How to Make B-to-B Data Dance
After nearly 20 years in business-to-business marketing, Pam Maxwell is convinced of one thing: Most companies don’t understand the value of their data.
At Interline Brands, a $630 million distributor of maintenance and repair products, she feels fortunate to work in a company that believes in the role data can play in catalog marketing. Among Interline’s catalog brands are Barnett, Wilmar, Sexauer, Maintenance USA and Hardware Express.
Maxwell came to her current post in January 2001, after 18 years in sales and marketing for Airgas, a distributor of industrial gas. She started there right out of high school and moved into supervisory positions after attending night school to earn a marketing degree. Two former bosses from Airgas recruited her to Interline, where her current challenge is developing campaigns around the data the company has amassed.
Data Analysis: A Discovery Process. To successfully use data in direct marketing, Maxwell says you need someone who knows how to “mess around with customer data to find interesting patterns. Most companies don’t have anyone in their organizations who can make that data dance.” She believes it’s visionary to hire someone who can do these things with a PC—to bring someone in to start digging, not knowing what that person’s going to find. “It’s a leap of faith. You can’t predict the ROI from hiring that person until you give him or her some time.”
As Maxwell explains, “The PC challenge is very real, and that’s something a lot of managers don’t get. They think you can just put a PC on someone’s desk.”
How to Mine Transactional Data. Static data mean nothing until you find something that’s intriguing and has possibilities, Maxwell says. And doing that requires data mining. For a company of Interline’s size, Maxwell says there’s only so far you can go in this process on a PC. Eventually, it becomes wise to invest in a server-based system. (Some smaller companies probably can do it all on a PC, using off-the-shelf software, she notes.) Either way, according to Maxwell, “You need some wins at the [lower] level before you can move forward and get management to invest in the right tools.”