The retail industry has recognized that although consumers tend to be very loyal to their brands and their stores, critical events in the lives of their customers can shift those loyalties.

Event-driven marketing mines transactional data for signs that customers are, for example, buying a home, getting married or having a baby. Campaigns are then sprung into action to retain and upsell customers at those critical times.

The success of such programs, including the highly publicized instance of a leading retailer that inadvertently alerted a woman's father to her pregnancy, prompted us to examine the possibilities for event-driven marketing within the business-to-business (B2B) space. After all, businesses can also be pregnant with opportunities... for the savvy organizations that detect them first.

Types of Triggers

Here are three categories of events that your analytics shouldn't miss.

  1. Product-driven triggers include maintenance contract expirations, the availability of product upgrades, transactional buying signals (e.g., a company that purchases one product is likely to require a related product), and product end-of-life or replacements.

    Those are typically the easiest triggers to track, because they are bound up in the product's lifecycle. Tracking this type of trigger requires maintaining installed-base records of customers for long periods while keeping the data as clean and current as possible.
  2. Organic triggers relate to the normal changes that happen in the lifecycle of a business. An expanding business will signal new needs for a vendor's products by way of real estate acquisition, revenue growth into new geographies, or a high rate of revenue growth overall. Merger and acquisition activity may drive consolidation to a single supplier. Understanding the customer's year-end and industry-specific seasonality will help a vendor anticipate seasonal selling opportunities. Executive leadership changes can also drive new purchasing strategies.

    When companies assign a salesperson to an account, they are essentially making that person responsible for identifying the organic triggers in the account and positioning the right products to the right person at the right time. Advances in marketing analytics mean people, processes, and tools are now available to extend the number of accounts a company can monitor.
  3. "Black Swan" triggers are unpredictable events outside a company's control and alter its business in unexpected ways. Hurricane Sandy drove up demand for hotels and bottled water in the short-term, and construction materials long after the storm to repair the estimated $66 billion in damaged property. Because of the ash cloud from the 2011 Icelandic volcano eruption, and the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, companies worldwide re-examined their business continuity plans and invested in telecommuting and virtual conferencing.

Less obvious, but still important, are changing tax incentives and subsidies that can be very specific drivers for new investment, if the marketer is paying attention.

Responding effectively to any of those types of triggers requires cooperation across many departments. A centralized marketing analytics team must monitor external conditions with accurate and timely data served up by IT or provided by Sales through CRM systems. The marketing campaigns team must be nimble and creative, collaborating closely with the sales team. Operations must be ready to fill the demand.

All of that needs cross-functional governance to ensure that customers are delighted and the company has a good rate of return.

Anticipating Buying Behavior

If you are not already looking for buying trigger events, it's not too late to get started.

Here are a four tips to begin the process of anticipating customer buying behavior in a systematic way.

1. Start with what you know best: your customers

Gain organizational buy-in for broader event-driven marketing actions by first mining readily available customer data for likely triggers.

Information on product-driven triggers may become available and actionable by combining data sets—such as your CRM database and your service maintenance records. Information related to organic triggers may be free on the Web or accessed via a database (such as customer credit rating data) not usually mined by marketers.

The key is to gain a quick win at low cost and without challenging corporate bureaucracy.

Along the way, the savvy marketing analyst will gain insight into which events have the highest correlations to purchase behavior.

2. Be the first to identify event triggers by establishing real-time reporting processes

So you have a quick win, and you've completed a more methodical assessment of the correlation between triggers and purchases. Now it's time to establish processes that continually monitor and flag the events worth pursuing.

Prioritize the events that promise to drive the most revenue while minimizing the expenses involved in data gathering and Sales and Marketing response. Avoid trying to establish tracking for too many triggers at once; beginning with two or three is a good way to make substantial progress without overwhelming current processes.

3. Event-driven marketing is all about timing

Sustained success from event-driven marketing campaigns will require nimbleness and patience.

Real estate events such as moving offices or opening a new wing of a building may trigger buying behavior within four weeks, while merger and acquisition activity might not generate buying behavior for six months or more. Black Swan events require creativity, a quick response, and a willingness to refocus and reprioritize marketing efforts.

There must be a commitment to continually survey the market and customer behavior for event triggers. Then, making the effort up front to estimate time to purchase can dramatically increase campaign effectiveness while helping provide an initial framework upon which to build marketing actions.

4. Use testing to improve your win rate

Understanding which event triggers yield the best results should be a focus from the start, and it will become increasingly important as new triggers are added.

As your event-driven marketing activities mature, demonstrating continuous improvement and having documented the business value will help you to make investments in dedicated staff, additional sources of information, and tools that facilitate automation.

* * *

A wealth of opportunity exists for those able to successfully anticipate customers' buying decisions. A company achieves a true competitive advantage when it has people, processes, and tools aligned to deliver a strikingly relevant message through the right media when these events occur. As the saying goes, "timing is everything."

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B2B Event-Driven Marketing: Triggers Your Analytics Shouldn't Miss

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image of Vince Stuntebeck

Vince Stuntebeck is a co-founder and the CEO of ZAnalytics, a company that uses cloud-based technologies to help clients build data, AI, and analytics products.

LinkedIn:Vince Stuntebeck

image of Trevor Jones

Trevor Jones is president of Hoopla Systems and a senior associate with Taligent Consulting, in Ottawa, Canada. He has spent 20 years helping clients harness technology and information to better understand their customers. Reach him via

LinkedIn: Trevor Jones