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The Data Problem(s) in B2B Marketing

Posted May 8, 2024

Doug Bell, Fractional CMO at Chief Outsiders, joins our host, Camela Thompson, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Doug shares why marketers must pay attention to the market and why this is a watershed moment.

Doug, this will be my favorite topic because I’m a nerd. We are going to talk about the data problem in marketing. Where do you want to start?

“Data problem in marketing. I don’t even know how to begin unpeeling it. I just would make the first comment, which is to say, everybody has a problem. There is no perfect work.”

I think you stated it perfectly yesterday when you talked about how each tool in our ginormous tech stack in marketing wasn’t built with standardized schema or data structure in mind. It is perfect.

“I think that creates lots of complexity. Here’s what it would say, I’ll repeat a little bit of what I talked about in prior episodes and say very simply that the average tech stack isn’t organized to deliver a singular dataset. That in and of itself creates lots of complexity. However, I have got to tell you, as much as the MOPs people listening on this are going to be furious with the next comment: I think that’s the lesser of the problems that are driving data problems generally, and I would put them in this grouping. Let’s say that a lack of common vision on your MarTech/RevTech stack is a big problem, and all the data that throws off all complexity, just acknowledge that one. 

“But two, let’s take this idea of an architect of a system. What I mean by system isn’t the software, but the concept of the engine you’re delivering. That in and of itself, that system, your ability to measure it and understand it depends on this dataset. Unfortunately, there are way too many folks that don’t understand what data they should look at. So you get this data mess. I will give you an example. I have worked with organizations who have represented their marketing process through the lens of their email marketing tactics, right? We’re crushing it, look at this data, look at these numbers. And my mind immediately thinks, you guys don’t understand, don’t understand what you are driving towards. And as a result what ends up happening there is a big mess since you don’t understand what you’re driving towards.  I am going to say that is one sort of group bunch of stuff. What we can talk about there.

“By the way, folks, if this sounds critical or cynical  in any way, it’s not. I have created that problem myself. This comes from experience, not  knowing what it is you are driving for. Then, the final thing I am going to say is, just bad data hygiene. It is such a bane of marketers and sellers. It is so easy to slip under the water here when it comes to this stuff and I have to say, for me, that is job one on some level, can you get your organization to a spot where you trust the data? How many times have you been brought in, and the first thing they say is ‘I don’t trust my data.’”

Oh, yeah. I have never trusted marketing’s data specifically. One of the most eye-opening experiences, and I have had a few in my career, but I’m being called back to a time when I was in revenue operations before it was technically revenue operations. They plugged me in wherever they thought there was a problem that I might be able to fix. I started in sales operations, moved to CS and marketing was kind of the last frontier. And that entire time, I was so frustrated with how often marketing operators would blow up downstream systems. They didn’t understand how things were working. It was super frustrating. Then I had their job.

When I tell you marketing systems are not architects, they are not built to do anything remotely what your CRM is meant to do. I was stunned when I found out that a leading marketing automation system didn’t have the concept of an account or opportunity. Those objects simply do not exist. When we were getting frustrated with marketers for over-reporting pipeline and bookings, It is because they had some issues with the de-duplication because they had to put formulas or lookups or push data onto every single one of their content records. It was insanity. That was eye-opening for me and it helped inform how I thought about campaigns, campaign members, and all of that data structure. It’s complicated. I am not going to say it isn’t, but I think there’s a way for us to get to more of a gold standard. There are going to be exceptions, but I do feel like there is a way to get there. I know CaliberMind helps a lot of their clients do this, but I also contract with clients and help them through their data structure. It’s complicated. It’s hard.

“Yes. I feel I’ve to make this comment and if I don’t make it, the marketing part of my brain will grab me and strangle me. Often, we are never going to get to the point where we feel like we have the exact right data at the exact right moment. It will always be our struggle. I’m so privileged to work with so many brilliant marketers and having had the opportunity to work with other brilliant marketers in my career, over time. I have to say, the people that hit those data walls and exclaim, wow! I can’t do anything with it. Guess what? The people that are kicking your butts are saying, this is the data that I need. I am going to make sure I have the data that I need. I’m going to isolate that data. I am going to short sprint projects on it and I am going to move on to the next dataset. I’m going to ensure that that dataset is working. Those are the people that are kicking our butts and what they’re doing is they are saying my job isn’t to design the Starship Enterprise marketing programs. My job is to design this tiny, little improvement in existing infrastructure. It is those folks that say, you know what? I am going to make sure that dataset is useful, and here’s the thing, my marketing brain would kill me if I didn’t say, it’s not about perfect data. It’s about useful data.”

“How do I get to the useful dataset? And yes I am oversimplifying, but I’ve been sitting in  front of that data and spending hours and hours working with different people, coming back to the point where you decide, okay, it is good enough. Hold up Doug, we’re missing this. No. This is good enough and I feel like the marketer I saw kick my butt for years, and I got tired of it, were following that approach. Now let us flip that. That is the operational  side. Hey, how do I get stuff done quickly? Great! DG people know how to focus on that stuff. You’re good at this too, Camela, really good at focusing on the right stuff. Where you start tripping up is when you start needing to do what?

“Back to the first episode, I have to be able to prove to the CFO that I am not a cost center. That is where everything you’re talking about, lack of data integrity, the poor data hierarchies, lack of design, getting to an attribution model. So you say, yeah, that gets complex, really fast. However, I’ll tell you what Camela, I will take a single touch model with an ROI on top because, guess what? Zero and one, one is better than zero. Incremental.”

I agree. I started my career in financial analytics and managing databases and doing those sorts of things. No data is ever perfect, and I think George Box was a UK Statistician in the 1970s. He said, all models are wrong, but some are useful. That is perfect because it is absolutely right. The longer you wait, the more behind you will be. Use what you have, do with it what you can, and then continue to iterate. That has always been my motto. It is never going to be perfect and where you’re on the perfect spectrum doesn’t really matter. Just get started.

“Can I throw a term in here? I don’t know if you coined the term, but you introduced me to it; the SaaSacre.”

Yeah.

“Okay, let’s admit we are in the middle of a SaaSacre. We have seen the first wave of companies failing partially because of funding. We are about ready to see the next wave. This is the SaaSacre. This is the term you gave me. The first wave is about sort of runway since, guess what? They are running out of capital. It’s too expensive to fundraise because, gee, interest rates are up. That is this next wave. The way that’s going to happen after that is the wave of folks that don’t have mastery of their data. That is the next wave.”

I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but it just popped in my head as a great example. It was on a webinar and someone made a flippant comment. They weren’t in marketing obviously, the flippant comment was that marketing will always spend all of their budget.

Now hear me out. I have in instances told people, no I am not going to put the money there since we haven’t proven that it is working. I think that is a path to more credibility. Stop saying yes to the things that you know, we don’t have a shot at making work well.

“I agree. I also believe that we need to take this moment in history and time as marketers as a watershed moment and that is why it is referring to SaaSacre. This next, the third wave. I am going to go back to the Great Recession and hey folks, hang on to your shirts. We’re about six years away from an equivalent big economic downturn. I go back to what happened after the Great Recession and it fundamentally changed. It was in this moment of time where marketers were thinking it was the beginning of this transition from brand marketing, which is great, by the way, blood brand marketers, not criticizing brand marketers, but it was this shift away from and this is why this topic surprised me so much, this idea that the cost center concept still exists, it does, but that was the moment marketers realized, hey, it is not an open checkbook anymore.

“It created, frankly, the attribution industry. So many of the products we enjoy today originated in that moment in time and that is what I’m saying. I think the SaaSacre is a watershed moment for us and all the questions and concerns we have around dirty data, all that stuff, guess what? We are going to figure it out because we’ve no choice. That third wave is going to create the winners and losers. I think it’s going to create a situation where you have to have attribution and ROI. Otherwise, you’re not going to make it through the way.”

I keep coming back to: data is always wrong to some degree, but the truths I’ve always had to live by and the people trusted me since bad news travels faster than good news. Always explain why something happened and what you’re doing to fix it and never go in a room saying, this isn’t working without a few solutions for the roadmap. There’s that trust that needs to be consistently reinforced because the minute you start fudging numbers or guessing or moving back and forth without an explanation of why, that’s when you get into a huge amount of trouble.

“That is great advice.”

Maybe I’m overly earnest.

“I think it’s good advice and we can talk about the waves, SaaSacres and companies blah, blah, blah, but I think if we’re thinking about that next path for the marketing leaders and future marketing leaders are listening in today, I think that is really good advice. I think the trap we fall into quite often is that third scenario, which is, it is a problem and I don’t know how you solve it. It’s okay to be vulnerable and say,  I’ve a problem, I’m going to figure out the problem, but quite often, what we fall into is the problem doesn’t exist. It is not there. Everything is fine. I have to say, every quarter you are having these moments, you’re wondering, is this happening or is it not happening? You have these anxiety and panic moments. Embrace the hurt. Embrace the pain. I agree with you completely.”

Yeah, be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s the only way to do it. Well, is there anything else we should touch on in terms of data problems?

“I am going to mention the dark funnel quickly. I know it is our favorite topic, Camela and I love the term. Anybody who uses that as an excuse also won’t be a marketer in two years. I agree. So watch out.”

Yeah. I’m not saying that everything is trackable, you’re not going to know every point in the journey, but you have to prepare yourself and your team to use what you can get to and be able to explain what you can’t get to and why. 

“I’m going to use a horrible analogy here and I apologize to everybody who is in some way caught up in the conflict in the Ukraine and Russia. I’m going to say that dark funnel, people who throw up their hands and imagine if the Ukrainians had done the same. You’ve got one of the world’s largest armies rolling again and what are we seeing there? They went through data and they didn’t know everything was occurring on the battlefield, guess what? They had superior data. They launched–and I’m oversimplifying the conflict. Thank you if you’re listening in, but their ability to get data was superior to the Russians. The Russians came in with bad data and the Ukrainians thought, dark funnel. We don’t know what is happening. They did that beforehand. By the way, guess what? They denied the invasion was going to happen, that it happened. They realized the dark funnel is gone and marketers are that right now. They’re saying, I don’t have the dataset. Therefore, I am not going to  be performative because I don’t understand what is happening. I will talk to you when you’re crushing it in some other career.”

Nailed it Doug!  

For more content on B2B marketing trends, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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