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The notion that technology has changed the rules and foundations of the so-called b-to-b landscape is wrong. I find it amusing that a recent (April 8, 2005) Forrester Research report, "What B2B Marketers Need From Technology," quotes an unnamed executive director in telecommunications as saying: "We have fundamentally changed our approach to marketing in the last three years. Today the first questions are, `Where is the data?' and `How do you support that?' rather than the traditional, `We lost that one because ______. Better not repeat that!' "

How about asking, "Where is the customer?" and "What are their real needs?" Because in the end, marketing is about people. Sales are about people. Even data are about people. Which is to say, it ain't about the technology-it's about how technology helps us reach our customers.

When CRM became the rage, marketers believed a new era had dawned. Millions were spent on systems and experts. Millions were written off when the exponential effect failed to materialize. What happened? Why had technology failed to deliver on its bright promise?

I think this failure is captured in the following quote from a leading software provider: "Customer Relationship Management is a holistic business systems approach that automates and enhances the vast majority of interactions companies have with their customers." How do you, as a customer, feel about having your interactions "automated"? Are you motivated to buy through some endless software loop? What happened to understanding? How did we ever give up on insights?

To set things right, we need to begin by renaming the entire field of b-to-b. I suggest "b-to-p": business-to-people. It's a term that puts customers first.

What then is the function of data? Technology has given us an extraordinary ability to capture reams of useless information and to proclaim that we know everything about everyone. Its misuse has led to many of the invasion-of-privacy issues we've seen recently. But that's a discussion for another time.

On the other hand, technology also gives us a unique opportunity. We can create ever more efficient and effective ways to target our key prospects, using better transactional data, linked to cleaner personal data, overlaid with better market data, mined using insightful data models and delivered through channels-digital, print, broadcast-that up to a few years ago didn't exist or couldn't be tailored to send personal messages.

Technology is an enabler, not a solution. Its purpose is to put us where our customers are so we can better meet their needs. When Forrester asked senior marketing executives to identify top issues in the industry today, they never discussed data in a vacuum. Instead, they talked about the challenge of reaching decision-makers and generating leads. And according to Forrester, more than 60% of marketers believe that technology can help them develop more high-quality leads.

The bottom line is that people make the exponential difference, now and for the foreseeable future. Processors merely process. And data are only as good as the insight we add to them.

David Sable is chairman-CEO of Wunderman Europe, Middle East and Africa. He can be reached at [email protected]

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