For marketers, using data to determine which marketing communications contributed to generating a purchase helps guide media decisions. But capturing and incorporating these influences is difficult for marketers of all stripes—those focusing on consumers as well as industrial targets. And within the business-to-business arena, there are additional complexities.
It is easy—and therefore tempting—to attribute a sale either to the last outreach effort, or the one which actually results in a sale. But there are several hazards in using these methods. The first is that electronic solicitations often result in immediate sales, or have built-in sales tracking mechanisms. As a result, marketers tend to over-credit their impact on sales, while underestimating offline efforts’ import.
The second is that B-to-B purchases often go through several layers of recommendation and approval. A marketer relying only on purchase orders for channel influence runs the risk of not identifying key individuals who received and passed along promotional pieces.
Then there is the hazard of “white mail” orders—purchases that come in seemingly without a specific catalyst, as in those which arrive without a promotion code, or from an individual not targeted by a recent campaign.
“The preference of the customer is to get information [through a variety of channels] and place orders online,” says Blair Barondes, executive vice president of marketing services for MeritDirect. “What that means is that marketers’ traditional tracking mechanisms are useless. How do you make good decisions about what vehicles to invest in when you don’t know the results?”
If B-to-B marketers have any advantage in this arena over consumer-focused companies, it’s that few of them do a lot of mass-market brand messaging. “What is available to OfficeMax is not available to typical B-to-B marketers,” Barondes says.
This alleviates at least one headache for marketers wanting to attribute their advertising program’s efficacy: They don’t have to factor gross rating points and similar mass marketing measures into their calculations. But this still leaves the question of mail and telephone efforts, the influence of which can be underrepresented.
One method B-to-B marketers can use for determining a channel’s efficacy is to establish control groups. Because mass media is usually not a factor in B-to-B purchases, marketers have more control over the messages a target sees. Holding out a sample group from a catalog mailing, and tracking how an institution’s online purchases compare to those receiving catalogs, email solicitations and perhaps a telephone call can demonstrate this channel’s influence, even if orders aren’t directly generated from it.
“Once [marketers] see the incremental results their direct [mail] channel drove, it frequently is enough for them to change their investment,” Barondes says.
Matchbacks which can change their level of granularity—from, for instance, an individual to a site or enterprise level—can also demonstrate different channels’ effectiveness. An online order from an institution may come in, say, through an e-mail sent to a purchasing executive. But part of the order may have been spurred by a catalog sent to a different manager, and a database which can give a quick overview of all targets within an organization will offer more insight into how purchases are spurred.
In that case, being able to amalgamate and analyze marketing collateral recipients at a single site, or for a single entity, allows a marketer to determine multiple influencers. “We have found that acquiring a second buyer at a site far more than doubles the value at that site,” Barondes says. “It improves retention and average purchase size, and begins to establish you as the vendor of preference.”
But this information is lost if orders come in through a single purchasing department, something which in an age of consolidation is happening more and more frequently.
Matchbacks can also help organizations refine their prospecting practices, according to Barondes. Often B-to-B marketers will try to generate new customers through prospecting databases, as opposed to merging and purging a variety of response lists.
Let’s say an order is placed through a Web site. The order doesn’t reflect a promotion code, or refer to a specific piece of marketing collateral. An unsophisticated marketer might attribute that order to the company’s search engine optimization.
A more sophisticated marketer will attempt to match back the order to a recent campaign—if not to an individual target, again perhaps on the site or corporation level. Barondes claims matchbacks can link a good chunk of seeming white-mail orders to targets who have received marketing material.
Yes, this helps with media budget allocation. Additionally, as most B-to-B databases offer a suite of firmographics along with the names they rent, it can enable a marketer to understand the industries, employee levels, titles and other attributes are responding to offers—and can provide insight into how to tailor future events.