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Some marketers seem to keep their distance from customer data.  When I ask what kind of customer information they are working with, I hear things like, “Oh, Mary is in charge of our data.  I leave it to her.”  This is unfortunate.  I realize that the marketing profession may attract people who prefer to focus on “softer” functions like research, competitive strategy, and value propositions.  But these days, it’s a real disadvantage, professionally and personally, to shun data.  So, let me offer some painless steps to up your comfort level.

In this context, I am thinking about customer data at its most basic level:  the customer or prospect record, which is usually found in a marketing database or a CRM system.  This record contains the contact information, and descriptive and behavioral data elements we know about the customer.  For B2B marketers, it will describe the account as well as the individual contacts.

This subject arose in my mind recently as I read Steven Hayes’s interesting article called Do Marketers Really Want to be Data Scientists?  in Oracle’s Modern Marketing blog.  Hayes correctly concluded that marketers don’t need to do the science—build the models, run the experiments—but they do need to be familiar with the variables that drive customer behavior, in order to apply the science to marketing decision-making.

So, it behooves marketers to be deeply familiar with the customer record, which is where these variables are housed.  This information serves as what I like to call “the recorded memory of the customer relationship,” and it reveals all sorts of insights into the nature of the customers and competitors, what they value, and how to communicate with them effectively.

So, how do you get familiar with your customer records, and make them your friends?  Here are three steps to consider.

  1. Take Mary—or whoever manages your customer data—out to lunch. Demonstrate your interest in understanding her world, her challenges and her interests.  This puts a personal face to the data, and also makes Mary an ally and mentor in your quest.
  2. Examine a handful of customer records. You’ll find all kinds of interesting things: What do we know about this person?  Any ideas on how better to communicate and sell to him/her?  How complete and accurate is the record?  What additional data would help you develop even better ideas on how to treat the customer?  Set an hour on your calendar every quarter or so, to repeat the process, becoming familiar with records from various types of customers and prospects.
  3. Launch an initiative to develop a data strategy for your department or your company as a whole. This means a written policy that identifies the data elements you should collect on each customer, where each element will come from, and how you will use it to drive business value.

I guarantee, if you dive into the data records, your comfort level will rise dramatically.  And so will your insight, and your skill as a marketer.


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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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