Are we collecting enough data? It seems like a weird question given the glut of it at most companies and perhaps it is. Perhaps a better question is are we collecting the right data? We could get into a long philosophical discussion of just what the right data is, but that would only happen if we made the mistake of thinking all data is the same.
True all data ultimately gets represented as 0’s and 1’s in the database so at least at that level, all data is remarkably similar. But the comparison stops there. All protons are the same too but how many are associated in a nucleus (along with the companion neutrons) is the difference between lead and gold.
Of course the way through this dilemma is to first ask about the objective of the data collection. Most business leaders will tell you that data collection is a prerequisite of knowledge creation and that knowledge is the objective because employees make business decisions based on knowledge and not data or even information. This is especially true in marketing and sales.
Cultivating knowledge requires us to combine data with other data and information to ultimately result in the thing we need in business, actionable knowledge. To do that it’s necessary to capture a wide diversity of data that includes the stuff that comes from our social media outposts, CRM, and ERP systems. But too often we stop there only to discover it’s not enough.
Sufficiency comes from completeness and relevance and these ideas should be explained. Knowledge has a context. If you want to develop sales knowledge, for example, your goal should be in developing leads, which is another way of saying knowledge about who has a business problem to be solved and the authority and budget to cause a solution to be created. Some would also say that the person represented as a lead should also have cognition of the problem but the counter to this is, that’s what sales people do.
Relevance means understanding all the things related to completeness plus having a suitable solution. It does little good to know that someone has great credit and is approved for a car loan if you don’t sell cars.
So sales knowledge relates to all the data that we cultivate to knowledge plus completeness and relevance. But the data and information that get you all the way to knowledge comes from different sources which brings me to the point of my questions — are we collecting enough of the right data?
We collect a lot of our own data, of course, and we may supplement it from data providers both to cleanse our collections and to add both new data profiles and to flesh out existing profiles. That’s only part of the story, though. It’s like having a very specialized and up to date version of the phone book. Filtering can tell us about attitudes, needs, and other valuable things, but by itself, this data has missing pieces.
Getting all the way to knowledge requires different approaches than simply filtering the social stream or completing profiles. After all, buyers often don’t simply announce a desire to buy something. Instead they may do things like make pronouncements, issue press releases, or introduce reports. Third parties might also supply information that, when married to conventional data produce the knowledge that, under the circumstances, a person or business will need to act in a certain way. These are the things that ultimately drive completeness and relevance.
So, a good question to ask about the whole lead generation process in any company is this: How complete and relevant are the leads that marketing gives to sales? An even better question is, is that intentional?
Sales has a role to play in qualifying deals, especially when large sums or novel products and processes are involved. Frankly, marketing can only go so far in developing a lead. But too often we treat all “leads” alike as if they were protons or data. A company’s attitude toward the need for completeness finally drives the process of lead generation but gauging completeness is too often considered to be part of the sales process and here’s the rub.
Why spend relatively expensive sales rep time getting to completeness if there are better, faster, and cheaper ways to do this? You might never be able to get every lead to 100 percent completeness and making that attempt might cost your some business. Nonetheless, being conscious of completeness as a goal will alter some of your marketing process and possibly even cut down the number of leads marketing hands to sales. So what? Better qualified leads are more worthy of your sales people’s time and resources; so a reduction in quantity, as long as it is accompanied by better quality, would be a good thing.
As always, the devil is in the details — how do you get there? My suggestion is to capture more data or at least some different data. There are wonderful tools on the market that spider the Web looking for the reports, press releases, and news stories, and ferret out the information that provides the completeness we seek. At least some of this data and information might need to be scored and fed through an analytics engine so once again simply collecting this data won’t get you to Nirvana.
But we should all be aware that the bar is being raised for this next level of data collection, and we must understand the importance of completeness and relevance. It’s a competitive world and getting to completeness before your competition might be the new black.
I’d like to say it’s going to be a good year in CRM and I firmly believe it, though I can’t offer a single all encompassing reason for my optimism though there are plenty of small things that begin to add up. In an earlier time the metaphor might have been “straws in the wind.” So what are they?
First, the economy is looking better but that’s faint praise. Things are not as bad as they were a few years ago, for instance the economy is adding in the neighborhood of 200,000 jobs monthly but I read an article the other day that said at this pace it will be another five years before we’re back to the employment level before the crash — in part because we need to absorb all the people who are entering the workforce. But as I like to say, black ink is better than red no matter how little there is.
More concretely, in our financialized economy, the markets are healthy and the broad CRM industry is doing its part to pump out new public companies. While all of them can’t be Salesforce caliber there have been many recent IPOs and the new year looks to have a few more teed up. That at least shows us that companies are evolving as they should and finding markets for their wares.
As usual, companies that are expanding the margin of our markets are the ones to keep an eye on. While I have seen my share of emerging CRM companies as an analyst and a judge in CRM Idol, the ones that are most interesting are those at the margins while the companies that try to reinvent the wheel don’t usually capture the imagination. Companies that I am watching for the year ahead include Xactly, InsideView, TreeHouse Interactive, Scout Analytics, Full Circle CRM, Lattice-Engines, HubSpot, Apttus, and Zuora. My good friend Paul Greenberg will publish a list of a bazillion companies he likes in his watch list. This is not intended to be all inclusive, just a smattering of companies I am well acquainted with.
All of these companies are expanding the margin of the market, expanding our horizons, and while only a few will have an IPO this year, the rest are worth keeping tabs on for sure. IPO candidates in my humble opinion include Xactly, Zuora, Apttus, and InsideView. Interestingly, none of these companies is what you would call a social company, which shows that there are more margins than just social. However, each is squarely positioned as a SaaS value proposition and that says the cloud is a live and well.
Xactly is reinventing compensation management, not just for sales where it got started but in every department of the enterprise. Zuora is making the subscription model mainstream by making accounting and finance in this new world easy. Apttus is a double or triple threat offering configuration, pricing, and quotation technology but they also have invented a way to be into and using Microsoft Office applications in conjunction with SaaS products like Salesforce. The result is a new kind of uber app. Lastly InsideView started as a sales intelligence tool but is expanding its footprint to provide sales and marketing teams with the data and insights they need to pursue opportunities.
I am warming up to TreeHouse because they have an interesting product line including partner relationship management (PRM) and marketing automation. PRM is one of those things that has come and gone more than once over the last twenty years, always with different players. I think this time might be significant as increasing numbers of vendors seek quality partner channels as a means of streamlining their operating costs.
If there’s a theme for the last group — Scout Analytics, Full Circle CRM, Lattice-Engines, HubSpot — I’d say it’s analytics. You might not think of HubSpot as an analytics company, and I don’t think they are one. But analytics is a part off what they do when they provide inbound marketing solutions. Inbound, done right, can be a big boon to business.
The other three offer mainstream analysis, if not analytics. Full Circle focuses on marketing management which I have written about many times because I think the idea of understanding the data and the metadata of marketing programs can do much to make you look smart if you’re a marketer. Lattice loves to crunch data about marketing and the sales process and they do it well. I don’t know any sales manager who doesn’t want better knowledge about all of the processes his or her team is involved in and Lattice is one way to get it.
Lastly, Scout has more mainstream analytics but for subscription companies and they make a good partner for Zuora. Subscriptions generate mountains of customer use data that can be used to predict everything dear to a subscription company’s balance sheet — I mean heart. With Scout’s analysis of use data, companies can spot revenue opportunities as well as danger signs like potential churn. Any way you slice it, this makes knowledge and that translates into market power.
So that’s some of what I am looking at as we start the year. I think it will be a year of base hits with an occasional sprinkling of home runs. Many, though not all, of the companies in this article have raised significant cash over the last year indicating both that the VC markets believe in their stories. But this also means clocks are ticking, investors want to see some returns and IPOs or private sales are on deck. Either way this makes for an entertaining start to the year.