Is behavior marketing the future?

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To listen to Dave Higgins, the old order is dying—if not already dead. Higgins is VP-worldwide database marketing at IBM Corp., overseeing a global b-to-b operation with “tens of thousands of products” and “millions” of customers. His job is to build a customer database that not only manages this complexity, but delivers solid, accurate information to the sales force. And this is an increasingly difficult task as b-to-b sales become more complex, with longer lead times and more decision-makers than ever before. There's no guarantee that the person who contacted your company has any final say over the buying decision—or even that the buck stops with the “VP of purchasing.” Instead, marketers are dealing with multiple decision-makers at multiple levels within an organization, each of whom has different needs. And this is where the old order breaks down, Higgins said. “In the old days, you'd get a list and use it so many times until you were done,” Higgins said. “Those days are gone.” But exactly what's next is still up for debate. Some marketing experts believe we're at the dawn of a new era in database marketing. They call it “behavior marketing.” Or, as Higgins said, “instead of finding out who people are” in a company by relying on their title, marketers will increasingly be focused on “what they do” based on their behaviors. However, collecting these data can be difficult. The Internet, with its endless capacity for information, is the perfect source; but so far, no one has come up with a simple way to harvest behavioral information from social media sites. A few companies, like Jigsaw, are working to establish new kinds of database information, but Higgins said this arena is “still maturing.” “Web behaviors can be a signal for a personal role,” said Ruth P. Stevens, author of “Maximizing Lead Generation” (Que, July 17, 2011) and president of eMarketing Strategy. “Everyone is talking about behavioral indicators, and they're starting to be used as lead-qualifying characteristics; but it's harder than it looks.” One method of gaining and confirming data seems to be gaining favor: the old-fashioned outbound telephone call. “Most b-to-b companies should have some kind of telephone qualifying function,” said Brian Carroll, executive director of researcher MECLABS. “You can use social media [to collect information], but we found the optimal approach is to spend the money to get two sources, so you can vet LinkedIn with Jigsaw, then phone-test it.” The idea, said Higgins, is to move marketing away from a title- and list-based function and even away from a “business-to-business” construct. Instead, Higgins said he's in “business-to-person” marketing, where “it's all about relevance.” “The traditional methods of compiling information will need to transform,” he said. “It will be a survival thing. I'm anxious to see what will happen because when there are points of change, it drives innovation.”
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