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How Digital Marketing Is Changing Go-To-Market Strategies

A conversation with Sean Crowley, Dun & Bradstreet VP of Portfolio Marketing

This is the transcript of a podcast interview Tim Hagen had with Sean Crowley, vice president of portfolio marketing at Dun & Bradstreet.

Tim Hagen: Hi everybody, it’s Tim Hagan from SMMConnect, and today we have another podcast episode and a special guest Sean [Crowley] from Dun & Bradstreet. Sean, how are you?

Sean Crowley: I’m doing great, Tim. Thanks for having me.

Hagen: Tell us a little bit about yourself and a little bit about your company.

Crowley: Sure. I’m the vice president of portfolio marketing for Dun & Bradstreet’s Sales and Marketing Solutions. I get the benefit of marketing to marketers and sellers, so I am the persona that we market to, which is great. It’s also challenging, because I think that marketing professionals probably are the most discerning and critical folks out there when it comes to marketing. But it’s great. It’s a great challenge. I’ve been in marketing for the better part of 20-plus years. I’ve done product marketing, integrated marketing, portfolio marketing. I just love working with data and analytics, and that is where Dun & Bradstreet focuses. We help organizations leverage data and analytics to drive growth for their business.

Hagen: So what makes you unique in terms of how Dun & Bradstreet does this? What are some of the things you do that are unique, the value proposition?

Crowley: We’ve got a very rich history in data. Dun & Bradstreet has been in existence for almost 180 years now. There have been four previous presidents who have worked for Dunn & Brad street .Over that time, we’ve focused our efforts around helping organizations understand the businesses that they want to do business with, both from a credit and risk perspective, which is traditionally where people think of Dunn & Bradstreet – understanding credit ratings and the risk associated with businesses. The business unit that I work on takes that same insight and intelligence and knowledge around data and just leverages it in different use cases. So on the credit and risk side, it’s all about protecting the bottom line. It’s about improving the organizations that you do business with to solidify and protect your business. We use the same data in a different use case to help organizations grow; to identify opportunities; to grow their business; to leverage intense data signals; to identify those accounts and individuals who work there that are in market for solutions that some of our other customers may provide. So it’s really about effectively leveraging that rich insight and wealth of information. Our global database has more than 400 million account records. When you start to expand that out into the digital universe, it’s upwards in the billions of records and device IDs and ways in which we can target, engage and ultimately convert customers and prospects, and to do business for our customers.

Hagen: With all that being said, you must have seen some very unique things the last two years, especially during the pandemic. As we think we’re coming out of this, what are some of the problems you’ve seen before the pandemic and potentially during the pandemic, and how do you help your customers with that?

Crowley: It’s a great question. I think we all understand going through the global pandemic that we’ve gone through. Interestingly, just last week we held our Rev.Up summit, which is a three-day virtual conference that was geared toward the various teams within organizations in terms of how do you leverage data and analytics to go to market more effectively? We had information associated for those operations leaders – rev ops leaders, marketing leaders and sales leaders. It was customers and partners and thought leaders in the space that were speaking there. And there was a pretty consistent theme that the pandemic, No. 1, has driven massive digital transformation to the tune of transformative efforts that typically would maybe take five to 10 years, organizations were forced to adjust and adapt their strategies in in months, right? So you had this massive amount of change that got consolidated into a very short time frame, That presents change management challenges. But in addition, everybody was making this shift at the same time. So from a digital marketing perspective, organizations recognized they had to pivot and shift their dollars from maybe traditional event sponsorships, or face-to-face events, or physical direct mail type programs to the vast majority being online and being digital. So what that did is it created a crunch on the inventory that was available, so the cost structure changed. Organizations were really trying not only reach and engage those customers in the digital space, but also rearchitect that buyer’s journey that they’re trying to move those prospects through. That requires an intense amount of effort. It’s, multifaceted. It’s multi-channel, these days. That’s what’s going on on the vendors’ side. On the buyers’ side is the other challenge, because you’ve have this influence of B2C buying experiences. How we buy from personal brands and how we interact with those brands online or physically – that same type of buying experience is now being demanded and becomes a requirement on the [B2B] side. Individuals don’t want to be sold to. They want to self-serve on education. They want to seek out the advice of peers or thought leaders on what they think about certain products and solutions in the marketplace. And then, they want to choose which channel they engage with, whether it be logging in on a phone call to a business to ask questions directly, or going to the website and binge-consuming data and content that’s on that site.

Businesses today, from a marketing and sales perspective, you have to accommodate that need the requirement for improved personalization in the journey – serve it to me when and where I want it. But also, we have to be cognizant of the privacy regulations that are coming and individuals really wanting to control their own data much more effectively. So when you start talking about multiple channels combined with the privacy, you have to make sure that if an individual says they don’t wish to be marketed to via a phone call, that has to cascade through a variety of different systems now to make sure that you’re not emailing that person, that you’re not doing outreach to that person, that you’re respecting that privacy concern and the control of that personal data. That becomes harder when you have this massive proliferation of tools that help enable organizations to engage across channels. In many cases in larger enterprises, we’re seeing upward of 20-plus sales and marketing technologies that are in use to engage in specific channels. So that presents a problem, not only from managing privacy regulations, but then also orchestrating that digital journey that you want to move someone through. We call it the three Ps that really come to a peak here (to throw in a fourth P): It’s personalization, privacy regulations, and proliferation of tools. We’ve, been challenged with but we’re also trying to bring solutions to the market to enable our customers to manage that more effectively to target and engage buyers more efficiently, and to convert them into customers more efficiently.

Hagen: It’s interesting because reports out there now estimate that 70 to 80% of B2B buyers are now preferring to purchase on-demand [and] not engage with sales reps, so the whole digital experience has really exploded. What have you seen in terms of the mindset shift that’s been needed, not only for the vendor, but also for the buyer, because it’s been a pretty swift shift here in the last 15 to 18 months. What have you seen from a mindset shift?

Crowley: You’re absolutely right. Organizations were moving toward more digital engagement and toward multichannel marketing to their individuals, and buyer preferences were certainly moving in that direction. But the COVID-19 pandemic was a massive forcing function in this. When you start to restrict and eliminate business travel… What used to be thought of as, “The sales guy has to go onsite and give that direct look in the eye and the handshake.”  It’s still very important, but businesses and the individuals who work there are increasingly more comfortable with transacting business online without ever having to physically meet someone. So the requirement isn’t so much about the physicality of those interactions; it’s about the relevance of those interactions. They want to make sure that their needs are being heard, acknowledged and met in terms of the information that’s provided.

And it’s not just one individual. We focus primarily on B2B businesses, so in many cases, those transaction sizes tend to be a little bit larger. And as you see the increase in the amount of a purchase, you also see a commensurate increase in the number of people involved in the decision-making process on the customer side. So whether that’s a decision done by committee or by consensus, what we’re finding is that [with] most B2B organizations, you’re not selling to one individual, you’re selling to a buying center or a buying group. And each of those people that are involved, one person may be the primary, another person may be an influencer, and another person may be a user, an economic buyer and a final decision-maker. They’re each going to have their own requirements for what is going to make them comfortable with doing this transaction. Increasingly, you’ve got more of a focus on persona-based marketing, and designing and developing content to meet the needs of the various people in the buyer’s journey. And then again, putting that information out there across the various channels that those individuals may choose to engage with, whether that’s on LinkedIn or on your website or on peer review sites, or in webinars or short video clips and things of that nature.

Hagen: Do you feel like that helps shorten the sales cycle? Because you mentioned something that’s so interesting about B2B that it’s typically not one person. But “in the old days,” getting in front of three or four people would take a number of meetings. Have you found that the digital experience and the buyer journey has allowed the sales process at times to be condensed to the advantage of not only just customers, but some of your customers?

Crowley: I think so. I don’t have empirical data that actually shows that, but I would certainly assume that when you eliminate physical travel, and people can meet virtually, and you can get disparate teams together on a conference call or on a video call, that will speed up the process. And I think the restrictions that everybody had to essentially shelter in place made people that much more comfortable with having these large interactive or larger group meetings from people who are geographically dispersed to solve the problem. I think you will see an acceleration of those buying cycles.

Hagen: So with everything that you’ve seen, especially in the last couple of years with the buyer experience, the digital experience , you mentioned that inventory can get condensed or even tougher to deliver, what’s the ideal solution that you think people are looking for? Not just your solution, but just ideally, what’s the solution that customers are looking for today?

Crowley: I think there are a number of requirements that are out there, and there are vendors out there trying to solve for this. I don’t know if you’ll ever have one tool to rule them all. One of the first things that you have to do is you need a tool that’s going to help you break down the silos within a business, both organizational silos – so ensuring that my rev ops team, which is typically a combination of marketing ops and sales ops people, has tight integration and interaction with the marketing team. So they understand which accounts and what opportunities are best for us to target and reach out to, as well as breaking down the silos to the sales team so they understand the priority in terms of who I should try to engage with. So that’s one: break down the physical barriers or organizational barriers between us.

Then, you need to break down the data barriers and the data silos. A solution needs to be open. It needs to be able to easily access and integrate and ingest data from multiple tool sets. As I said earlier, I think the recent stat is that there’s on average in larger enterprise B2B businesses, 20-plus sales and marketing tools in use, each with a different repository. So you need a place to centralize that – to cleanse and consolidate and get a single version of your truth for customers and prospects. It needs to be open. It needs to be able to pull that in. It also needs to have the capabilities to pull together. first- and third-party data. First-party data is the information that you gather about someone who comes to your website, right? It’s their digital behavioral data. Third-party data is their actions off your website. What are they looking at? What are they researching? What topics are they consuming data about? That can provide intense information. Is this person/organization/individual researching information about my solution area? They might be in a buying cycle. You have to bring that together with the data from your existing tool set.

And then you need something that’s flexible and scalable – that’s going to be able to give you the capability to execute marketing campaigns across a variety of channels or a single channel. Depending on what your budget is going to dictate, depending on how your targeted buyers are engaging with data, and depending on the level of sophistication that you have as a modern marketer, you’re going to need to be able to identify a target audience and then execute campaigns and programs across multiple channels. And you’ve got to orchestrate that. You have to be able to understand how you’re reaching them, where you’re reaching them, and then have that feedback loop, so you can measure and optimize those programs.

Hagen: How do you specifically do that at Dun & Bradstreet? Without mentioning company names, what are some successes you’ve had, especially over the last couple years, as the market has obviously shifted?

Crowley: We have a product called D&B Rev.Up ABX. This is our rev tech platform. It’s really about empowering those sales and marketing and operations teams to consume the data and insights about their target markets and automate and orchestrate the execution of their campaigns and programs. This enables organizations to pull that data together and then determine how and where to execute marketing campaigns to increase not only engagements and conversions, but accelerate the generation of revenue for businesses today. We just announced this offering in the beginning of May, but the components and underpinning technology have been in place for a while now.

We’ve used it internally (and we have a number of customers externally using it as well) to run account-based campaigns, account-based marketing. “ABX” stands for account-based experiences. Can I create a campaign or a program that customizes and personalizes campaigns for the target audience that we’re going after, engages them across a variety of channels, and delivers higher quality leads to my sellers, so they know what’s going on, they know that this person’s in market, and at the point of engagement or interaction that they have, they have much more relevant conversations as a result of it? We’ve seen increases in conversion rates of 25 to 40% on campaigns. We ran a test pilot earlier this year where we were able to generate $1.2 million in pipeline revenue off a relatively small target audience set. At the end of the day, revenue growth is where it’s going, but it’s also about how efficient am I in my marketing spends? Am I getting the return on investment that I really want? If I invest a dollar in marketing, am I going to get two or three or four or five dollars back in revenue?

We talked about the increased demand for digital inventory that’s out there. That’s increasing the cost structure of most marketing programs. If you can narrow the aperture of your targeting to a select audience, you can be more efficient with that spend. You can choose to maybe spend a little bit higher to cut through the clutter, but on a smaller audience, so your overall cost structure isn’t changed, or it can be reduced in many cases. It really is about rising above the clutter. As everybody moves online, there’s just a lot of advertising out there. How do you set yourself apart? You set yourself apart by being consistent across your channels, because it may not be someone only engaging with you by email. They may also be active on LinkedIn and see your advertising’s there. They may be on social media like Twitter or Facebook, and the ability to target those audiences… They may be even moving into the television space. Just that consistency and the repetition of seeing that brand with a consistent message to that audience is going to drive more conversion rates.

Hagen: These are fascinating times. Just hearing all the things that are going on and how much our world has changed so much from not only marketing, but you’ve mentioned just getting leads and quality leads to sellers. How does someone go about engaging your company and how did they get ahold of you?

Crowley: I would highly recommend go to www.dnb.com. You can get a wealth of information there. We’ve got a series of podcasts that are available, which I think you would be appreciative of. It is a new medium here, right, and one that you have to embrace. We’re active in multiple LinkedIn user groups. But I would say the website is one of the easiest places to go to understand the breadth and depth of our solution sets.

Hagen: Well, thank you so much for your time. This is a great discussion. I love where the industry is going. It’s fascinating because when you think of Dun & Bradstreet, I always think about the financial data too, so I’m happy you mentioned that in the beginning. But it’s fascinating what you’re doing with the digital marketing space.

Crowley: Yeah, it’s really an exciting time. One last point: When you go to our website, look up Rev.Up ABX. There is an online demo of this platform, so you can actually see what I was talking about in terms of how one could build, activate and optimize digital marketing campaigns. This is a really exciting time to be a marketer in the B2B space. There’s a lot going on and I just love it. I appreciate the opportunity here today, Tim, very much.

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