B2B Data-Driven Marketing – Book Interview

Heidi cohen interviews Ruth Stevens

B2B Data-Driven MarketingQ: What’s your best piece of advice for readers looking to improve their marketing?

Pay attention to your customer and prospect data.

For some marketers, data can sound scary—or boring. But there’s nothing more important if you’re trying to gain customer insight, target the right audiences, and measure the results of your marketing investments—which we are all trying to do.

If you are talking to the wrong audience, everything you do is wasted.

Q: What was the inspiration for your book?

I’ve been researching B2B data-driven marketing for over 15 years, and co-produced a bunch of white papers on the subject, along with my colleague Bernice Grossman. Some of these reports became the appendix of the book. This work also shaped my thinking about the table of contents and how the book should flow.

But things really took off when my former IBM colleague Theresa Kushner (now at VMWare) volunteered to join me in the project. She wrote half the chapters, and I wrote the other half. We made a great team.

Q: What is the key concept behind your book?

In a digital marketing environment that compiles data on almost everything, it helps to know which data really matters—and what doesn’t—when making the many decisions that determine the success of your Business-to-Business marketing plans, strategies and tactics. Our book covers how to structure (or restructure) your own database, identify significant data sources, maintain data hygiene, and create truly data-driven marketing programs.

We wrote this book to help B2B marketers get comfortable with data, understand what’s important in it, and become motivated to take action to make sure they have all the information they need about customers and prospects, and a plan to put it to good business use.

For just a taste of the content of the book, here’s a chart from Chapter 4 on “person data,” which shows how data can be acquired and used to support marketing strategies around the “buying circle.”

Exhibit 4.3: Data to Help Determine an Individual’s Role in the Buying Process
Role Definition Examples Data Element Indicators Ways to Acquire
Recommenders Individuals who may not make the final decision about a product or service BUT who recommend whether the product should be purchased Purchasing committee members
Managers of product users
Job function
Support calls
Role in this purchase
Online registration forms
Event attendance forms
Partner information
Specifiers In technical situations, this individual ensures that the specifications of a product meet the requirements of the customer environment Engineers TitleJob function
Role in this purchase
Online registration forms
Partner information
Influencers Individuals who do not make the final decision or even recommend one, BUT who have either explicit or implicit power in the buying process Executives
Job function
Relationship to company
Online registration forms
Event attendance forms
Partner information
Decision Makers Those individuals who decide to buy a product or service (The test to see if you have a real decision maker is to ask if anyone in the organization can override his/her decision. If the answer is “yes,” then you have a recommender, NOT a decision maker.) Managers
Job Function
(Salespeople are usually the only ones who can really pinpoint a decision maker, although many forms ask this question.)
Users Individuals who actually use the product or service that you sell Highly dependent on what sells Job title
Job function
Support calls
Product registration forms
Event registration
Online registrations

Only 7% of business buying is done by a single individual. Most buying involves a committee of people, all of whom need to be understood—and influenced. So smart marketers find out who are the members of the buying circle, what’s on their minds, and targets them with communications relevant to their particular needs. The chart explains who these people are, by buying role, and how to acquire data about them.

Q: What do you want readers to take away from your book?

To understand that customer and prospect information is something to be embraced. Don’t duck it. Dive in, and keep an eye on it. It’s actually sort of fun!

Q: How do you describe yourself professionally?

I consult on B2B marketing, especially sales lead generation, and teach marketing at business schools here and abroad.

Q: What are 1-3 books that inspired your work/career?

Q: What is the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your life or career?

Working in very large corporations was exhilarating at first, but then became tough. Fortunately, I was able to go out on my own, and I have been happily self-employed for 16 years now. I am working on a new book tentatively called “How to Be Happily, Successfully, Self-Employed,” because I have learned so many valuable lessons in this part of my career, that I want to share. So stay tuned.

Q: What’s something unusual or fun that most people don’t know about you?

In my 20s, I spent 8 years in Japan, and wrote a best-selling English-language guidebook to Kanazawa, a beautiful provincial capital city that has a lot of historical, culinary and artistic merit. I still visit friends in Japan every couple of years.

Q: Is there a piece of content, a social media campaign or a marketing campaign that you worked on that you’re particularly proud of?

I’ve been a guest blogger at Biznology, Mike Moran’s digital marketing blog for over three years. I am pretty happy with most of my posts there, which are on whatever B2B digital marketing topic I am thinking about that month.

Ruth StevensContact information

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen


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