The most successful B2B companies are buyer-first.

What does this mean exactly?

These B2B companies know who their buyers are, what their pain points and goals are, how they seek information and evaluate options and how they make buying decisions. All critical and actionable insights driven by the collection and analysis of data. In today’s buyer-centric environment, it’s mandatory for B2B marketers, and B2B executives in general, to gather and leverage the right data to better understand and engage their target prospects.

According to an article on eMarketer, there are three things all B2B marketers should know about data including:

  1. Data can come from many sources, in many forms
  2. Data needs to be analyzed
  3. Applying successful data practices isn’t easy

In this post, I’ll share my perspective on each of these and how B2B marketers should consider implementing them into their practice.

At the Core of Marketing Lives Data

I would argue that data has always been at the core of effective marketing. Going back to direct mail in the 1900s, the quality of the list and how well a marketer knew the composition of said list factored heavily into the selection of the right offer and message. A hundred plus years later, data is only more readily available at deeper and broader levels and at a lower cost. But it doesn’t play any greater or lesser role in B2B marketing success.

B2B marketers are data scientists in a nonacademic manner. Marketers must rely on data to construct messages and create offers that will best satisfy their target buyers. They need it to understand how to group and effectively address markets. Data sits at the core of marketing activity.

Three General Types of Data

Data comes in many varieties including from first-, second- and thirty-party sources. Combining multiple data sources usually produces the cleanest view into a buyer’s profile and characteristics.

First-party data includes information your organization has collected about your buyers and customers. This includes cookie-based data, website analytics platforms, CRM systems, and business analysis tools. It also can include qualitative data your organization gathers from directly conducting focus groups and customer and sales team interviews.

Secondary data comes from another party via collaboration and mutually beneficial partnership where both organizations with a shared target audience are willing to share their customer data with one another.

Third party data is typically purchased at a large scale from a third-party data provider or publisher. The sheer volume of data that contains demographic, behavioral, and contextual attributes makes it highly valuable. Access to the third-party data requires an investment typically between $0.50 to $5.00 per record depending on the data attributes requested.

The eMarketer article referenced a survey from Informa Engage that found “84% of US B2B marketers use data from their customer relationship management (CRM) tools and customer survey responses to inform their marketing.” See the chart below for other data sources being used by B2B marketers.

 What’s particularly interesting is the usage percentages in the above chart. It shows, at some level, a lack of sophistication among a majority of B2B marketers. One of the lowest usage sources, “online behavioral/intenders” is by far one of the most powerful ways to connect the right content to the right buyer at the right time to scale a demand generation program.  It would be interesting to see this chart segmented among B2B marketing industries. I contend that in more sophisticated industries like technology the source usage percentages would shift.
The eMarketer article references two different types of data for B2B marketing: (1) descriptive data like demographics, psychographics and firmographics and (2) behavioral data including insights into buyer’s interactions and sales touchpoints. This data is often collected through marketing and sales automation platforms. The combination of these two has an extraordinary impact on demand generation efforts.
First, using demographics and firmographics enable a B2B marketer to target the right buyers. Who are they? Where do they reside? What types of organizations do they work for?
Second, by leveraging interaction and touchpoint data, the marketer can best support the buyer at the right time and with the right content to generate engagement. Repeating this connection process at each touchpoint, help marketers create experiences that move buyers through their buying journey successfully to a purchase. Done well – the buyer purchases the marketer’s product.

Data is a Process; Not a One-Time Activity

The eMarketer article stated, “nearly nine in 10 B2B marketing and sales professionals worldwide said that implementing a data-driven marketing strategy is complicated,” and for a variety of reasons. It was for me as a VP of B2B Marketing and Content at a fast-growing company. I had a CFO who demanded an ROI justification for every marketing spend. Data absolutely has an ROI but typically not in the short timeframe a CFO, or at least my CFO required.  These false expectations are something for another article though.

The variety of data challenges differ among B2B companies. The eMarketer article referenced a Demand Gen Report (DGR) found that “83% said having old or outdated data was a big challenge to maintaining data quality in their contact database.” The chart below provides additional challenges cited in this study.

 A B2B marketer has to have a data strategy and management plan in place. Some of these challenges won’t exist depending on the data strategy. Others will inherently exist such as outdated and old data if a marketer is building a highly valuable in-house list. However, basic practices like data append and re-engagement programs can help refresh and maintain an in-house list. Unfortunately, most B2B marketers either don’t know or don’t have the resources and time to maintain the data appropriately.  In reality, though, the time and resources spent to maintain the data quality will reap higher dividends in the future. A one step back for two to three steps forward scenario.

Overcoming Data Challenges

Expertise is another major obstacle to data-driven marketing success, cited by Adweek Brandshare and Dun & Bradstreet. As referenced in this stud, “Four in ten US B2B marketers said they have a lack of data expertise.” There are plenty of opportunities through to overcome this challenge including skill-development courses from Coursera.com and others. A modern marketer has to be a life-long learner – it’s mandatory. Hiring or renting the skill set, at least to get started, is another reliable way to overcome skill shortage challenges. IMO, this is a weak justification for not pursuing data as a B2B marketer. Get resourceful and figure this one out.

Other data challenges included the reliability of third-party data sources, the accuracy of data, and integration of technology platforms. These are real challenges that require careful planning and evaluation. Unfortunately, finding the most reliable third-party data is a project and does require effort but it’s not insurmountable by any means. Even for smaller B2B companies, the cost of third-party data has dropped and is accessible. A marketer has to know devise a data strategy first though before forging ahead to identify and hire a third data provider. Clarity of vision and specificity of needs is critical.

Are you a Data Marketer?

Now is the time to start becoming a data marketer. Regardless of the challenges being faced, the power of data to reach the right buyers at the right time with the right content is clear. It’s time to get on board and forge ahead as a modern B2B marketer. the results gained will be worth it.


Kevin Gold is a B2B demand generation and business growth consultant with more than 18 years of executive marketing and business leadership experience. Next Leap Strategy develops and executes customer acquisition programs for B2B companies to deliver highly qualified prospects and convert more prospects into customers. Contact Kevin for help finding your next customers.