The company is not a self-sufficient entity, isolated or independent from its environment. It is both impacted by its macroenvironment and its microenvironment:
- The macro-environment is composed of the legislation of the country in which it operates, technological advances, the level of qualification of the workforce, sociology, security, etc.
- The microenvironment is composed of the company’s customers, its suppliers, its competitors, the tax authorities, etc.
This environment in which the company is immersed is both a source of threats and opportunities:
- Threats: these are the “negative” elements of the environment that could affect the company’s competitiveness. Examples include an upcoming vote on a bill that regulates the company’s industry, an environmental tax, a minimum wage increase, etc.
- Opportunities: these are the “positive” elements of the environment that the company could use to its advantage. It can be a bad buzz that affects a direct competitor, a drop in the cost of raw materials, a social or societal trend that leads to overconsumption of the product marketed by the company, etc.
The company must therefore protect itself from the threats to which it is exposed and seize the opportunities that present themselves… but it is still necessary to detect them! And this is where B2B marketing intelligence comes in. In this practical guide, Twilead reviews the definition of marketing intelligence, provides concrete examples and details the steps to follow to succeed in your intelligence effort at a lower cost. Let’s go !
What is B2B marketing intelligence?
B2B marketing intelligence refers to the process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting data related to the company’s macro and micro environments. In short, it is about monitoring the company’s environment to identify trends, innovations and events that may have an impact on its business. This can include monitoring competitors, consumer habits, the legal environment, technological innovations, etc.
This raw data is transformed into relevant information that streamlines operational, tactical and strategic decision making. B2B marketing intelligence also allows the company to identify threats in its environment as well as development opportunities.
Before the democratization of the web, marketing intelligence was generally associated with economic intelligence, lobbying and even industrial espionage. This practice was by definition reserved for multinationals that could afford a business intelligence and technology watch unit with travel, conference attendance, partnerships and eventually contracts with large consulting firms like Gartner, McKinsey and BCG.
Today, data is (often) free and just a click away. The challenge for B2B marketing intelligence teams lies in sorting, analyzing and interpreting data, rather than collecting it in the technical sense.
Examples of relevant themes for a B2B marketing watch
To better understand marketing intelligence in practice, here are some real-life examples:
- For the past few months, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) has been taking an offensive approach to ensure compliance with the RGPD. For example, it criticized the use of Google Analytics, which sends data from European websites through the United States. This is a regulatory development that must push the company to beef up its RGPD compliance or risk being fined heavily.
- At the beginning of September 2022, Google completed the implementation of the ” Helpful Content” update. Among the new features, Google will now penalize websites whose content has been specially written to please search engines. SEO advertisers and web agencies need to be able to detect this type of change to prepare themselves and eventually support their clients.
- In France, the sale of thermal vehicles (gasoline and diesel) could be banned by 2040. This plan, which could lead to a bill in the medium term, would impact a large part of the economy, from car manufacturers to car rental agencies.
- In 2018, the Celio brand experienced a bad buzz Indeed, photos and videos published relayed in social networks have shown clothes lacerated in a store of the brand located in Rouen: the brand preferred to destroy the new clothes remained unsold rather than sell them or give them. The resulting boycott campaign benefited the competitors.
Why do B2B marketing intelligence?
Companies that practice rigorous marketing intelligence aim to improve their overall competitiveness and performance. They want to gain visibility in an environment that has never been so volatile. They also want to keep an eye on the competition and market opportunities, especially in B2B where the number of potential customers is relatively small, and any data can lead to a large contract.
B2B marketing intelligence is also a great way to learn from the best in communication and community management. Finally, it is an interesting practice to follow the brand’s reputation on the web and detect bad buzz in order to act in time.
#1 Gaining visibility in a turbulent environment
The business environment has never been so turbulent. We saw it in 2020: the Covid has upset all predictions, anticipations and projections, making any effort at forecasting impossible. By necessity, companies have become more agile in surviving containment and decontainment episodes, curfews, border closures, supply chain disruptions, etc.
This is the primary interest of B2B marketing intelligence: to provide a minimum of visibility in a world where uncertainty, turbulence and volatility have become the norm.
#2 Marketing intelligence, a condition of competitiveness in B2B
Then there is the nature of B2B, an industry that has different characteristics from B2C:
- As a rule, the target of a B2B company is less dense and less important than the target of a B2C company;
- In B2B, the average ticket is generally several times higher than the average ticket in B2C (with the exception of the automotive and real estate sectors).
These two elements plead in favor of a systematic and rigorous marketing watch. Since there are fewer potential customers, any useful information about a competitor (financial difficulties) or a prospect (imminent need) can be decisive in signing new customers and stimulating your growth.
#3 Benchmark and learn from the competition
There are good ideas everywhere, all the time and in every field. B2B marketing intelligence will allow you to stay on top of your competitors’ marketing, sales and even HR initiatives. This benchmarking work will allow you to adapt to remain competitive, but also to be inspired by the best practices of your competitors.
Benchmarking also allows you to see how your performance compares to that of your competitors. This will allow you to identify your strengths and areas for improvement in order to move forward.
#4 Identify the target audience’s content preferences
By conducting B2B marketing intelligence on LinkedIn, for example, you develop a deep understanding of the type of content that resonates most with your target audience: topics, format, tone, type of visual, etc. You will also be able to draw inspiration from the best publications of the competition to enrich your editorial program.
Marketing intelligence and benchmarking are undoubtedly the best ways to win the content battle… and it is particularly decisive: according to a study by GartnerB2B buyers spend the majority of their buying journey searching for and consuming content online on their own. By providing them with inspiring, relevant content that is in line with their expectations, you give yourself the means to generate qualified leads to boost your sales performance.
#5 Monitor the company’s e-reputation and act in a timely manner
Marketing intelligence is the best way to monitor your brand image and detect the beginning of a bad buzz to act in time. According to IFOP, 87% of French people say they consult online reviews before making a purchase decision. In B2B, this will involve monitoring comments on your LinkedIn posts, your Google My Business (GMB) listing, Capterra, TrustPilot, etc.
How to do B2B marketing intelligence?
If poorly planned and executed, B2B marketing intelligence can quickly become a time-consuming, costly and non-value-added activity. It can drown you in a sea of meaningless raw data and discourage you. To avoid going off track, here are a few essential steps to focus your approach and maximize the benefits of your B2B marketing intelligence effort.
#1 Make a list of “useful” information
Don’t lose sight of the goal. You are not a general media. Your goal is not to collect ALL the data related to your industry. So start by doing a process of elimination, to keep only the types of data that are useful for your decision making. In short, what information will allow you to identify :
- New development opportunities;
- Imminent threats that require action on your part;
- Ideas for your marketing and communication efforts;
- Changes in the buying behavior of your target, etc.
This will allow you to target the most relevant sources to refine the work and set a framework for your collaborator or team in charge of executing the B2B marketing intelligence.
#2 Identify the best sources for your B2B marketing intelligence
You have at your disposal a wide range of free or paid sources to carry out your daily marketing monitoring. Here is a non-exhaustive list, to be adapted according to your sector of activity and your budget:
- LinkedIn, the social network that concentrates much of the communication of B2B companies;
- The press specialized in your sector of activity, whether it is paper or digital;
- Key events in your industry. As a rule, the most valuable information is exchanged informally;
- Market studies distributed by consulting firms and polling organizations;
- Publications from institutes and other public bodies on trends related to your industry, if available;
- Benchmarking the competition, either by systematically testing your competitors’ products or by studying their marketing campaigns;
- Subscription to newsletters, both from specialized media and competitors;
- Training of field sales representatives who can, through contact with the target audience, identify trends in the buying behavior, expectations, fears and aspirations of your audience.
#3 Ensure that the data collected is used
Marketing intelligence is not limited to data collection. These need to be aligned, analyzed and interpreted to make them actionable. Transformed into intelligible information, they can be used to rationalize decision-making and limit risks. The data collected can also be used to detect opportunities to be seized or imminent threats to be protected against.
#4 Disseminate the information collected to the relevant teams
B2B marketing intelligence will inevitably result in confidential information, especially when it has been collected informally, during an event for example. On the other hand, the majority of the data collected is public. These deserve to be disseminated to the teams concerned to help them draw inspiration, optimize their actions and make the right decisions.
According to Gartner, 65% of B2B companies will have completed their transition from an intuition-based decision model to 100% data-driven decision making by 2026. Companies that miss the mark will be at least two years behind their competitors. To succeed in the shift to data-driven decision making, B2B marketing intelligence is essential.