Buyer and customer sensors? Wait a minute. First things first: What the what do you mean by “sensors”?

Glad you asked. A sensor is any sort of mechanism that can detect activity and transmit information about that change or event so that it can be used for analysis and reaction, either in real time or at some point in the future. (Man, even I got bored writing that sentence.)

Here’s the thing – there are sensors all around us, from traffic lights that know we’re waiting to go, to fitness trackers that dutifully log our every step, to learning thermostats that keep us warm at night.

In B2B marketing, the number of sensors out there is growing all the time. More and more, savvy marketers are figuring out ways to understand what markets have buyers with the highest propensity to purchase their offerings, what personas make up the buying team, and where those people are in their buyer’s journeys and customer lifecycles.

When I talk to clients about managing their data, the conversation frequently turns to how they can get access to sensor data (they don’t always call it “sensor data,” but that’s what they’re asking for) that will give them insight into the mindsets and attitudes of their buyers and customers.

The amount of data that can be gathered is staggering, and equally daunting is the task of pulling it all together in a cogent form. But there’s a set of data categories I share with our clients that helps them frame the various sources of sensor data to make it much more approachable:

  • Daily data. This is the data that you see every day from your marketing automation, sales force automation, social media and Web platforms. Chances are, the information here is pretty well understood; the trick, though, is aggregating the data across systems so that it’s easily digestible and actionable.
  • Untapped internal data. This is the data lost in some other system outside of your purview (customer care or billing information, perhaps). This data is relevant to the insights you’re trying to drive, but it’s stuck in a silo in some other part of the company. “If Company X only knew what Company X knows,” is a self-effacing lament I hear far too often. So put on your pith helmet and go find out what (else) your company knows…it might be just what you need. P.S. A corollary to untapped internal data is partner data.
  • Public data. Public data is more accessible than it’s ever been, what with “technology and stuff” (thanks for that phrase, Chevy guy), and the leading data-driven organizations are using that information to their advantage. Whether it’s financial data that may give insights into a company’s stability or trigger information (e.g. lease expirations), public data that’s relevant to the inflection points on your buyer’s journey should not be ignored. Plus, it’s free.
  • Private data. Another alternative to looking outside the company walls is to purchase data from vendors. Demographic and firmagraphic information about your targets – along with behavioral data and digital body language –can be yours as long as you bring your checkbook. This word of caution is relevant for all data sources, but especially for paid sources: Be sure you’re clear about the business drivers for the data you’re after, as well as what decisions or actions you’ll take once you have it.
  • ???. Here’s where the real fun comes in. Organizations that think creatively about the information that would allow them to more effectively target and drive demand with their key audiences, place proprietary sensors or be the first to adopt new sensor technology to gather that information can create competitive separation. For example, software that allows sales reps to know when an email they’ve sent has been read, how many times the recipient downloaded the attachment, and the device used to read the message can yield tremendous insight into the target’s behavior, which can be used to course-correct that specific set of interactions. The data can also be aggregated to reveal patterns of behavior for that persona.

So without giving away any state secrets, what sources have you found the most fruitful in your data gathering? Which ones are still tough nuts to crack? What questions do you have about buyer and customer sensors that we can kick around?