Information is a key asset on the battlefield which provides a competitive advantage to the side with better information and communication systems. While the “Fog of War” continues to be an issue, real-time information sharing helps improve military decision making and reduces the risk of both collateral damage and friendly fire accidents. Nevertheless, information remains imperfect and mistakes continue to happen.
In the corporate world, there is also a fog of corporate battle, but much of it is self-induced. We build systems that don’t talk to each other or which use different conventions for standardizing information and identifying customers and contacts. Furthermore, information is not validated and enriched as it is obtained, resulting in weak information sets.
While this lack of data synchronization creates headaches across the company, I will be focusing on sales and marketing platforms for purposes of brevity. Inaccurate and incomplete marketing information causes problems within marketing platforms such as weak segmentation, poor scoring, bad targeting, and misallocated marketing resources. Bad and missing fields are then propagated to downstream systems. If information is bad when received and there are no mechanisms for validating, standardizing, and enriching the information in its system of origin, misinformation flows to other platforms resulting in an increasingly expensive set of problems and remediation costs. It is much easier and less expensive to resolve a problem at its source.
Furthermore, once leads are enriched with firmographic and biographical details, the intelligence is available to downstream platforms; and if the enrichment includes a company identifier (e.g. European Registration Number, Ticker, D-U-N-S Number), then maintaining data accuracy in downstream systems and linking the platforms is much easier.
The cost of islands of information is high for B2B firms. A few examples:
- Marketing departments generate a broad set of leads through multiple channels and systems. Some of this information is anonymous and some is tied directly to contacts. How confident are you that you aren’t generating duplicate (or triplicate or quadruplicate…) information? Are you matching and enriching information as it is gathered from web forms, uploaded tradeshow spreadsheets, and purchased lists, or are you loading data “as is” with little verification or enhancement? By focusing on data quality at the outset, you are ensuring that richer and more accurate information is shared across your platforms.
- Marketing invests large sums in generating marketing qualified leads (MQL) which are then frequently ignored or cherry picked by sales. Some of this disconnect is a lack of agreement on what constitutes a good lead but some is also a lack of front-end intelligence being applied by marketing. A lead may be considered as marketing qualified but lack key information to pass muster with sales (e.g. how big is the company? What industry are they in? What is the job function and level of the contact? What technologies do they use? Will they be approved by credit after I’ve invested months in landing the deal?) Knowing that a lead downloaded a whitepaper earlier in the day signifies interest in a topic, but not the ability or authority to make purchasing decisions. Furthermore, it provides a thin reed upon which to base a sales conversation.
- Channel conflicts are introduced when bad or missing information results in a lead being directed to the wrong sales rep. Leads which lack accurate firmographics and linkage information are likely to be routed to the wrong team or rep. Thus, a lead generated at a subsidiary or branch location of a major firm may be routed to a territory rep instead of a named account rep, resulting in both channel conflict and a greater likelihood that the lead will be ignored. Of course, if the lead was poorly routed, it also is likely that the lead was improperly scored and assigned to the wrong segments for targeting and analytics.
Finally, the lack of standards and cross-platform communication make it difficult to obtain a unified view of the customer. An October 2015 survey of global executives by Forbes Insights found that 63% believed that a more complete/unified view of the customer would result in more accurate predictions of customer needs and desires. Other benefits included improved customer experience/service (60%), greater feedback for product/service innovation (55%), and a greater ability to target and optimize for specific customers (50%).
For decades, technology strategists have warned about the problems of creating data islands across one’s IT platforms. If systems are unable to speak with each other or data lacks consistency across systems, then it is impossible to develop a holistic view of one’s business and customers. And while the problem seems large today, it will only grow in scope with the advent of the Internet of Things. So if you think the fog of corporate battle is difficult in 2017, failing to address it will only make the problem many-fold more difficult to tackle in the years to come.