How digital breadcrumbs can help to achieve the right intelligence
The concept of a digital breadcrumb trail isn’t new. In the digital world, intentionally or unintentionally, we leave behind a trail of information that can reveal a lot about us. The web pages we visit, the links that we click on, our location, browsing history, our device, everything reveals something about us. Notice that cookie that you need to accept on a website? That’s a digital breadcrumb you’re leaving behind. These breadcrumbs are used by B2C companies like Google and Facebook to put together our consumer profile and then make billions of dollars by showing us ads off of those profiles.
Surprisingly, B2B companies haven’t been able to leverage the power of digital breadcrumbs to develop their market and competitive intelligence strategies. Just like consumers, companies also leave behind digital breadcrumbs such as a tweet about an event, a job posting on their careers page, a blog post announcing new features, a new case study, changes on the management page, customer comments on a review site, discussion forums, press announcements, news coverage, and much more. In the context of B2B companies, the word ‘digital breadcrumbs’ was first coined by Meltwater CEO Jørn Lyseggen in his book Outside Insight.
Digital breadcrumbs are any information that might not mean much in isolation, but reveal valuable insights when collected, organized, and analyzed in a structured manner over a period of time.
While implementing market and competitive intelligence solutions at some of the world’s leading companies, we’ve discovered novel ways in which the smartest teams use digital breadcrumbs to gain competitive insights. Here are a few handpicked, real-life examples from our experience that illustrates this concept.
Industrial accidents: the digital breadcrumbs that helped a company generate sales leads
Sales teams have one of the most critical and challenging roles in the company: they bring in the money. The sales team of a safety equipment manufacturing firm often complained of missing opportunities because they did not receive the right lead from their marketing team at the right time. As a result, the company was losing revenue opportunities to the competition. The marketing team started to look for leading signals that might point to a requirement for safety equipment. Their experienced salespeople told them that it usually takes an industrial accident for the management, to realise the importance of safety and invest in the right equipment.
This information was publicly available as such mishaps are covered by the local news. Similarly, another leading indicator of potential leads was the expansion or announcement of new projects, which results in a new facility being built or tenders announced by the government. By tracking such news reports of industrial accidents, facility openings, and tenders announced by the government, the company was able to build a sales pipeline worth $5 million in the first three months of implementing our Market and Competitive Intelligence platform.
Negative news: the digital breadcrumbs that helped a bank avert business risk
When a bank lends money to businesses, it often runs the risk of not getting their money back, should the business fail. Good banks are better at managing their risk exposure. Therefore, instead of just relying on voluntary disclosures by current and potential clients, a European bank, after lending money, proactively tracked negative news on these companies and monitored their filings with the United Kingdom’s Companies House for signals of potential business risks.
These signals included publicly available information about management changes, lawsuits involving directors, litigations, fines, money laundering, liquidation, and corruption. With this intelligence practice in place, the bank reduced the time for flagging risky accounts by 80%.
Job postings: the digital breadcrumbs that revealed competitors’ next big move
In a hyper-competitive market, knowing where your competitors are headed is an important strategic advantage. Consider the case of a Fortune India 500 IT services major with $9 billion in annual revenues. The company was looking to focus on blockchain and wanted to ascertain which of their competitors were also focusing on this new space. By looking at the job postings of their competitors for blockchain-related roles in specific regions, their market and competitive intelligence team was able to intelligently predict specific competitors they would be up against.
Sales signals: the digital breadcrumbs that enabled a sales team to engage with prospects
A common strategy for B2B companies selling to large enterprises is account-based sales development (ABSD). Instead of trying to sell to everyone and spreading themselves thin, enterprise sales teams focus on a few high-value accounts to deep-dive into. The healthcare division of a Fortune 500 IT major was seeing success with its ABSD strategy but was looking to cut down on the lengthy sales cycle. They realised that account managers that were having personalised conversations with prospects and following up with them frequently were closing deals sooner than the others.
They started tracking their key accounts for conversations starter signals such as event participation, awards, new office opening, and leadership changes. These signals, 'conversation starters', gave the opportunity to the sales teams to follow-up with the right context without being a nuisance. By scaling this activity across the sales team, they were able to get to a point where 90% of their account managers reported finding opportunities to engage with their prospects.
So the question remains, if there is value in tracking these digital breadcrumbs, then why do companies tend to overlook them? We think it is because it’s usually easier said than done. It is overwhelming to identify such signals in the extremely noisy place like the internet without the aid of sophisticated tools that are specifically engineered for this purpose. As it turns out, the first step towards building a market-intelligent company is to define the goals of your market intelligence programme. As you might have already noticed, in all the examples above, there was a clearly defined goal which helped these companies identify and capture the right digital breadcrumbs.
Author: Mohit Bhakuni