The Next Frontier for CIOs: Finding More Meaning in the Existing Marketing Data

Eric Johnson, SVP and CIO, SurveyMonkey

Eric Johnson, SVP and CIO, SurveyMonkey

Google the term 'marketing software', and HubSpot is one of the first companies you will read about. With solutions for CRM, content management, social media, and more, it seems to have its fingers in almost every pot. The company has historically been quick to anticipate— and service—every marketing need. So, what does it mean that HubSpot has acquired PieSync: a data syncing tool? It means that marketers are recognizing the same problem that CIOs have been wary of for decades: data silos.

There are too many poorly integrated silos within marketing—a situation that has recently been made worse by the explosion of marketing technology solutions. Of these, many of the 'best of breed' solve only a narrow set of use cases, forcing companies to layer more and more solutions to the stack and, of course, creating more silos. Marketers often have direct lines of access to a type of data that should be valuable for almost everyone in the company: the voice of customers. It sounds like a buzzword, but the interactions that marketers have with customers often produce insights about their problems, preferences, needs, and deeply held beliefs—the kind of information that ultimately determines whether your company is successful.

SurveyMonkey's research found that 91 percent of people believe that companies should fuel innovation by listening to buyers and customers, compared to only 31 percent who think they should hire a team of experts. What could a software developer accomplish if they could have first-hand access to information about the features each user finds the most confusing? How would a product manager change their decisions if they knew which webinars their customers found most interesting?

Right now, many employees only get access to information by actively seeking it out or having it reported to them. As of 2017, the average enterprise used 91 different cloud marketing solutions. That number has probably only gone up. So, part of the problem might be that employees have no idea what kind of information their peers are collecting in systems like HubSpot, Marketo, or Salesforce. Those peers are probably similarly in the dark about the value of the data they are sitting on. Imagine a marketer decides to send out a survey to understand how customers feel about, for example, environmental sustainability. They may use that information to drive a marketing campaign based on eco-friendly aspects of their product, but would they pass their findings along to product people? What about PR partners, who might be interested in using the research to tell a story about the brand to media? Or even HR employees who might use an emphasis on environmentalism to attract new candidates.

"Find the marketing data most likely to be useful and look for ways to bring it together through integrations"

Data silos are hardly new problems for CIOs, but that does not change the fact that they are among the most pressing—and many companies overlook the particular value of marketing data.

So, what is a CIO to do? First, acknowledge that he or she is in the best position to identify the silos with the most latent potential. Those silos might not be obvious.

Next, instead of attempting an overall audit, identify high-value opportunities. Analyze your business needs, and choose a problem where data could provide a tangible benefit—like driving accelerated sales or improving renewal rates. Find the marketing data most likely to be useful and look for ways to bring it together through integrations. Success could make a big impact: HubSpot’s own research found that 23 percent of salespeople cite manual data entry as the biggest challenge in using their current CRM, and 17 percent cite lack of integration with other tools.

Here is a real-world example: Celadon Trucking was having challenges recruiting and retaining new drivers, so the HR team asked marketing to help out. Marketing started surveying drivers and auto-populating the data in Salesforce, hoping to use the findings to shape new marketing content. But the research also revealed something else: areas where the miscommunication was causing drivers to drop off. Celadon made changes in response to their findings and improved driver retention by 68 percent. Those improved satisfaction percentages, in turn, made for great marketing fodder. How many HR teams have access to their organization’s CRM? What could they accomplish if that were to change?

A second step is changing the way that you evaluate and approve new marketing solutions. In his article in the Harvard Business Review, VP of Technology Strategy at Silicon Valley Data Science, Edd Wilder James, identifies “vendor lock-in” as one of five major causes of data silos. Software vendors who understand the value of data sometimes trap users into being reliant on their platforms, forcing silos in order to be “indispensable.” This strategy is not only frustrating, but it creates major problems down the line. Yet many companies still opt for solutions that force a separation.

CIOs intuitively look for integration capabilities when it comes to comprehensive solutions like HubSpot, but they might not be extending that wisdom to smaller, more targeted programs. Software designed to help address a specific problem can still include valuable data (or benefit from access to external information), and they are easy to overlook. A CIO may miss the value of an alternative integrated solution, or the people who end up leading purchasing decisions for these more specialized tools—the marketers who need them—might not fully appreciate the importance of integration capabilities. Either way, it is a missed opportunity.

If you fail to discriminate against programs that force new silos, you are setting yourself up for future disorder. CIOs need to educate their organizations about the importance of prioritizing solutions that emphasize integration and give preference to vendors that enable data to flow freely.

According to Forrester, spending for marketing automation tools is expected to reach more than 25 billion dollars annually by 2023. They are among the most expensive investments that many CIOs will make. So, we have to ask ourselves, ’What are we doing to help our businesses really get the best value that we can out of them?'

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