"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Scott Bedford, CEO at MultiView.
Are you more likely to die of thirst in the middle of the ocean or a desert?
It’s a trick question, because while the ocean is abundant with undrinkable water, the desert has none at all. That’s why I’d take my chances with the ocean. You can filter salt water and drink it, but in the desert, you cannot filter what isn’t there.
The same holds true for the application of big data in business-to-business (B2B) marketing, where ad tech’s current best filters lack access to an ocean of data. Connecting the ocean to the filter is the strategy behind LinkedIn’s recent acquisitions and launch of a full-funnel marketing suite.
LinkedIn is all about scale at the top of the funnel. By connecting with platforms like Bizo, which identify and manage leads inside the funnel, LinkedIn has built a self-sustaining ecosystem of B2B leads. That makes sense, because no matter what filters and improvements are made inside the funnel, the tool’s overall effectiveness depends on a steady flow of inputs at the top. Otherwise, the leads eventually dry up and disappear altogether.
For companies like HubSpot and Salesforce, a single player like LinkedIn controlling all levels of the B2B funnel should be alarming news. Those two firms built two of the best funnels out there, but they’re about to lose the fight to scale at the top of the funnel. To survive, both companies must seek out their own oceans of data because, right now, B2B’s two premier marketing platforms are vulnerable on two fronts.
On the low end, both HubSpot and Salesforce face the problem all software makers face: A commoditization of code that allows newer and cheaper entrants into the market to siphon off business from established players. With each new feature they roll out, HubSpot and Salesforce effectively make an opening for their competitors to gain market share by selling stripped down platforms to customers who use only a fraction of the capabilities currently offered by the Salesforce and HubSpot products.
On the high end, Salesforce and HubSpot face competition from LinkedIn and other entrants that are seeking market share by bundling serviceable CRM marketing platforms with proprietary data, better networks and scalable paid media. At the same time, the long-term customer retention picture for firms like Salesforce and HubSpot is only getting worse because the SaaS CRM model and data portability make the cost of switching low.
Missing The Top Of The Funnel
So what have HubSpot and Salesforce done to meet this challenge? If HubSpot’s two most recent acquisitions are any indication, it has doubled down on building a better mousetrap. Chime, a Google Chrome plug-in that brings the notifications from a user’s web apps together into a single feed, and PrepWork, which distributes automated briefing emails to prepare users for upcoming meetings, are amazing tools that are way ahead of the curve for executing one-to-one conversations in today’s B2B marketing environment. But neither acquisition addresses what HubSpot needs most: scale at the top of the funnel.
For its part, Salesforce is in the same boat, albeit for slightly different reasons. By acquiring ExactTarget, EdgeSpring and RelateIQ, Salesforce has doubled down on software solutions inside the funnel. While that can look like an aggressive technology play, I’d argue that it puts the company in a defensive posture given the broader trend toward commoditization in this sector. More importantly, though, the Salesforce acquisition spree seems to have missed the larger opportunity that comes from connecting its product to the massive ocean of data that exists outside the funnel.
“We think of advertising in terms of identity,” Scott McCorkle, CEO of Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud, told AdExchanger last summer. “We have focused on the social ad world. People vs. cookies is a powerful [paradigm].”
McCorkle is right. People over cookies is a powerful paradigm. And if the strength of business is the ability to see people inside the funnel as more than isolated bits of data, it makes sense to build tools and features that can both automate and personalize at the highest levels.
Finding An Ocean
LinkedIn isn’t the only answer. Sooner rather than later, companies like HubSpot and Salesforce will need to find sources to fill their funnels at scale. That data is what I like to call B2B marketing fuel. LinkedIn has that fuel, and more importantly, it has combined it with analytics solutions inside the funnel that give it a proprietary advantage with B2B marketers.
If HubSpot and Salesforce want to overcome disruption from above and below, they must build or acquire their own proprietary networks for scaling B2B leads. Otherwise, their technology will go to waste in a data desert – the right tool, but one without access to the fuel that is necessary to create value for enterprise users.