With return on marketing investment a focus for most b-to-b organizations, better analytics are an important way to do more with less.
Years ago, Bruce Springsteen captured a sentiment shared by many when he penned the lyrics to “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).” If Springsteen wrote the song today, the only difference would be that he’d have to update the title to add another 500 channels or so.
The message sent by the Boss remains more apt than ever: More is not better, better is better, a message that holds true for b-to-b marketing reporting just as it does television. Marketers that have historically found themselves awash in data from disconnected sources have defaulted to burying their audiences under an avalanche of activity-based metrics, certainly not the way to demonstrate value over the long term. In this article, we explain how an evolving set of lighter-weight business intelligence (BI) tools are changing the marketing measurement paradigm, and finally delivering the power of integrated information.
Rise of the Left Brain
Driven by management demands, marketing has been forced to adopt a by-the-numbers approach to justifying its value far beyond simple output. In addition, the function requires better analytics to enable complex lead scoring, lead nurturing and pipeline acceleration programs, all born out of more complex buying and selling cycles.
In our research, we have described the ways that marketing and sales can combine their data to deliver powerful and actionable analysis. This vision is possible only for companies with the technological infrastructure to support it, which includes a marketing automation platform (MAP), a sales force automation/CRM tool and a BI tool to bring it all together.
The issue with legacy BI for most marketers is that it has taken an advanced degree in statistics, significant IT involvement and what seems like an act of Congress to get things up and running. To address these issues, we have observed a new class of BI vendors emerging over the past two years or so, positioned for use by business decision-makers and the operations/analyst teams that work for them. Should these tools gain broad acceptance, we may finally see a break in the BI deadlock that releases the power of the marketing left brain for good.
One Tool, Four Advantages
At the intersection of a host of opportunities for marketing to take the next measurement leap is where a flexible BI tool can be a real boon. We have found that companies using these tools are reaping benefits in four key areas, including:
Data quality and integration. Before any analytical work can be done, trustworthy data from multiple sources must be brought together, an issue that has grown with the explosion of reporting data now available. Compounding the challenge is the fact that most marketing and sales standalone applications cannot support the requirements for integrated and interactive dashboards that combine data from multiple sources to track a buyer’s journey from cold to close. A BI tool brings data sources together without requiring tedious manual manipulation that tends to be highly error-prone. In addition, some of these tools allow for faster diagnosis and repair of data quality issues such as field formats, another built-in advantage for marketers.
Data visualization. BI tools allow for better graphical representation of data, which makes exploratory research more productive and reporting more effective; searching tens of thousands of rows of data in Excel for the proverbial needle in a haystack was never a good use of analysts’ time. Using a more powerful tool to embrace the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words” works much better to extend even the smallest analytics team’s productivity by helping them identify patterns faster, and helps to engage those not accustomed to looking at complex tables or charts by providing easier-to-understand images of quantitative information.
Repeatable, on-demand reporting. For analysis to deliver competitive advantage, it has to be quick and flexible enough to respond to questions, challenges and tweaks. Fact-based decision-making demands accurate and consistent reporting, but those making decisions often become disenchanted when requests for more information take days or weeks to deliver. BI tools allow marketing to do faster analysis of more data from diverse sources, with the ability to make changes much more easily than manual approaches offer. Ideally, regular reporting on marketing results can be available in real time, anytime, because the reports are pre-built rather than painstakingly recreated for each reporting period. This also eliminates issues around creating different versions for different audiences, such as cuts of data by geography, market segment or product line.
Interactive reporting. The future is now for organizations adopting BI tools because they deliver on the promise of the interactive dashboard, a dashboard that allows those with access to drill down into any chart that interests them to see the data behind it. In most cases, this can be done using a small team within the marketing operations function, but others in the organization can be given access without risk to compromising the data itself. It also opens up the possibility of dashboards that incorporate data and commentary from those responsible for it, and offer embedded information on data sources and definitions to help new viewers get up to speed.
SiriusDecisions benchmark data shows that a key differentiator for companies who achieve best-in-class performance is the ability to conduct rigorous, closed-loop measurement of marketing and sales. The relatively low adoption of BI tools in many b-to-b marketing organizations – including the use of advanced marketing and sales waterfall and funnel analytics – means companies who invest now gain early advantage over those who wait. Better tools that are cost-effective free up the resources to actually use the analysis rather than just to create it. If your organization has reasonable quality data available, not using tools or resources shouldn’t be an acceptable excuse to continue with opaque activity reporting simply because it has been the accepted approach.
SiriusDecisions continues to see a widening gap between the skills of b-to-b marketers and the processes and technologies they are now being expected to employ. To fill this gap, we have created SiriusDecisions Learning – a modular, high-impact skills development program for a new age of b-to-b marketers.
About the Author:
SiriusDecisions, a leading source for business-to-business sales and marketing best-practice research and data. SiriusDecisions Executive Advisory Services, Consulting Services, Benchmark Assessment Services, Learning and Events provide senior-level executives with the sales and marketing operational intelligence required to maximize top line growth and performance.
©Sirius Decisions, 2010. Reproduced with permission.