Podcast: How to Organise and Leverage Your B2B Data

Shahin Hoda 16  mins read Updated: March 11th, 2024

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The Importance of Data in B2B Marketing

Episode’s topic: The Importance of Data in B2B Marketing

In this episode, host Shahin Hoda chats with Ruth Stevens, President of eMarketing Strategy about the importance of data in the B2B marketing landscape and things marketers need to keep in mind while making a data strategy.

During this conversation, Ruth mentions that data-driven marketing is more than just media buying and shares her nine-point checklist to evaluate third party data providers. 

This episode’s guest:

The Importance of Data in B2B Marketing

Ruth Stevens, President at eMarketing Strategy

Ruth P. Stevens is a B2B marketing consultant and President of eMarketing Strategy. She advises companies on sales lead generation, prospect data, content marketing and ABM. Over the years Ruth has held multiple senior positions at Time Warner, Ziff Davis and IBM.

She also teaches marketing at several business schools globally. She has authored several books such as  B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results and Maximising Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers.

Connect with her on LinkedIn

Conversation segments on this episode:
  • [01:18] The typical marketing professional is not thinking about data.
  • [01:56] Data is a corporate asset and a marketing tool.
  • [02:43] What data are we talking about? - Recorded memory of the customer relationship
  • [03:50] Media buying is only one piece of being data-driven.
  • [06:20] Customer relationship data degrades rapidly in the B2B context.
  • [07:55] Marketers should look at data in internal systems before buying it from an external provider.
  • [11:16] Do not maintain data that is not going to deliver value to the business.
  • [13:25] Think through the data that's needed, as the second step while buying data from third parties.
  • [18:33] The nine-point checklist for evaluating data providers
  • [22:19] Price is not an essential factor when it comes to purchasing prospecting data.
  • [26:03] Make friends with your data and spend more time on account penetration

Resources mentioned on this episode:

About the Growth Colony Podcast

On this podcast, you'll be hearing from B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.

Hosted by Shahin Hoda & Alexander Hipwell, from xGrowth

Get in touch!

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Episode Full Transcript:

[00:15] Shahin Hoda  Welcome to another episode. I'm Shahin Hoda with xGrowth. And today I'm talking to Ruth Stevens, B2B Marketing Consultant, author and educator about everything marketing and data on why data is becoming more and more important in the B2B landscape. On that note, let's dive in. Ruth, thanks for joining us.

[00:37] Ruth Stevens  Glad to be here. Thank you. 

[00:39] Shahin Hoda  It's such an honour having you, Ruth because you bring such a wealth of knowledge and experience in the B2B space. And you know, you work at multiple universities, and you teach so many young marketers about the future of marketing. So I'm very excited for us to have this conversation and dive right into it. So we're talking data, we're talking B2B, we're talking marketing. Let's start with this. Where do you think data sits on marketers' radar and B2B marketers radar today? 

[01:11] Ruth Stevens  Oh, this is a pain point, as we say. But I'm afraid that the typical B2B marketing professional is not thinking about data much at all, and maybe has a plan to have it managed well in the company, but has delegated responsibility for it to somebody over here, who's either the data administrator or has some other title. And I think that's a big mistake. I think we marketing professionals need to understand it, we need to own it, we need to live it and nurture it to its best value because it's a corporate asset, and also a marketing tool of extraordinary value. So, 

[02:00] Shahin Hoda  Yeah, very true. 

[02:01] Ruth Stevens  That's my little soapbox, thank you. 

[02:05] Shahin Hoda  No, I love that. Let's talk about what we mean by data, right? Because I think the word gets thrown around quite often. And people are like, oh, you gotta be data-driven. And, you know, we're in the agency world. And every agency now is like, we are a data-driven agency, right? And you're like, okay, what does that mean, right? And it's just, I feel like it's more of a buzzword now of being data-driven. What does, when you talk about data what are you exactly envisioning? What are you thinking? And how does that look for you exactly? 

[02:41] Ruth Stevens I'll tell you exactly what I mean. I mean, the customer record, or the prospect record, meaning the contact information, the company information, the additional points like firmographics, industry, company size, information about the nature of the relationship you've had with them, if any, is in other words, it's the recorded memory of the customer relationship. And it's housed these days in a CRM system, it might be in a marketing database of another sort. 

[03:18] Ruth Stevens  But it is the record that allows us to understand how we're connected with this customer, and to give us the insight into the customer's needs. And in the B2B world, it can be organised at the company level, the account level, or as a contact level. Usually, you start with the account, and then you populate additional contact names within that account or link them. So that's what I'm talking about. And when many marketers say we're data-driven, they're really talking about media buying. Yeah, like, you know, so that's important, but it's only one piece of data in B2B. 

[04:02] Shahin Hoda  Yeah. So. So the media-driven component is when you are, you know, running ads, whether traditional, offline media, or online media, and, you know, you are data-driven in the sense that, you know, your conversion rates, you know your impressions, how does that convert into clicks? And how does that convert into kind of maybe leads and pipeline, so on and so forth? But the kind of data that you're talking about is you need to have more visibility in terms of your customer and data on the people that you're going after, you know, who are the people in there in this organisation? 

[04:40] Shahin Hoda  And you know, that that are important, once again, as you said, what have we done with them in the past? And what are some of the things that could be appealing to them? And, you know, it's interesting that you bring that up, because I feel that kind, of that set of data, traditionally in the B2B space sat with the sales team quite a lot. By the sales team, you know, held a lot of that data, because maybe they were on the frontline of conversations with marketers. Is that something you've seen as well, that maybe marketers need to also leverage sales team information to get a better understanding of the customer? 

[05:17] Ruth Stevens  Well, this is mostly that customer record is in the hands of some responsible party, some tool in the company, where it's accessible by marketing and sales and fulfilment in finance and everybody else. So that's less of a problem in I think you're referring to an era where a salesperson would have a black book of contacts, and wouldn't want to share it with the rest of the company. Because the salespeople jolly well knew that it is an asset and a source of power and resolve. But I think, more More likely, it's housed in some kind of corporate repository, usually a CRM system. The big problems with these customer records is that, well, there are a million problems, but the most challenging one is, and the one that is actually pretty fixable is that data degrades really fast.  

[06:21] Ruth Stevens In B2B, people change jobs, and they change companies, and they change, you know phone numbers. And they're a bunch of studies, easily performed, or produced by database marketing companies that talk about data degradation and accuracy. And it is horrifying. Phone numbers and titles are among the most volatile data elements. But the other big problem is completeness. And you can buy lots of data about companies and prospects from third parties, but it may not be the data that you need to understand them and service them properly. So often, we have to go grab up additional data elements, basically by hand for top prospects and even existing customers. 

[07:16] Shahin Hoda  Yeah, that's really interesting. I mean, I've read the stats that, you know, 20% of your, your CRM data is obsolete within 12 months, right? And that kind of repeats. So if you don't renew that, you can imagine, you know, what would happen, for example, in three years time, it's almost you could just throw it out? 

[07:40] Ruth Stevens  It's scary. 

[07:40] Shahin Hoda  Yeah, very true. So let's talk about, let's get, let's get practical. Where should marketers start in your opinion? You know, when it comes to data, and gathering, I mean, obviously, the first step is gathering that data, where should they start? 

[07:55] Ruth Stevens  They should start with their internal sources. So that would be billing systems, that would be sales contact records, like you mentioned, these days, that tends to be, in a sense for some automation or marketing a CRM type system. But the reason I make that point is that before you buy a scrap of third party data, you should examine, gather and de-duplicate and examine your existing customer data, then make sure it's accessible and sortable. That's really what you want in a marketing database. And then start segmenting it, meaning what I would recommend is segmenting by value, determining what are our top accounts, let's make sure we have all the information we need about our key accounts. 

[08:48] Ruth Stevens  Most B2B companies are operating on the 80/20 rule where the bulk of their revenue and profits come from a much smaller percentage of their customers 80/20. So that top 20 cut 20% of customers are where you really want to focus your efforts. Make sure you have the correct name, job role, title, phone number of the important influencers and decision makers and users. and dare I say it, purchasing professionals in those accounts, and keep those up to date? It's pretty, pretty straightforward. It's not, you know, but it requires an understanding of the importance of the data and willingness to do the dog and work of maintaining it and enhancing it regularly. 

[09:44] Shahin Hoda  09:44

Okay, so first look, go through your internal systems, get that data, see what you have, where's it store. Then think about what are the top accounts that that are really important to your organisation and prioritise those, tier those, whatever you want to call it, but prioritise them in some format. And then start to further enrich that data specifically for the companies that are important to you right? Now I'm going to come to this whole point of enriching data because I mean, my goodness, that market is so crazy. 

[10:23] Shahin Hoda  I mean, I get emails about, hey, we can build your lists on daily basis, I'm sure you get it as well. And then, you know, you have those, right, who there is like, kind of like no record of them all the way to some of the big players like Zoominfo, you know, .after their merger with Discover Org,. I think they're allowed, like a $10 billion business, right,  and everything in between. So what where should marketers start when it comes to thinking about buying data, they have their prioritised accounts, they know the important accounts. Now they're like, okay, I need to enrich this. Where should they start from there?

[11:03] Ruth Stevens  Great. Then the second step then would be to decide what data elements you need. Because as you pointed out earlier, there, even you need to be disciplined about this. You don't want to maintain data that's not going to have real business value for the firm. And this is not a trivial question. Do we need, how many contact names do we need in our accounts? Which contact names by job role title? And about them, what information do we need to know? And what kinds of thermographic data elements are essential to our success? So I call this a data strategy. And you'll list up probably with lots of arguments around the various stakeholders, and then you go find a vendor to help you append that enrichment to your customer records. 

[12:04] Ruth Stevens  And these days, you've already mentioned, Zoom, which is a market leader today, the tried and true stole arts are Dun and Bradstreet, and infogroup. And there are a million other vendors out there, they're really only way less than 100 vendors that I would recommend. I would start with the big guys, frankly, because they already have that, you know, experience and trustworthiness, you also may be able to find vendors who have specialisations in certain industry sectors or functional sectors that are important to you. But eventually Shahin, you may end up having to do some handwork. Because even if you try all of the vendors, you're not going to get 100% match rate on your top accounts and maybe your second best accounts. 

[13:06] Ruth Stevens  And we also have to talk about prospecting data. I'm sure that's on your list. But the thing that is scary is that a B2B marketer may say, Well, yeah, I'll just take everything. No, no, let's be disciplined about this. Let's make sure we've really thought through what we need. Let's work with a reliable trustworthy provider and see where things land, you might get as small as a 15% match rate. Now at the company level, you get a much higher match rate, but at the contact level, you may not. So ultimately, you may hire a college student to do some LinkedIn research for you. ends up happening. 

[13:57] Shahin Hoda  I think there's always a little bit of a disk work that is involved in that process. You talked about prospecting data, let's talk about that. Let's go and explore that a little bit. What is um, you know, you get the contact details, is that what you mean by prospect data, or, you for 

[14:17] Ruth Stevens  What I mean, by prospect data is accounts that we haven't done business with yet. They're often called net new accounts. Accounts with whom we have no relationship. So we don't know the account. We don't know anybody in the account. But we want to expand our customer base. And then the second tier of that would be names of potential buyers at existing accounts and net new accounts. So that's generally what's meant by prospecting data at the account level and the contact level. And this is where we run into some real nightmares because those ridiculous scurrilous, untrustworthy, vendors who are pounding your inbox are likely selling that stuff, it's often stolen, or it's 10 years old, or it's scraped, and improperly de-duped or otherwise cleaned up. And it's just not worth the bits and bytes that it's written on. 

[15:27] Shahin Hoda  Not worth the investment. That's a very good point. I mean, you know, your net new account data, or prospecting data, that's, um, that's really hard because now you don't have any information within your organisation. And you have to, you have to start digging that out through external third party sources. And that's a minefield. That's a minefield of what you're gonna get, you're gonna get a lot of bad apples. 

[15:57] Ruth Stevens  You won't if you use a reliable vendor. And there are some particular characteristics about this field that attracts charlatans, frankly. But there are really good quality dedicated companies in the market, you just need to avoid the bad guys and stick with the good guys. And the bad guys are really adept at mostly I think email marketing. They're sending out cold prospecting emails of their own, saying we have the best lists and often they do outbound telemarketing. And it's the responsibility of the marketer to evaluate them carefully and avoid them. Just not do business with them. 

[16:44] Shahin Hoda  Evaluate them carefully, and then avoid them entirely. I yeah, that's good. That's good advice. And 

[16:51] Ruth Stevens  Cause there really are some bad guys. Some who have actually gone to jail. 

[16:57] Shahin Hoda  Wow. 

[16:57] Ruth Stevens  Yeah. 

[16:58] Shahin Hoda  Right. I haven't, I haven't heard those war stories. But you know, I also know that you have a pretty straightforward and but very useful process for evaluating providers because let's be honest, not everybody can afford the big players. You know, they could be expensive. They could be, you know, 20,30 $40,000 a year. 

[17:19] Ruth Stevens  Well, let me just challenge that a little bit, I know where Zoom prices is on, they offer you a subscription to a platform, and you using a kind of menu, you pick your target, and you pay a pretty hefty annual subscription fee. And within that, then you have all you can access. But other vendors like Dun and Bradstreet and Infogroup, Turista and many, many other reliable vendors will charge you for what you buy and don't make you pay a subscription fee. So you want to shop around a bit. Another useful tip is that it's a good idea to request a sample. And usually, a vendor will provide a sample at No, no cost a small sample, I don't know 500 accounts or something, then you can pour over it and then get a feel for whether their data is going to suit your marketing need. 

[18:23] Shahin Hoda  I see. I see. So yeah, so make sure you get samples and definitely shop around for multiple different providers. Okay, 

[18:31] Ruth Stevens  But you're right, I do have this nine-point checklist. Do we have time to go through it? 

[18:35] Shahin Hoda  Yeah, that's, yep. Let's go through it. 

[18:38] Ruth Stevens  It's sort of fun. I and your viewers can find it by searching for the article called Beware of Dubious Data Providers. 

[18:50] Shahin Hoda  We'll put it in the show notes.

[18:52] Ruth Stevens  Okay, please do. And I boiled it down to nine criteria and put it in the form of questions. And the first six questions you want the answer to be yes. And the last three, you want the answer to be no. So you begin with the, and by the way, all of these questions can be researched without talking, or maybe not. Not all of them. But most of them, you can just do your research quickly and quietly, without the pain of, you know, digging too deeply. So the first six are about the data that you'll find at their website. The first is, do they have a website that you can visit? You wouldn't believe how many of these guys are sending you emails and they don't even have a website that you can refer to. 

[19:45] Ruth Stevens  So that's a total red flag, run 100 miles an hour in the other direction. Then check to see if they provide a physical business address, at their website, wherever it may be. Remarkably, some don't? Do they have a company page on LinkedIn? Seems pretty obvious. And are the names of the management team, or at least some responsible party visible on the website? It's very common in B2B today to meet our team or our leadership. So without that, it's suspicious. Is there a client list on the website? Is there a testimonial on the website, which of course can be ginned up or doctored. So but at least it's a good thing if they have it? So those are the six that you want to say yes to? 

[20:39] Shahin Hoda  Yes to. Yep. 

[20:40] Ruth Stevens  And the three that you want to say no to is? Do they claim some kind of guaranteed productivity or responsiveness accuracy, whatever? That's a red flag. If they're saying, oh, yes, our data is 100%. guaranteed to be accurate, just say, and because nobody can guarantee that just as we discussed the rapid decay of B2B data in, what if you say,  20%, quarter a year. 4- 6% a month is the number that I usually throw around, it's pretty impossible, then do they require 100% prepayment? Forget about it, as we say, here in New York City, don't go there. And then the last one, number nine, is the sales rep contacting you through Gmail, or some other non-corporate or corporate email address that is not consistent with the name of the company that they claim to represent. 

[21:49] Shahin Hoda  Some dodgy email? Yep.

[21:51] Ruth Stevens  Dodgy. So those are the tips. And, you know, with the, I did want to just pick up on the comment you made earlier about expense. Because most certainly the way the ZoomInfo is pricey. It is really expensive. But there are alternatives in companies who don't price in that kind of subscription way. But I would also make the point, that price is actually not a really an important factor in prospecting data acquisition. 

[22:26] Ruth Stevens  Because your the cost of the name, email address, company, phone number, is such a minor part of the campaign expense, that when you think about the cost per 1000, to reach your prospects, the data is going to be so small, that if you can increase the quality and accuracy of that data just a little bit, you will more than pay for the apparent expense of the higher price spread. So I say we should avoid shopping for data on price in general terms. Now, there are exceptions. I hope 

[23:14] Shahin Hoda  That's no, that's a very good point. Because, you know, bad data, you know, we have there's this term that Tina, bad data goes in, you know, you don't you don't get your Greg results coming out. So that makes perfect sense. And in, you know, getting bad data, or, that's in a more practical sense, you have the wrong contact details of somebody, and you're running a campaign, let's say, you know, they're part of a very important account, and you are sending them a, you know, $400 direct mail piece that it's very bespoke, and you've done a lot of work, plus all the work that went into it in order to send that through, right, you all of a sudden lost a good chunk of cash because of bad data, right? And it's going to the wrong person who's going to someone that it's not there anymore, so I completely understand what you're saying. Okay, okay. 

[24:11] Ruth Stevens  I'd like to learn more about your $400 direct mail package. 

[24:17] Shahin Hoda  I'll shoot one shoreway. That will be pretty bespoke and nice-looking direct mail. 

[24:26] Ruth Stevens  I would expect I would only be sending that kind of bespoke package to someone that I had done a hell of a lot of research. 

[24:36] Shahin Hoda  I agree with you. I think I've exaggerated a little bit over there. But I was just trying to make a point. You know, just trying to make a point and and drive at home. But before we wrap up, I want to go through a few rapid questions with you where lots to get really short answers from your side and then and then we'll wrap it up. So question number one, what is the one resource, it could be a book, blog, podcast, a talk, whatever it is to fundamentally change the way you look, you work or live? 

[25:09] Ruth StevensWell, I've been telling recently, the talk on LinkedIn produced by David Meerman Scott. I'm a big fan of his. He's a PR professional and B2B marketing. And he has a four or five minute video, talk available on LinkedIn about how we need to be thinking during COVID about virtual events differently from our initial going in approach of, we'll just take our trade show or conference, and we'll convert it to Zoom. Or we'll replicate it online. And he's saying no, it's a completely different animal we have to rethink. So I'm highly recommending that four or five minute talk to all of your listeners. 

[25:56] Shahin Hoda  Thank you so much. If you give one advice to B2B marketers, what would it be? 

[26:01] Ruth Stevens  I'm gonna give you two one is make friends with your data. And the other is spend not quite as much time on customer acquisition, lead generation, and quite a bit more time on account penetration, loyalty, retention, cross-selling, upselling, and account development. 

[26:24] Shahin Hoda  Okay, third question my time counted. the first one I'm going to ask you anyway. What are the influencers that you follow in the marketing space? 

[26:34] Ruth Stevens  I read a lot. One of my favourites is Howard Soul, who has an agency in Seattle called Spear Marketing, and he has a wonderful newsletter called The Point. I'm also an active subscriber to marketing profs, which is almost all B2B, although they have some B2C stuff on there. It's especially good for on the ground practitioners who need answers to quit tactical questions that they've just got to get things done right away. And then for data about, you know, research reports, and updates on what's going on in B2B. I like the DemandGen reports, which is a publishing company over in New Jersey, that is always publishing white papers, research reports, they have conferences, events, and it's just a treasure trove of useful information.

[27:40] Shahin Hoda  That's awesome. I'll definitely put those in the show note. So thanks. Thanks for that. And last question is what's something that excites you about B2B today? 

[27:51] Ruth Stevens  Well, I think COVID is actually forcing us to be better marketers. So I'm sort of not excited so much is impressed that at least we're making a little bit of lemonade out of lemons that have been handed to us. 

[28:08] Shahin Hoda  I agree with you. I agree. Well, Ruth, on that note, I really enjoyed our conversation. There's been plenty of golden nuggets in this chat, from you know, where to source data, how to source, and how not to source it. Where to start, and, and so on, so forth. So I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for being on the guest on the podcast. And definitely look forward to having you again. 

[28:35] Ruth Stevens  A lot of fun. Thank you very much.

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