B-to-b companies continue technology investments

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Beach-bound for a precious couple of days earlier this month, I was finally able to catch up on my summer reading: the latest IT surveys.

Taken together, the studies reveal an ongoing push by b-to-b companies to integrate their sales and marketing strategies. Seeking to fine-tune products and services, these companies are continuing, wisely, to invest in databases, customer relationship management software and personalization. This commitment is notable, given today’s sluggish economy and tight operating budgets.

Take the annual survey of database marketing professionals conducted by Direct magazine and published this month. Direct found that 64% of respondents use personalization and that a whopping 44% plan to increase their budgets for personalization this year. Just 3% said they planned to decrease this part of their budget.

However, inside Direct’s database survey numbers are some surprises: B-to-b companies are less likely than their business-to-consumer counterparts to "provide customized products, services or offers to customers" (59% compared to 74%). And b-to-c companies are more likely to use their databases for cross-selling (68% versus 53%). Seems to me that b-to-b organizations have something to learn from their b-to-c brethren in these areas.

In fairness, Direct’s survey also shows b-to-b companies are much more likely to provide database information directly to a sales staff (65% compared to 35%) or a telephone sales staff (53% versus 45%).

Now, let’s turn to statistics compiled in the July "eCommerce: B2B Report" from eMarketer Inc. In general, my reading of this hefty, 225-page report is that there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to IT investments.

For instance, the report cites Computer Science Corp. finding that only 8% of North American companies last year had Web sites that were integrated with back-end systems. Nearly 50% had no integration at all!

But by far my favorite slide collected by eMarketer is one from a Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. report. It is a February ranking by CIOs of the "software projects with the highest ROI."

What took the top category? Marketing/customer analytics software, coming in at 24%. This category beat, in descending order: CRM software (20%), e-commerce initiatives (17%), ERP software/ERP upgrade (17%), sales force automation projects (16%), business intelligence tools (16%), Web site enhancements (14%), supply chain management (14%) and call center projects (13%).

Amazing what you can learn reading at the beach at 3 p.m. on a Thursday.

Has your company boldly invested in customer-facing technologies such as personalization or marketing or customer analytics this year? Drop me an e-mail about it.

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