Marketers intent on reaching technology decision-makers face a distinct disadvantage today: Those decision-makers not only keep a fairly low profile, but have a myriad of titles that often fail to describe what they actually do.
The result, according to a study of technology marketing database effectiveness, is that marketers may have a harder-than-average time of reaching IT prospects that with other verticals.
"People who are trying to market based on title are frustrated," said Ruth P. Stevens, president of marketing consultancy eMarketing Strategy and co-author of "B-to-B Technology Industry Prospecting Databases: A Comparative Analysis of Nine Data Suppliers." "For example you see a title, 'VP-engineering,' but he's really an IT guy and that's not the title you selected."
The study noted that "IT titles are growing fuzzier over time." It uncovered such titles as infrastructure analyst, network director, platform manager, reporting manager or system programmer, all attributed by database vendors to IT decision-makers.
"It's well nigh impossible from these titles to conclude that the person is in an IT role," the study concluded. "Marketers may need to broaden the variety of titles they specify to capture a wider set of targets."
According to the study's co-author, Bernice Grossman, president of direct-marketing consultancy DMRS Group, the especially fluid job market of the past few years has resulted in tech decision-makers changing companies or taking up distinctly different job responsibilities altogether, but without necessarily changing job titles.
"They or their companies may never have seen the need to change their titles to support the requirements of people trying to market to them," Grossman said.
The database vendors participating in the study were Data.com, Dun & Bradstreet, Harte-Hanks, Infogroup, Mardev-DM2, NetProspex, Stirista, Worldata and ZoomInfo. The researchers asked these companies to provide company counts in a selection of verticals (for example, chemical companies, health services, machinery), IT contact names for specific companies and complete records on 10 tech professionals who agreed to lend their names to the study.
'LARGE HOLES' IN CONTACT LISTS
The research examined the results for data volume, completeness and accuracy. Among its findings were what it characterized as "large holes" in contact lists when the vendors were asked to provide information on the 10 preselected IT professionals.
"We hypothesize that some larger enterprises might encourage their IT professionals to keep a low profile," Stevens said, of this result.
Also, widely disparate results were reported when the database vendors were asked to provide IT-related titles from 10 well-known companies, such as Dell Inc. For Dell, Data.com returned 1,473 technology-oriented contacts, Harte-Hanks 83 and NetProspex 1,287.
Searching for IT contacts at Andersen Windows, Dun & Bradstreet came up with 169 contacts, Infogroup 17, Worldata 167 and ZoomInfo 12.
However, these and other vendors' numbers of contacts varied significantly when sourcing IT professionals at other sample companies.
"The most important thing to come out of this study is not the results from any one vendor; you can't rely on one data provider," said Jay Schwedelson, president-CEO of Worldata, which is known for its technology contact lists from both response and compiled databases. "You need to access data from a variety of sources."
Schwedelson partly attributed the wide variety of IT titles, which is muddling the identity of technology decision-makers, to the move to cloud computing.
"Because of this, the IT infrastructure has been changing radically over the past few years," he said. "And as a result, IT people have much different capabilities than those who have yet to make the migration to the cloud. There's a massive shift in titles and job functions."
The study advises marketers to select data vendors based on contact quality, not necessarily quantity, and to examine their data vendors' methods of defining and sourcing job titles and functions. It also noted that finding companies by Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code isn't always productive, because many vendors use proprietary industry classifications.
The authors recommend that marketers test various databases; for example, they might assess accuracy by comparing a vendor's results with their own "known" in-house list, or by calling and verifying provided phone numbers.
"What's most important for marketers is that they have to suspend their assumptions and start to do a little more research," Grossman said. "That's really what these numbers show. You just can't let your marketing sense be driven by assumptions."