Adopting a Disruptive Mentality to Win the B2B Data Game

Marketers at legacy brands can learn from startup companies’ digital playbook

By Christopher Hosford

Benedetto Cristofani/

Major B2B brands bring several advantages to the market compared to smaller businesses and startups, including brand recognition, significant resources, and longtime relationships with customers and suppliers. But when it comes to leveraging their own data for opportunistic growth — not just incremental performance gains — B2B marketers lag behind their entrepreneurial competitors and could be ceding precious market share.

Just 25 percent of B2B companies use data on a weekly basis to understand customer needs, and 9 percent never use data at all, according to a recent study by management consulting firm McKinsey.

The study, which polled 830 B2B marketers, also found that 86 percent of companies believe they could do much more with data to enhance their relationships with prospects and existing customers.

Ignoring the power of data is an open invitation to what McKinsey calls “attackers,” or startup competitors who are more data savvy than traditional B2B firms and quicker to take advantage of rapidly evolving buyer preferences and practices.

“Most B2B players have been anchored in constantly improving things like operations, maintenance, and dynamic pricing, and making processes smoother,” says Dieter Kiewell, a senior partner at McKinsey. “But the attackers are exploiting new markets and new customer needs. They’re aggressively addressing customers who want to be served digitally, and grabbing business from traditional players.”

Kiewell says there are three ways that traditional B2B players can counter scrappy competitors: First, having the vision to redefine an industry in a way that addresses customer needs; second, considering relevant data as a company asset of privileged information; and third, ensuring that C-level executives are committed to data as a strategic goal, headed by a chief data officer.

“What would the Amazon for building materials look like, or the Uber for agricultural equipment, or the Airbnb for oil rigs?” Kiewell asks, citing transformative companies that upended their industries. “Because of their unparalleled industry knowledge, big suppliers and distributors are uniquely positioned to answer these questions.”


The Lifeblood of B2B

There’s ample and growing evidence that using data smartly can have a big impact on retaining existing customers and landing new ones. According to Adobe’s 2020 Digital Trends report, organizations that lead in customer experience are three times more likely than their peers to have significantly exceeded their top business goals.

“Massively leveraging data is the lifeblood of insights, but a lot of B2B companies have definitely fallen behind,” says Michael Priem, CEO at agency Modern Impact. “The most simple solution is to backward-engineer use cases, and ask yourself what you could learn better about your business to help you win.”

“Most B2B marketers measure things in months or maybe weeks. More agile companies are actioning marketing in days, minutes, or even seconds.”
— John Nash, chief marketing and strategy officer at Redpoint Global

Priem notes that smaller companies and startups, even those with significant venture capital funding, don’t have a “normal stance of time-gating growth.”

“I see a lot of B2B clients looking for incremental growth, just hitting their numbers through operational efficiencies but not seeking ways to transform their businesses,” he says. “It’s all about having an insatiability for growth, and it has to start with leadership.”

However, having an “insatiability for growth” is easier said than done. According to a new study of 800 B2B professionals that was released by Merkle, 44 percent of marketing and tech executives at large brands said not having an integrated data platform is their biggest drag on leveraging omnichannel marketing.

Those views are reinforced in a separate McKinsey analysis showing that more than three quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions — a sentiment that has steadily intensified even after lockdowns have ended.

“But, for larger organizations, the challenges can be great because data is distributed across so many different teams,” says Scott Brinker, VP of platform ecosystem at marketing software company HubSpot. “It’s a coordination effort that smaller companies don’t have to deal with, allowing them to use a larger proportion of their data in a more connected fashion.”

Brinker says the increasing usefulness of “no-code” software enables marketers to analyze data without the need for expert help.

“You now can train and empower employees to use authorized tools and permissions to work with the data dispersed throughout a large organization, to understand and take action on data on their own,” he says. “It’s useful for small-to-midsized businesses, but there’s no reason why large companies can’t do that.”


Real-Time Analytics

John Nash, chief marketing and strategy officer at customer data management company Redpoint Global, says one of the greatest strengths of real-time data is how it can dramatically shorten marketing sales cycles.

“Most B2B marketers measure things in months or maybe weeks,” Nash says. “More agile companies are actioning marketing in days, minutes, or even seconds.”

Nash says that real-time personalization, or analyzing everything that can realistically be known about an anonymous web visitor, prospect, or customer, can sharpen messages and real-time offers and shorten sales cycles. “We’re finding that machine learning can recommend next-best content, outbound calls or emails, as well as what combination of channels are most likely to lead to deeper sales stages and closings,” he says.



You must be logged in to submit a comment.