Data Activation Use Cases
In sales, marketing, advertising, and support
In this issue, I’m digging deeper into how data is activated in the downstream tools and highlighting common use cases of syncing customer data to sales, marketing, advertising, and support tools.
Data Activation is not a commonly used phrase and since a lot of folks have asked me to define what it really entails, here’s my attempt at that.
Data Activation is the process of personalizing the customer experience using accurate data in the tools used to acquire, engage, and support customers.
In other words, Data Activation takes place when customer interactions are powered by data, resulting in customer experiences that are timely and relevant.
With a lack of data, customers are sent down a linear path where every customer experiences the same messages, emails, and ads, irrespective of the actions they’ve taken inside your product or the interactions they’ve had with your brand.
If a company relies on linear customer experiences in 2023, something is really wrong at that company.
It’s time to look at the most common use cases for data activation across the customer lifecycle. Do keep in mind that these use cases are the most relevant for SaaS products and less relevant for consumer goods.
Data Activation in Sales
Sales teams rely heavily on sales automation tools (like Outreach and Reply) to deliver automated emails to prospects. When accurate data is made available in these tools, reps are able to activate the data and personalize the campaigns by triggering emails based on the prospect’s activity inside your app.
Here are some common actions that should be taken into consideration when designing outreach campaigns:
Inviting a colleague to collaborate with or set up an integration
Performing the activation event
Trying to use a paid feature
More often than not, sales reps rely on actions such as a prospect registering for a webinar or downloading an ebook, either of which is not a strong indication of buyer intent.
It’s funny that people make themselves believe that you’re interested in spending $10k on a piece of software just because you downloaded an ebook, which is pretty much the same as reading a blog post.
On the other hand though, when a prospect has already performed key actions in your product and has derived enough value from it to invite a coworker or set up an integration, chances are that they’re interested in actually buying your product and are expecting someone from your team to reach out to them proactively.
Data Activation in Marketing
At companies focused on product-led growth or PLG, marketing and growth teams rely on the same actions as the ones mentioned above to design their engagement campaigns. And instead of sales automation tools, they use marketing automation tools (like Customer.io, Userlist, Iterable, or Braze).
The difference lies in the goal behind the campaigns – the goal shifts from getting a prospect on a sales call to getting the prospect to perform an action that will enable them to derive more value from the product.
Marketing and Growth teams focus on educating rather than selling to keep the prospect engaged and to nudge them to try the next relevant feature.
Moreover, good marketing teams understand that their job is not complete once a prospect becomes a customer. Whether you call it Product Marketing or Customer Success or something else, it is crucial to engage with customers on a regular cadence by delivering product updates or reaching out proactively if an account becomes less active.
Without access to accurate data about accounts and users (they’re not the same) in engagement tools, there’s really very little one can do.
The easy way out is to set up a linear, drip campaign that delivers the same message to every prospect, the same message to every customer, and the same product updates to everyone irrespective of whether they can access that feature or not. 
How many emails have you received asking you to do something you’ve already done or informing you about a new feature that’s not even available on your plan? Plenty I’m sure!
Another thing to keep in mind is churn – customers stop being customers at some point and they need to be treated differently from prospects who are yet to become customers.
Data Activation in Advertising
You’ve surely experienced how annoying retargeting gets when the same ad follows you everywhere you go with no way to lose the tail – often not even after you make a damn purchase.
This is a classic case of not having good data in one’s advertising tools – data that’ll allow one to show ads to warm prospects on relevant channels and exclude customers from seeing those ads altogether.
Data can be made available in advertising tools using the same process that makes data available in sales and marketing tools. I won’t go into the details as this was covered in the last issue.
Data Activation in Support
This is one of my favorite data activation use cases and one that every company should adopt.
The response to any support ticket somewhat falls into one of these two camps:
“Please try doing this or did you try doing that?”
“I can see that you tried doing that but what you need to do is this.”
The support rep either has no idea what you’ve done and is forced to send you a templated response (did you try that?) or the rep knows exactly what you’ve done because they have access to product data in their support tool (like Zendesk or Intercom) and can either offer a resolution straight away or escalate the issue and find a resolution before asking you to try anything else.
Making customer data available in support tools is the only way to provide proactive, delightful customer support.
Another related activation use case that contributes to a delightful customer experience is to exclude a customer from ongoing sales and marketing campaigns while there is an open support ticket from that customer.
Isn’t it annoying when instead of a response to your ticket, you receive another automated email asking you to do something or schedule a sales call? I have seen instances where the automated email is asking me to do the exact same thing for which I had opened the support ticket in the first place – doesn’t get more annoying than that, does it?
To address this use case, you need to make data from your support tool available in your sales and marketing tools so that users with open tickets can be excluded from all ongoing campaigns.