How Strategic Profiling Transformed D&B's Marketing
Today’s best marketers are as good at repelling buyers as they are at attracting them.
This idea, penned by author and Chief Content Officer Ann Handley, pulls the rug out on a long-held assumption. For generations, marketers have been urged to attract more people to their brands—a move expected to produce more buyers. These days, however, B2B marketers seeking mass appeal (and “more” leads) are flailing. Those who gained traction are taking another tack. Rather than attempting to captivate everyone, they’re focused on identifying and attracting the right buyers.
This is exactly why Dun & Bradstreet decided to transform its approach to digital advertising – and, for that matter, its marketing as a whole.
“Historically, our go-to-market approach was more inside-out,” says Lucas Rotondo, senior marketing director. “We started with the products we needed to sell. Then, we cast a wide net to find relevant contacts, hoping to drive a high volume of leads that would convert quickly.”
Overall, these tactics were effective. There was just one problem: They generated lower-value sales from customers who didn’t buy again.
“Clearly, we weren’t targeting the best buyers for our solutions,” says Rotondo. “We needed to change our strategy.”
D&B’s marketing team did an about-face, shifting its focus from pitching products to learning more about its customers. Rotondo immediately pulled in D&B’s analytics experts.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” Rotondo says. “Our analytics group was already helping our customers improve their buyer profiling and segmentation. We didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t tap into a little of that analytics goodness for our own marketing.”
The analytics team’s input came at an opportune time. As the leader of D&B’s freshly minted Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) persona program, Rotondo was eager to refine its high-priority customer profiles and solidify a customer-focused (“outside-in”) orientation. To achieve this, Rotondo turned to Jim Novak, who leads predictive analytics within D&B’s customer analytics and insights organization. Ignited by the challenge, Novak dove right in, mining D&B’s database for useful information about the company’s customers and prospects.
“We started by profiling higher-end customers of our advanced marketing and sales solutions. We isolated firmographic characteristics such as the size of their business, industry growth rates and the complexity of their corporate structure,” Novak says. “We also examined our best buyers’ purchasing behavior, including their renewal and product migration history.”
Beyond firmographics and purchase behavior, the team studied the cross-sell behavior of D&B’s top customers. This information was leveraged to help develop propensity models to predict specific businesses’ likelihood to buy D&B marketing and sales solutions. This predictive layer, complemented by D&B’s prime customer details, gave the team what it needed to locate lookalike new logo prospects and ideal cross-sell candidates within its commercial database.
D&B began its strategic segmentation by mapping its customers’ business needs with their propensity to buy.
“A huge advantage of intelligent segmentation is that it reduces the time, effort and money marketing might otherwise be wasting,” Rotondo says. “This translates into big value for the business.”
The pragmatic impact of analytics isn’t lost on Novak, who began working with customer analytics at D&B eight years ago. Even with his solid quant leanings, Novak is equally focused on how well his data models actually work for the business. He and his team partner closely with marketing, sales, the rest of D&B and its customers to ensure his models resonate with business reality.
“Some marketers have budget for only one or two campaigns. In these situations, analytics are invaluable because they help identify the best candidates to prioritize scarce resources against,” says Novak. “At the very least, marketers can use analytics to identify the best buyer candidates. Then, they can segment those candidates out for different marketing tactics based on not only their propensity to buy but the potential value of the relationship over time.
“It's a one-two punch that helps get the most bang for the buck.”
As savvy marketers and sales pros know, sometimes the choicest buyers are existing customers. To flag these opportunities, the D&B analytics team developed an indicator called a Peer Group Demand Estimator (PGDE).
“Basically, our demand estimators help estimate the potential of a customer or a prospect to spend on D&B products”, says Eyal Levi, director of business analytics at D&B. “They also help the sale teams to better understand where potential opportunities exist.
“When customers are spending below their peer group levels, there’s a good chance these customers have needs we aren’t serving currently, but we absolutely could. These businesses are good upsell or cross-sell candidates.”
To ensure the sales and marketing teams were spending their time and resources wisely, D&B advanced analytics group flagged the best opportunities.
While D&B’s database contains valuable buyer insights, so does the field experience of the company’s sales and marketing teams. In fact, this is frequently where the analytics team sources new questions to ask of the data.
“We work closely with sales and marketing to validate our findings,” Levi says. “When we get feedback from the field on what works and what doesn’t, it often leads to the discovery and development of new indicators to be used in our models and analytics.”
For example, sales leaders may report a high interest in marketing solutions from companies coming off a recent merger or acquisition. This is ideal fodder for the analytics team, which investigates further to determine if anecdotal observations from sales are bubbling up from a deeper, data-validated trend.
Without question, the analytics group’s work is intense. And it’s not of the “set-and-forget” variety. Even after the customer, prospect and opportunity data models have been built, and accounts have been segmented and prioritized, the team’s job isn’t done. Everything must be periodically reevaluated.
“Because businesses change, it’s important to rescore our customer base,” says Novak, who relishes the “continual” nature of his work. “For example, a company’s vitality level may have been low when we originally built our model, but since then, it may have experienced a growth spurt with a successful new product.”
In turn, the discovery of a rescored account may set off ripples of adaptive action from D&B’s marketing and sales teams. Everything related to the account – from the content, messaging and offers it receives via D&B’s demand generation campaigns to its place in the company’s sales planning – may need to be reexamined.
Sounds like a lot of work, right? But Rotondo says it’s paying off.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in a relatively short time. We’ve narrowed our customer, prospect and opportunity universe to be more targeted, aligning with sales on where we need to focus to move the needle for the business,” Rotondo says. “We’ve worked closely with our ad agency and marketing partners to make select accounts and personas the foundation of almost everything we do.
“And I’m happy to say it’s working.”
By June, the CMO program had achieved 186% of its 2016 pipeline goal. A starring role in this accomplishment was the program’s native advertising click-through rate, which came in at 200% of its inbound benchmark projections for the first half of the year. Based on these results, the team plans to invest more in content syndication that is specifically targeted to the top accounts identified by D&B’s analytics team.
“Thankfully, you won’t see us casting a wide net, amassing mounds of leads, tossing them over and hoping they’ll convert,” Lucas says. “Now that we have an intelligent segmentation method, we can take a more personalized approach with our customers.
“And we can be confident when we do it because we’ve based our decisions on our instincts as marketing and sales professionals – as well as on our company’s expertise as a data-driven, analytic organization.”
Handley may go so far as to say it pays to “repel” some buyers. At D&B, we can only speak to knowing who our right customers are – and being exceptionally good at solving their problems.
It’s pretty hard to think of anything more attractive than that.