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Why understanding the needs of prospects and current customers is critical to both growing and sustaining a business

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Jirsak)

Understanding the needs of prospects and current customers is critical to both growing and sustaining a business. It wasn’t all that long ago that sales professionals relied heavily on cold calls to uncover opportunities – a process that often left staff chasing low-quality leads in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough. Recent years have seen advances in business data collection that have made it possible for companies to take a more strategic approach to sales, marketing, and account management. A recent Dun & Bradstreet survey of business leaders found 63 per cent of respondents believed data had helped identify new opportunities for growth. This is a promising statistic, but The Past, Present, and Future of Data report revealed many companies are still failing to realise the full value of the information they gather.

For example, 42 per cent of those surveyed said they’ve struggled with inaccurate data in their systems. “Garbage in, garbage out” is a common refrain among data scientists; as a practical matter, poor master data management can cost a business time and money. The loss can come from missing out on warm leads, failing to accurately gauge a business’s health, or extending too much credit based on an overly optimistic forecast.

Ensuring that prospect and client data is accurate is key to building valuable resources for the entire business. This is a multifaceted effort that in many cases is left to the IT department to manage, but it’s vital that decision makers throughout the C-suite understand the significant benefits it can deliver as well as what goes into creating a single view of the customer.

Data silos are one of the most common roadblocks standing in the way of creating an accurate view of prospects or existing customer accounts. Businesses know this phenomenon by different names, but the problem ends up sounding something like this: “We collect data in legacy systems that don’t talk to our customer relationship management platforms,” or “The data we gather is difficult to access, interpret, or share among teams.” In many cases the data is isolated due to inefficient infrastructure, insufficient communication, or lack of training. Data silos are particularly frustrating because many organisations invest significant time and money into gathering information, only to see it go underutilised.

Dun & Bradstreet has been working with Sage, the leading provider of integrated accounting, payroll and payment systems, to support the data strategy that underpins their marketing, data and CRM transformation. 

Creating new efficiencies

“When we started to work with Dun & Bradstreet back in 2014, we had multiple sources of customer data across and within countries that we wanted to enrich” explained Dan Taylor, Director of Data Segmentation & Management at Sage. “We ‘matched’ our data against Dun & Bradstreet’s Data Cloud to help develop a single view of our customers with one consistent approach to segment our data, whilst also being able to have a much more accurate view of the ‘white-space’. This information has been key to both helping inform our business strategy with evidence and enable our marketing activities with accounts target. We’ve achieved a lot and whilst there’s still work to do we have the foundation of Dun and Bradstreet at the heart of our data strategy to help meet the challenges of the future.” 

Businesses like Sage are reaping the benefits of linking their customer and prospect records to third-party data using a common key or code such as Dun & Bradstreet’s D-U-N-S® Number. Having a unique identifier enables disparate information to be connected to a single company profile. Third-party records provide verification and additional information such as leadership changes, business credit scores and ratings, parent and subsidiary relationships, and legal judgments, news alerts. Having this all in one place provides benefits to the sales, marketing, and finance departments.

Accurate, in-depth data on prospects can create new efficiencies. First, sales teams are better positioned to target companies based on revenue, creditworthiness, company events and many other useful metrics. Integrating this type of data into a CRM system can create a powerful tool to help salespeople focus on the most qualified leads. Equally important, they can reach out when companies are most likely to be interested in their services, like in the midst of an expansion. The dreaded cold call largely becomes a thing of the past when you have a solid understanding of a prospect’s needs from day one.

Obtaining a single view of the customer also offers exciting opportunities to capitalise on enhanced marketing automation and personalisation. Consider the fact that, unless you’ve previously attached a browser cookie, you know very little about the people visiting your website. That means the same content is served to an intern, a manager, a vice president, and a procurement officer researching your product or service. It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s possible to link an IP address to a specific company, just as a submitted email address can connect a name to a person and position. Web personalisation tools make it possible to link those insights to content, automatically serving up collateral that’s likely to speak to that industry or department.

Benefits of greater personalisation

The benefits to greater personalisation are clear. A manufacturer could automatically send a visitor to the page most relevant to their industry, while a bank might route traffic based on a company’s revenue. The hope is to speed up the prospect’s journey through the sales funnel by offering a tailored experience.

There are also potential benefits for managing existing clients. For example, learning that your account is a subsidiary of a much larger corporation is the first step towards trying to cross-sell to other business units. The knowledge that your client is expanding into new markets may also prompt a discussion about earning more spend. While this information could be gathered from the media or public financial documents, a single view of the customer allows decision makers to review it within one tool. That consolidation of insights also supplies context that might otherwise be missing.

Finally, the finance department can also benefit from a single source of truth on customer accounts. Data such as business credit scores legal judgments can help the finance team establish a reasonable credit policy for customers. To that point, 18 per cent of those surveyed said their business lost money after extending too much credit. A lack of data can lead to poor decision making.

It’s easy enough to expound on the benefits of effective master data management; putting processes into place at scale is another matter. Executive buy-in is key, and interest will have to be sustained across departments--especially those that collect data. A holistic approach leaves no stone unturned. It’s important to define who owns data management. It may be the CTO, CIO, CMO, or CEO; the important thing is that everyone knows who’s in charge.

Building a unified view of prospects and customers can pay dividends, but it does require an upfront investment in technology, staff, and budget. Companies that take a thoughtful approach to their data management efforts will be well positioned to make use of client and customer insights.

Adam Leslie, Head of UK Sales & Marketing Solutions, Dun & Bradstreet