B2B Marketing 101: Big Data Loses Out to Talking to the Customer

Been in the current marketing/creative director gig for going on six years now. Learned a lot here. In no particular order here are the highlights:

  • B2B marketing is practically shooting fish in a barrel, still, six years later, at least in this sector of the construction industry.
  • B2B social marketing is just now catching up with the rest of the world, at least in this sector of the construction industry.
  • B2B marketing automation still doesn’t make sense for our company.
  • B2B social marketing will be dabbled in the next few years to come but I still don’t see a big conversion in our industry–yet.

B2B chat made a lot more sense than marketing automation six years ago when we started with two visitors a day and it still makes sense today at almost 300 visitors a day.

So, what does a mid-sized company do?

In my opinion, you talk with your customer.

So, what does a Fortune 500 company do?

In my opinion, you talk with your customer.

I realize, I’m old school. Old-fashioned. Hard-nosed.

I realize what used to be just a marketing director is now a CMO with 15-50 direct reports. Today’s CMO makes big noise about sitting at the big boy’s table when it comes to corporate decision-making.

Looking at the current marketing profession job market is quite the education. We have the following:

  • CMO (Chief Marketing Officer)
  • Communications Director
  • Assistant Communications Director
  • Sr. Manager, Consumer Marketing Analytics
  • Sr. Manager, Marketing Automation
  • Marketing Director
  • Assistant Marketing Director
  • Marketing Manager/Brand Development
  • Marketing Manager
  • Assistant Marketing Manager
  • Event Marketing Manager
  • Digital Content Strategist

And believe me, the list goes on and on. When you start getting into the more technical aspects of what we do, marketing turns a corporate org chart into something resembling a multi-generational family tree.

And we haven’t hit on the advertising aspects or PR. Or my favorite new zebra, the Senior Product Manager.

What the hell?

I realize marketing has radically changed more over the last three years than in the last 50.

We’re in the wild, wild west marketing wise.

Big data. Customer feedback. We know more about our customer than ever before.

Or do we?

If you look at some of the big marketing reports these days, all CMOs say they have more data. It’s just about a 50-50 split on whether they consider they have the right data.

Name. Address. Email address. Phone number. Buying history. Buying path. For the real sophisticated systems, you’ve got the entire buying journey tucked away in your CRM, tracking customer touch points over multiple devices. Wow! Marketing jackpot!

But where’s the intangibles?

For the last six years I’ve spearheaded our corporate chat program. That means I talk to a lot of construction workers and project managers and purchasing agents about what they’re shopping for.

I ask them what they’re shopping for. I ask them what they do. I ask them what projects they’re on. I ask them why they prefer one brand over another. I learn a lot about how the industry is changing.

Why some directional drillers are now fracking and why.

Why wind energy doesn’t make sense for them as an alternative yet.

And I learn a lot about our products. How many of our products are called one slang term in one part of the country and a completely different term in another part of our country.

My favorite story to share along these product lines? Let me present the “reel thing.”

The reel thing is a simple cable reel lifting device. It’s actually, pretty ingeniously designed and well-received in the field.

The other name in certain sectors of the country for the reel thing? A donkey dick.

So, I’ve got this customer on chat, and she’s asking me the dimensions we have for our reel things. No one has yet asked us these questions, so we don’t have those dimensions online.

We also don’t have the search term “donkey dick” applied to it yet either.

I get her the length. I get her the width. I get her the diameter. All measured on the showroom floor as one of our sales reps is watching me go back and forth getting these dimensions requested by the customer one at a time.

“Hey, O.U.,” the guy asks, “Whatcha doing?”

“Measuring this tool for one of our customers.

“You know what they call that tool out in the field?”

“What’s that?”

“A donkey dick. One of our customers has you measuring a donkey dick.”

I lost it. Laughed my ass off. Shared the whole story with the customer. She laughed her ass off (electronically, of course).

The long and the short of it: we engaged the customer firsthand. We got necessary measurements on the website that no other competitor had online (at that point until they copied us). We were able to attach a viable slang term to that item in the background. We outdistanced the competition—at least for a moment.

Yes, when you search “donkey dick” on our site, the Reel Thing magically appears. Gotta love technology.

I tell you all that to tell you this.

I realize every Tom, Dick, and Harry out there are telling you marketing has changed. They’re right.

But unless you buy in on all the hooey, the Marketing Director’s primary function has not changed: Move the bottom line.

If I hear or read the term “KPI” one more time, I’m going to puke.

KPI is short for a marketing department buying more time to prove that their voodoo works.

And oh, by the way, the average lifespan of a CMO is 3.8 years the last time I looked. All this marketing mumbo jumbo has bought the typical marketing director about ZERO more life expectancy.

We’re still in the same boat.

And until my CMO/Marketing Director brethren accept the fact that it’s not about building a bigger, more important part of the corporate kingdom, it’s STILL ABOUT MOVING THE BOTTOM LINE for the organization, things aren’t going to change.

I know, I know. A very oversimplified look at a very complicated problem.

I like simple. And I do believe in OSA: Organizing. Standardizing. Automating. When the time is right.

Hey, believe it or not, I actually did have our Chat Program automated just a couple of weeks ago. Replaced three full-time jobs with one half-time job.

But I’ll have you know, I’m monitoring it carefully.

If the engagement falls off too much, it’s going back to a human engagement process. Every. Time.

And yes, I still make it a priority to talk to our customers every day.

You may ask, “How’s that working out for you, O.U.?”

Well… 35% growth year over year every year for the last six years. With no sign of slowing up anytime soon.

That works for my boss. That works for our owner.

Until the better mousetrap is built, I’m going to continue to talk to our customers firsthand. I’m going to record their history in our chat program.

I’m going to know them by name.

And when Jan comes back looking for a donkey dick, we’re going to be much better prepared to get Jan exactly what she’s looking for.



Photography by Bram Naus.

So what do you do? What makes you a rock star in your own discipline?