7 Steps to Visualizing B2B Social Media Data

Once B2B companies start creating social profiles and interacting with customers and prospects online, they start accumulating data. It is easy to aggregate data into spreadsheets to present to your team or to your boss, but for many people data can be more easily understood and remembered if it is presented visually. And I don’t mean just creating pie charts and colored graphs using excel data, but transforming the data into a visual story. Depending on the size of your B2B company and your staff resources, this may be something to consider only for a yearly report, but it is worth thinking about.

1. Determine the Story You Want to Tell
Before you even start looking at your data, you need to plan the story. Presenting data over time is one way to make it compelling and doing it visually allows you to present much more data than if you just showed the raw data. The story could be made up of multiple storylines that go in different directions. This can also be like your theory, where you predict what the data shows.

2. What is the Context of the Story
The context of the story relates to your goals. If you were driving leads on a website using social media, what are ways to make that a compelling story besides just the number. What kinds of leads close and become sales. Are there different things that resonate (close sales) with existing customers versus new customers? How does all this data fit into your overall business strategy and metrics?

3. Decide What Data to Include
Once you know what story you are trying to tell, you can determine what data is the best way to show it. You may get to this stage and realize you don’t have the data you need, or you haven’t been collecting it for a long enough time period. It means that you may need to delay the creation of this visual report until you have the data. If you are not trying to drive leads, you need to look at engagement numbers. If all you can track are number of followers and fans, you should not continue with trying to visualize your data. There is no story to tell in those numbers.

4. Understand Your Audience and Their Needs
Just like with marketing campaigns, you need to know your audience for your data visualizations. Even though you plan to walk through the graphics with your boss, or the board, people who are used to getting piles of spreadsheets might want to see the data. Have the data available, but the idea is to create a compelling story that shows your successes and nobody asks for the data backup.

5. Work with Designer to Wireframe and Design
If you have made it this far in the process, it is now time to turn this over to a designer. If you can clearly communicate your story and you have the right data, a good designer can work through this to create a great visualization of your data. There are tools available to produce infographics on your own, but they pale in comparison to what a designer can do. Their first step is to sketch or wireframe where everything goes. This is a basic layout, but not a design. After getting some feedback, they convert that into a design, which has the graphical elements in place.

6. Review
Once presented with a design of your data visualization, review it against your original requirements to see if it tells your story. As you develop these graphics, sometimes you see connections between data that you would not have seen otherwise. Make any changes to the visual that are needed before finalizing the project. One simple thing to suggest is to include company branding or colors in the graphic, whether it will be shared outside the company or not.

7. Deliver
Don’t just email the visual report to your team, but schedule a presentation, or two. If you need to present it to your boss or the board, do that first, but gather your team together and present it to them to show them the details of their work. It is great to share in successes, but it can also be a time to plan for ways to improve.

Have you thought about sharing B2B social media data in a visual manner, and are there any additions to the above process for your company or clients?

Converting B2B Sales Data into Social Intelligence

Given the explosive growth in business and social data, it would be natural to assume that B2B sales and marketing professionals have access to a wealth of new information to learn about and engage the savvy, social buyer we call Customer 2.0. However access to so much data comes with a hefty productivity price tag. Finding the relevant nuggets is a lot like looking for a needle in an ever growing haystack – not to mention the effort required to reconcile all the data inaccuracies and conflicts that inevitably arise from the multiple “sources of truth.” So the question for the B2B professionals should not be how they can gain access to even more prospect data, but rather how easily they can distill this mountain of data into actionable intelligence to engage their prospects in a meaningful manner.

So how is sales data different than sales intelligence?

Sales data, refers to the quantifiable facts and figures about prospects, including company and contact details as well as financials, that can be pulled from a variety of editorial or user-contributed sources. Online Sources of B2B Data: A Comparative Analysis (pdf) and its sequel (pdf), compares several B2B data vendors based on three criteria: volume (how many good contacts can I retrieve from this system?), completeness (can I get every field I want?), and accuracy (is the contact information correct?). One interesting takeaway from this analysis is that though there is a great deal of prospect-related data out there, it isn’t easy to assess accuracy or completeness of account or contact details given the preponderance of sales and marketing data sources.

Intelligence, however, is about making sense out of this ubiquitous and sometimes conflicting mass of data and turning it into actionable insights to engage the prospect. In other words, intelligence is about synchronizing “what you know about who you know” with “when and where you should know” it to ensure you engage the right people at the right time with the right message! The Web is providing billions of new data points and opportunities to gather unique insight via social communities, search queries and purchasing behaviors. Opportunities to gather data are abundant, but what is truly important is how a company, or sales rep, will learn from such information for the purpose of increasing sales. Intelligence goes far beyond the basic facts and figures about companies and creates a broader view in the prospect that incorporates recent business events, social conversations as well as social relationships. It becomes the essential piece of the social selling puzzle.

Data can also be misleading. A statistic, without context, may throw a company in a tailspin if applied before cross-referencing other pieces of data that influenced the specific finding. David McCandless, data journalist and author of The Visual Miscellaneum, recently named his speech at TED, The beauty of data visualization (I highly recommend watching this presentation). David emphasizes visual data and data comparison for greater intelligence, rather than static and out-of-context analytics.

Community + Data = More Clutter

Online communities provide platforms for customers and prospects to pose questions and gain new insights into the products, services and companies they are considering. As people become more comfortable sharing information online than ever before – even when this means visiting a company’s community to express their angst with the vendor’s product – data about companies, people and products proliferate.

This of course provides sales reps the opportunity to monitor such communities, listen to conversations and pull data about which products, initiatives or personnel are – or are not – successful. However, the number of social communities is enormous, and continues to rise as global adoption of the Internet increases. A better solution must be put in place for easily accessing and making sense of this data to accelerate the sales cycle without costly productivity impact to the sales and marketing organizations.

Social Intelligence

The solution: Social intelligence. With such an abundance of data, companies that find the most resourceful method of distilling relevant intelligence from available data are those that will reap the greatest rewards. Of course, companies have begun realizing this, and vendors are answering the call. The question is not “if” but “when” your company will join the intelligence tea party. Whether the solution is infographics that extract trends and patterns from data or technologies that aggregate online community insights, or augment traditional business insights with social perspectives, organizations must realize the massive productivity promise of social intelligence.

What are your plans for shifting your sales and marketing organizations reliance on static data – and turn them into productive consumers of dynamic business and social intelligence?