B2B Solution of the Week: Inside the future of predictive analytics

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If you visit 6sense, a predictive analytics provider for sales and marketing, in San Francisco, you might expect that a converted Victorian house or a gleaming office tower will house the B2B startup. However, 6sense and its founder and CEO Amanda Kahlow aspire to humbler external trappings, choosing a converted warehouse/loft off an alley across from a Safeway supermarket as their office space.

What 6sense lacks in vainglorious extrusions it makes up for in building its business intelligence platform as one of the vendors included in the Forrester report on the predictive analytics space from July 2015. According to Kahlow, the company now has 90 billion rows of unstructured B2B buyer behavioral data. Using that data alongside static information attributes about B2B companies, 6sense can find B2B buyers when they are in the market shopping for a solution, according to Kahlow.

With this approach one 6sense customer was able to close a $2 million deal in two weeks, Kahlow cites.

“Other predictive analytics providers say go after (certain) customers because they look like your other (existing) customers,” Kahlow says. “Dell, NetSuite, IBM, Lenovo, Cisco, Dropbox and Blue Jeans Networks (all 6Sense customers) do well with companies who are second in their market. We can show you who has a need.”

Apparently, the secret ingredient that other predictive analytics providers miss is intent data, the way Kahlow sees it. This is in contrast to overuse of customer profiles, an approach that even Salesforce—a 6sense investor—has pushed. However, 6sense pushed back, according to Kahlow.

Start with an end in mind

According to Forrester, data management processes produce a volume of information that often overwhelms B2B marketers attempting to improve those very processes. Throw in external data sources, and the problem becomes untenable, Forrester researcher Laura Ramos and her co-authors state.

“But more data doesn’t always deliver more valuable insight,” they write. “Those whom we interviewed counseled peers to identify a specific set of problems that they want to solve. Agreeing on assumptions and hypotheses upfront lets marketers put technologies from solution providers like 6sense, Fliptop, Infer, Lattice, Leadspace and Mintigo to work faster and avoid making wrong turns.”

In-market timing and intent data remain key to staying away from these deadends, according to Kahlow. 6sense can help its customers achieve this based on looking at two to four years of historical data, which the customers provide from their systems.

Evolution from a service business

As new as the predictive analytics space appears, 6sense’s roots go back 14 years when the kernel of the enterprise started as a service business, according to Kahlow. Then six years ago, circa 2010, Cisco began to invest in the company’s “science project,” as Kahlow puts it. The grand total came to $5 million over several years for the corresponding research.

“What they built only takes Cisco data, no external data,” Kahlow says. “They can continue to use it in-house for engagement scoring.”

Even that early work on predictive analytics for Cisco has paid off very well, drawing an inference from a customer testimonial that Cisco made for the company. 6sense’s first champion and internal sponsor at Cisco, Joseph Puthussery, vice president, Global Demand Center, has high praise for the vendor.

“We pressure tested the 6sense model against a lot of data,” Puthussery says. “We got to a point where we could predict better than 80 percent where accounts were about to have a booking event.”

A rising tide lifts all boats?

Using in-market and intent data, Kahlow claims that customers Cisco and Blue Jeans Networks have achieved two times and 20 times increases in their demand generation results, respectively. The delta in these figures depends on the size of the starting base, presumably.

6sense aggregates data from all of a B2B company’s systems including web, CRM and marketing automation. However, if two years’ worth of data is not available 6sense does not necessarily need that much to make an actionable solution. The vendor can tap into up to six outside sources of data, such as Dun & Bradstreet, a traditional provider of business intelligence data, to create the solution.

This type of analytics solution can really help in a saturated market, according to Kahlow. But B2B companies need to know where to prioritize.

For example, 6sense could help Caterpillar know when a buyer is looking for an excavator. But it cannot predict when a buyer will need a new tire; there just are not enough signals for that level of intelligence. What 6sense can intuit best is when buyers are researching.

To read the previous B2B Solution of the Week, on the Salesforce CRM offering for SMBs, go here

Photo via 6sense

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).