The proliferation of customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and marketing automation platforms has allowed business-to-business (B2B) marketers to focus higher up the sales funnel and seek out vendors to automate lead gathering.
At the same time, the growth of social media has provided a wealth of data on potential customers. It’s led some marketers to look toward automating their outreach in social media as well as use newly available data to beef up their existing lead lists.
“The kinds of things we’ve automated – with marketing automation platforms like Eloqua and Marketo – are the process of engaging with prospects,” said Lori Wizdo, marketing analyst at Forrester, referring to automating activities such as email campaigns and website behavior tracking. “But I can only engage in a relevant way if I have good insight into potential buyers. There is a lot of digital information available out there but it isn’t easy for marketers to harvest it.”
That available digital information is becoming more useful as CRM tools have become capable of handling it. It’s led to what Leadspace CEO Doug Bewsher calls the “third generation of CRM,” where a company like his is able to automate what is being gathered at the top of the sales funnel.
“The first generation was about putting data into databases, and the second generation was about building automation platforms [like Salesforce or Marketo],” Bewsher said. The focus for Leadspace is to use public and proprietary social data to layer on top of a client’s existing sales platforms and find new potential clients, or add color to existing ones.
Leadspace gathers data on individuals through the web, multiple social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and any structured data, such as first-party CRM or marketing databases or third-party business intelligence data sets from Dun & Bradstreet.
If an individual known by the client posts on an online forum, for instance, Leadspace’s technology is designed to gather this additional information and combine it to create a more relevant profile of that person and their interests.
While the major social networks all have CRM plugins, Bewsher said a key part of Leadspace’s value-add is combining data across channels.
“A CRM hook-in allows you to take advantage of an individual level detail on a specific social network," he said. "If companies want to take advantage of understanding a customer across the web and multiple social networks and structured data sets, an API from a single player won’t work.”
BrightTALK, a content marketing platform and Leadspace client, handles about 3,000 to 4,000 inbound leads per month, according to VP of demand generation David Pitta. “What we were struggling with in the past few years is with all of that inbound demand, (we’re) trying to understand who is a good fit for us to talk to and when (should) they talk to us,” Pitta said.
In the past, BrightTALK would score leads based on information a user provided during registration, as well as how that user behaved on the website. A lead’s score would determine how the company pursued that prospect – the company has about 20 salespeople who follow inbound leads. But scoring models informed by data a user provided upon registration are limited.
“We needed to build a better mousetrap around the prioritization of that inbound lead,” Pitta said. “What Leadspace gets us is a whole level of data that we never had access to and could never have asked for during the registration process.”
The result is a lead scoring model that includes more data about a prospect than was previously available and, according to Pitta, helps focus the efforts of his sales team on more relevant leads.
Automating lead generation via social media isn’t limited to gathering newly available data and plugging it into a CRM. Some marketers are finding it useful to improve the community-building aspects that are the ostensible purpose of social platforms.
NextPrinciples brands itself a “social marketing automation solution.” Its product is similar to Leadspace it that it uses social media data to vet potential leads, but does so for the purpose of targeting leads with content on social platforms.
The company’s focus for now is on Twitter content optimization, but it has been working on integration with Facebook, blogs, forums and YouTube. Although he wouldn’t name names, NextPrinciples head of marketing Vijay Ramaswamy said “some of the (behavioral) data is currently missing from the mix due to (social media networks’) restrictive policies and that in turn decreases the value of those channels to our customers.” As the company builds integration with other platforms, Ramaswamy said cross-channel data insights will be layered on, but for now the company pulls data from Twitter to inform Twitter campaigns.
Rather than a marketer assembling something like an email list of potential clients and developing uniform content to deliver them, for example – what NextPrinciples head of marketing Vijay Ramaswamy calls a “hope-and-pray strategy” - the company’s product identifies users on social channels Twitter who are engaged in relevant topics, profiles those users and provides allows a marketer to target them with content on the basis of those profiles.
“The world of social media is made of likes and follows,” Ramaswamy said, “but likes and follows have never paid the bills. It’s time people take a look at their social media efforts and put an ROI on that.”
Jim Love, CIO of IT World Canada, used NextPrinciples to attract attendance to a conference for CMOs. After the software identified, profiled and scored potential leads, IT World Canada was able to automatically send personalized tweets to potential attendees, and build an audience for their other content.
“These are all valuable things to give to people,” Love said, “and in doing that we’re learning more and more about them and we’re able to target them.”
Love reported results of the campaign including an 11% increase in social audience, a 152% increase in click-through compared to email, and a 500% increase in lead velocity.
“Automation has changed companies approach is significant ways” over the past 10 years, the analyst Wizdo said. “Now there is a managed process to qualify, vet, mature and nurture leads.”
Vendors applying social media data to optimize leads will have “a significant impact on improving the automation process,” she said. “They’re creating a vast improvement in how well marketing automation processes can work because of how much more targeted and specific the offers and content can be.”