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Best Practices

The Low Hanging Fruit Hiding in Plain Sight

One of the unintended consequences of the rapid shift to sales force automation tools, CRM systems and large-scale lead generation campaigns is that things only work well when you target prospects and they respond to your promotions. It’s an outbound world now. Pity the poor prospect who unprompted calls you to buy something!

I have recently been in that position, having to make sales inquiries to data companies on behalf of clients. At first, I simply bemoaned the quality of salespeople these days. But then I realized it wasn’t the salespeople who were the problem; it was me! None of these companies had put any thought into how to handle an unsolicited lead, probably because they assumed it was a non-issue. But it’s a big issue. I consistently fell through the cracks because none of these companies had made any provision to deal with me. I didn’t fit their workflow.

The first thing you learn about being a buyer in this situation is that you better not be in a hurry. Callbacks to unsolicited leads in my recent experiences ranged from two to four days. And when I did get a response, it was often by a screener, charged with determining if my business was worth a salesperson’s time. Indeed, after being screened by one major data provider, I received a surprisingly curt email informing me that the size of my potential order didn’t merit their attention, but that my name had been passed along to one of their distributors, and I would hear from them in due course. I’m still waiting after three weeks.

I’ve also learned that using the phone doesn’t accelerate the buying process at all. In fact, it makes things worse. Two of the data companies I contacted had automated attendants that would helpfully connect me … but only if I already knew who I wanted to talk to. In one case, I actually reached a live person who answered the company’s main number. When I asked to speak to someone in Sales, I got the response I hear nearly 100% of the time: there are no salespeople in the office. When I asked to leave a message for someone in Sales, I got a long pause, followed by a very hesitant and somewhat dubious “sure, if you really want to.” One receptionist actually made the mistake of connecting me to someone in the sales department. I say “mistake” because the person answering the phone said he “wasn’t allowed to talk to me,” but he’d have someone call me back. When I said I needed some basic product information first, he did in fact provide it, after swearing me to secrecy because “I could get in a lot of trouble for doing this.”

Since companies have clearly abandoned the telephone as means of inbound contact, you think they would pay close attention to incoming leads by email. If only that was true! After submitting my sales inquiries to three companies via the ever popular “contact us” form, proving that I was not a robot, and in some cases being asked the size of my budget (required field), I sat back and waited. And then waited some more. One company responded fairly quickly, but the salesperson was apparently so incredulous that a sales lead would be unsolicited that I had to submit to a grilling via email to confirm my interest and my bona fides.

The second company responded three days later, and apologetically asked for lots of information about my product requirements and me so that he could “get me in the system.” Once properly in the company’s lead stream, I had a satisfactory buying experience.

The third company? Three weeks and I am still waiting on a response.

You surely know where I am going with this: with so much technology and so many resources being devoted to lead cultivation, generation and management, we seem to have forgotten about the most valuable sales lead of all: the unsolicited inquiry. There is apparently no place for them in our automated workflows.

Not your problem? I challenge you: complete the form on your own company’s “contact us” page and sit back and wait, not with a stopwatch but with a calendar. If you want an even more dismal experience, call your own company’s main number and ask to speak to a salesperson. Yeah, it’s that bad ... which means the opportunity for quick increased revenue is that good!

Thinking About Privacy and Data? Good.

We have heard a lot in the past few weeks about the travails of Facebook, as it became widely known that many millions of its user profiles had been,  for lack of a better term, hacked. That in turn brought Facebook’s advertising microtargeting capabilities into focus, creating more widespread privacy concerns.

But does the average data publisher have to worry about privacy? The short answer is yes.

Data publishers, including B2B data publishers, often control a wealth of extremely valuable data. Many data publishers don’t fully appreciate what valuable insights they could glean from their own data. Fortunately, data thieves haven’t figured it out either … yet.

The highest value data in a typical commercial database isn’t the data itself, it’s the information on what users are doing with the data. Knowing, for example, that the head of acquisitions at a public company was doing deep research on another public company, could be extremely valuable to certain people. Knowing that an executive suddenly started looking at job openings could be valuable. Knowing that five venture capital firms in three days had looked up information on a particular start-up could be extremely valuable. You get the idea.

We already sell some types of information about how users interact with data, and we do this with very little thought about how it might blow up in our faces. Other of our data is clearly quite sensitive and we’d never sell it, but what if somebody stole it?

Going back to 2013, Bloomberg came in for tough public scrutiny after it was revealed its reporters had used Bloomberg terminal access data to track an individual in order to write a story. That’s pretty tame compared to the recent Facebook revelations, but it shows there is often tremendous inferential data hiding in the intersection between our databases and how our customers interact with it. Monetize where appropriate. Protect where appropriate. But whatever you do, don't ignore it. 

Looking for New Product Ideas? Can We Talk?

Part Two.

As I explained in Part 1, the most dependable new product ideas are totally organic in origin, meaning they are originated by people who want the new product as much for their own use as for others. The best ideas come from real personal need, not concepts or abstractions. To this end, I am surprised so few publishers encourage people to bring them their new product ideas: it’s free market research, and the really good ideas tend to be easy to spot.

Of course, you can’t depend entirely on a passive source like this. That’s why many publishers make an effort to talk to their customers. It doesn’t take a lot of conversations to start hearing about marketplace needs and opportunities. While the idea of talking to customers for new product ideas is well-known, your success depends in large part on how you go about it.

It’s surprisingly difficult to get productive conversations going with your customers. First, you have to get a meaningful amount of time from them,  which gets harder every day. Second, you have to enter the conversation without preconceived notions or biases. Third, the conversation needs to be open-ended to allow the customer to take it in any direction. When a customer volunteers something like “but what I could really use is …” you have struck gold. You can have conversations by phone, though in-person conversations are always the best. And please don’t think that sending out an online survey in any way substitutes for customer conversations.

The good news is, yes, customers will tell you what they want, and they’ll do it happily. If multiple customers suggest the same new product idea, you’ve probably got a winner.



Looking for a New Product Idea? Just Ask.

(Part One- Continues Next Week)

Where do really good ideas for new data products come from? Not surprisingly, I am asked this question a lot. Perhaps surprisingly, the answer isn’t all that complicated.

The best ideas for new data products almost invariably come from personal need. History shows that the data products that succeed most readily tend to be highly specialized in terms of content and user base – and they were typically surfaced by people who would use such a data product themselves, if someone else produced it. The person who sees the opportunities knows just how useful and valuable the new product would be, that nothing else like it currently exists in the market, and that there are many other people in similar roles in other companies who would benefit from it. Right there, you have all the ingredients for a winning data product, and I have seen dozens of them over the years, in almost every case started by someone with no data publishing experience, but who did have a deep understanding of the need for the data. As just one example, a recent news article talks about a professor, frustrated by the lack of information on sustainable building products manufacturers, decided to compile his own directory. Despite being published as a print directory, it’s already in its second edition – the need was out there for this information.

Why did a professor of architectural technology and building science decide to become a publisher? Likely because he didn’t feel he had any options. And that’s not surprising. For despite the intense interest of B2B media companies in new data products, not one that I know tries to reach out to its audience for new product ideas. That’s a shame, because in my experience it’s mid-level executives buried deep in large organizations who are the best source of these new opportunities. All you have to do is ask. 

Meet Three of the Best…

We created the Infocommerce Models of Excellence program back in 2003 to recognize data products that provided good examples of innovation in business models, markets served, content innovation and technology.

The point is that they offer fresh ideas and approaches that are applicable across many market verticals, and that’s why they’re worthy of attention and study.

The three honorees this year, in no particular order are:

Franklin Trust Ratings, a healthcare data provider that has not only done an impressive job integrating nearly a dozen public domain databases, but has an innovative business model as well. Franklin Trust founder John Morrow is building his business around the idea of “democratization of data.” In simple terms, this means that that he is consciously building an end-user analytics tool, using a powerful but simple user interface with pricing that makes it accessible to all. In an era of five- and six-figure analytics-driven data products built for trained data analysts, Franklin Trust has built an analytics product that can be used by anyone, and that anyone can afford.

Savio has developed a talent marketplace for the marketing research industry. Talent marketplaces aren’t a new concept. Indeed, it can be argued that they helped jumpstart the growth of the gig economy. Savio has bigger ambitions, however, seeking to tap into the growing shift to automated vendor discovery and procurement, as well as to start to evolve its existing online buying guide product to a truly transactional meeting place for buyers and sellers. It’s almost inevitable that all buying guides will have to move in this direction. Savio is blazing the way.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions is one of the largest and best-known data players out there, but that’s not inhibiting it on the innovation front. Consider its new Active Insights product for the insurance industry. How many millions (billions?) of dollars have been spent building out cutting-edge lead generation technology. Whatever the number is, it’s huge. How much has been spent on similar technology for custom retention? It’s a tiny amount by comparison.

What Active Insight does is simple yet brilliant. It flips lead gen technology on its head and applies it to customer retention. An insurance company supplies its custom file to LexisNexis Risk Solutions, which monitors them in real-time for trigger events. Did a customer just put her house up for sale? LexisNexis Risk Solutions spots the real estate listing and tells the insurance agent to get in touch with the customer ASAP to help her seamlessly transfer her coverage to her new home. We have the technology. This is just a great new way to put it to use.

All three of our 2017 honorees will be presenting at the annual BIMS conference next week in Ft. Lauderdale just. Their creators are people you’ll want to meet to put their experience and innovation to work for you in your industry. See you there.