The Direct Marketing Association last month released its "Statistical Fact Book 2013," and one key finding came as no surprise: A quarter of marketers said the biggest challenge they face is analyzing data. The second biggest hurdle is applying that information to future campaigns. Today, as real-time analytics—including email analytics—become more widely used, these challenges are multiplying as marketers try to integrate them into their existing marketing platforms. "With real-time data collection, marketers are facing an acceleration of all the challenges that they had in the past," said Stephanie Miller, the DMA's VP-communications and member engagement. "Access to data, the variety of data types, having to hire and train people, the transformation of the marketing department, data governance and policies—these all become more challenging with real-time data," she said. There are a number of reasons analytics are so challenging. The first, especially for b-to-b marketers, is the fact that the successful use of analytics requires a time commitment that most organizations can't make. Marketers are overwhelmed by the exponential increase in data coming from such sources as social, CRM, email and Web analytics, said Susan Etlinger, industry analyst at Altimeter Group, and real-time analytics present even more of a problem because most organizations are not set up to make real-time decisions. "Marketers aren't able to act on data immediately," she said. "They have to go through an approval process that requires multiple layers to sign off on changes." The bigger challenge, however, may be gaining context and perspective. Many factors can affect metrics, including what's happening in the industry and the world on a given day or how busy a recipient may be. Figuring out whether a number is significant enough to take action on is something that marketers will struggle with in the immediate future and beyond, Etlinger said. That doesn't mean that real-time email analytics are useless, though. There are some real benefits to the metrics once all things are taken into account, including: 1) Real-time analytics aid remarketing campaigns. The beauty of real-time analytics is that marketers can use current behavior to predict future behavior, creating messages to help bring prospects deeper into the sales funnel, said Adam Blitzer, VP of b-to-b marketing automation at Pardot, a unit of ExactTarget. Real-time email analytics can be a way to more effectively test existing campaigns and build out new remarketing campaigns, he said. If a recipient has opened an email several times in a short period of time, for example, it may be a good idea to reach out to that person with additional information to help him or her make a buying decision. 2) Segmentation becomes easier—and triggering is more effective. Marketers know they have a better chance of sending the right message to the right person when contacts are segmented by geography, job title and other demographic categories. However, this isn't always effective, said Jeff Seacrist, VP-product strategy at analytics provider Webtrends. Marketers that target purely by geo-segmentation or product information may miss out on prospects who don't fit into a specific category box, he said. "Behavior is more important, and real-time behavior is the most powerful segmentation you can use," Seacrist said. In addition, real-time behaviors can fuel triggered messaging to help bring content to those prospects in a more timely manner, Seacrist said. 3) Real-time analytics create a better link between CRM and email analytics. Email marketers know that integrating email analytics into the company CRM program gives salespeople more information that they can use to close a sale, but this type of integration is still lacking in the b-to-b world, said Tawheed Kader, CEO of ToutApp Inc., a sales communications platform provider. "You want to integrate analytics with CRM so the salesperson can see the whole picture—what kind of content they have been looking at—so you can build a better digital profile about your prospects and customers," he said. This is especially important when salespeople are already running their own marketing campaigns that may not be integrated with or even visible to the marketing department. Once companies build guidelines for how to take data in, how to respond to the information and how to prioritize it, real-time metrics become very useful to the entire organization, Altimeter's Etlinger said. In the meantime, she said, there are steps marketers can take to be ready to use analytics on the fly. "The biggest thing people will need to do is go back over time and benchmark how different campaigns and emails performed at different points in time and within specific contexts so marketers can try and make some reasonable inferences as to which strategies to use in the future," she said.