Frankenstein: The State of B2B Data

When carpenters build a house they follow building codes, such as every bedroom having a window (natural lighting and fire escape), stairs must have the same size riser (to prevent tripping), floor joists must be less than 12” on center (to ensure there is enough structural support). To the naive this might seem overkill, but building codes create value – lots of value. Codes ensure the building has at least a minimum level of quality and safety. Codes help contractors get to work quickly as they know what to expect from colleges and other trades they are working with. And, as building science improves, building codes are updated to ensure that new buildings benefit from the lessons learned from existing buildings. Without them, buildings would be harder to construct, more expensive to build, less safe, and harder to repair.

What do building codes have to do with the state of B2B data and integrations?

Nothing at all. Standards don’t exist for B2B data, or for sales tech and service tech. That’s a problem for software vendors AND the companies that use their software.

Software Vendors

For vendors that make or support marketing, sales, or services technology this means:

Everything is net new. Every integration is a “unique integration.” Every platform makes its own data schema and makes its own integrations. This makes it more time intensive and costly to build and maintain integrations.

No shared definitions. Though there are conceptual standards of terms, there are no actual standards for what the terms explicitly mean. Consider the waterfall or marketing funnel, something that every B2B marketing/sales executive is familiar with. It’s poorly defined. For instance, there’s no definition of what an inquiry is or isn’t. If a form is submitted with fake data, does that count as an inquiry? If a person demonstrates BANT on two different offerings, does that count as one or two inquiries, etc.? And though this sounds “tactical,” it isn’t. It’s foundational. This one “tactical’ issue drives waterfall/funnel reporting.

*Though I’ve referenced defining an inquiry, it could have easily used any other marketing, sales, or services metrics used daily in B2B, e.g. web page visit, time on page, booth visit, email click, form submit, SAL, etc.

B2B Companies

For B2B companies that use marketing, sales, or service technology (i.e. EVERY single B2B company there currently is or will be) this means:

Vendor driven. Data standards are frequently built around the core vendor in a company’s tech stack. A challenge in this is that, though CORE technology is stable and doesn’t change out all that frequently, it does change. In many organizations you can see the vestiges of previous technology choices in that their data conforms to and is standardized using a former vendor’s data structure. Though there is nothing wrong with this, there is nothing “best practice” about this either. When you probe many of the assumptions or requirements that drove the data structure decisions, they are no longer applicable.

Myopic. Data standards and processes are heavily based on how a company’s “experienced” operations person states it should be. Unfortunately, some operations teams are SIGNIFICANTLY more experienced than others. The way inexperienced teams establish and maintain their data standards directly impacts and frequently sub-optimizes marketing and sales strategies because it makes them more difficult to support and extend at scale.

Growing pains. Smaller organizations define how they think things should be, often without the benefit of foresight for how things will be as the organization grows. Data standards and business processes are designed to fit like a glove, but as the company grows, the data standards and processes don’t scale and that glove rips.

Organizational memory. As the operational resources change out, so does all of the thinking about why the company’s schema was designed in its current form. Frequently, there is no documentation or only an outline of how things work with no explanation of why they were set up in such a way.

Systems are made up of multiple applications. Nine times out of ten, vendors don‘t give guidance about how to use their software with other vendors. Each vendor has different data standards too. This ignores the reality that B2B companies use multiple platforms together to try to engage a person/company. The result is a lack of practical use-case driven documentation.Disparate data standards lead to fragmented customer experiences.

The Taming of Frankenstein

Efforts are underway to start reining in the uniqueness and wild west nature of B2B data. The one receiving the most airplay is the Open Data Initiative (ODI), which was announced in September 2018 and is being driven by Adobe, Microsoft, and SAP. The premise of ODI is to “weave together data from any channel or device using a single data model to create a real-time customer profile.” This is a very large step in the right direction, however in reading all of the materials and technical guidance on ODI, is it heavily focused on B2C and their needs and requirements. Though B2B companies could gain benefit from core concepts like buying centers, personas have fallen by the wayside. It’s also more of a messaging exercise (in my opinion) than anything else, as there is no representation from smaller or midsized organizations (i.e. any martech/salestech/servicetech vendor under several Billion Dollars – and that to me isn’t insane). Also, there isn’t a common website across these three cloud vendors for ODI making it hard to see how they’re really working together.

Oracle Unity is an additional initiative focusing on this issue. Oracle is looking to pull together and integrate the data sets of all of the marketing, sales, and service vendors it has acquired. I’m a huge supporter of this initiative. Here’s the thing though, like ODI, the Unity project does not provide a clear standard that will be adopted across all B2B software vendors.

Our Key Insight

The state of B2B data (fragmented, unstandardized across vendors, lacking actual definitions) is an underreported issue that impacts all “strategic” marketing, sales, and service initiatives. Remember, data is what powers all of your tactics, programs, and reports. Large vendors like SAP, Microsoft, Adobe, and Oracle are making overtures to this issue and are are beginning to standardize. This is good; it’s great actually. That said, these efforts aren’t factoring in the feedback from the thousands of non-billion dollar plus marketing, sales, and services vendors. There isn’t a strong conduit for feedback from B2B companies, either, that considers what they need, what they want, and why they want it.

If you were driving a standard and were a billion dollar plus organization how would you steer it? How much would you bend the data schema your company has invested heavily in, even if it was the best for your customers and the industry as a whole?If you care about this topic and the lack of open standards, and you want to hear more, join our mailing list, a once-a-month email with recent posts, workshops, and events sign up here.

Jay Famico | Jay is a recognized thought leader in B2B marketing who focuses on helping companies gain maximum value from their investments in marketing technology. He’s given hundreds of presentations and written dozens of articles on demand generation, lead management, demand modeling, and technology strategy. Prior to starting Capstone Insights and growing his lumberjack beard, Jay was vice president of Client-Focused Technology at SiriusDecisions.