Why b-to-c database marketing firms don’t understand b-to-b companies

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Marketers in all industries face the same issues: The need to improve customer acquisition and retention, achieve greater revenue from target customers and reduce the cost of marketing and sales. The challenge for marketers is to determine how and where to invest to address these issues.

Increasingly, marketers turn to a database marketing company to help them understand their customers better and execute more targeted acquisition and retention programs. For b-to-b marketers, the search for the right database marketing firm has been particularly frustrating because traditional database marketing companies utilize systems and techniques that are usually b-to-c-centric.

B-to-c-oriented database marketing firms often lack an understanding of how the data they manage and the insights they discover are really used. They don’t understand the b-to-b company’s operational processes, business goals, sales plans or distribution strategies. More important, b-to-c firms don’t understand how customer information is leveraged by the sales force or how it used in a call center. They certainly aren’t qualified to help marketing departments make more informed decisions about products, pricing and promotion.

B-to-b marketers require a complex process to make their efforts more productive. They need to:

  • Develop and maintain a clean, complete, current and standard view of customers by integrating diverse information sources: internal and external, proprietary and public, analytical and transactional.
  • Manage multiphase, multichannel marketing, sales and service campaigns targeted at the right customers or prospects--at the right time, with the right offer--to increase their potential to purchase.
  • Understand customer firmographics and buying criteria to focus actions on the highest-value current customers and most promising prospects.
  • Integrate responses and insights seamlessly with operational systems in their company.
  • Arm appropriate employees with relevant information about the best opportunities to improve their ability to sell, cross-sell and up-sell through the most efficient channel.
  • Implement a process of continuous improvement so the effectiveness of each of the preceding steps increases over time.

Traditional b-to-c database marketing firms are very good at addressing the first two points but are usually not very good at the others because they lack the necessary operational expertise, methodology and technical skills to perform complex integrations with front-office systems. This is not surprising. Firms with a b-to-c focus built their systems and processes for companies that do a large volume of marketing campaigns to large numbers of consumers. In other words, the systems are designed for speed and volume, not for insights and integration.

The average b-to-c design center manages large volumes of customer records (often tens of millions), handles numerous campaigns and builds complex acquisition and retention models but does not specialize in providing flexible analytical models or tools. They tend to integrate poorly, if at all, with other operational systems, and are usually disconnected from the company’s overall customer strategy. For b-to-c companies, this is generally appropriate because an overwhelming majority of required data reside in marketing systems as opposed to operational systems.

However, for b-to-b companies, this approach is significantly off the mark because b-to-b companies sell to other companies. As a result, there are a limited number of target customers. Successful b-to-b companies often have their customer information spread across many divisions, applications, systems, geographies and even trading partners. Similarly, they may have scores of operational systems in marketing, sales, service, manufacturing and finance that need to receive marketing information in the form of leads, meeting requests or service inquiries.

B-to-b companies often have sophisticated, multilevel distribution models that involve direct sales, retail sales, channel sales and e-commerce. A customer may interact with all of these channels in the course of a single transaction. Therefore, companies need highly flexible analytical capabilities to model the changing interactions of channels and customers.

Overall, b-to-b database marketing requires a better balance of channel strategy, analytical flexibility, volume and operational integration. Although b-to-b companies manage millions of customer records and run multilevel campaigns, the goal is not simply to understand customers and find new ones but also to arm front-line employees in marketing, sales and service with the information they need to close deals and provide better customer experiences.

B-to-b marketers should ensure that systems in place help them:

  • Use sales, marketing and service information to impact customer profitability and retention;
  • Track the progress on your highest rated leads;
  • Arm call center agents to cross-sell or retain customers.

And, although all marketers in all industries face the same issues, b-to-b marketers should conquer them in different ways. Whether your company is b-to-c or b-to-b, be sure to partner with another company that specializes in solving your problems. If you don’t, your already challenging job may get a lot harder.


William Blundon is exec VP-development at Extraprise Group. He can be reached at

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