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How data-driven are the front offices in B2B?

Why is data essential to commercial success? If your data is fragmented, you can’t draw conclusions, you don’t know what is and isn’t working, employees within your commercial department can’t talk to each other, you won’t get to know your prospects properly and you can’t service customers as well as you’d like. How come? The answer is simple: there is no single source of truth...

Why is data essential to commercial success? If your data is fragmented, you can’t draw conclusions, you don’t know what is and isn’t working, employees within your commercial department can’t talk to each other, you won’t get to know your prospects properly and you can’t service customers as well as you’d like. How come? The answer is simple: there is no single source of truth.

It wasn’t for nothing that Steve Ballmer hammered home his point at Microsoft: DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS. The video has become legend. Am I hearing Ballmer finish up with the words ‘Data, Data, Data’?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VgVJpVx9bc

No, unfortunately I’m not hearing that. But if Ballmer were to step onto the stage right now, I’m sure that's what he would be shouting – or at least, he should be. 

Data, Data, Data

In the past 10 years, data – or big data – has been the centre of attention. And rightly so. But this attention hasn't always resulted in the right actions, let alone the right revenues. There’s still a lot to be gained, certainly when it comes to commercial processes within B2B organisations. 

Looking more closely at such processes, there has clearly been a disproportionate focus on the primary processes within such organisations – particularly those related to the production and supply of services and products. In our view, the most important primary process (i.e. marketing, sales, customer service – in other words: the front office) is still being left on the back burner.

Data, information, knowledge and behaviour

There are several reasons why the B2B commercial process is not yet data-driven. Before we explore these reasons, we should be clear that ‘data’ cannot be seen in isolation from associated concepts such as information, knowledge and behaviour. Data – the zeros and the ones – mean nothing in themselves. Data is always linked to a specific context and it always requires interpretation. 

Take, for instance, the number 100. If we’re talking about money (the context), this probably refers to 100 euros or 100 dollars. If it’s about people (e.g. age), it’s probably 100 years. In this way, data becomes information. 

Say we turn a lot of data into information, which we then interpret – now we have knowledge. It’s simple: companies with a particular turnover (e.g. over 5 million) have an 80% greater likelihood of becoming a customer of company X and being profitable too. You'll understand that this type of knowledge does actually need to be converted into behaviour. Because otherwise your sales rep will be doing the rounds of organisations that might become customers, but won't make you any money. 

How data-driven are B2B front offices?

The average front office in SME organisations tends to be facilitated by back-office systems. These systems were originally designed for financial accounting, enterprise resource planning or some other purpose. Over time, thanks to their stronghold in the back office, they slowly but surely found their way into the front offices (marketing, sales and customer service). This made perfect sense for both the software suppliers and their users – especially since no front-office alternatives existed 10 or 15 years ago. 

The situation is very different today. Yet many front offices are still lumbered with on-premise/web-based systems – not designed in accordance with the wishes/requirements of end-users but instead developed out of existing back-office IT systems designed for other purposes. As a result, it becomes extremely difficult to create a frictionless customer journey and to gather relevant data/information across all channels to fine-tune the journey. The systems and their architecture were simply never designed for this.

Data-driven actions in the front office

Wherever people interact with people, systems must be supportive of our behaviour. You may think that’s obvious. But if you were to ask the average business person if this reflects reality, I suspect you’d get an emphatic thumbs down. Sales would definitely use a CRM system if it increased their chance of deals and simplified their work. Marketing would love to automate the selection of target audiences for sales, so that sales qualified leads are automatically channelled that way. And customer support is very keen to see all the interactions that sales and marketing have had with a particular customer within a single system. 

However, most back-office systems focus on processes and technical systems – and far less on behaviour. If you want a frictionless customer journey, keep your back-office systems in the back office. You can only boost your business in a data-driven way once you’ve got your front-office tech stack in full working order.

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Emiel Kanters

Managing Director & Partner