B2B CMO 100: Data-Driven Marketing

Two of HotTopics.ht's B2B CMO 100 2021 came together for a deep dive discussion on data in their global marketing teams. Their strategies will never be the same again.

The last two years have seen a step change in the use of data in marketing. Either by design or necessity, fundamentally creative types have branched out and into the binary world of ones and zeros, tantalised by the insights they can glean from all sorts of data sources. The challenge many are finding is that there is almost too much information out there to efficiently label as intelligible—or actionable, to use the correct terminology. For that reason and more, two of the UK’s most senior marketing leaders in technology came together for an insightful debate on the state of data in marketing, how that is driving real change in their strategies and redefining relationships with their sales partners.

With Peter Stojanovic moderating, the speakers of this roundtable debate include:


Democratising data

“Cisco is vast,” said Emma, “so we have quickly had to make sure that data quality doesn’t come down to the individual anymore. We now have whole teams dedicated to data, which we have centralised across the whole organisation, rather than pockets of people across the world.

And for Emma, her interest lies in the output of data—the solutions it informs and powers—rather than the back-end processes...but more on this later.

“Someone explained once that data is a lot like drinkable water,” quipped Steven. “There is an awful lot of water, but drinkable water forms only a small percentage.

“The volume of data therefore is the biggest challenge we have, but so much has happened in the last couple of years to help us make sense of it all, as quickly as possible.”

Dell Technologies has made heavy investments in AI and machine learning to help its data science teams work on interpretation rather than measurement, and self service data protocols and automation with cloud computing and data lakes, for example, to enable engineers, sales teams and marketers to run the right algorithms at the right time. For its part, Cisco have just partnered with Domo to help with its self-service data analytics.

“Internally we have 2000 data scientists across 80 teams,” Steven continued. “What I love is the change of mindset that data enables and how this changes the business, your relationships with customers. Change is of course a byword for adaptation.”

Adaptation certainly is the term of the moment. Every function in some way has learned how adaptive models, teams, business models weather events far better than simply a profitable endeavour. Data fuels adaptation by giving you the information to change appropriately, something Cisco have taken to heart.


Adaptation stories

“This year we have changed from talking about MQLs, SQLs, opportunities within our sales language and now we say ‘engaged’ and ‘significantly engaged’ accounts, ‘early warnings’ and ‘potential opportunities’”, said Emma. “Actionable insights teams work closely with each region and receive insights and tracking data to see how accounts can become ‘significantly engaged’, checking competitive surging too to serve up early warning signals too.

“All of this feeds into a central dashboard to show digital intent so an account manager can act on demand—if they want to listen to us, of course,” she added.

All this data builds up a composite profile of an account, which is quite an impressive advancement on where the marketing function was barely five years ago.

Steven jumped right in after to expand upon the sort of data sources feed into a profile such as Cisco’s clients.

“Market trends, demographic data, thermographic data, intent, behavioural data and competitor analysis all feed into this,” he said. “We at Dell also like to track how the segments we operate in are performing so we can contextualise our performance against that. A 10 percent increase in market share sounds good, but if its in a market growing by 20 percent, we’ve actually lost market share.”

Another fascinating change data has had on the marketing function is in forecasting and predictability. Historically, marketers analyse past data to ascertain what went right or wrong, and made adjustments. Algorithms, machine learning, AI and more, are advancing predictive marketing efforts that will see the entire function shift ahead in its importance for the business.

“We’re testing the validity of those predictions at Cisco,” explained Emma, “so that in the future, sales can leverage all the insights we provide for them to make the most appropriate decisions for their accounts.”

The debate naturally meandered around AI modelling, cultural shifts in the teams and function based on data usage and more, reflecting the wide-ranging yet fascinating insights already gleaned by technology. Both Emma and Steven are proponents of data in marketing, primarily for the insights and competitive advantages it offers. But one take-away that requires highlighting is that for a data strategy to give up its gifts, investment in people, management, scientists and tools should be balanced well. It’s not an easy investment decision, but, according to these UK marketing leaders, it is absolutely necessary.

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