How Good is Your Customer Intelligence?

We’ve all heard the many stories about how bad a customer database can get, but my recent experience with this issue is just too good of a story to let pass by. My wife called me at work the other day to let me know about a nice gift that we received in the mail: an entire case of toothpaste from a consumer healthcare company. No hitch here, they just wanted to share some of their latest, greatest product with Dr. Gerard’s dental patients as part of a free sample give-away. A few problems with this strategy though: 1) I’m not a dentist; 2) no one in my household is a dentist; and 3) my father, who had been a dentist for 40+ years, had retired over 25 years ago and unfortunately is also no longer alive. Maybe it was a special message from my father to get my kids to brush their teeth more. Regardless, another example of customer intelligence gone wrong.

This only happens in the BtoC space you say? From our research, I continue to observe that business IT buyers also perceive a lack of customer intelligence from their vendors. How does this perception take hold? A CIO panelist from a $10B+ company at one of our events indicated that he has to continuously teach vendor sales reps what he has purchased from them in the past. During the same meeting with a rep, the IT buyer notices that the rep is either unwilling or unable to let go of the generic PowerPoint deck and to engage in a deep and customer-specific conversation. Poor customer intelligence was a significant factor in each of these cases, leading to poor credibility on your front lines. (Sales enablement, talent management, sales methodology and sales management are other potential factors of concern in these examples.)

So what’s happening across our marketing and sales organizations to result in this break-down of intelligence. There’s plenty of blame to go around, from a people, process and technology perspective. But let’s keep our efforts focused on fact-finding versus fault-finding. Here are a couple of places to start in improving these problems as well as some insight from our research of better performing sales organizations:

  • Establish one team or organization to be accountable for ensuring that there’s one source of truth for customer data – from a process and governance perspective, not necessarily controlling all input and editing of data. The following quote represents the position of many multi-billion dollar companies today: “Our company has many customer databases. Also anyone can create customer records and update data. The result is that it is very difficult to get to ‘one source of truth’ for customer data; and we also have severe data quality issues.”
  • Provide a process to update and edit your customer data, either centralized or decentralized. One example of this from a multi-billion dollar tech firm: “Our reps are responsible for creating and updating prospect and customer data. However, we also have a master data team to ensure high data quality.
  • Leverage your customer data across the entire sales engagement process, from account planning up to and including the on-site customer/prospect visit. Another company example: “We have an up-sell wheel as a tool to help sales reps identify what existing customers own as well as what additional products and services from our portfolio may be appropriate for those customers.”
  • Embed customer data (internal and external) within your sales force automation platform to improve the ease of access and leverage of this data by your sales reps.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of course. Focus in on some key short-term wins as you improve the quality and leverage of customer intelligence, while in parallel maintaining your course along a longer term strategic path.

Please do reach out to me if you would like to participate in our ongoing research, including a best practices study in account planning for BtoB sales teams that is currently in progress.

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