"Marketing at the speed of the customer" is a clever euphemism. It sounds good, like something you can smoothly engineer, measure and optimize. But if you're a marketer at an established company, this is what it actually feels like…
Your muscles burn like they're pumping out acid. Sweat trickles into your eyes, breakneck hills cut into the horizon. Doggedly, you push on, hell bent on erasing the gap between you and the distant figure ahead.
All too often, we're eating our buyers' dust. As much as we want to rocket forward, our marketing inches forward in arthritic lurches. Meanwhile, B2B buyers are superbly nimble in their sprawling digital exploration.
What's preventing enterprise marketers from operating at customer speed? The prevailing Industrial Age mentality certainly isn't helping. We've been conditioned to believe efficient procedures are the key to responding faster (and better). However, these are the very elements that may be slowing us down. Sometimes we miss opportunities to engage with buyers because we're fixated on executing rigid processes rather than delivering fluid responses. This doesn't cut it in a digital world, where customers are in control and B2B marketers are obliged to "pull" them in.
Without question, becoming more agile would be a plus for marketing. But even better would be what Nexxworks CEO, Rik Vera, suggests: Focus primarily on the customer experience, rather than internal (industrial) processes. Marketers need to "liquefy" customer responses, says Vera in his company's blog. The key to doing that, he claims, is to be flexible and informed in the moment, using interconnected data and customer analytics to shape your answers and guide your organization's acceleration.
Analytics: Not Only for the Funnel
Traditionally, marketers have been wired to think of analytics within a funnel context. Most frequently, we analyze data to determine sales volume and channel effectiveness. We look at what happened in the past to help us optimize our current and future marketing. The issue with this, according to Forrester Research, is that we're leaving a big part of analytics value untapped: customer lifecycle development.
Marketers who keep a close eye on buyers throughout their decision-making process realize customer relationships are organic. Static, preprogrammed analytical queries, even when they inform predictive behavioral models, may not deliver the most useful buyer insights in the moment. Buyers are human beings; they change. So should the questions we, as marketers, ask of our data.
"Analytics are transforming in organizations, moving away from a centralized reporting factory to enlightened self-service," says Wade Tibke, vice president of marketing operations at Tableau Software, a business intelligence and analytics provider (disclosure: Dun & Bradstreet is a client).
"Self-service" has a nice, flexible ring to it…a welcome contrast to regimented (and rigid) reporting.
"Marketers can no longer afford to wait for automated reports to make decisions about performance, revenue and retention," Tibke says. "At Tableau, it's our job to help our customers make data-driven decisions in the moment."
A Liquid Relationship With Data
To keep up with buyers (whom we have the audacity to call "fickle" because we often don't know what they'll do next) and equip ourselves to offer fluid responses, we need a "liquid" relationship with customer data. This requires marketers to reverse their thinking, Vera says, allowing customer "experience" (not funnel-driven process) to take the lead.
Source: "How to Let Customers Speed Up a Company" by Rik Vera
When we allow the customer experience to take the lead, we create an opportunity to build relationships with current and future buyers. These relationships create value beyond the point of purchase, a goal outside the scope of the industrial mindset. (An organization obsessed with efficiently pushing out products and services doesn't give a whit about extending the customer lifecycle.)
Ideally, to influence human experience, marketers must have:
- real-time, holistic insight into the buyer's reality (via interconnected, high-quality customer data);
- the ability to activate cross-functional responses; and
- the capacity to be nimble and relevant in those responses.
To a degree, this requires individuals to have direct access to interconnected data and customer analytics, presented in ways that answer critical questions for specific business functions. However, because a seamless customer experience delivery involves teams beyond marketing, there's a need for everyone to be interconnected.
"There must be a common intelligence across teams. Everyone should use a similar data language and act from a common understanding of the customer's in-the-moment context," Tibke says.
How does Tableau achieve this? It helps that all employees use the company's software.
"Tableau [software] pulls a variety of data from our CRM and marketing automation systems, including contact and business information, purchase and interaction details, and online activity," Tibke says. "Basically, we have a 360-degree view of the customer, visualized in a way that makes sense for everyone."
While Tableau is well-known for its software's data visualization capabilities, Tibke emphasizes that they represent a small part of what his company does.
"We take our customers on a journey with the analytical process," he says. "We help them find and interact with data to answer questions and discover the biggest wins. Visual analysis is just one part of that."
Interconnected Data Feeds Fluidity
The biggest obstacle organizations experience on their "analytics journey" is devastatingly fundamental: Their data isn't usually prepared to be used, says Tibke.
"It's often organized and structured in different formats throughout the organization," he says. "Without a master data management [MDM] program, businesses simply aren't ready for an era of self-service customer intelligence."
So while marketers may need a liquid relationship with data – i.e., the ability to easily access, manipulate and analyze information – organizations must first ensure that data they're working with is of good quality. What this requires is establishing consistent definitions of business entities (master data) and reinforcing these definitions via business processes, governance policies, standards and tools (via master data management or MDM).
Sounds suspiciously institutional and anti-agile, right? But here's the deal: Marketers are perfectly capable of acting nimbly without good customer data, but their decisions can miss the mark – and waste resources. Speedy, data-informed decisions are good, but when those decisions are based on faulty analytics (thanks to a spotty and inaccurate customer database)? Not so good.
Generally, speed doesn't trump precision when it comes to marketing decisions. Ideally, the two work hand in hand. For agile marketing strategies to wield the desired impact, our decisions must be rooted in reliable analytics (derived from high-quality customer data).
So if MDM (or other data-quality-related regimens) is a prerequisite to liquid marketing, are we destined to be stuck where we started (i.e., sucked back into "rigid" industrial processes)? Not exactly. Sure, there are organizational processes and policies to safeguard customer data quality, but that doesn't mean marketing must ride a factory conveyor belt. Marketers are attempting to build intelligent, valuable relationships, which aren't fabricated on an assembly line. Certainly, operational efficiency is on our radar, but customer experience is king. Shifting buyer demands can compel us to interrogate our data differently. And what we discover in our analytics journey may require us to pivot.
Modern B2B marketers aren't pushing products; they're creating sticky, memorable moments that culminate into something useful and/or otherwise valuable. Perhaps Raja Rajamannar, CMO of MasterCard, says it best: "People are valuing experience more than things."
B2B marketers who are masters at churning out content, generating lots of leads and mass media have learned industrial lessons. They've mastered the complexities of the past. But it will only get them so far in a digital world.
As Clay Shirky once observed, those who will have a say in what happens in the future will be those who figure out how to work simply in the present.