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Are Marketers Truly Data-Driven?

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In the marketing community -- and just about everywhere else in the tech sector -- we love to hype how many ways we can apply data to our initiatives.

In practice, however, few marketers can really validate the ROI of their efforts. The burning question therefore remains: is the fire hose of available data actually being translated into more effective marketing campaigns?

For most marketers, applying data-driven strategies that clearly work can be elusive. Surveys show mixed results: while most marketers are enthusiastic for the promises of data science in their field, actual results are more murky. In fact, an October 2015 study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Winterberry Group found less than half of marketers have found the use of data to be "very" or "extremely" successful in achieving their objectives. While recognition of data's importance was not the issue - nearly 90 percent of respondents said the key stakeholders in their organization "understand the role and potential contributions of data to at least 'some extent.'"

The modern marketer has never had more technology at their disposal, and yet, successful deployment of data analysis tools still proves difficult. So how can today's marketers build world-class programs while using data-driven strategies?

Building a culture of data-driven accountability

At the end of the day, marketing teams must align with sales teams. Period. To form this alliance, there must be integration between the two group's objectives. Modern marketers shouldn't be strictly focused on lead volume, but rather, lead quality. By working collaboratively with sales, marketing can design demand generation strategies that sort sales-ready leads from engagement-ready leads -- those which need more time to develop.

Sounds obvious, right? Yet survey after survey finds marketing professionals less concerned with connecting their efforts to revenue. Research by Korn Ferry, an advisory and executive search firm, found that only 27 percent of marketing executives cited "connecting marketing to bottom-line results as the top concern keeping them up at night." To me, I cannot think of a higher priority for marketers.

Aligning marketing with business outcomes starts with accountability. Each member of your marketing team, whether tasked with events or operations or demand generation or content, should understand how your unique sales cycle unfolds. Additionally, they should understand how they can apply data at every step of the cycle to improve the probability of leads closing.

There is no better example of this than the Marketing Operations within Microsoft's Azure business. This team has built a world class, data-driven structure in which they measure every marketing activity and ultimately attribute audience engagement with purchasing decisions. At the recent Marketo Summit, executives from Microsoft reported that they know the proclivity to buy based on attending an Azure webinar, citing that 7.2% of webinar attendees go on to become customers. Using this data, Microsoft dramatically increased the webinar production, to a run-rate of 1,500+ annually. A wonderful example of using data analysis to produce desired results -- in this case revenue.

Recognizing how marketing strategy determines your destiny

At ON24, we constantly see the role that marketers play in determining whether a company succeeds or fails. Simply put, marketers are often the best equipped within the organization to research and identify the Total Addressable Market (TAM) -- the universe of customers you can sell to.

At the beginning of every campaign, there should be a moment when marketing team members take a step back and ask: what is our ultimate goal? How does this activity benefit the company's growth trajectory? Understanding how each piece of the puzzle impacts your business is invaluable -- and data can provide a key spotlight on what is truly driving success.

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