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5 Ways for Marketing to Conquer the Data Deluge

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The amount of data confronting Chief Marketing Officers is enormous and, according to Gartner, growing 40% every year. An updated IBM study shows that CMOs are feeling increasingly pressured by this deluge of data. Back in 2011, 71 percent of CMOs interviewed said they felt under-prepared to deal with that explosion. Now that proportion has grown to 82 percent. The issue is not about how to collect all that data, but what to do with it once you have it. A lack of preparedness can skew marketing's perspective on data in a number of ways that produce significant challenges.

I spoke with Tobias Lee, the Chief Marketing Officer of the Tax & Accounting division of Thomson Reuters about how CMOs can more effectively harness the data at their fingertips. Tobias sits on the Advisory Board for the CMO Council and received the 2013 Leadership of Excellence award by the National Association of Asian American Professionals and has some excellent thoughts to share on this topic and how he has dealt with it at Thomson Reuters, a global source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals.

Tobias Lee, CMO - Tax & Accounting, Thomson Reuters

Tobias recommends that marketing executives not confuse tasks with goals. For instance, it is not a goal to simply develop a dashboard, but rather to leverage that tool for insights that fuel business growth and profit. At the same time, marketing needs to clearly identify the right kinds of metrics to include in the report that will direct the team toward actions that build business. The effort to move an organization and mindset is not easy, and at Thomson Reuters they have had to continually reinforce that the report is not the end destination; it is what they do with the report that really matters. To get the marketing teams rowing in the same direction has been a challenge, but they are finding their race pace.

A puzzling issue can be what to do when the inherent segmentation of the organization's data is flawed. How do you deal with duplicate or incomplete entries that have not been well maintained by sales staff? A decision has to be made whether this sort of data can be used at all.

The organization will need to build a solid data infrastructure. This environment could include such elements as a Web analytics platform; the monitoring of public relations efforts for the resulting awareness, engagement and quality of articles; and a way to manage leads before they enter automated systems. CMOs must be prepared to deal with the setup of such an infrastructure, the big investment it entails and the necessary teamwork with the CIO and IT department.

In managing these and related issues, it is essential for CMOs to understand and embrace the business side of marketing if they expect to derive the full potential that marketing can deliver. Corporate leadership's expectations of CMOs have changed because of marketing's capacity to have a stronger connection to business strategy, growth and profit. In the past, the C-suite often struggled to connect company revenue to marketing metrics, but today the CMO must show results in two areas:

  1. Driving the right type of awareness to the right types of media so as to improve customer engagement, not just lead volume
  2. Measuring not just leads but lead effectiveness: determining the rate at which the delivered leads are converting to pipeline and revenue; and the cost of the converted leads.

Customer experience falls into different functions in organizations, but it is important to understand the overall state of customer experience as measured and activated by metrics like Net Promoter Score.

Here are five ways that Toby suggests CMOs can better prepare for managing their data to move the company forward and drive the overall business:

1. Don't align your marketing data strategy with your corporation's org chart. Rather, adopt a customer perspective. For example, a corporation that has grown extensively by acquisition may have two or three units that essentially market the same product or service through different subsidiaries. The temptation is for each of these subsidiaries to own its own marketing team, even though each of them is talking to the same prospects at any given company. This kind of setup results in redundancy, prospect overload and confusion in the marketplace. The CMO should instead orchestrate these teams so that they work in unison and draw on individual strengths for a more focused approach to prospects.

From another perspective, the marketing function of Tobias's company, Thomson Reuters, has traditionally been more program- and brand-focused. Those are critical areas to deliver on, but Tobias came to realize that potential to contribute could be greater with a more centralized marketing function. This acknowledgement and a data-driven journey have challenged Thomson Reuters to collaborate even more extensively, with the availability of such robust information. It has been eye-opening to see the connectivity grow between teams as they share ideas around customer data.

2. Perfect is the enemy of good; don't wait to act until your data is perfect. Data will never be 100 percent correct, and in this instance good enough can be better. You may discover that 25 or 30 percent of the information in the marketing database is inaccurate. Should you clean it up before approaching the market? If it points you in the right direction, the data is valuable and you should move ahead. For instance, if the data gives you a good idea of where your leads are getting stuck or falling off in the sales cycle, appreciate that as direction and take action. Like using a watch that is set a few minutes off, you'll still have an accurate view of your progress over the next month because it is based on changes from your original benchmark, not an absolute figure.

3. Data analysis and insight are not necessarily traditional marketing skills. You need some ninja data wonks to slice it up. At Thomson Reuters, for instance, Tobias realized that the demand-generation skills of the traditional marketer were not enough to manage leads. They needed quantitative analysts with a very technical skill set to crunch the numbers and pull the best marketing opportunities from all the data. If we know exactly where the problem is in getting prospects to move down the funnel, we can create a specific campaign to help get them to the next stage. This requires the smartest, statistics-savvy specialists who can analyze Thomson-Reuters data and apply it to the very specific needs of our prospects.

Tobias went through a lot of effort to set up some pretty extensive platforms to collect customer data and insight. He noted that, "Once we had them, the team was kind of, 'Now what?' It was very apparent that we didn't necessarily have the skillset and certainly not the experience to understand how to analyze the data. We have since hired and trained in a very specific fashion."

4. More is not better; pick the targets that matter. If the target is to drive leads, it is not the total number of leads that matters but the number that are real business opportunities. If the goal is to understand which touch points are resonating with customers or who is dissatisfied, we can become more sophisticated by correlating this information with data about which customers have renewed and which have not. That calculation can identify for us the most important points of contact and the most damaging factors relating to discontent.

5. Know your audience so that you can best present the data. Data visualization is critical, but it should be presented in the format that your audience prefers and understands. The executive team of a financially-driven company may need to see spreadsheets, not pictures, whereas other teams may appreciate visuals that simplify the bottom line impact of business trends.

Often marketing teams spend so much time on the external side that they often forget or minimize the needs for internal marketing. In large organizations like Thomson Reuters, this is critically important. It is easy to be complicated and to sound like an expert, but the goal is to open a dialogue and present information in ways people can understand and connect with. Thomson Reuters has retooled many of their communication vehicles in pursuit of dialogue vs. monologue.

As a CMO, you should provide the vision for how marketing can drive the business forward, aggregating data across the entire organization on an integrated path toward business results. In 50 Powerful Mega Trend Statistics For CIOs And CMOs, I reported that 68% of companies do not have a stated business intelligence/analytics strategy. Technology can help segment, prioritize and streamline this process, to enable better decision-making, but it all starts with a clear vision and a plan.

This post was co-authored with Tobias Lee, Chief Marketing Officer of the Tax & Accounting division of Thomson Reuters.