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Your most important tool in B2B is, arguably, the marketing database.  Without a robust collection of contact information, firmographic and transactional data about customers and prospects, you are adrift when it comes to customer segmentation, analytics, and marketing communications of all sorts, whether for acquiring new customers or to expand the value of existing customers.  In fact, your database is the roadmap for your B2B marketing; it’s the “recorded history of the customer relationship.”   So what goes into a marketing database?  Plenty.

First, let’s look at the special characteristics of B2B databases, which differ from consumer information in several important ways:

  1. In consumer purchasing, the decision-maker and the buyer are usually the same person—a one-man (or, more likely, woman) show. In business buying, there’s an entire cast of characters. In the mix are employees charged with product specification, users of the product, and purchasing agents, not to mention the decision-makers who hold final approval over the sale.
  2.  B2B databases carry data at three levels: the enterprise or parent company; the site, or location, of offices, plants, and warehouses; and the multitude of individual contacts within the company.
  3. B2b data tends to degrade at the rate of 4% to 6% per month, so keeping up with changing titles, email addresses, company moves, company name changes—this requires dedicated attention, spadework, and resources.
  4. Companies that sell through channel partners will have a mix of customers, from distributors, agents, and other business partners, through end-buyers.

Here are the elements you are likely to want to capture and maintain in a B2B marketing database.

  • Account name, address
    • Phone, fax, website
  • Contact(s) information
    • Title, function, buying role, email, direct phone
  • Parent company/enterprise link
  • SIC or NAICS
  • Year the company was started
  • Public v. private
  • Revenue/sales
  • Employee size
  • Credit score
  • Fiscal year
  • Purchase history
  • Purchase preferences
  • Budgets, purchase plans
  • Survey questions (e.g., from market research)
  • Qualification questions (from lead qualification processes)
  • Promotion history (record of outbound and inbound communications)
  • Customer service history
  • Source (where the data came from, and when)
  • Unique identifier (to match and de-duplicate records)

To assemble the data, the place to begin in inside your company.  With some sleuthing, you’ll find useful information about customers all over the place.  Start with contact records, whether they sit in a CRM system, in Outlook files, or even in Rolodexes.  But don’t stop there.  You also want to pull in transactional history from your operating systems—billing, shipping, credit—and your customer service systems.

Here’s a checklist of internal data sources that you should explore.  Gather up every crumb.

  • Sales and marketing contacts
  • Billing systems
  • Credit files
  • Fulfillment systems
  • Customer services systems
  • Web data, from cookies, registrations and social media
  • Inquiry files and referrals

Once these elements are pulled in, matched and de-duplicated, it’s time to consider external data sources.  Database marketing companies will sell you data elements that may be missing, most important among these being industry (in the form of SIC or NAICs codes), company size (revenue or number of employees, or both) and title or job function of contacts.  Such elements can be appended to your database for pennies apiece.

In some situations, it makes sense to license and import prospect lists, as well.  If you are targeting relatively narrow industry verticals, or certain job titles, and especially if you experience long sales cycles, it may be wise to buy prospecting names for multiple use and import them into your database, rather than renting them serially for each prospecting campaign.

After filling in the gaps with data append, the next step is the process of “data discovery.”  Essentially this means gathering essential data by hand—or, more accurately, by outbound phone or email contact.  This costs a considerable sum, so only perform discovery on the most important accounts, and only collect the data elements that are essential to your marketing success, like title, direct phone number and level of purchasing authority.  Some data discovery can be done via LinkedIn and scouring corporate websites, which are likely to provide contact names, titles and email addresses you can use to populate your company records.

Be thorough, be brave, and have fun.  And let me know your experiences.

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Ruth Stevens

About Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools in the U.S. and abroad. Crain’s BtoB magazine named Ruth one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc., the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. Learn more at www.ruthstevens.com.

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