Developing Customer IP

Sales people have been demanding better leads for a long time, and marketing today is in a position to provide them. At the same time, marketers have discovered that the kind of data they collect is as important as its volume.

Marketers need to provide rich prospect profiles that answer many of sales people’s most important questions: Is there a need? a budget? an executive sponsor? This is information that doesn’t come from simply buying a target list, and getting this information requires more than collecting a small set of demographic data.

A few years ago, sales people were happy with basic demographics — a name, a title, a phone number — and with that they’d schedule a meeting to capture what was really important, such as need, budget, identities of the decision makers, and more. With today’s high quotas, sales people don’t have time to invest in this basic data-gathering, and managers want more meetings that advance sales processes rather than performing simple qualification. So all this has caused marketing to rethink its processes to meet sales’ demands.

Changing Circumstances

Marketers collect a variety of data through multiple techniques to enrich the leads they ultimately hand over to sales. This approach also weeds out leads that might look good on paper but that never will close.

So, marketers might start with a generic list and apply nurturing campaigns hoping to cultivate information that sales people can use. For instance, they may use social media to engage with prospects and in the process build a knowledge base and share content. With nurturing and enhanced collection feeding more data to analytics, the refined sales leads that marketers are delivering today are a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, that’s not enough any more.

In addition to all the data we collect and analyze to produce sales information, we need to be mindful of the current situation in all target accounts. By definition, situations change almost daily, and the information about change — when added to data already collected through other marketing channels — can produce a potent combination.

Information about changing circumstances comes in many forms: press releases, earnings reports, news items, analyst reports and much more. When added to what we already know about our territories and target accounts, this new information can turn a pile of routine marketing findings into powerful sales knowledge that approaches intellectual property.

If you view IP as the sum of a company’s research, knowledge, patents, processes and the like, then you really should add sales knowledge to your list. The knowledge you can develop about your markets and target customers, in relation to your business’ other knowledge, designs and plans, is unique. You own it; no one else has it, and it is a competitive weapon.

From Prospect to Hot Lead

Just like filing a patent, there’s a long process involved in bringing knowledge together so that it can be used effectively. Until fairly recently, marketers didn’t have the tools needed to find the disparate data scattered across the Internet that could complete the picture of a prospect’s need. Also, that completed picture is most useful when the competition does not possess it as well, so there is an advantage in being a first mover in the race to capture and collate market knowledge.

That’s why savvy vendors increasingly rely on sales and marketing intelligence tools to scour the Internet for those bits of information that can complete a marketing profile and turn it into a hot lead. Every day, businesses give off data about their aims, ambitions, results and shortcomings, which can be viewed as moments of truth, and all of this data can be useful for vendors with specific solutions.

This takes some of the randomness out of selling. By identifying moments of truth and being able to suggest specific solutions, a vendor can move from a position of hawking a product to becoming a trusted partner — and of course, this provides the vendor with a competitive advantage.

For these reasons, developing customer knowledge really is like developing any other form of intellectual property in a company. It is also why so many forward-thinking businesses see sales and marketing intelligence tools as vital to their continued success.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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