The world is awash in more data than ever and one of the reasons there's so much of it is that companies have embraced the notion that data can increase the efficacy of their marketing efforts and drive sales.

But a new study published by Dun & Bradstreet and Forrester Research indicates that in the B2B realm, many marketers are relying more heavily on their intuition than they are on data when making decisions.

The B2B Data Activation Priority report, which was based on a poll of 500 B2B professionals, found that only 52% of companies are using data to make marketing decisions. The rest are relying most heavily on intuition and experience.

While surprising on its face, that figure is less surprising when one considers that just 43% of the individuals polled indicated that their companies' “data sources and insights are well integrated, understood, consistent, validated, and shared across the organization.” And only 42% believe that their companies are capable of converting data into insight to act on customer needs.

'Mo data, 'mo problems

The B2B professionals Forrester surveyed cited a number of challenges that they face in overcoming these obstacles. At the top of the challenges list: 80% of businesses “struggle to manage the volume, variety, and velocity of their data.”

Interestingly, in some firms, it appears that one of the reasons for this is that data and analytics capabilities are focused on B2C. Without robust data management capabilities, B2B professionals can be left to grapple with data that exists in various silos.

To wit, nearly three quarters (72%) of respondents told Forrester that managing multiple CRM systems and data across technology silos is moderately to extremely challenging.

Other challenges B2B professionals face in putting data to good use include lack of analytics capabilities and executive support, as well as difficulties establishing “alignment across teams and departments on specific, shared business outcomes.” 

The latter can be especially pernicious as it often prevents companies from determining what data they need to collect in the first place.

The virtues of investing in data activation

While it's seemingly bad news that so many B2B businesses are still struggling to capitalize on the data they have, the good news is that the benefits of changing this are increasingly clear.

In its study, Forrester compared leaders, companies that rated their abilities highly, to laggards, companies that didn't, and the differences were stark:

  • 82% of leaders indicated they use data to find new business opportunities compared to 47% of laggards. 
  • 80% of leaders are capable of using data to determine what solutions to invest in compared to 36% of laggards.
  • 79% of leaders put data to work personalizing customer experiences compared to 44% of laggards.
  • 77% of leaders felt confident that they can accurately identify and attribute marketing campaign success compared to just 32% of laggards.

Similar gaps exist when Forrester looked at how well leaders and laggards are able to drive improvements in key metrics, such as sales cycle speed, average deal size, brand awareness and lead generation. 

So what separates the leaders from the laggards?

Forrester identified three key differences between the groups:

  • Leaders take advantage of third-party data and analytics services at a higher clip than laggards.
  • Leaders are employing advanced analytics technologies, namely predictive analytics, streaming/real-time analytics and AI.
  • Leaders are more likely to have established an insights center of excellence within their organization.

The GDPR effect

The gap between leaders and laggards could grow as the GDPR takes effect. After all, companies that don't have their data management and use strategies together to begin with are more likely to encounter GDPR challenges.

But the GDPR is also offering companies with room for improvement a great opportunity to take a closer look at their data strategies and that will necessarily lead them to address many of the challenges Forrester's study identified.

Patricio Robles

Published 8 May, 2018 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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