There was a good article in Forbes today that speaks to the real challenge facing organizations today as they attempt to continue searching for ways to increase sales while struggling with the changing environment of social media tools & customer engagement.

We still live in a world where many B2B sales and marketing personnel continue buying leads from email and list providers and then use those leads to try and sell.  Reading the article, this cycle will see diminishing value and results. Just as many consumer products and services have turned to the buyer being in charge of the buying process and sell cycle, B2B is headed that way. It’s a matter of time.

Following this path means that the company and primarily marketing, needs to ramp up the engagement with the marketplace and build the relationship.  It is the R part of CRM. While the use of CRM systems has grown by leaps and bounds, many still view them as a way to manage the lead pipeline and flow of opportunities. Where it should be a way of managing and building the relationship, it is still more about the selling.

At the heart of these systems is the database of companies and contacts. The more data you have about the prospective account the sharper the focus you can have on crafting your message and understanding what they care about. Having a robust database of company info with a number of elements beyond the basics is critical to this goal of deeper relationships. The basics of industry, size, revenue are a given. Add to this an indicator of the prospect company’s social activity or a buzz tracking metric, reputation score or any number of data fields that enhance your knowledge of that company. For those in the technology market, adding data about their technology environment from companies like Harte Hanks or HG Data can go a long way to fine tuning your approach.

Other data elements can be attached to the company database including information about benefit plans, patents that are held — a wide variety of data elements are possible. Here’s where social media plays a big role and marketing needs to crank up the presence and exposure. It is today’s version of The White Paper.  Show the thought leadership and share the knowledge to develop the market engagement.

The formula that seems to be developing is to have a strong database with deep analytics that gets mined and continually refined accompanied by a content strategy to build an audience of prospects from those targeted companies in the database. It is very targeted and much more of a pull strategy than a push and sell approach. It seems contrary to all that we learned over the years but it will help us concentrate and target.