them are an important part of the sales process, but more than half found them more an “obstacle than a facilitator to their sales performance.”

In addition, the study revealed that:

  • Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they are required to use too many tools;
  • Fifty-eight percent of study participants felt tools are used more to monitor performance than to increase performance (trust); and
  • Fifty-six percent felt tools are not customized to their needs.

Make It Personal

To address the gap, Accenture suggested organizations rethink sales tools through the lens of service design. When designed through the eyes of the rep, the company said, sales tools can match the way salespeople sell and engage in customer dialogue – no longer just providing reporting and tracking features, but tools that are also as personalized and easy to use as the services reps are using in their daily lives.

Accenture said sales organizations need to shift away from a top-down approach designed from an enterprise lens. Instead, organizations should adopt a service design lens that puts salespeople first and adheres to the following three principals:

  1. Follow human-centered design.
  2. Identify critical data to measurably improve the guided selling experience.
  3. Leverage the highly flexible technology platforms available.

Accenture said organizations stand to benefit by amplifying sales talent, creating engaged customer conversations and boosting team performance. Their research showed that improving sales team performance can deliver a 5% to 10% lift in a company’s revenues.