Marketers: it’s time to stop thinking about data.
Hear me out.
There is no question that the B2B industry, like much of the rest of the business world, has already entered what The Economist has termed “the data economy.” Today, data is one of the most valuable assets a company can have. Perhaps the most vivid, real-world illustration of this fact is how the scramble over data resources is driving some of the biggest acquisitions of companies in the tech industry. From Google’s $1 billion acquisition of Waze in 2013, to Facebook’s $22 billion acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, to IBM’s $2 billion acquisition of the Weather Company in 2015—major companies are spending enormous sums of money to either snap up valuable data resources or neutralize nascent competitors whose data resources could one day threaten their own.
Data is also the lifeblood of the greatest technological innovations of our times. Take Artificial Intelligence (AI)—a hugely powerful technology that’s revolutionizing everything from healthcare to demand generation; from advertising to gaming; from Siri to Tesla, and so much more. Despite the incredible power and potential of Artificial Intelligence, no matter how sophisticated and meticulously-built the algorithm, it simply will not work without enough good data behind it. In short, companies who aren’t effectively leveraging their sales and marketing data face a very real, relatively imminent risk of getting left far behind their competitors.
So why am I urging marketers to stop focusing on their marketing data?
In this blog, I’ll cover why you shouldn’t be a data-driven marketer and what you should strive for instead.
Don’t Waste Your Time
It’s curious to note that unlike most other valuable commodities, data is so precious not due to its rarity but for precisely the opposite reason: in the age of “Big Data”, there are reams of data on millions of consumers hiding in plain sight. Businesses, for example, can gain the most incredibly subtle, granular insights into their customers, to guide carefully crafted, personalized campaigns of the sort we scarcely could have imagined a decade or two ago.
That is precisely why marketers need to spend far less time managing and analyzing their data—not more.
The simple fact is that staying on top of your marketing data, ensuring it’s all constantly accurate, and piecing it all together isn’t humanly impossible. Any marketer foolhardy enough to try will soon find themselves totally overwhelmed, and spending all their time attempting in vain to managing data they can’t possibly process.
Even if you could organize and update your raw data manually, that isn’t enough. The sheer quantity of data most modern business deal with is simply too enormous for marketers to understand without an army of data scientists. It needs to be pieced together and transformed into actionable intelligence to be of any practical use.
Consider how long it would take you to manually piece together a picture of just a handful of contacts in your database. Scouring the web and social media for clues and then coming unstuck when some of them conflict; combing through lead lists from events, online forms, or external data vendors.
If you’re a marketer, you probably don’t have to imagine at all. It’s an ordeal many are going through on a regular basis—and it’s not very efficient, to say the least.
It’s also mind-numbingly boring. It won’t come us any surprise, for example, that a recent survey of senior marketing executives by the Marketing Technology Industry Council revealed that “data management” is the activity marketers hate doing the most.
So, paradoxically, if marketers want to actually make the most of their data, it’s clear they’re not the ones who should be handling it.
Then who should be?
Automation is the Future
For B2B marketing and sales organizations, selecting a quality CRM and Marketing Automation Platform to handle your marketing data is the first, most basic step. It goes without saying that these tools have enormous value for marketers—which is why CRM and Marketing Automation were ranked by marketers as their favorite MarTech tools.
Still, marketers who misuse these platforms as mere data dumping grounds where they sift through data manually are missing the point—which, sadly, is what many are currently doing. Instead of struggling in vain to process their increasingly insurmountable masses of data themselves, marketers need to move towards completely automating the tasks of data gathering and processing throughout their organizations by harnessing technologies like Artificial Intelligence.
Whether managing lead data, creating workflows, or any other data-led task, B2B marketers need to let go of their data and hand over these tasks to technologies like AI, which are designed precisely in order to process humanly impossible quantities of data into digestible, actionable intelligence for marketers to use—ultimately making them better, faster, more precise marketers.
From Data-Driven Marketing to Intelligence-Driven Marketing
After the initial hype over “Big Data” first peaked, a popular zeitgeist among B2B marketers was “data-driven marketing.” It’s a dogma that never really went away, and remains almost a pillar of faith for many. Marketers are still regularly urged by an array of practitioners, bloggers, and commentators to be “data-driven marketers”.
While it’s certainly true that any modern marketing campaign will live or die by its data, as far as marketers themselves are concerned it’s the intelligence gleaned from that data that actually matters in practical terms.
In order to get that intelligence, we need to leave our data to the machines.
Do you consider yourself a data-driven marketer or an intelligence-driven marketer? How do you use data in your decision-making? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.