“Data-driven” is the current buzzword of our time. Companies, operating units and individual teams are all claiming to be data-driven, repeating the phrase like a mantra. And, in contrast to empty buzzwords that enjoyed a moment in the past, “data-driven” does signal something important: it indicates a reliance on facts rather than conjecture to quantify company performance.

But data isn’t an end in itself. And as data-driven companies and marketing teams become more proficient at generating quality data and analyzing performance, behind the scenes, the data-driven economy is giving way to something more advanced: the Insights Economy. Insights tell us what data means and how we can use it to improve performance.

Just as the industrial economy revolves around converting raw materials into products, the Insights Economy starts with a raw material — data, which flows in from a diverse array of sources — and converts it into something more valuable: insights. Whether we know it or not, as marketers, we’re already involved in the production, consumption and trade of insights.

Why Marketers Need to Take the Next Step

Broadly speaking, marketing joined the “data-driven” bandwagon a bit late, in part because marketing has always been a unique blend of art and science. As demand generation and communication channels expanded in the Digital Age, it has become easier to quantify and characterize responses to campaigns. Marketing automation has provided data that marketers eagerly embrace.

But unfortunately for marketing professionals operating in data-driven organizations, their colleagues in sales and leaders in the c-suite don’t necessarily trust the numbers marketing generates. That’s because marketers tend to have a different numbers, generated by a separate technology stack from the CRM system that is used by the rest of the company and which functions as the revenue system of record.

As companies became more data-driven, consumers did too — especially prospects for B2B companies, who tend to show up on sales’ radar much later in the sales cycle today, thanks to internet-based resources prospects use to compare products and services. This shift in the sales cycle underscores the need for marketing and sales to collaborate more closely to maximize lead generation.

The challenge is getting the two teams on the same page which means finding a single source of data truth. This challenge requires marketers to venture outside their comfort zone by adding the CRM system to their technology stack. By consolidating data on a single platform, marketing and sales can work more closely together with a dataset that each considers credible.

How to Become an Insights-Driven Marketer

The objective for data-driven marketers is to define how, when and why a customer buys a product or service. Data can tell us that, but it’s not enough. What we need are insights that can show us how to increase volume by creating more customers, how to increase velocity by shortening the sales cycle, and how to increase conversions by improving win rates.

Insights are the key, and data is the raw material that yields the insights we marketers need. As data-driven marketing evolves, we’re still seeking more effective ways to capture data, put it in a standard format, update it in a timely fashion and scrub it to maximize utility. This process also includes acquiring the ability to distinguish between varying grades of data.

So, as marketers on the cusp of a new era, how can we embrace the Insights Economy? Like most maturation processes, we must find a formula that allows us to replicate a successful conversion of data into insights. There are four pillars that insights-driven marketers are successfully using today to achieve that goal:

Planning: Data allows us to review what happened in the past so we can plan for the future. In practical application, a marketing and sales team might work together to achieve a revenue goal, with marketing working backwards from the revenue target to determine the required average deal size, lead volume, velocity and conversion rates.

Achieving: Marketers use data to infer insights, looking at performance to determine if their campaigns are achieving the objectives needed to reach revenue targets. Data gets converted into insights to form a feedback loop during this phase, as when an ecommerce platform updates recommendations on the fly when customers buy.

Optimizing: To maximize efficiency and output, marketers work with sales and other colleagues to improve processes along the way. If they discover that faster follow up to initial customer inquiries results in higher rates of lead qualification, for example, marketers can work with sales to improve the handoff between the teams.

Evaluating: The final pillar is to assess individual and integrated marketing campaigns and identify which were the most effective, with an eye toward aligning marketing spend with ROI in future campaigns. Evaluating campaigns produces the finished product — insights — from the raw material of campaign data.

Marketers who embrace these four pillars improve the quantity and quality of data, which in turn allows them to produce better insights over time. Becoming an insights-driven marketer requires a shift in thinking: Marketers must regard data as a raw material and focus on refining it to create insights, and they must partner with sales to maximize results.

Creating insights also requires the ability to accurately attribute campaign impact and to present results to colleagues in sales and leadership using datasets that are credible with all stakeholders. When marketers make this shift, they become full participants in the Insights Economy — and respected members of the strategy team.

About the Author: Prior to joining Full Circle Insights, Bonnie Crater was a five-time vice president of marketing and executive at many software companies in Silicon Valley. In 2013, Bonnie was named one of the “100 Most Influential Women” by the Silicon Valley Business Journal, in 2015, the Sales Lead Management Association named her one of the “20 Women to Watch” and in 2016, Diversity Journal honored her as one of the “Women Worth Watching”. Bonnie holds a B.A. in biology from Princeton University.