Breadcrumb (noun, also called breadcrumb trail): a series of connected pieces of information or evidence
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 pages we visit, the links that we click on, our location, browser history, 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 a consumer profile and then make billions of dollars by showing us ads off of those profiles.
But what’s surprising is that B2B companies haven’t fully opened up to the idea of digital breadcrumbs and leveraged them. Just like individuals, companies also leave behind digital breadcrumbs. It could be a tweet about attending an event, a job posting on the careers page, a blog post announcing new features, a new case study, changes on the management page, employee feedback on Glassdoor, 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.
As Lyseggen puts it, “Job postings, social media posts, blogs, and patent applications are rich sources of forward-looking information. They reveal how much a company is investing, how happy its clients are, and its future market positioning. In spite of their obvious strategic value, these sources of information are not commonly utilised today.”
Digital breadcrumbs comprise any information that might not mean much in isolation but starts to reveal valuable insights when collected, organized, and analyzed intelligently.
Working with some of the world’s leading companies, we’ve discovered novel ways in which the smartest market intelligence teams use digital breadcrumbs to outmanoeuvre competitors, reduce the cost of sales, find new business opportunities, and improve win-rates. Here are some real-life examples from our experience that illustrate this concept.
Sales teams have one of the most challenging and critical jobs in the company – they bring in the money. The sales team at a safety equipment manufacturing firm often complained of missing opportunities on large projects by the government or private companies in their assigned territories because they did not get that information from marketing. As a result, the company was losing out on revenue opportunities. The marketing teams started to look for signals that might point to a need for safety equipment. The experienced salespeople told them that after a large industrial accident, there is usually a hunt for a provider of safety equipment.
This information was publicly available as it was usually covered in the local news. Similarly, another source of leads were the expansion and development projects that eventually result in a new facility being built or tenders announced by the government. By simply tracking news reports of industrial accidents, facility opening, and tenders posted by the government, the marketing team was able to build a sales pipeline worth $5 million in the first month of implementing a market intelligence platform.
When a bank lends money to businesses, it better have a grip on its risk exposure. Instead of just relying on voluntary disclosure by current and potential clients, a European bank went ahead and tracked negative news on these companies and their filings on the UK Company House for signals of business risk. These signals included publicly available information about management changes, lawsuits involving directors, litigations, fines, money laundering, liquidation, and corruption. With this practice, the bank was able to reduce the turnaround time for flagging risky accounts by 80 percent.
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 beginning 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, their market intelligence team was able to take an intelligent guess at who they would be up against in the early days.
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 and go deep into them. The healthcare division of a Fortune 500 IT major was seeing success with their ABSD strategy but was looking to cut down the 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 sales signals like event participation, awards, new office opening, and leadership changes. These signals served as conversation starters and an opportunity to follow-up with the right context without irritating the prospect. By scaling this activity across the sales team, they were able to get to a point where 90 percent of their account managers reported finding opportunities to engage with their contacts.
So the question is – if there is value in tracking these digital breadcrumbs, then why do companies overlook them? We think it is overwhelming to listen to such signals without sophisticated tools because the Internet is very noisy. It is easy to lose track without having clarity about which breadcrumbs to focus on.
Recently, we wrote a blog post about building a market-intelligent company where we distilled what the learnings from helping our customers get the most out of their market intelligence programme. 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 their digital breadcrumbs.
Mohit Bhakuni is the Founder and CEO of Contify, a leading provider of Market Intelligence solutions.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)