B2B data: it may not be big but it is clever
by James Lawson.
The UK’s b2b data specialists used to be obsessed with building the largest merged files they possibly could. But with so many suppliers competing in a shrinking market, commoditisation took over a long time ago. Offering the right data is still important, but today’s b2b specialists are thinking hard about the best way to help their clients derive optimum benefit from their business data – while making a decent margin themselves.
Beyond the universe
“People are struggling in the volume market,” says Mike Housley, Managing Director of Cyance. “Volumes are coming down and there’s not many big volume buyers out there now.”
Collecting b2b data is an expensive game and data owners need to sell plenty of it to cover their costs. Housley gives the example of one UK bank that used to buy two million prospect records annually. “I understand they now buy around 150,000,” he says. “They are zooming in on the 10% they derive most value from.”
“The landscape has changed,” agrees Zina Manda, director at Mardev DM2. “Before it was about supplying data and services but this market has been further commoditised. There’s no control over pricing and vendors like InfoUK have faded from the scene.”
At Mardev and elsewhere, the key phrase is “added value”. The focus is now on offering a broader range of services that goes beyond simply selling lists or supplying services like enhancement and cleansing. This means working closely with the client on a bespoke project basis rather than a more vanilla, volume list-based approach.
“We want to deliver more value to b2b customers,” explains Manda. “We saw some clients were not using the data well. We want to wrap consultancy around additional services and data, and take the relationship right through to the close of sale. We’ve pretty much rebranded as a marketing services agency.”
Of course, companies like Information Arts and pH Group have long successfully combined this sort of insight-led agency approach with a vast multi-sourced b2b database. Emma Sanders, Head of Data Planning at Information Arts, confirms that clients have largely lost interest in high volume b2b campaigns.
“They want those in the buying window,” she says. “It’s definitely ‘buy less, pay more’. The data from the big compilers is much of a muchness and there are limited contacts to target.”
This is driving resurgence in bespoke b2b data gathering. Sanders gives the example of a large mobile telco which saw poor results from its ongoing cold calling to businesses.
“It doesn’t work because they are already in a contract,” she explains. “So you use telemarketing to collect the contract expiry date. It costs a fair chunk of cash but it works if done correctly. The days of throwing it at the wall and hoping something sticks are gone.”
Where the data is collected is key. There’s little point in expecting a receptionist to supply complex information, the agent has to talk to the decisionmaker. In general, b2b is again following b2c’s lead in seeking out better detail on warm prospects that show by their activity that they are in the buying window, or “handraisers”. And web tracking is a key part of this.
As well as pioneering the concept of intelligent lead targeting and nurturing via Prospect Relationship Management, Information Arts blazed a trail in exploiting the web for custom data acquisition. It continues to run a very successful project for Shell Fuel Cards, using a custom website to attract relevant prospects and then tracking their activity to judge when the time is right for contact.
“We’re now working with VMware in a similar way and it’s going very well,” says Sanders. “Modelled data can work well in various applications such as infilling variables like employee size but you can’t model renewal date!”
So delivering smaller quantities of higher-margin leads is where many of today’s providers are going and, handily, it matches what clients want. Teleresearch has always been an option, but more suppliers are now following ááá
ááá Information Arts and using sophisticated, time-critical, multichannel prospecting over a longer period.
“Renewal dates are the big one in the energy market,” says Housley, “and clients are quite happy to pay a lot of money to get an opted-in email contact for a senior IT buyer. We are also helping clients to improve their internal systems and data flow to ensure that data is collected efficiently at all internal customer touch points.”
Resarching the options
Many suppliers can use bespoke research to help clients collect SME leads, but it’s what B2 Group’s business is now all about. The company started out intending to build its own UK file but quickly realised that the game wasn’t worth the candle. Instead it switched to bespoke SME lead generation for a small number of clients via its National Business Census telephone survey.
“It’s hard to target accurately with 4.2 million SMEs and there are cost constraints in using large volumes of data,” says Programme Director Dave Sumner Smith. “It was already a very crowded marketplace and we decided not to be in that space. Credit scoring or modelled data has been the way to target SMEs before, which was better than nothing.”
The company completes around 20,000 telephone surveys each month, gathering indicators such as insurance provider, renewal date, cost of premium and so on. Prospects are asked about their interest in various products and the leads passed to clients as well as feeding into the company’s SME Census database.
B2’s ongoing research study on SMEs gives some insight into the likes and dislikes of the typical SME owner, such as their preference for low-cost digital media. There’s also an online element to the company’s lead acquisition strategy, the Business Hub website.
At the end of each call, each prospect is asked to sign up to the site. The portal provides a platform for discussion and further engagement, as well as a chance to collect further data such as email addresses and make targeted offers.
“This is the best way to present offers to SMEs and is our take on what the SME-focused data market needs,” says Sumner Smith.
The move to smaller volumes, multiple channels and lead nurturing relies heavily on technology. In Mardev’s case, it means a partnership with Eloqua, the market-leading b2b lead generation software. By tracking prospect web activity and adding simple lead scoring, this multichannel marketing software helps automate sophisticated b2b marketing.
Manda says that many customers don’t have the time to set up the software, populate it with data and integrate it with other company systems. Much of clients’ own data is in terrible shape and so is a prime candidate for matching and verification.
“Companies don’t have the resources to drive the platforms so we offer outsourced marketing and campaign delivery for them,” she says. “The starting point is always their customer data which we can enhance. Then we can pour prospect data into the top of the funnel.”
Cyance has taken a slightly different route to tracking website visitors. Rather than using third-party demand generation software, its Insite service identifies the visiting companies by linking the IP address to the business URL. Their Multiverse UK file then swings into action in order to tag relevant indicators like size and SIC Code.
The company can also supply the Google Search terms that brought leads to a site in the first place, for example, “laptop suppliers in Cheltenham”. It’s also possible to qualify the lead by phone, identify the relevant decision maker and even make a sales appointment.
“It’s part of the timing angle,” says Housley. “You can see when they are at the research stage and by scoring them correctly, when they are likely to buy.”
Populating sales and marketing systems is also a strong revenue generator for the company. “More companies are putting in CRM systems and building marketing databases,” he says. “They now recognise you need to get that data right from the outset. We also look at the existing data flow to see where the errors come in internally.”
Service provision is not just about consultancy or bespoke data collection though. Each company’s UK file is still central to cleaning, verifying and appending as well as list generation. The owners are continuing to develop them, with multisourcing as ever the way to give the broadest and deepest coverage, while continual refreshing ensures recency and accuracy.
Mardev is currently rebuilding its database and expects to have, “in excess of 75 million global names” by this month, according to Manda. “We have some 72 partners contributing over 2,000 files,” she says. “Reed data is no longer the majority of the file by a long way. It’s a monster project compared to when we had 20 million names.”
At Cyance, the focus has been on adding partner files containing email and phone data to support multichannel campaigns, while pH continues to enhance its Megafile. According to Managing Director Max Firth, much of the database development is about increasing depth in functions such as HR.
“We’ve added four significant new sources in the last six months,” says Firth. “New sources tend to be from companies that have large outbound telephony operations. We’re most interested in contact names and good email addresses.”
Email demand has been rampant for a decade, but pH has only seen blue-chip corporate use take off in the last three years. The company also runs plenty of bespoke data work: most data owners will justify the cost of collection of a generic piece of data by being able to sell it on as many times as possible. That’s just not the case there.
“We’ll do a one-off integration of a new source with our database if a client needs it,” says Firth. “Most of our core clients will have one or two unique data sources integrated for them.”
Firth says the impact of the recession has been for large corporates to review the effectiveness of each channel, looking mainly at cost. But there has been a positive outcome in most cases.
“Generally they move to making the database much more central, building a b2b single customer view. They value and maintain their data assets much more than they did.”
So verification and quality monitoring remains a vital application for the Megafile. By tracking the client’s use of their own customer database and logging all appends or other changes during processing work, it’s possible to keep track of the level of goneaways, bad telephone numbers and so forth. When this rises too high, it’s time to pick up the phone.
“We can go back and tell them, ‘you are trending well above everybody else, you need to improve’,” says Firth. “We can then look at how they gather and verify the data themselves
Though the overall b2b data market is very commoditised with some owners dropping their rates dramatically to win business, the vendors interviewed were bullish about the sales prospects for data better tuned into client needs. Three of them note high and rising demand from the IT and Telecoms market for relevant leads. As volumes continue to drop and the number of big mailers diminishes, it’s hard to see this trend reversing. After all, that’s what happens when targeting finally catches on.
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