Few will argue with the premise that the more high quality, accurate customer data you collect and activate, the more likely it is that you have a robust, growing sales pipeline. More data by itself is not necessarily better, because you might be adding low quality, poor fit leads to your pipeline. But a steady influx of high quality leads is at the top of nearly every sales and marketing organization’s list of priorities. The amount and quality of your leads is an indication of success in demand generation, SEO, sales development, and other lead acquisition strategies. The question is, how can you build that kind of pipeline and keep it growing in a healthy way?
The Status Quo Ante Bellum
In case you don’t read Latin, that phrase means “where have we been?” Within the past 10-15 years, B2B lead generation has been largely an inbound phenomenon, with content marketing, SEO and paid search leading the way. More outbound tactics, such as cold calling from rented lead lists and generic display advertising are still deemed to be more effective in B2C and somewhat more limited in B2B. With the resurgence of account-based (ABM) strategies, however, highly targeted outbound, including long deprecated tactics, such as direct mail, have gained a new foothold.
Still, most of us continue to rely on a single source of leads, our own data collected from a variety of inbound and outbound channels. The popular term for this is “first party data”. In principle, this data “belongs to us”, because it’s collected by us, leads (usually) volunteer their contact information through forms or other types of subscription, and we manage the data through our own CRMs and marketing automation platforms. How we use the data is another matter. I’ll leave the debate over data privacy and ownership for another day, but typically what we do is employ various methods to engage with our collected leads and attempt to nurture them into becoming loyal customers.
The next question is, is that enough?
Strengths and Weaknesses of First Party Data
- They usually include at least an email, so direct contact is frequently an option, if not a request from the person to talk directly to someone on your team
- They are usually collected and stored in a CRM, so they are immediately actionable for a variety of follow-up activities
- They are commonly associated with other properties, such as company information, demographics, and historical associations with ads, emails, calls, etc.
How about first party data weaknesses? Let’s review:
- You only have information on contacts that have converted on one or more of your properties - that’s probably a very small part of your TAM
- You can’t see or analyze their behavior prior to first touch or conversion
- You don’t necessarily have information on their teammates or cohorts at a given company, unless they independently convert on your properties
- You may automatically collect firmographic information, but seldom do you collect any up-to-date company announcements, position changes, or other behaviors
Do imported leads count?
Technically, imported leads fall under the same physical controls as do inbound leads, if you import them into a lead management system, but they aren’t necessarily “opted-in”. You may be restricted in how you can engage with them without violating email regulations or risking unsubscribes or spam reports. Still, it depends on how your imports were collected and how you reach out to them. If they signed up for follow-ups at a trade show or met you at a bar, they may be fully opted-in, legitimate sales leads. If you obtained them in bulk from a third party, that may be a different story. In either case, it’s safer, but less efficient, to reach out to them individually than to contact them in bulk.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Third Party Intent Data
Rising in popularity among sales and marketers “in the know” are third party intent data sources. This is data collected beyond your borders, i.e. on the open Internet without any direct engagement with your brand. Think about people who are interested in the problems you address and are in search of solutions, on search engines or social platforms. They are typically earlier in their buyer journey and may only find your brand after an exhaustive search, which comes later. So that’s the first big advantage, but let’s look at some other important benefits:
- Gaining behavioral “intent” data in context - what are buyers searching for and where?
- Understanding what “triggers” are at play in their search - why are they searching?
- What is going on at their company? Change in position? New hires? Merger? New product expansion?
- What upcoming events are they attending? Can you arrange a meeting at the show?
- What types of content or topics are they consuming? Can you tailor yours to meet their interests in a timely way?
- Are they currently engaging with your competitors? If so, when and how often?
Now, let’s consider some of the potential weaknesses of third party data:
- Leads are usually not opted-in to your brand properties (although they may have granted permission to receive offers) and may be poor targets for bulk emails or cold calls - but they may be great for segmentation, personalization, ABM, etc.
- Many third party intent data vendors offer only account-level data, with no direct information on who is active within each account
- Not all third party data is accurate or up-to-date, especially with the frequency of job or position changes you see in nearly every industry these days
- Obtaining actionable information on real buyer intent is by no means a plug-n-play process - you need to be prepared to try multiple experiments and analyze results
- You must be prepared to handle the data in ways that make sense within your sales and marketing strategy and don’t disrupt existing processes that work well - this requires some thought and planning
The Power of Combined Data Sets
As you can see, both first party and third party data have strengths and weaknesses. The cool thing is, the pros and cons are largely complementary. First party data provides immediate connection, fit, and urgency information to your sales team. Third party data fills in some of the missing important gaps in the buyer journey (especially, early and late). In combination, they provide a more complete prospect or customer profile that can be leveraged for more effective sales calls and marketing campaigns. Here are a few use cases that specifically benefit from combined data sets.
- Sales Development: Figuring out who your best fit, highest intent prospects are is fundamental to a successful sales calling strategy. Multiple data sources not only give you fit criteria for prioritization, but also give you visibility into the buyer’s journey. Taken together, these bits of information give you context as well as qualification criteria to enable more positive calls and generate more opportunities.
- Custom Audiences for Demand Generation: With more detailed, time-sensitive information from multiple sources, you can create better segmented target lists of high likelihood buyers for demand generation and retargeting using custom audiences.
- ABM: Imagine not only being able to identify high priority target accounts that fit your ideal customer profile, but also to identify members of the buying team who are active in the market and give your SDRs and AEs the best opportunity to reach and expand into key accounts. Combining first and third party data from a variety of sources that fit your target customers and buyers can be a game changer.
- Competitive Analysis and Churn: What if you could monitor the activities of prospects and customers as they engage with your competitors? You could notify your sales team to get in the game before it’s too late, both in the early stages of the buyer journey and in avoiding post-sale churn. You’ll need to combine contact-level intent data as well as customer service data to get the full picture and make the right response.
- Content Marketing Strategy: You can make an educated guess as to what topics and media your target buyers are interested in, based on SEO, paid and social media, but why not get the data directly from third party sources? Which people are consuming what content, and how often? What sites or brands are they engaging with beyond your own? All of this can inform a better content strategy, both for public distribution and private, personalized communications.
These are just a few of the practical applications of multiple data sources in marketing and sales acceleration. Nowadays, you can’t afford to just stay home (in your websites and social media pages) and wait for people to come to you. It pays to be expansive in your data collection and analysis and deployment to a variety of outreach and lead management platforms. As long as you are mindful and respectful of privacy laws and policies, you can’t go wrong by learning more about your prospects customers as early as possible and staying current throughout their journeys.
Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash