Companies realise the importance of customer data but, if the gathering process is not up to scratch, huge targeting opportunities can be missed. Sue Norris investigates the benefits of effective marketing technology

When a salesperson fails to convert a lead into an order, a vital opportunity for market feedback occurs. The prospect may reveal that they have decided to buy from your nearest rival who has just dropped its prices, or they may point out that they wouldn’t buy from your company again because of problems they’ve had with your products in the past.

Says John Goose, managing director at sales and marketing system supplier Tranzline: “The salesforce are the eyes and ears of any organisation; they meet many potential customers and as such are in a perfect position to provide information and insight into the market.”

Yet all too often the essential competitive information they glean from prospects and customers goes unrecorded. This is a huge waste.

Martin Gateshill is managing director of sales and marketing consultancy Springfield Publishing. He is also the author of “The Golden Rules of Selling”. He believes the problem is twofold: sales staff have no incentive to gather marketing data (if they’ve lost the sale, they don’t want to waste any more time finding out why); and the standard software systems used by sales people don’t allow them to record this type of data, even if they were so inclined.

“Sales people are recording lots of useful data, but it’s more for their own benefit, and usually free-form in nature, so it stands as much chance of being available to others in the organisation as it would be if it were written on Post-It notes.

“I think that the more computer-literate managers do realise that this data could be captured, but they give up too easily when they encounter resistance. This is a shame, because I can’t think of any business that couldn’t improve its competitive situation overnight by making use of strategically gathered information, fed into a carefully-designed database. By recording and collating the minutiae of sales conversations, an organisation could find out so much about key rivals that it would appear to the competition that there was a mole in the camp.”

Security specialist Group 4 recently upgraded its GoldMine sales and marketing system, and claims the new product allows it to gather more of this type of information. Dave Ella is IT manager at the group’s technology division. “We have customer and prospect lists, flagged separately on a single database and we use the system to track the entire lead life-cycle, from initial enquiry to the quotation, to the outcome. If we don’t get the sale we try to find out why – which product did the prospect decide to buy instead and what price were they quoted? By doing this we’re trying to build up a profile of the competition, to find out where they are beating us.”

Ella admits that being able to collect this information is merely a useful by-product of the GoldMine system. “It wasn’t the main reason we installed the software, and the data we’re getting is hard to analyse. It takes time to build a profile, and the main thing we’ll be focusing on is probably competitor price information. But it’s still early days.”

Stanley Tools, manufacturer of hand tools and most famous for the Stanley Knifet, uses sales and marketing technology designed by management consultancy and software house Softa & Co. The company sells products predominantly via wholesalers and, because of this, felt it lacked control over its end customers’ buying decisions. It turned to technology to improve the productivity of its field sales force, who regularly visit both the wholesalers and its ultimate retail customers.

Now the sales staff are armed with portable computers containing the information they need to make an informed sales pitch, plus the facility to record vital information gained on customer visits. Marketing development manager Steve Wood says: “Now the salesman can record how successful, say, a hammer promotion has been. He can make a note of which other brands the customer is stocking and how sales of our products compare. The advantage is showing already. We can tailor future promotions and make a concerted effort to target accounts where we haven’t had the success we’d have liked, rather than taking the ‘well, this seems like a good idea’ approach.”

Of course, competitor information can be bought in from market research agencies. Heinz relies on Taylor Nelson AGB’s SuperPanel data to monitor its market position vis–vis its competitors. Marketing services manager Peter Ebsworth says: “We buy in data relevant to the markets we’re in, so we can examine the relative pricing and market share of our competitors.”

Yet, this data isn’t commissioned specifically by Heinz and is fairly generic. To get more out of the data, Heinz uses an analysis software tool from IRI Software. The Windows-based software system, DataServer Analyzer, is described by IRI as a new kind of business intelligence tool designed for marketing and sales analysis in market-driven industries. ©

It integrates sales and marketing data from multiple internal and external data sources and provides a range of ad-hoc analysis and reporting capabilities.

“We’ve been using the latest version of this tool for about six months now,” says Heinz’s Ebsworth, “and it allows us to examine the market research data in much greater detail. For example, it has allowed us to see how great an impact the growing number of ‘budget’ brands have had on our business. These have really eaten into our market in the past year. As well as getting the overall picture, we can divide the data down by specific accounts, to see how our sales are faring in particular stores.”

Gillette also uses IRI’s software. Says market research manager for Northern Europe, Richard Thorogood: “The information we buy in [from IRI’s market research division] is crucial for tracking our performance versus our competitors. However, this same data is also available to our competitors, which means that unless we can get something different out of it, we have no edge on our rivals.

“The DataServer product is so powerful that we can segment the data exactly how we want. There might be 400 different toiletry products, yet we can drill right down and focus on deodorant sales by price, size of package or even colour of label. The point is that we choose how we analyse the data.

“The software is used mainly by the brand departments, and by myself as market research manager. But in the future, the sales people will also use it for looking at shipment data. By being able to group the data in their own way, the account manager for Tesco can take a different view on the data to the account manager for Sainsbury’s, or a chemist.”

Heinz has been bold enough to take this data to its clients, to try to influence their brand decisions. Ebsworth says: “The data we’ve come up with on how budget products have affected brand sales helps us to place a value on a product category. For example, when stores starting introducing budget baked beans, their overall revenue on that food category fell. By highlighting this in our data, we can show the stores the damaging effect of stocking budget brands.”

But how does the data influence Heinz’s marketing activities? “By coupling the high-level data which we analyse using the IRI software with AGB’s low-level data on customer purchasing practices, we can look at things like brand loyalty. For example, do Heinz baked beans customers buy Heinz soups or Weight Watchers products? By pinpointing customer groups who aren’t loyal Heinz customers, we can focus our promotions. It may be that brand loyalty is weak in particular demographic areas or particular stores.”

Ideally, software tools like IRI’s DataServer Analyzer combine generic market research data with specific data gathered by an organisation’s front-line staff in its sales or customer service departments. Yet both Heinz and Gillette admit that they haven’t been using the software long enough to have started exploring these possibilities.

Before they are in a position to do this, both companies will have to ensure that their front-line staff are equipped with the will and the means of capturing this data. Sterling Data Services has built such facilities into its customised marketing software.

Says the company’s Mike McLouglin: “I’m a believer in what Sun Tzu (The Art of War) says on competitor intelligence: ‘Knowledge of the enemy’s disposition can only be obtained from other men’. In other words, follow up all your leads. Even though you know from previous follow-ups that they are not going to buy from you, find out who they did buy from and why. It’s hard to ask ‘what was wrong with my product?’ but it’s certainly enlightening.”

Sue Norris is features editor at The VAR magazine.

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