6 Thorny Data Problems That Vex B-to-B Marketers, and How to Solve Them

B-to-B marketers are plagued by data problems. Business data is complex and fast-changing. Customers interact with us through a variety of channels, and often provide us with conflicting information. Our legacy databases are not as robust as we need. New tools and technologies emerge and must be evaluated. It’s a never-ending battle. To shed some light on B-to-B data problems, Bernice Grossman and I compiled a working list of problems and solutions. Here are some of the thorniest.

B-to-B marketers are plagued by data problems. Business data is complex and fast-changing. Customers interact with us through a variety of channels, and often provide us with conflicting information. Our legacy databases are not as robust as we need. New tools and technologies emerge and must be evaluated. It’s a never-ending battle. To shed some light on B-to-B data problems, Bernice Grossman and I compiled a working list of problems and solutions. Here are some of the thorniest.

  1. Data entered by our sales people ends up as mush. They don’t follow the rules; or there are no rules. That may be okay for the rep, but it’s not okay for the company.
    Here’s the best practice: Create a centralized data input group. Train and motivate them well. Give them objective rules to follow. Develop a simple method for testing the accuracy from this group as an ongoing practice. If this group cannot follow the rules, then the rules should be re-evaluated.

    Then, develop a very simple process by which reps pass their data to this group. Dedicate particular group members to certain reps, so the input person builds experience about rep’s behavior and communication style. The bonus: these two parties will team, build a valuable relationship, work together well, and improve data quality.

    Consider enabling the data input group with a real-time interface with a database services provider to prompt the standard company name and address. This can be an expensive, but very helpful, tool.


  2. How do I match and de-duplicate customer records effectively?
    Some approaches to consider:
    • Establish—and enforce—data governing rules to improve data entry, which will keep your matching problems under some semblance of control.
    • Find a solid software vendor with a tool specifically designed to parse, cleanse and otherwise do the matching for you. Test a few vendors to find the one that works best with your data.
    • Create a custom matching algorithm. As a place to start, ask several match/merge companies to show you examples of the results of their algorithm against your data.
  3. When data elements conflict in my house file, how do I decide which is the “truth”?
    The short answer is: by date. The most recent data is the one you should default to.

    But also keep in mind when importing data to enhance your records that appended data will always have its limitations, and is best viewed as directional, versus real “truth.” Be careful not to build targeting or segmentation processes that are primarily dependent on appended data.

    You could consider conducting an audit to validate the quality of your various append sources. (This is usually done by telephone, and it’s not cheap.) Then you can add a score to each appended element, based on its source, to manage the risk of relying on any particular element.

  4. Which corporate address should I put in my database? There’s the legal address and the financial (banking) address, which may be different. Or there may be a street address and a P.O. box address. Equifax and D&B often supply the financial address. The address to receive proxies is different from the address to receive advertising mail. How should I sort all this out?
    As a marketer, your concern is delivery. You care about a bill to and a ship to. Focus on the address where mail and packages are delivered.
  5. Measuring the impact of each touch in our omnichannel world is driving us nuts. Any ideas?
    The attribution problem has heated up recently, fueled by the rise of digital marketing. But it’s really nothing new. The traditional attribution methods of assigning the credit have long been either the first touch (the inquiry source medium) or the last touch (the channel through which the lead was either qualified or converted to a sale). Marketers are in general agreement today as to the deficiencies of either of these traditional methods.

    Digital marketers are experimenting with various approaches to the attribution problem, like weighting touches based on stage or role in the buying process, or by the type of touch—attending a two-hour seminar being weighted more heavily than a content download.

  6. How should I handle unstructured data, like social media content. All this “big data” stuff is getting bigger, and meaner, every day.
    User-generated social media content may offer valuable insights into customer needs and issues. But marketers first must think through how they will use the information to drive business results. First you must develop a use case. Then, you must develop a way to attribute the information to a record. For example, one method to allow the match is collecting multiple cookies to find an email address or other identifier. There may be situations where you want to track sentiment without attributing it to a particular customer but to a group, like large companies versus small. In either case, we suggest that you test the value of the data before you put a lot of time and money into capturing it in your marketing database.

You can find more thorny data issues and solutions in our new whitepaper, available for free download. Please submit your issues in the comments section here, and we’ll be happy to suggest some solutions.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Focus Group of One

If you’re sending your marketing campaigns without benefit of A/B or multi-variant testing—most companies admit to fewer than five tests per month—you are effectively acting as a focus group of one. You are assuming all of your constituents feel the same way about your campaign as you do. Big mistake.

If you’re sending your marketing campaigns without benefit of A/B or multi-variant testing—most companies admit to fewer than five tests per month—you are effectively acting as a focus group of one. You are assuming all of your constituents feel the same way about your campaign as you do. Big mistake.

Most of us have a least a bit of familiarity with A/B testing and have integrated it into some of our deployments. Testing subject line A against subject line B is likely the most common test, but with A/B testing you can go so much further—both simple and complex—for instance:

  • Best time of day for sending each of your email types (e.g., newsletter, offers)
  • Best day for sending each type of email
  • Frequency of sending each type of email
  • Length of subject line
  • Personalization within the subject line
  • Personalization within the message
  • Squeeze page vs. landing page
  • Conversion lift when video, demo or meeting booking are included
  • Diagnosing content errors
  • Challenging long-held behavior assumptions
  • Calls to action
  • Color
  • Format and design
  • Writing style (casual, conversational, sensational, business)
  • From name and email address (business vs. personal)

A/B and multi-variant testing enable you to learn what makes your prospects, leads, subscribers and customers tick. When you adopt a consistent testing process, your accumulative results will provide you with the knowledge to implement dramatic changes producing a measurable impact across campaigns, landing pages, websites and all other inbound and outbound initiatives.

We have a client whose singular call to action in every email is to discount their product, and each offer is more valuable than the last. When I asked how well this worked, they admitted, the bigger the discount, the more they sold. When pressed, however, they could not tell me the ROI of this approach. Sure, they sold more widgets, but at the discount level they offered, they also made far less profit.

I suggested an A/B-laden drip campaign offering no discounts, and instead providing links to testimonials, case studies, demos of their product, book-a-meeting links, and other inbound content. In this way, we were changing their position from asking for the business to earning the business. While I admit this usually lengthens the sales cycle, it also means money is not being left on the table unnecessarily.

For this client, the change in approach was simply too dramatic and they found they couldn’t stick with it long enough to gather the data needed to make long-term business decisions. The limited of data they were able to collect in the first few emails did show, however, an inbound approach deserved strong consideration by their organization.

Not all A/B testing need be this dramatic—we could have started them off with a less-committed approach. My takeaway was: You don’t have to learn it all now; A/B testing can be integrated in a small way. Whether you go all out or an occasional test, A/B data is useless if you do not set measurable goals. Measurable goals mean you will establish:

  • Required return on investment
  • Vehicle (email, direct mail, other)
  • What to test
  • Audience
  • Time frame
  • Testing protocol
  • How to integrate what you’ve learned into future campaigns

If your email application does not support A/B testing, you can use a more automated approach. Simply create two versions of your marketing campaign and divide your list randomly in half—unless, of course, what you’re testing is something within your list, such as gender or locale.

I often am in search of information well beyond opens, clicks and visits, so I turn to Email on Acid for email heat maps and Crazy Egg for landing page and website heat maps. While these are effective on live pages and campaigns, it’s not required you deploy A/B testing to a live audience. Testing can be just as effective with a small focus group, just be sure it’s not a focus group of one.

Email to Support Your Shopping Cart

Your website provides you with real estate for validating claims and educating customers, and should be a critical part of every marketing campaign. Yet so many marketers toss up a landing page and call it a day. With e-commerce supplanting more and more brick and mortar stores, it may be time for you to re-evaluate your drip and nurture approach

Your website provides you with real estate for validating claims and educating customers, and should be a critical part of every marketing campaign. Yet so many marketers toss up a landing page and call it a day. With e-commerce supplanting more and more brick and mortar stores, it may be time for you to re-evaluate your drip and nurture approach.

E-commerce has become easier, more affordable and created opportunities for more businesses and more kinds of businesses. Applications such as Cart66, Magento, OpenCart and WooCommerce enable businesses of all sizes to provide an online shopping experience for their customers like never before. Unfortunately, it is not, “Build it and they will come”. Like much of the rest of our business, it’s Build it, market it like crazy, hope they will come, and beg them to come back.” That’s where drip and nurture marketing take the stage.

Drip campaigns are predesigned campaigns sent on predetermined schedulea to a general audience—your newsletter is a great example. Nurture campaigns are often called auto-responder campaigns, and they are sent in response to an action or interaction with your campaign or site. Think of your “Thank you for subscribing” confirmation email: The subscriber filled out a form, and, due to that action, you automatically acknowledge her action and thank her. Perhaps in two weeks, you will send her another email, but you might also automatically enroll her in your newsletter campaign.

Many of today’s shopping carts have auto-responder capabilities built in. When an order is placed, a confirmation is sent. When a shopping cart is abandoned, a reminder is sent. When an order is shipped, a notification is sent. All of these are nurturing messages and all good ideas, but let’s take your campaign a step further.

In November, I will be presenting at the WooConf event in San Francisco. This event is primarily for developers of the WooCommerce shopping cart for WordPress, but also draws a fair number of marketers. In my talk, I will focus on what I see as the top three concerns for an online store: “Buy Now, Buy More, and Buy Again.” That is: sell a product, upsell and cross-sell other products, and build a relationship resulting in return customers. I achieve these goals with drip and nurture campaigns.

Your first email is designed to introduce your store—invite visitors and entice them to make the initial purchase. This is neither a drip or nurture campaign, but more probably a single blast email. For the purpose of my example, depending upon how the blast is received, you will net those who are engaged and those who are not—more specifically identified as the passive (clicked but did not buy) and the active (clicked and purchased). These two groups now represent the members of the drip and nurture campaigns.

For the passively interested, start them out with a drip campaign designed specifically to find the trigger that turns their passive interest into active participation (buying). A newsletter is probably a bit too slow for this group, so think more about a weekly specials email. Offering various products and discounts through A/B and multi-variant testing, you should be able to identify key influencers. Drip campaigns should be designed with a single theme enabling you to keep development costs down and in a manner enabling you to make on-the-fly updates and announce specials. Our drip members are the Buy Now group. We want to figure out what it takes to get them to buy now.

For the more actively interested, let’s nurture their behavior. They have clicked and are in the process of making a purchase, so how can we encourage them to either increase the value of the purchase or add other products to increase the value of their cart? This is the Buy More group.

If they have started a cart, but not checked out, reminder emails keep the conversation active and presents the ideal time to introduce other products complementary to those items in their cart. You can use the tried and true, “other people who bought this item also bought,” or offer links to reviews and case studies. This is where your website real estate becomes so valuable—and why we will not launch an automated campaign that does not have adequate website support. Point these recipients to stories, videos or other documents helpful to the education and conversion processes.

For those who have checked out—great! you won a new customer—but don’t let too much time pass before you reengage them and remind them of other must-have items in your store. Learn from what they purchased and offer other items in the same category or similar category. This is our Buy Again group and personalization is key here (as it is with the Buy More group). Emails should be very specific and speak directly the items they’ve purchased. You might also ask them to provide a review of the product, if your site supports this.

If you’re ready to start selling online, it’s a great time to do so. Software for e-commerce is inexpensive and flexible—you can customize to meet nearly any need. While your store is important, the ease of use paramount, and stability critical, don’t forget to turn an evaluating eye to your marketing and messaging. Both are likely in need of a few tweaks here and there to help achieve “Buy Now, Buy More, and Buy Again.”

An ABC Introduction to Data Mining for Dollars: Slicing and Dicing Your In-House List for Profit (Part 1 of 2)

One of the best ways to build your online business is to build your list; that is, your “database” of potential subscribers, customers or prospects. This may not be as sexy as social marketing, as robust as mobile marketing or as challenging as search engine marketing … but it is a viable way to harness the power within your own “house file” to maximize your marketing ROI.

One of the best ways to build your online business is to build your list; that is, your “database” of potential subscribers, customers or prospects. This may not be as sexy as social marketing, as robust as mobile marketing or as challenging as search engine marketing … but it is a viable way to harness the power within your own “house file” to maximize your marketing ROI.

Today, I’ll show you how you can segment your database of names to boost sales, increase bonding and shorten conversion time. Data mining, list segmentation or strategic database marketing is basically the art of slicing and dicing your own in-house list of names for optimal performance. You do this to help increase the response of your promotional and conversion efforts.

You see, once you divide your list of names into smaller groups (known as segmentation), you can target your product offers and promotional messages to each of those groups. By customizing your marketing messages based on specific customer needs, you’ll be promoting products to people who are more likely to buy them. You increase your customers’ satisfaction rate as well as your potential conversion rates. And higher conversion rates mean more money for your company.

One data-mining model is the RFM method. It’s practiced by direct response marketers all over the world. “R” stands for Recency—how recently a customer has made a purchase. “F” stands for Frequency—how often the customer makes a purchase. And “M” stands for Monetary—how much the customer spends. Here’s how you can use the RFM method to help lift your sales.

Recency
Whether your house list is made up of people who signed up to receive your free e-zine or people who paid for a subscription, you can segment your database according to how long your subscribers have been with you. For instance, you can create categories such as: 0-6 months, 6-12 months, and 12-plus months. You would look at these groups as your hot subs (newest subscribers 0-3 months), warm subs (mid-point subscribers) and cool subs (those who have been subscribing to your e-zine the longest, 12-plus months).

Here’s one way you can put that data to use …

Let’s say some of your “cool subs” have lost their initial enthusiasm for your e-zine. You could cross-reference those names with their open rates. If most of these subscribers haven’t been opening your e-zine in six, nine or 12 months, you may consider sending them a special message asking to reengage them. These “inactive” subscribers are a great group on which to test new marketing approaches, new prices and new subject lines. Since this group is not responding to your current emails, why not use this as a platform to reengage AND test? Your “hot subs” are your newest, most enthusiastic subscribers. They are ripe to learn more about you, your products and your services. If you handle this group properly, you can cultivate them into cross-sell and up-sell customers.

For example, send your “hot subs” a special introductory series of emails (also known as auto responder series). This special series would encourage bonding and introduce readers to your e-zine’s contributors and overall philosophy. It could also tempt readers with specially priced offers. Sending an introductory series like this can not only increase the number of subscribers who convert to paying customers, it also increases their lifetime value (LTV)—the amount they spend with you over their lifetime as your customer. Hot Tip! Make sure to suppress the recipients of your auto responders from any promotional efforts until the series is complete to ensure more effective bonding.

If, instead of subscribers to a free e-zine, your house list is made up of people who paid for their subscription, the same segmentation process applies. You break your active subscribers into hot subs, warm subs and cool subs. You also break out “expires” (those who allowed their subscription to run out) and “cancels” (those who cancelled their subscription).

Cross-marketing to these lists is usually effective. The expires oftentimes simply forget to renew and need a reminder. And just because someone cancelled one subscription doesn’t mean they may not be ideal for another service or product that you provide. If they’re still willing to receive email messages from you, add these folks to your promotional lists. Once you’ve gotten these cancelled subscribes to open your messages, turning them into paying customers is just a matter of time. Most Internet marketers would have written these people off. So any revenue you get from them is ancillary.

Next time, I’ll go into Frequency and Monetary, the two other components of the RFM model. So stay tuned!

Create a Bucket List

Whether you’re new to database marketing or a seasoned pro looking for some new idea to get your creative juices flowing, one of the most useful, and impactful, activities you can embark upon is to create what is called a “Bucket List.”

Whether you’re new to database marketing or a seasoned pro looking for some new idea to get your creative juices flowing, one of the most useful, and impactful, activities you can embark upon is to create what is called a “Bucket List.”

No, I’m not talking about a building a list of activities that you and a middle-aged companion wish to complete before you shed this mortal coil. I’m talking about taking a long, hard, and close look at your customers or prospects and getting to know them—really getting to know them—well enough to create broad classifications about who they are, what they do, what they like, and what affinities they share.

Remember, at the end of the day, database marketing is about sending out the right message to the right people at the right time—and, hopefully, achieving the desired response from the customer or prospect as a result. And without proper customer segmentation, this task simply cannot be done cost effectively, if at all.

Now, of course, there are many great customer segmentation models out there you can use. In a great article titled “Selecting a Customer Segmentation Approach” by Andrew Banasiewicz, Director of Analytic Services at Epsilon, four groups are identified: Predictive, Descriptive, Behavioral and Attitudinal.

Out of these four, the Predictive and Attitudinal models are arguably the most popular and widely used. Predictive is a model that uses value segments driven by customer purchase behaviors, extrapolating past behavior into future actions. An Attitudinal model, on the other hand, identifies affinity segments based on respondents’ expressed attitudes toward a company’s brand or products.

Now of course this list isn’t exhaustive and there are other models you can use. One popular alternative is Psychographic Profiling, which is used widely in the B-to-C space. In this model, consumers are assigned into groups according to their lifestyle, personality, attitude, interests and values.

Many B-to-B marketers, on the other hand, may prefer to use a segmentation model based on Firmographic variables, such as industry, number of locations, annual sales, job function and so on. Many software companies, not surprisingly, trend toward usage-based profiling, which includes variables, such as type of device used (desktop, tablet, mobile device), Operating System and so on.

One important fact that’s routinely overlooked is that successful customer segmentation requires taking a holistic approach. This includes aligning a firm’s segmentation goals to its marketing objectives and data acquisition investments. In other words, the data you have will determine not only which model you use, but also what marketing campaigns you’re able to run.

Now of course both data inputs and needs are in flux throughout the firm’s lifecycle. As Banasiewicz points out, for a firm in high-growth customer acquisition mode an Attitudinal model might work effectively for demand generation initiatives among qualified and segmented pools of prospects. Marketing campaigns in this scenario, we can assume, would speak to customer desires and affinities, with purpose of lead generation/nurture.

On the other hand, once the firm has acquired a large pool of customers, it’s not unrealistic to think that transitioning to a Behavioral model using inputs from past purchases will be more effective for running what are now CRM campaigns, focusing on driving lifetime value and repeat purchases.

Different groups not only have different attributes and attitudes, but consume different types of media. As such, they will respond to different types of offers, communicated in different ways and in different places. Where should a firm spend its marketing budget? Online display, email, direct mail, social media, print? … The choices are dizzying in today’s multichannel environment. Having a robust customer segmentation model can definitely help in the decision-making process.

Another important feature of customer segmentation is the realization that different customer groups can not only have wildly different demographic and psychographic identities, but very often will have strikingly varying lifetime values. To the surprise of some, a customer segment with a with younger average age will very often have a higher lifetime value than a group far senior to them, despite having far less disposable income to spend today. This may be based solely on the fact that the younger customers have, simply by being younger, many more years of being a loyal customer ahead of them. Taking this into account, many brands’ obsession with successfully penetrating the youth market should come as no surprise.

Now of course it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, as customer segmentation is simply a means to an end, not an end in itself. Once you have broken your customers or prospects down into segments, the trickier (and for those who are not data geeks) more fun part of the equation involves devising incentive and reward strategies for each segment, and creating compelling marketing messages and collateral that can be used to get the message out across the various marketing channels. Knowing your customers, this part is a lot easier, which brings me full circle back to my point from the top: Create a bucket list.

Practicing What We Preach

At eM+C we recently launched a LinkedIn Group and we’re excited about it. The eM+C LinkedIn Group offers readers of eM+C, eMarketingandCommerce.com, eM+C Weekly and All About eMail a place to connect and discuss interactive marketing topics and the state of online marketing in general.

At eM+C we recently launched a LinkedIn Group and we’re excited about it. The eM+C LinkedIn Group offers readers of eM+C, eMarketingandCommerce.com, eM+C Weekly and All About eMail a place to connect and discuss interactive marketing topics and the state of online marketing in general.

With the economy being the way it is, we thought this was the perfect time to start such a group. More than ever before, eM+C readers need a place to communicate, network and, heck, even rant with one another about what’s going on out there.

We also intend to use the group to get feedback from our readers about our brands. Please feel free to use the group to communicate with us about what you like and don’t like about the eM+C brand.

From time to time, we’ll post questions about our products, and we hope you’ll take the time to answer them. The more suggestions and feedback you give us, the better the magazine, Web site and e-newsletters will be for you.

We also started the group because we could see that our readers are very interested in LinkedIn. A recent article we ran by Jim Gilbert called “5 Tips For Using Linked In as a Business Tool” might be our most popular and best-read piece yet. Thousands of people read it when we posted it on Feb. 26, and thousands are still reading it today.

Another reason to join the group, according to Gilbert, is that it gives you a chance to market yourselves. If you answer a question asked in a LinkedIn Group, for example, the “questioner” can rate the best answers to the question. In turn, the best answers are awarded “expert” status in LinkedIn, Gilbert says. That can be a great branding tool for you to use.

But, don’t pitch your company’s products or services. Instead, give the best, most altruistic answer you can.

So for these reasons and plenty others, join the eM+C LinkedIn Group. It’s a win-win.

Social Networking for DMers

Here’s a novel idea.

The National Mail Order Association is launching new direct marketing networking groups in each state of the U.S., and using social media as a component.

The NMOA’s strategy is to incorpate the social networking site Facebook as the first point of contact, and combine it with the all important aspect of “human interaction” that only comes from in person face-to-face networking.

Here’s a novel idea.

The National Mail Order Association is launching new direct marketing networking groups in each state of the U.S., and using social media as a component.

The NMOA’s strategy is to incorpate the social networking site Facebook as the first point of contact, and combine it with the all important aspect of “human interaction” that only comes from in person face-to-face networking.

“Online social networking is all the rage, but business does not live by the net alone,” said NMOA president and chirman John Schulte in a press release. “Face-to-face networking is still vital to business and career success,[and] these new networking groups combine the old with the new for super networking”

The online Facebook groups will be for day-to-day networking and information sharing, and once a month or more, members will coordinate local outings for some face-to-face networking, and have a little fun at the same time.

The best part? It’s all free. The NMOA will not require membership to be part of any of these groups.

“These new networking groups are needed,” says Schulte. “You can’t deny it, direct marketing is the way of the future, almost every business now utilizes at least one direct marketing tactic for creating sales, be it the web, direct mail, catalogs, infomercials, television home shopping or response ads in newspapers and magazines, and people want to learn more, especially the small business and budding entrepreneur.”

So far, direct marketing groups have been set up for 19 states and one main group for international connectivity. New states will be added as people request them. People that want to get involved on a leadership level in their state will be made officers of the group.

Every group is set up so members can start a discussion, ask questions, share links, promote their company, and post videos and pictures. If for no other reason, people should join their state group as part of their overall Web 2.0 strategy.

Links to currently active states can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/2ntwdc