A Primer on Predictive Marketing for the Chief Sales Officer


Here’s a marketing prediction I can make with a high level of certainty.

True of false — as a Chief Sales Officer (CSO), do you need more leads and/or better leads?

In the countless meetings and calls I’ve had with CSOs, I’ve never met a CSO who was perfectly happy with the leads they were getting:

  • At Walker Sands, we get meetings with companies that need help, so my data is slightly biased but there is almost always intense dissatisfaction with Marketing.
  • One CSO said to me recently “I’m not sure the people in Marketing really get that they exist to generate Sales. There’s a lot of activity, but I don’t see a lot of results in terms of us getting good leads.”

This likely isn’t news to you. More often than not, Marketing annoys Sales, and Sales annoys Marketing.

But here’s one way to fix things. Read the rest of this blog post and then email your colleague who runs Marketing, and say “I’d like to meet with you to talk about predictive marketing. I think it’s something your team will love working on and it can really help the company to ramp up our sales at-bats and drive revenues up.”

Predictive Marketing 101

I always start explaining predictive marketing by talking about what a “tell” is in poker. I play Bridge, not poker, so I’m a little bit out of my depth on this, but the basic idea is that you notice something about the person on the other side of the table that lets you accurately predict the future.

For example, every single time they have a good hand, you might notice that their eyebrows raise up and they look at everyone around the poker table. Knowing this information, you can then watch for this signal and play accordingly. No eyebrow raise? Assume they are bluffing on the hand and bid the pot up.

So how do you apply this to Marketing?

Here’s a predictive marketing example I recently experienced.

A month ago, we listed our suburban home for sale.

In the United States, when you do this through a real estate agent, that event is captured in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) that all agents use, and the data is then syndicated to various web sites.

Smart marketers use this data to predict that I will soon be shopping for certain services.

Within just two days of listing the property, I received mail from real estate attorneys who offered to represent me in my upcoming sale. I also received mail from moving companies offering to help me with my upcoming move.

This is a simple form of predictive marketing. The selling company uses available data to predict that a buyer will need their services and they then proactively contact prospects to offer a solution to an emerging need.

There are countless other examples.

A criminal defense attorney might mine public records to determine that a defendant charged with a crime has posted a bail bond, which means they probably need a lawyer. Using this data, the attorney systematically reaches out to all such people and grows his practice, leaving competitors in the dust (until they figure it out and replicate the strategy — always a challenge for predictive marketers!).

Personally, I have used simple predictive marketing to grow Walker Sands by systematically reaching out to companies that have just raised funding. They’ve just landed venture money and more often than not one use of proceeds is to invest in better marketing, so they are often glad to hear from me.

I have a few other similar tactics that have worked well for me and one good one that I am dying to build but haven’t had time to get to — it’s generally the case that the really good predictive marketing ideas are difficult to create, which brings me to the topic of advanced predictive marketing techniques.

Predictive Marketing 201: Not Your Father’s Predictive Marketing

So far, I’ve explained what basic predictive marketing is, and you may be yawning and thinking “Ken, I knew this already. Have you got something new and interesting for me?”

Hang on. I’m getting there.

OK, if you’ve been heads down in Sales for a while, you may not have been reading about all the advanced work that is using Big Data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, custom algorithms and smart analytics software to take predictive marketing to the next level.

The general field is called predictive analytics, and the best visualization of it that I’ve seen is that now-famous IBM commercial (check it out below) where the policeman stops a crime before it happens because somehow, someway he is using data to predict what the criminal is going to do.

When predictive analytics is applied to marketing, you process loads of data and your analysis determines that somebody needs what you sell. You contact them and say “I’ve got a feeling you need this,” and, lo and behold, they are receptive to your call.

Or you say “I think you are going to need to work with me in three months and I just wanted to introduce myself to you.” They may not even know that they are going to need the thing you are offering in three months, but your predictive marketing engine knows they will and you’re the first in the door to discuss the topic.

Believe me, that first-mover advantage is what separates the sales and marketing elite from the going-through-the-motions folks.

It sounds easy but it’s actually very difficult. A truly special proprietary predictive marketing algorithm is very tough to code and perfect.

On the “if only it were that easy” front, I am starting to see tech startups packaging up off-the-shelf predictive marketing products that anybody can buy. For example, there are new products out there that allow you to feed in your current customer data and get out a list of likely future customers who you should talk to.

This is called lookalike prospecting, and it’s most relevant for companies that have a lot of customers and need a lot of customers; companies like Walker Sands who are very selective about who we work with can’t derive much benefit from lookalike prospecting predictive models.

But for those companies that can benefit from it, an off-the-shelf lookalike prospecting analytics model identifies new customer targets by mining your data to correlate attributes of existing customers and come up with what is essentially a formula for finding your perfect new customer.

(By the way, a good test for these programs is to feed in only half of your customers and see whether the predictive program could have determined that the other half of your customers would likely need what you offer. If the model does that, then you’re onto something!)

But no commercial software package can give you long-lasting competitive advantage because your competitor can by the same software, can’t they?

To do predictive marketing right, you’ll need some data scientists with some mad skills. It won’t be cheap but it will be worth it. I can provide intros if you need them.

So About That Meeting with the CMO…

Now, I hope you have a better understanding of what predictive marketing is.

I guarantee you that your C-suite counterpart in Marketing will be eager to talk to you about this. It’s one of those “bright shiny objects” in Marketing that everyone is excited about these days.

The nice thing about having a productive Sales and Marketing combo conversation about predictive marketing is that it’s likely much better than your current state: you’re trash talking them behind their backs and vice versa.

Instead, predictive marketing rallies the troops around a common goal of taking Marketing to new heights in order to take Sales to new heights.

As a final word of advice, predicting who you can easily sell to is only the first step in this journey. The real challenge is having a smart integrated marketing program that gets them into your funnel.

For that, you need content marketing, PR, SEO, PPC, Social, and more — brilliant campaigns that engage your prospects, nurture relationships, accelerate sales cycles and give you the at-bats your team needs to close.

Nobody does that better than Walker Sands, and, when the time is right (my predictive marketing model says we should speak ten business days from now), we’d love to talk with both you and your CMO about how we can help.

A call to (312) 235-6171 gets that ball rolling. If you’ve got questions or comments about this article, you can also simply post them below. Hope this was helpful!

Ken Gaebler founded Walker Sands as a full-service marketing firm back in 2002 with the goal of creating an exceptional ..read more

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