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Analytics only provide a partial answer for marketers

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 03 Apr, 2012
Essential Essential topic

How to convert more B2B prospects

 In the entire history of business you have never been able to access as much data as you can now, thanks to the plethora of analytics programs around.

And, today you can find out more about your customers than you could a few months ago - because analytics software is constantly being upgraded.

In fact, companies are now swimming with so much data that analysing it in any meaningful way is often too difficult.

Which vital data is unavailable from analytics?

According to the business intelligence company, BuiltWith, Google Analytics is by far the most popular service; used by just under half the top one million websites worldwide.

Google Analytics presents each site with thousands of pages of up-to-date information covering every aspect of their current and historical website use - in other words, what people did.

There is, however, one vital aspect of customer onsite behaviour that is still missing.

Do you understand ‘Why?’

Why people did what they did is one element you really need to understand.

‘Why’ is the crucial piece of information that enables businesses to take effective action to encourage or discourage specific visitor behaviour.

Prior to the internet era, ‘why’ was the one piece of information businesses concentrated on getting.

Market research was carefully constructed, often with the help of social scientists, to elicit behavioural information that would reveal to companies why their prospects and customers behaved in a certain way.

In the workshops I conduct for the Academy for Chief Executives (amongst others) I ask participants to recall how they used to approach new sale generation prior to the internet.

The traditional approach to customer research: time consuming but effective

In a typical business-to-business (B2B) scenario, people described their usual pre-internet approach to customer research as follows…….

First, sales staff researched warm prospects by talking to them. The prospects comprised people who were already familiar with the brand, had read corporate literature, and so on.

On completion of this initial research phase, a ‘fact finding’ sales call was made to try to elicit more information from each potential customer. This specific personal information enabled the sales person to understand both what product/service offering the prospect was interested in and exactly why they were interested in it.

Now a meeting could be arranged. The sales executive would spend most of this meeting in questioning mode; listening carefully to what the prospect was saying so they could tailor a solution to meet the specific needs of that customer.

Despite being a time-consuming process, done properly this research approach produced high conversion rates because the sales person was forced to focus on satisfying the customer’s specific needs, in the certain knowledge of precisely what each customer wanted and why.

Internet analytics leave customers to find their own solutions

When Chief Executives compare this traditional prospect research approach with what they are doing today online, a very different process emerges.

Essentially the website throws all the possible solutions at the customer and leaves them to wade through the options to see if they can find anything of interest. Always assuming, of course, they make it past the home page.

Websites force customers to sort through your product and service offering to find a potential solution for themselves. This time consuming sort and selection of potential solutions used to be carried out by savvy sales people. Effective sales people shortened this process for customers, rendering solution-finding much more efficient by providing a more comprehensive, efficient and customer-focused sales service.

Make life easier for your customers

Companies now rely heavily on analytics systems to provide them with all the answers they need to try to sell more products and services online.

The Chief Executives I work with are stunned by the realisation that, despite spending most of their time in front of screens of data, they still aren’t achieving conversion rates as high as those produced when sales people spent most of their time eyeball to eyeball with actual potential customers.

The cost-efficiency of internet communication and the challenging economic conditions make it even harder to companies to justify a return to the more traditional and costly sales approach. Each additional sales generation cost reduces competitiveness and increases the time taken to achieve the desired result.

But, the question remains;

“Are companies happy to work in a world where they actually know less about their customers’ needs and requirements, despite having more data about them than ever before?”

Re-visiting a traditional approach increases B2B sales!

Smarter Interactive, an audio-visual solutions provider arranging interactive whiteboard and video conferencing facilities for businesses, is one company I have been working with recently.

Last year it spent several thousand pounds attempting to drive traffic to its website, basing the pay-per-click advertising on the results from its comprehensive analytics data system.

However, the past few months have seen it abandon this approach in favour of a return to getting out and about more to meet with customers. Internet analytics have been relegated to early lead generation.

Director Jon Knight told me;

“When we started focusing on why people wanted the kinds of solutions we offer and concentrated less on the analytics we started to get more business. Indeed, we have just signed deals with JCB and BMW; companies we would not have done business with if we had simply focused on web analytics. True, the analytics we use certainly help us, but it’s more about understanding what motivates our customers than getting them to take specific actions on our website.”

In other words, analytics are very useful but can only ever provide a partial solution in the process to determine both the WHAT? and the WHY? of your customers' and prospects' behaviour.

About the author

Thanks to Graham Jones for his views on the value of analytics software. Graham is an Internet Psychologist who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers. You can follow him on Twitter @grahamjones. He is the author of several books about the Internet and is a regular speaker at conferences. In addition he is a Lecturer in Ebusiness for a series of degree programmes at the University of Buckingham.You can get his Ten Steps to Internet Profits directly from his website.

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