Why B2B marketers are the new custodians of customer data

The remit of the average B2B marketing team has grown rapidly in recent times. The silos that once separated marketing, digital and PR departments are thankfully now a rarity, sales and marketing have learned the importance of close collaboration, and the value of marketing’s contribution to an organisation’s growth strategy is well recognised. 

So, what does this all mean? It means we’re all busier than ever – but it also means that the role of marketing has become something really rather exciting. After finally shaking off its image as the ‘colouring-in department’ a few years back, the B2B marketing team has evolved into a commercially driven, business critical function with a crucial role to play in optimising every stage of the customer experience. One of the catalysts for this has been the rise of an increasingly data-led approach. Now, with the prominence of digital marketing accelerated by a pandemic that pushed almost everyone online, our roles are evolving once again - and central to that is the growing trend for marketing to step forward and take ownership of customer data.

The new data collection challenge

Customer data has become one of the most valuable assets a business can own, but it’s also become increasingly problematic. A 2021 report by KPMG revealed that the corporate world’s “voracious appetite for consumer data” was at odds with growing levels of consumer anxiety about data collection methods. The DMC’s research further solidified this sentiment in June 2021 when they reported a rise in complaints against businesses across the data and marketing sector – rising by 33% year-on-year (from 63 to 84). Meanwhile, new data privacy laws, GDPR and Apple’s recent privacy changes have converged to create a more challenging analytics environment for the data-driven marketing team.

Thankfully, marketers are a resourceful lot. Where other departments see obstacles, marketing will often see opportunity. No, customers don’t want us to collect their data while they’re not looking. Of course they don’t want faceless businesses to pass it along for brands they care nothing about to use however they wish. But give customers the choice to exchange data for something they value and suddenly the picture changes. Build trust in your brand through transparency and shared values, and suddenly customer anxiety about data sharing dissipates. 

Data and the customer experience

Shifting attitudes towards data sharing have meant lower volumes of data are available, but the data willingly given by engaged audiences is far more valuable anyway. And if shifting attitudes towards data privacy are what pushed ownership of customer data into the hands of marketing, good commercial sense is what will keep it there. In the hands of a marketer, data can become the insight that shapes customer experience, increases loyalty and identifies new business and cross-selling opportunities. Perfectly placed to oversee and understand the entire customer journey, a good marketing team should be able to bridge the gap between IT and sales and turn data into revenue through positive interactions throughout the funnel. Or, as our own head of digital, Adam Leach, puts it:

“Ideally, marketing should own an organisation’s CRM in collaboration with IT. They have an important role to play in enabling sales  by enriching the CRM with high quality customer data, turning analytics into actionable insights and ensuring the customer receives consistent and effective communication, on their own terms, at every touchpoint.”

The crucial role of first party data 

With marketing now involved in defining how data is collected and how it is used, and new data privacy laws making third-party data less available and arguably less valuable, it follows that the ability to collect first-party data will need to form a key element of future B2B marketing strategies. 

Exactly how this is done will vary for every organisation and across every sector. For those wishing to reach new customers, it will often begin with high quality, engaging content; the kind that enhances brand reputation and creates positive interactions. The overarching aim is to encourage people to exchange small quantities of useful information for something that is of value or benefit to them. Whatever collection method is used, first party data has a unique value: it belongs to your business (within regulatory limitations), has usually been collected with a precise objective in mind, can be analysed for the most valuable insights and provides the ultimate tool for direct relationship building (provided you use it well).

Marketing’s core responsibilities

So, what are the marketing team’s core responsibilities when it comes to data ownership? Primarily, it is to shape a data strategy that provides rich, meaningful insights while maintaining complete compliance. Ongoing data management and continual improvement in collection, analysis and application methods may also fall within marketing’s remit. It’s certainly something we take responsibility for with our own clients. In practice, this means making sure the right tools and processes are in place to validate new data, enrich existing data and reconcile all data on an ongoing basis. 

Whatever elements it contains, and however the responsibilities are shared, the most mature data strategies will provide a business with data they can depend on, integrated with CRM systems to provide real time actionable insights and one single source of customer truth. 

This single source of truth is something we’ve been able to provide to one of our own clients, a large energy business. We used our tool of choice, HubSpot, to centralise their data in one secure platform, empowering them to create permission sets and audit all user activity, and removing the need for data to be stored and viewed in spreadsheets or be transferred using less secure methods. With a wealth of cleansed and validated data now at their fingertips, the business has been able to enhance and automate their onboarding process, create content and customer journey segmented by audience and provide everyone that interacts with their website or digital services with a more relevant and engaging experience. 

Over time, data monitoring will enable us to show them what’s working and what isn’t across every element of their sales, customer service and marketing approach. Working alongside their own internal marketing team, we’ve become the custodians of their customer data - and we’re making it work harder for them than they thought possible. We’re also doing the odd bit of colouring in.

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