How do we Build a Future for the Information and Knowledge Industry?

Last week I spent an extremely informative day at the Perfect Information Conference 2016, which this year focused on “the future of information”. Alongside Sarah Fahy, Global Head of Library Services at Allen & Overy, and Anneli Carter, Executive, MarCap Research at Macquarie Capital, I had the pleasure of sitting on the panel for one of the keynote sessions – “Building a future for the information and knowledge industry and its members” – in which we discussed the issues facing the industry and how information professionals can best equip themselves for success in the face of an ever-evolving landscape.

The world of information services is a very different place to what it was in the early 2000s. The industry underwent a massive change 5-6 years ago when a lot of resources were moved offshore from the UK, which meant that information teams suddenly required very different skillsets – such as the ability to project manage or understand how to maximise business efficiencies. The advance of technology and the widespread adoption of big data has also placed more autonomy in the hands of the end user, as desktop research becomes more proficient.

The fact is, the information industry has to adapt and refocus itself to fit with what the world now looks like. During the session, we discussed what we like to call “the three-legged stool of information expertise” – the three legs being sources, technology and value. These have always been at the core of information services and will continue to remain so; the issue now is working out how to apply these existing skillsets to the future and use them in different contexts and in different ways. For instance, while source expertise may now predominantly lie in product testing and recommendations, the emphasis may move to data vetting and advice on licensing. Similarly, technology will have a new focus in the future but will require the same set of skills that information professionals have been cultivating all along.

It’s important to remember that while information and data may be everywhere, that doesn’t mean that people can necessarily tell how good the data they are using actually is; information professionals can not only verify data, but also identify what third party data can bolster their internal records – and that’s a valuable skill at a time when many institutions (particularly in the banking sector) are implementing Master Data Management systems. Different departments all have different ideas of what constitutes “valuable” information and it is the information team that serves as the connector that enables them to discuss their requirements in the same language. As the people responsible for identifying the most effective products on the market and joining up data solutions across an organisation’s various functions, knowledge professionals are effectively becoming master data managers.

At Avention, we work with a lot of information teams across numerous organisations and the ones doing well are the ones that work collaboratively. I so often see instances where departments are not working together and this is where projects go wrong. Information professionals need to build deep, meaningful peer-to-peer relationships across all the key departments in order to develop a more interactive way of working. It is only by working closely with the rest of the organisation that information professionals will be able to build for the future, since the key lies in not just thinking about the service that is being offered today, but to consider the role information will play in helping the business achieve its strategic objectives in the future.

There is a huge amount of value in what information professionals do, but they need to start shouting about it! There is no doubt that the role of the information professional is changing, but with change comes opportunity. As relationships continue to shift from transactional to strategic, information teams need to prioritise advocacy and collaboration in order to embed their value throughout the organisation.

Four Ways to Get into ANY Account Using ABM Webinar Recap

Last week we had the pleasure of being joined by a group of account-based marketing (ABM) experts for a webinar.  Our goal was to give our audience a good understanding of the main components required to start an ABM strategy and also give them some tips to get past roadblocks they are encountering in their current ABM programs. If you missed the live event, you can watch on demand here.

We promised to answer the questions we didn’t get to at the end of the webinar.  If you have others, tweet to @AventionInc and we will get them answered as well.

  1. Are you seeing companies abandoning all standard lead funnels when implementing ABM or are they running in parallel?ABM does not replace other marketing activities or programs, especially not right away and not for all accounts.  All current demand generation programs continue to be implemented.  What some companies are doing is to have the names of their target stakeholders/decision makers in their key ABM accounts blocked from the general mailings.  This permits the personalization and tailoring of every touch in an ABM campaign.  ABM may not make sense for smaller accounts or ones that are easy point-of-sale transactions.  But for large accounts which have a long sales cycle, require a lot of attention from a sales rep, and usually come with a large price tag, ABM is key to closing those deals.
  2. If you customize it for everyone, how do you avoid dilution of your brand messaging?One of the first steps in ABM is segmentation of your customers.  Segmentation allows you to get to a fairly granular level while still “grouping” your best customers.  While you will still likely want to personalize the messages you send based on events that are occurring within that account, the segmentation allows your marketing team to give you some high level messages for each group so that you can stay on brand while still personalizing the message.
  3. When you Target, what exactly do you target to change the most?This largely depends on the characteristics of your best customers, so will likely vary from company to company.  For instance, when you do your initial segmentation and analysis of your best customer base, you may find that 95% of those customers saw executive changes prior to buying or that 85% of them were facing legal issues.  Once you know that, you can set up Business Signals that allow you to match companies that have those same characteristics, meaning they have a higher likelihood to buy.  In addition to the best customer attributes, the targeting may depend a lot on what you are offering.  For instance, if you are selling office furniture, it makes sense for you to target companies who have a propensity to open new offices or who are expanding to new locations.  Again, you can get that information based on Business Signals.   To further increase your targeting and personalization, you should set up Triggers, which will alert you immediately to actions within your accounts that indicate a need to buy.
  4. What are the 80/20 Best Practices?We’ve heard multiple people say that you should look at ABM for that golden 20%.  Those accounts that generate the greatest revenue, probably come with the longer sales cycles, and require a lot of manpower to close and execute the deal should be approached with an ABM strategy in mind.  This not only helps personalize the approach for the account, but with all the effort being put into the sale, it allows you to focus on the account as a whole and not just one department, allowing you to get some economies of scale in your sales efforts.

If you are ready to get your ABM program started, you can join our webinar on June 14th to see how the OneSource ABM solution can help.

How Can Challenger Banks Best Use Business Insights to Capitalise on New Business Opportunities?

The financial services market is fast evolving, as challenger banks encroach upon the established high street banks’ traditional markets. However, while the challengers are slowly making inroads into market share, there is still a long way to go before it is a level playing field.

As Enterprise Account Director at Avention OneSource® Solutions, I work with a number challenger banks and am often asked the same sort of questions by their business development teams. Unsurprisingly they’re most concerned with how to gain an edge in new customer acquisition. Using data tools to understand potential markets, prospective customers and the industries in which they operate is absolutely vital to gaining this edge, so I wanted to share some of the advice I give to the most common questions.

Q: How do I find potential clients?

KS: It’s likely that you’re responsible for business development in a specific region or industry sector, and the first step to success is understanding which organisations sit within this territory (or ‘patch’). A vital tool for this is the use of a data platform which helps identify and segment companies that sit within a certain patch. In today’s digitally focused world there is so much data available online, and by using the right tools, you can quickly analyse which companies sit in your patch, what industries the companies operate in, and what levers are driving these. This information can be cut to match your bank’s corporate client base, say £20-£50m, or business banking base, £500k-£2m, as well as segmenting by financials like operating profit, assets, EBITDA, etc.

Ultimately, you need to know who to talk to at a prospect company and when to approach them. So while a static list is a useful starting point, using a dynamic list can help you achieve much more when it comes to prospecting. A dynamic list will continuously update your target database as corporate information evolves, and some platforms, like Avention’s OneSource platform, allow you to integrate triggers that alert you to a company’s corporate activity, like management changes, new office openings, acquisitions, client wins, results, etc. These signals can give you a reason to make contact with a prospect, with a pertinent and insightful reason for a call or an email that demonstrates your understanding of the company and its sector.

Q. How can I incorporate my professional network to generate new leads?

KS: Advisors like accountants can be a good source of leads or associations for challenger banks. For example, if you have a good client relationship with the auditor of an existing client, you can search your target market to look at who else they audit in that sector – all of this information can be found in a business intelligence database. From here the information can be segmented by region, sector, cash flow and debt leverage – enabling you to build up a picture of mutual customers, and potential customers to target or ask for a referral or introduction from their other advisors.

Q: How can I keep up to date with growing companies in my patch? What should I be looking out for?

KS: We are putting a lot of effort into training our customers in this area, as we can help them have far more meaningful business conversations with high-growth companies, which in turn helps them to win business and become a strategic partner.

The important thing to remember is that companies’ growth will change over time. So while a potential customer may be experiencing a period of rapid growth that could indicate a need for additional funding, this growth may slow and the company would no longer be an ideal target.

Buying a static list means the likelihood that the company continues to fulfil the criteria will decrease as time passes. However, by using a dynamic list that’s continually updated based on what companies are doing (including those that are enjoying rapid growth), you can be far more confident that your target prospects will always match your criteria.

For instance, OneSource can provide information about whether companies are launching new products or expanding into new territories, as well as any executive changes. OneSource Triggers go way beyond Google Alerts and provide much deeper insights into your target market’s activities – enabling you to keep abreast of the fastest growing businesses in the sectors or regions you are following.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for other types of data that can support new business targeting?

KS: One thing that my customers using OneSource really like is the ability to monitor and review the Mortgage and Charges register of a company. It means that you can find out what long terms debts exist at a company and who that debt is owned by, enabling you to analyse how you can make a competing offer or provide financial advice to prospects. This means you can then call them with something tangible to discuss and offer.

Q: Should I compare companies in my patch against their peers?

KS: I would say that this is really important. When looking at companies of interest, it’s really useful to be able to benchmark them against their peers according to data such as turnover, balance sheet, cash, etc. This gives you a good indication of how strong an organisation might be within its industry sector and is a key instrument for anyone providing financial services. By understanding what a peer group’s credit line should look like, if a particular company looks out of step compared to its comps, then it may warrant further questioning, and this type of insight can make the difference when trying to get trust and time from prospects.

Q: How do I find companies similar to those I have just sold to?

This is an important practice in any sales organisation (particularly in a regional set-up), with the principle being that if you have just sold to one company that provides a certain service or product, you should seek out and approach comparable organisations . By using a business insights provider, you can match prospects against their sector credentials and relevant experience. It’s a warmer way of going in and opening up a discussion: “We work with X and have helped them achieve Y, and we’d like to talk to you about some areas we believe we could help you with…” You can segment in a number of different ways, such as by industry sector, turnover, number of employees – or even whether the company is acquisitive – to find relevant information that enables you to tailor your pitch.

Q: How can I help manage risk in my existing portfolio?

KS: I would encourage you to look at the parent companies and subsidiaries of your customers since activity here could have repercussions. This should be a key part of portfolio management – building a system that you can use to look across your portfolio of accounts and help identify key risk indicators. These could be triggered by M&A activity, executive changes or significant movement in credit risk or key financial points. One of the most effective ways do this is to upload all your accounts onto a platform such as OneSource and then set up relevant triggers. These triggers can send alerts daily or weekly, depending on preference. This is a highly useful risk management tool, used by both established banks and challengers to monitor key customers.

As all my customers in this industry will attest, demonstrating sector expertise is absolutely vital to winning new business. There’s a huge amount of business information generated every single second, and challenger banks need to be able to exploit this if they are going to steal market share from the banking behemoths. There are tools out there that can equip you with these insights; get in touch if you’d like to know more.

A New Approach to Firmographics Can Shorten Your Sales Cycles

It’s a given that sales professionals will always be chasing shorter and shorter sales cycles, but recently some of my customers have been telling me that closing deals is getting even harder. In an already tight market, the quest for strategic advantage means that more companies are putting more pressure on sales teams to adopt a more proactive approach to achieve their KPIs.

Sound familiar? Then using a new approach to firmographics could be the answer.

In simple terms, firmographics describe companies as demographics describe people. They guide customer segmentation and lead generation by helping identify your target customers, understand their key issues and know when and why they may want to interact with your brand. Firmographics are also critical tools in account-based marketing and marketing automation, allowing far more targeted, relevant interactions with customers.

Traditionally, firmographics have included a mix of internal and external datapoints such as:

  • Industry
  • Geography
  • Employee size
  • Growth rates
  • Revenue
  • Parent location
  • Number of corporate family members
  • Number of office locations

Deeper metrics can focus sales efforts and improve results

But firmographics have changed, as has much of the sales process, due to the rapid advance of technology. Nowhere has this been more evident than in marketing automation, where an individual prospect’s activity (and demographics) are tracked to a greater degree than previously possible. Does your business have the same insight on the company or colleagues that this prospect works for and with?

Using deeper metrics can help go beyond the basics of firmographics to build a more focused, relevant profile – not only of individual target contacts, but a bigger picture of the entire target company. Monitoring a company’s activities allows sales professionals to take a more holistic view of the target’s priorities and the factors impacting his or her buying decisions.

For example, more detailed information can reveal:

  • Number of contract wins in the past three months
  • Technology used (i.e. CRM, ERP, marketing technology, website)
  • Number of M&As or joint venture announcements
  • Location of corporate family members
  • Presence, or lack thereof, in China
  • Risk profile
  • Changes in senior management

In a tough environment, these more insightful metrics can help you and your customer-facing marketing, sales and account teams focus time and efforts, land larger deals, find better clients, enhance ability to upsell and shorten your sales cycle.

 But, as with most parts of the sales process, using firmographics correctly is not always easy.

Making firmographics work for you

The key to finding value in these insights is to use the right metrics that are appropriate for your own sales goals. This means first identifying the characteristics of organizations most likely to buy your product or service and then determining the sales goals that will be more easily achieved with this information.

It’s a process that can take time and will need frequent revisiting – firmographics are complex and their application is not an exact science. But taking the time to make the most of this valuable sales tool will pay off in the longer term with more profitable, shorter sales cycles. In our industry, we know firsthand that knowledge is power but the deeper wisdom offered by well-executed firmographics could offer an even stronger competitive advantage in an increasingly tight sales market.

Contact me to discuss how firmographics can improve your sales pipelines.


5 Simple Steps to Implementing an Effective Data Management Strategy

There are three words that can make grown people tremble. I’ve seen them spread panic throughout organisations and have staff ─ from the CEO through to sales teams ─ reaching for the aspirin. And those three words are Data ─ Management ─ Strategy.

But there is no need to fear. Data management is complex, but doesn’t have to be complicated. With specialist support and a systematic approach, your data management strategy won’t seem so frightening any more. Regardless of your industry or company size, the five steps below will help you to achieve your goal ─ and as the benefits make an impact ─ see your data management strategy as friend, not foe.

    1. CRM

      CRM systems have come a long way in the last decade, evolving into business critical solutions that combine a vast array of communications platforms. CRMs have grown in capability and complexity ─ they’ve had to as customer engagement opportunities have proliferated.

      Choosing the right one is the first step ─ so choose wisely. Some of the top questions you should consider are:

      • Can we customise the platform to suit our needs?
      • Does it integrate with third party systems?
      • Will our sales teams be able to access it when they are ‘on the road’?
      • Does it have a simple and easy-to-use interface?
      • What support is available?
      • The key is to always keep in mind why you’re doing it: to provide a seamless and better experience for your customers. This will help you to select a system that’s right for your business.

    2. People

      Investing money in a CRM whilst ignoring the people who use it is never going to end well. The system can only make complex data connections and facilitate seamless customer experiences if it’s being used properly. Everyone needs to understand just how important CRM users are ─ that they are working towards a strategic objective and not simply performing an administrative task. To do this you will need:

      • leadership from the CEO down to ensure that everyone values and ‘owns’ their data;
      • extensive support on how to operate the system properly;
      • a broader education piece on what data brings and how it can make or break the business ─ this should highlight how data benefits the whole organisation from Sales and Marketing to Finance, Operations, Customer Service and beyond; and
      • performance management, QA and self-appraisal mechanisms.

    3. Data

      The best CRM and most highly trained staff will still fail if your data isn’t of the highest quality. The old adage “Rubbish in ─ rubbish out” is particularly relevant here. Or to put it another way, bad business data leads to bad business decisions.

      Studies suggest databases decay at around 25% a year – which means 1 in 4 records could be wrong after a year in your CRM. That’s a quarter of sales calls wasted; a quarter of marketing approaches not reaching intended audiences; a quarter of your invoices heading in the wrong direction. So, it will pay for you to work with a data provider that collects and aggregates the best data available. And once you’ve got accurate data it is essential that it is constantly maintained.

      Data aggregation and maintenance is a highly specialised area and, data regulations are becoming ever more complicated across the world, so working with a data partner who can provide trusted advice will bring you peace of mind. To find out how Avention OneSource Solutions can help with this email me today.

    4. Enrich

      Now your data foundation is in place, you can start to really leverage value from it. With a detailed picture of its accuracy you can begin to fill in any gaps you might have (identifying and appending additional information such as email addresses or direct dial phone numbers, for example).

      Then you can move on to some really clever stuff ─ such as identifying and understanding companies within corporate families. With this knowledge you can maximise cross-sell and upsell opportunities.

      Again, a specialist partner will help you here ─ discovering, capturing and linking the data that really drives your business.

      Take a look at how OneSource Data Services can clean and enrich your database to add real value and give you a complete picture of your customers, prospects and markets.

    5. Profile

      With the right CRM, a trained and motivated workforce, accurate and enriched data we are now at the point where we can see customers in real detail.

      From here you can better understand your customers and uncover valuable insights such as:

      • who your ideal customers are;
      • where they are;
      • what industries they are in;
      • when is the ideal time to engage them; and
      • who are your best prospects and which prospects are most likely to buy right now.

    This is incredibly valuable information that means you link the right products to the right customers, boosting marketing effectiveness, sales efficiency and your company’s competitive advantage.

    If you want to start your journey to a successful data management strategy, I’d love to hear from you and walk through these steps in more detail. There’s nothing to fear and everything to gain.

    Check out our 5 Simple Steps infographic today to relieve your data management strategy headaches!