If you think Big Data is something only B2C marketers need worry about, you’d be wrong.

As business buyers turn to the digital world to help them explore and solve pressing business problems, marketers will find that the data needed to propel their firms into the digital future isSource: Wikimedia Commons increasingly big.

The challenges we face in closing the gap between the amount of data available and our ability to get value from it are equally big.  Nevertheless, to become customer obsessed requires understanding your buyers much better and data is the key to that understanding.  During Forrester’s Forum for Marketing Leaders last week, I told B2B marketers that it’s time to make a date with their big data destiny. (The prior link is to our forum coming up in London — you can also listen to my April 30 webinar to learn more on this topic.)

My colleague Brian Hopkins believes that – to exploit the business opportunity hiding in big piles of data – marketers must understand that data is increasingly:

  1. Diverse, making integration costly and complex. Look at the data pouring out of smart devices, wearable computers, sensors, social media, video, etc. and it’s easy to believe that 90% of all data has been created during the past 2 years (according to the US Chamber of Commerce and Norway’s SINTEF ITC.)
  2. Large, challenging your technology and analytics ability.  
  3. Messy, challenging your firm’s obsession with using only high quality, curated data for analysis.
  4. Not owned or controlled by you (at least a good chunk of it is this way), challenging the natural tendency to hoard data in silos and shy away from data sharing.

Now, analysts are fond of saying “you can’t cure most business issues with technology alone.”  Look at the landscape we've littered with failed projects since the post-industrial era to know this is true. However, data analytics is a place where I see technology playing a crucial role – simply because the size and complexity of “figuring out what you don’t know about what you don’t know you have” requires some form of automation to tackle.

For B2B marketing executives, the best place to start their Big Data journey is by focusing on their buyers' journeys and by doing something that may seem a little counterintuitive: Start by understanding your best customers and work backwards through their journey to identify the patterns that led them to be successful and to stand out from the rest. 

Using this insight as a starting point, marketers can then match these sometimes nonobvious patterns to identify likely targets for upsell or cross-sell offers, help sales accelerate deals, create new demand, and (ultimately) spot new target markets. (Our friends at ON24 picked up on this theme during the conference as well.) Check out B2B Marketing’s Big Data Destiny (subscription require), published this week, to learn more. 

In the 1872 painting “Spirit of the Frontier”, artist John Gast shows Columbia leading settlers west.  Most interesting, she brings along the telegraph and railroads (arguably the state of the art in technology back then) to help aid the process.  In pursuing your Big Data destiny, follow Columbia’s lead and look at technologies from a growing number of companies like 6Sense, Bizo, BlueKai (now part of Oracle), Fliptop, Infer, Informatica, Lattice, Mintigo, Reachforce, and Teradata (to name a very few — and I'm sure to hear from those that I left off the list). New offerings from these firms can help you find the hidden patterns in your data mountains and put what you know about your best customers to work accelerating business and predicting where to go next.