As part of The Drum’s Data Deep Dive, Merkle B2B’s Sudeshna Sen explains how B2B CMOs can build first-party data strategies that will future-proof their brands for sustainable business growth.
The massive shift to digital-first buying and selling is here to stay. The majority of B2B decision-makers now prefer digital self-service and, surprisingly, almost half of B2B buyers prefer not to interact with a sales representative at all, per Gartner. Also the majority are willing to make new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000, per McKinsey.
However, B2B brands find themselves woefully unprepared to rise to the challenge of meeting this expectation. Recent Gartner research shows that 64% of B2B buyers cannot differentiate between one B2B brand’s digital experience and another.
So in this sea of sameness, how can brands build competitive advantage?
The most strategic place to start is your website, where B2B buyers come first and spend the most time exploring, learning and considering your products and services. While most chief marketing officers recognize the need for digital-first experiences, they are daunted by the scope of this undertaking, large investments and uncertain ROI to justify prioritization and budget allocation.
It does not have to be this hard and ambiguous. B2B brands are well poised to pivot to a digital-first self-serve experience that creates pipeline and revenue impact. It begins with investing in and building your first-party data strategy.
What does a first-party data strategy look like in B2B?
Businesses are now living in a complex multiverse of data coming from numerous sources across the website, app, call center and more, creating confusion around where to prioritize collection. Furthermore, businesses are preparing for a data privacy-first future with the deprecation of third-party cookies. Hence it’s imperative now to prioritize your first-party data investments and strategy.
First-party data is the key to unlocking a value-driven relationship with your buyers and it is so much more than CRM data on your known contacts and accounts. It is the veritable goldmine of data collected on digital interactions and transactions of B2B buyers, known and unknown, with your website app, and digital sales enablement tools such as Digital Asset Management (DAM) platforms, product information, e-commerce and order management tools.
It can help you identify and capitalize on moments that matter with the right content and next best action. How you proceed depends greatly on your first-party data strategy – anchored in your marketing goals, key gaps and opportunities, use cases and existing data architecture.
Here are three areas where you should double-down on your first-party data strategy to accelerate your digital-first experience:
1. Treat B2B buyers as humans first rather than job titles and companies
Business is personal. And yet brands segment B2B buyers based on job title, industry, accounts and intent, and serve undifferentiated and bland industry-centric experiences. No two decision makers with the same job title and industry are actually the same. By not recognizing this, we are missing opportunities to connect with them.
Contextualize by integrating first-party account and contact data with first-party site engagement data
Enrich it further with third-party data on demographics, motivations, behaviors and preferences of buyers
Progressively profile your buyers as you build your first-party data and enhance your understanding
2. Embrace data-driven content intelligence rather than gut-driven content creation
B2B brands treat their websites as static publishing platforms rather than a dynamic and unique experience for every B2B buyer. Vast amounts of content such as blogs, case studies, white papers, e-books and webinars are created without a centralized content strategy. As expected, the majority go to waste due to lack of relevance, quality, findability and customization, per Forrester. Quantity of content is not enough. The real competitive advantage lies in enabling B2B buyers to self-direct their own content experiences through their journey.
Audit your current and in-production content data assets and processes, technology and insights that drive the content engine
Plan to gradually close the data and process gaps identified to improve your content engine
Introduce AI-driven content intelligence to turn unstructured content into meaningful data to power personalized content recommendations at scale
3. Personalize the site instead of customizing it – do not undermine the intelligence from unknown site traffic
Every B2B brand claims to personalize their site experience, but is it really personalization? Most B2B brands claim to have very low identification rates with high percentages of unknown site visitors and are paralyzed with how to handle them. Instead, they limit their focus to the small sliver of known visitors and customize website experience based on a few key attributes. This is a huge, untapped opportunity that can bear strong results.
Understand and segment unknown visitors based on site engagement behaviors to determine next best action
Accelerate the journey toward self-identification of unknown visitors through value exchange through test and learn
Build first-party data identification and unification foundation to track and progressively profile the visitors
B2B organizations need to rethink their data strategies to match today’s complex realities and tomorrow’s uncertainties. With the power of first-party data and the right data strategy, companies can future-proof themselves for success in the rapidly evolving digital-first B2B marketing and sales landscape.
Sudeshna Sen is vice-president of marketing strategy and analytics at Merkle B2B.