The Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2018 held in Edinburgh on February 22nd. We presented the work we did on machine learning in marketing with Abertay University, Dundee. The audience gave us great feedback and some things to think about going forward. What problem are we trying to solve and how can we use machine learning in marketing as a solution?
What marketing challenges do SMEs have?
Most companies know that marketing has some impact on their business performance. But very few know the marketing activities have the most impact. The result is usually one of two extremes. Either the company spends on as many marketing activities as possible or they conclude that they don’t need marketing after all. Therefore, the challenges are two-fold: What works for my business? How do I prioritise these activities based on a tight budget?
What solution did YO! Marketing propose?
Machine learning in marketing is not widely used yet. It is a newish and exciting way of learning from the past and in real-time. We collaborated with Abertay University to device a model that could identify patterns in data in a supervised way. Using experience and data gathered from 35 companies, we identified critical relationships in the data that could predict the impact (or ROI) of specific marketing activities on overall business outcomes. This means that SMEs can quickly discover what is working to grow their business and focus marketing investment on that. They optimise how they allocate resources and time, and make effective use of a limited budget. Did our solution work?
Was Machine Learning in Marketing a Good Idea?
Abertay University has extensive in cyber-security and data analytics. By working with one of its lecturers, Dr Xavier Bellekens, we combined our marketing experience with machine learning expertise. That was a great idea with many benefits.
We successfully built a model that works, an achievement that is a first in our industry. However, we are limited by data. For a model like this to provide the cutting-edge capabilities that we envisage, we need lots of data. Our current model is a start, and we have a handful of companies working with us to gather more data. If you are interested in what we have built and you would like to support us, contact us for an informal chat.
For a recent Forrester report on the B2B digital transformation, the team interviewed senior execs from global corporation giants GE, IBM and Cisco Systems. The report highlights key themes arising from the move to align sales teams with the new reality of the digital world.
Why B2B Digital Transformation?
B2B digital transformation is driven from the buyer’s side as companies seek to attract digital buyers. Previous articles suggest that the root cause of sales and marketing misalignment is a lack of understanding of the buyer. Some practitioners explain that closer alignment between sales and marketing could even shorten sales cycles.
Therefore, global leaders like GE, Cisco and IBM have taken steps to reevaluate sales and marketing strategies and to enable new ways of empowering direct sales teams. Part of the reevaluation is a digital transformation. According to the Forrester report, key areas of best practices are experimentation, collaboration and innovation. Similar practices apply to any change management programme including social media and technology adoption.
In this blog post, I will summarise the three case studies: GE, Cisco and IBM to draw out key insights.
Cisco: B2B Digital Transformation through Collaborative Innovation
Cisco aims to tie innovation to business outcomes and to de-fragment pockets of innovation throughout the business. The goals are:
Meet customers where they are
Reach new markets more efficiently
Give sales teams more time for actual selling activities
Focusing on innovation and collaboration, Cisco executed its B2B digital transformation as follows:
They built and piloted new tools, managing the innovation from incubation to scale. The new tools were based on increased efficiency and higher quality interactions with potential and existing buyers.
They established collaboration and shared goals between sales and marketing. For instance, they paired marketing’s sentiment data with sales data. These create insights that tie to opportunities for the organisation.
GE: B2B Digital Transformation through Centralised Innovation
GE is a complex, matrix organisation with several products being sold across different divisions. Therefore, the emphasis for the industrial giant are:
Centralise new technologies
Form new collaboration partnerships across the divisions
Reduce sales cycles by 50%
Some of the positive benefits of executing the initiative were that:
Centralising enables scaling of technology. For instance, it allows the reuse and recycling of successful tools and processes. It also provides a 360 degree view of interactions at all levels across the organisation, hence increasing collaboration on opportunities.
Collaboration enables sales to respond to customers 50% faster. For instance, GE built an app to reduce time that sales teams spend addressing forecast questions. Salespeople can input information on the fly through voice text solutions. Overall, GE’s sales teams are spending more time on customer-facing selling activities.
IBM: B2B Digital Transformation through Data-Driven Sales Innovation
IBM saw significant incremental sales revenue from putting data scientists in sales teams rather than at corporate level. The success from leveraging data science can be attributed to:
Making data scientists part of the sales team. The organisation developed deeper understanding of buyers due to a more scientific approach. For instance, salespeople could differentiate between a motivated buyer and a latent buyer. Also, the teams could more accurately assign sales cycles and measure the impact of new tools and tactics.
This article is for CEOs but it is also for marketers who want to gain the confidence of their CEO by clarifying the role of marketing within the organisation. It is not enough for the CEO to understand the product and services. The issue of brand story is crucial too. [pb_blockquote]Is the brand story being perceived positively and accurately by customers?[/pb_blockquote] The article bursts these four myths that CEOs believe about marketing:
Marketing is responsible for a company’s brand
It’s not necessary for execs to be involved with social media
Good marketing means sales leads will close by themselves
One of the best pieces I read this year, this article discusses the conflict that many marketing face – the balance between being a good citizen and being a good marketer. Marketing helped create a number of societal ills ranging from debt, body image issues and even smoking. It is no wonder that consumers don’t trust advertising. Marketing lies at the bottom of the trust spectrum with politicians and civil servants. [pb_blockquote]A 2012 Adobe survey showed that 68% of people found advertising to be “annoying and distracting,” with 53% reporting “most marketing is a bunch of bullshit[/pb_blockquote] We struggle with the balance to maintain good citizenship and still be amazing at our jobs. But the future of marketing might depend on us finding this balance. The article describes a movie, Deep Impact, where the earth will be hit by an asteroid. Doctors, scientists and engineers are amongst the saved, sheltered inside a mountain but no marketers… How do we work as marketers to be one of the saved? Thought-provoking indeed. Read the article here
Inspired by the annual Stackies awards, Andrew Nguyen discusses the most common types of marketing technology stacks that companies use as part of their go-to market strategies and revenue generation. Here are four martech stacks which he outlines:
one direction martech stack – Strictly adheres to the sales and marketing funnel e.g. awareness/discovery, lead generation, opportunities and success/advocacy
core thinker martech stack – Revolves around a single entity e.g. the customer, content or revenue
data flow martech stack – Focuses on the flow of data for creating analytical processes that support decision making
tetris style stack – Resembles the one direction stack but considers that a single marketing technology spans into multiple parts of the funnel
Interviews with experts provide great insight. This interview with John Lilly, a partner at Greylock Partners is no exception. When asked about the lessons he learned early on in leadership, he cites simplicity and messaging. I believe this is every marketer’s goal. Make the message clear and simple. John also emphasises the need to repeat the message, “say it the same way over and over.” He gives more career advice:
Find your tribe, identify those teams you want to be part of and build a relationship with them
Stay close to professions that create and make things, as they are becoming increasingly powerful in our society
Digital technology caused a reduction in the cost of search and communication. This led to more search, more communication and more of its associated activities. This article describes a similar revolution with machine intelligence, an area that is bound to influence the future of marketing. Simply put, machine learning is prediction technology and it is likely to cause an economic shift in the cost of prediction as well as the cost of goods and services. The article makes the following predictions about the future of machine intelligence:
Lots of tasks will be reframed as prediction problems
Account-based marketing has been around for a while and appears to be in the future of marketing, particularly for B2B. Those that use it swear by it, and those that don’t really should consider it. Lena Robinson of Kiwi Gray, an agency for agencies writes about the disconnect between marketing strategy and business strategy in marketing agencies.
This disconnect appears in many industries, not just in agencies. Therefore, this article is useful for any marketer or business developer that seeks to create stronger ties between business growth aspirations and marketing. This often leads to more effective, focused sales efforts.
Enter Account-based marketing (ABM). This approach to marketing requires companies to be more selective about the accounts they go after, and more deliberate. Collaboration is key, and a stronger brand reputation. This article has an extensive list of steps to make ABM work in the B2B space. A great read to begin the new year’s account planning.
Agile in marketing refers to using data analytics to continuously find opportunities or solutions to problems in real time. Marketing teams do this by experimenting and testing ideas, evaluating the results and pivoting as necessary. This article explains agile marketing clearly, providing a detailed step-by-step guide for marketing teams. In summary, the article outlines these steps for how an agile marketing team works:
Nearly six in 10 CEOs think that within the next five years, companies will need to compete in the artificial intelligence (AI) space to succeed. Yet, people’s understanding of AI is that it is something to worry about. Think robots and self-aware computers. In this article, Leslie Hancock, Founder & CEO of CreativeCafeHQ.com explains the role of AI in marketing. AI are cognitive computing systems that learn at scale and reason for a purpose. They make predictive and anticipatory modelling possible using large amounts of customer information and other inputs. These inputs help intelligent systems to make educated guesses about what customers are likely to do, and want next based on their past behaviours and the decisions of other buyers similar to them. In B2B marketing, these systems take massive amounts of customer data:
To identify and target companies entering different product and business life cycle stages
Predict buying behaviours
Monitor and react to social media chatter
Look for patterns
Yet, the article explains that the role of human marketers is still important – but requires a different mindset. As to whether AI is friend or foe to the future of marketing, you can make up your own mind. Read the article here
Another article discussing likely customer behaviours, but with an interesting twist. This article predicts the end of function-based targeting, and suggests that mobiliser targeting is the future of marketing.
Mobilisers are customers or stakeholders who are especially good at driving change and building consensus within their organisations. Until now, B2B marketers target certain functions e.g. IT or Procurement or job titles e.g. “Director” or “VP”. These efforts often come to nothing in closing the deal.
This article describes a new marketing technology where marketers can use psychographic “signatures” of potential customers who are likely to mobilise and not just talk. This exciting idea involves examining social profiles, language, phrases etc to identify prospects who are likely to be mobilisers based on subtleties in their online/social media activities. Such technology combined with content created to help these mobilisers drive change, could really transform B2B demand generation – and the future of marketing. Read this article here
YO! Marketing is a progressive strategic marketing consultancy. We work mainly with technology companies to align marketing activities with business growth aspirations. Contact us here to learn more about how we might be able to add value to your organisation.
Energy Conference Network based in Houston hosted a conference in Aberdeen on June 29th. The topic was the Internet of Things (IoT) in the Oil & Gas industry. I was invited to speak specifically on cultivating a technology-driven culture that allows innovation to thrive. I argue that if Advanced Analytics and Big Machines are the A & B of IoT, Collaboration, Diversity and Experimentation are the C, D & E.
Based on my research on corporate culture over the last few years, I highlighted the key characteristics of a conducive organisational environment. Some companies I have spoken to over the years include IBM, Dell and SAS.
Here are brief snippets from my presentation covering “Culture that is well-to-do”:
I briefly discuss a 2016 report by McKinsey, published in HBR on digital advances per sector. It shows that the IT and Media industry thrive in digital innovation. The Oil & Gas industry appears to excel that equipping workers with digital tools.
However, the Oil & Gas industry still has some way to go in digitising physical assets for instance. Such assets include equipment and machines. Part of digitising assets involves ensuring that valuable data is collected, easily accessible and exploited for greater insights.