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Almost every B2B marketer understands analytics have changed the way goods and services are sold. Many, however, don't understand how to translate all those numbers into actions that generate more revenue.

That reality came into focus yesterday in the CMSWire webinar "Trends and Challenges of B2B Marketing Analytics in 2014." The program was based partly on a results of a survey of more than 500 marketing professionals authored by Holger Schulze, vice president of eG Innovations.

Schulze and Amit Varshneya, vice president for consulting and strategic services at Demandbase, offered suggestions to marketers based on the study. 

From Numbers to Insights

The survey findings were distilled into a report to provide marketers with benchmarks for their own marketing planning and to provide actionable insights into trends, challenges and best practices, Schulze said.

Analytics can help marketers gain a better understanding of the tactics, channels and platforms that deliver ROI and help them prioritize tactics. "So gaining actionable insights from marketing analytics is by far the most important business objective," Schulze continued.

Of course, there are also challenges. The hurdles most often cited were a lack of systems integration (54 percent), poor data quality (44 percent) and a general lack of resources (34 percent).

Some help may be on the way. About 46 percent of marketers said they expect their analytics budgets to grow, showing the shift towards data-driven marketing is on the upswing.

About half the respondents said they already gain insights from analytics "routinely" or at least "occasionally." And 74 percent of those who regularly gain insights said the data is improving market performance.

Somewhat surprisingly, the technology most often used in data analytics is the spreadsheet, which two-thirds of the respondents listed first. Dashboards came in second with 54 percent and cloud-based solutions came in third with 33 percent. In a sign of the times, only 13 percent said they relied on on-premise analytics software.

What numbers do marketers study? Four out of five respondents said they look at how visitors use their website, but they emphasized the most basic numbers like site visits and page views. Only 54 percent analyze what is driving conversions.

There were similar numbers for social media. About 62 percent look at the reach of their social efforts, but only 30 percent look at conversions.

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Reports vs. Strategy

Varshneya liked the notion that marketers are now looking for actionable insights from the data.

"I think that really distills analytics down," he said. "For the longest time, analytics was confused with reporting. But, really, analytics in the current time is data-driven strategy. We're really using analytics to give us insights to drive strategy."

Varshneya noted the approach to using analytics differs between the B2C and B2B worlds. "Buyers in B2B do a lot more research and raise their hands much later in the buying cycle," he said.

In part, that means marketers need to segment their prospects at the account level in concert with sales reps and anyone else connected to the product pipeline.

Who Goes There?

"Your future prospects resemble your best customers, and that's the place you should start," Varshneya said. That process begins by examining who has been coming to our site and then delivering content based on their attributes.

"Your goals are not going to be just transaction based," he said. "They're going to be about the steps that your content is helping your buyers take."

Varshneya suggested focusing on three areas: visitor segments, website goals and the content on your website. "Where these pillars overlap is really where the magic happens," he said.

In summary, he offered five steps:

  • Align measurement with business objectives
  • Focus on insights and actions rather than data and reporting
  • "Slice and dice" by segmenting visitors
  • Keep an eye on data quality
  • Break down analytics projects into tasks