The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aims to strengthen personal data protection for all EU citizens by unifying regulation across all EU member states.
Put simply, GDPR has been designed to give individuals better control over their personal data. “Personal data” covers any information that can identify a person, including their name, ID numbers, location information, information about their physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity, and online data like IP addresses and cookies.
Under GDPR, all businesses and organisations will be forced to think more carefully about how it handles personal data. GDPR requires that organisations follow a ‘risk-based approach’ where specially appointed Data Protection Officers routinely monitor data collection and usage and put practices in place that meet the risks and the type of data being held.
The regulations puts many requirements in place for organisations to follow - and they must be adhered to by any business or organisation that operates even partially within the EU from May 25th 2018 and which handles the data of people living in the EU.
The changes ushered in by GDPR will affect the way that many businesses operate. Marketing and sales teams will be most hit, though many already have plans in place well in advance to make sure they can continue working as before.
In particular, many businesses that rely on lead generation and sales will be hit by requirements that specify data is processed fairly and transparently, that it is only stored for as long as ‘necessary’, and that all staff are trained on data security.
Most important for marketers and sales teams are the new rules around consent. It is no longer enough to assume a person’s consent for their data to be collected and used.
Under GDPR regulations, organisations must collect positive consent (i.e. they must expressly agree to a request), they must be able to produce evidence of consent in the future, consent can be withdrawn at any time, and the request for consent must be clear and written in unambiguous language.
Consumers are also guaranteed the right to access any personal data being held about themselves, as well as the rights to correct false data, erase data and move their data from one provider to another.
In all, GDPR will have a profound effect on the way that businesses collect data, analyse leads and make sales. Traditional methods may need to be reassessed and new approached devised.
Throughout this guide, we’ll be taking a look at how GDPR specifically affects B2B tech businesses that rely on lead generation, and the tools you can use to guarantee high-quality leads even under tougher regulations.
According to the marketing experts over at The Drum, up to 25% of any B2B lead database existing today can be considered to be inaccurate, 60% of businesses believe their own lead lists to be unreliable, and up to 40% of any B2B prospect list is either missing vital information, holds incorrect data, or simply isn’t relevant to the business using it.
These findings apply to B2B technology businesses too, with many frequently struggling to fill their lead databases, and then struggling even more once they find that a significant portion of the data they’ve worked to collect is unusable.
Data quality can be a real problem for many B2B marketing and sales teams. Time is often wasted validating data before it can be used, using incorrect data can damage relationships with potential customers, and the time spent producing marketing materials is completely wasted if it doesn’t result in any usable lead data.
It isn’t always easy to improve the quality of your lead data, however. The process of verifying data is prone to mistakes and human error, while poorly configured funnels and marketing materials will continue to produce faulty data no matter how much you tweak them.
GDPR threatens to compound many of the lead generation and data quality issues that B2B sales teams already face.
It will be much harder in the future to secure quality leads in bulk, for starters. Purchasing email lists and using the data without express permission is not allowed, making the use of your own sales process even more vital. Collecting enough varied data to be able to profile and filter your leads, again, requires permission from each individual to hold their in-depth personal data.
Data must be collected by a B2B business specifically for marketing purposes too - and that purpose must be communicated to customers. This may not definitively make it harder to collect information, but will certainly mean that existing processes need to change.
It’s an old-but-true saying, but if you put quality in, you get quality out - and this applies particularly to leads for businesses.
For many years mass data collection has been the primary goal of many marketers. Opt-ins and pop-ups have been used at every possible occasion to grow email lists and lead databases.
And, while this has had advantages in boosting newsletter reach and raising public awareness, the reality is that those lead lists are often poorly targeted, the leads are not qualified, and the data is of low quality.
GDPR represents an opportunity to change that - in fact, it requires a change. The mass collection of data is becoming a thing of the past as regulations force marketers to move towards focussed collection - taking only what they need from a smaller group of willing participants.
While this may ultimately result in smaller lead lists for most businesses, it’s not unreasonable to expect the quality of those leads to increase compared to previous lists. The type of business customers willingly handing over data through your website are also likely to be more engaged with your businesses as a result, given that they must now expressly choose to receive your marketing materials.
By boosting the quality of the leads and the data you collect, you can expect to see an increase in the quality of your returns. No more incorrect information leading to wasted calls or deleted emails, instead your leads will come to you at least partially qualified.
GDPR represents a big change in how many businesses collect and use data. If your existing lead generation methods were already struggling before the new rules, things are likely only going to get tougher if you don’t adjust your processes to be compliant.
One of the main things to remember when working under GDPR is consent - no data can be used without the consent of your would-be customer. The biggest impact of this will be felt when it comes to marketing opt-ins.
Traditional opt-ins need to be reworked and be made more robust to be compliant with the new rules. Email marketers, for example, are required by GDPR to prove consent before they can email a customer. To do this, they can make use of a ‘double opt-in’ - sending a verification link to a customer after they’ve submitted their details to confirm that it was them who subscribed. The customer is then only added to the email or lead list once they have completed verification.
A similar system can be used for traditional marketing techniques too. If someone signs up for a physical mailing list through your website, for example, you could still choose to send them a verification email. Opt-ins completed on the phone can be recorded, with permission, to act as proof of consent in the future. People who submit their details in person, such as at an event or meeting, can be sent a verification check just before they are sent marketing emails - this is often referred to as a ‘soft’ double opt-in.
Many email providers already offer double opt-ins as standard to help their customers to become GDPR compliant. It’s increasingly common for CRM integration to mean that you can store proof of consent alongside customer data too, making it easier to provide proof that consent was given if you should be asked in the future.
Reconfirming data that you have collected in the past can be a good way to both remain compliant and to boost the quality of your lead list. Anyone who was signed up thanks to a pre-ticked box on a form needs to be reconfirmed, for example. And while this may put a dent in the number of leads sitting in your database, anyone who chooses to remain can be assumed to be interested in your business.
Additional regulations don’t have to mean a negative impact on your business. The more-stringent requirements around opt-ins and consent can actually work in your favour by helping you to build higher quality lead lists and cut down on irrelevant or incorrect data.
Leads who have ‘self-qualified’ to some extent by expressly opting-in to your marketing are automatically much higher quality than what you could earn through the scattergun approach of the past. If a lead is told that they will receive marketing materials about your business, and then they still choose to opt-in, you can be pretty confident that they’re interested in what you’re selling.
Debate has been raging online for some time now about the benefits of gated and un-gated content - and this choice may become even more important as we think about GDPR. Put simply, gated content requires users to submit information or complete an opt-in form before they can see your content. Un-gated content, by comparison, is readily available for anyone to view, download and share.
Traditionally, gated content has held a much higher tangible value for businesses. Before anyone can view your valuable content they must sign up to your mailing list or, at least, hand over personal information for you to use in the future. This can kick-start the lead and sales process, both getting them interested in your product through your content and giving you the means to contact them later.
Ungated content is focussed more on awareness. There’s no specific conversion to measure with ungated content, but you increase the chance of your work being spread further and faster online by not asking for data in return.
Gated content brings advantages when it comes to building a database of high-quality leads. If you’ve built a brand with a good reputation for producing valuable content, you can all-but-guarantee a good rate of data collection from an opt-in without too much resistance.
However, there are those who advocate for the removal of all opt-ins from your online content. Many high-profile marketers now point to the unwillingness of consumers to hand over their data as evidence of gated content being a thing of the past. As the public becomes increasingly privacy-conscious, they argue, fewer and fewer people will be willing to hand over their details just for access to a blog post for PDF. Additionally, far fewer people will be willing to share posts online with their followers if access to the content is dependent on an opt-in.
That’s not to say that gated content is dead, especially in the B2B space where readers will happily hand over their company details rather than their own personal information.
Gated content provides a GDPR-compliant way to communicate with customers. Opt-ins give you the means to collect express consent for your marketing activities, provided they’re configured correctly. And, just as we mentioned previously, any business customer deliberately opting-in to marketing communications can, we think, we reasonably assumed to be interested in your products.
While gated content remains a good way to generate high-quality leads, it’s important to always keep GDPR best practice in mind throughout the opt-in process.
Under the new regulations, it’s necessary to make it as clear as possible why you’re collecting information, to be careful about what data you ask for, and to store evidence of consent in your CMS.
It is no longer enough to simply ask for a name and email address to add someone to your email list - instead the user will need to be informed of exactly what you want to do with that data.
Opt-ins will continue to help you build high-quality lead lists, particularly due to the self-qualifying nature of opt-ins. However, it remains to be seen in the months and years following GDPR whether additional data-collection roadblocks will be enough to make a significant dent in the number of readers willing to submit opt-ins just to access content.
Now’s the time to take a look at GDPR-compliant ways to earn leads - new opt-ins and fresh ways of working that will enable you to keep finding new business even under more stringent data rules.
We’ve already covered opt-ins running on gated content and ways to make them GDPR-compliant. And, while the regulations may seem like they’re making a lot of new work for you and your marketing team, there are ways to use it to your advantage.
New opt-in designs give you the chance to segment your lead lists like never before. As you go back to the drawing board to redesign your forms, consider taking the time to set up specific questions and separate lead lists - allowing some people to sign up only for event news, or email marketing, physical mailing, or any other list. A GDPR opt-in redesign can give you and your leads more flexibility, not less, if done correctly.
GDPR also gives you the opportunity to make your business more transparent and trustworthy. It’s a requirement of the regulation that consumers are given control over the data that you are storing about them, so creating a simple platform that allows users to opt in and out of certain parts of your marketing plan achieves this and could help to boost trust.
Beyond content-based opt-ins, there are several other ways for you to continue generating high-quality leads without breaching GDPR.
Social media marketing will be largely unaffected by the upcoming changes, giving you the chance to refocus your efforts on selling to your followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other platform.
Posts to your company feed do not make use of any customer data, and so are not restricted. GDPR could represent a turning point in social-based selling as the practice offers a way to connect with users who haven’t consented to email marketing. Be careful not to overstep the mark, however - collecting data from your social media platform and using that to target customers without permission is definitely against the rules, and could land you in hot water.
Opt-ins not linked to content are also still a valuable tool for quality lead generation post-GDPR. Provided you spell out clearly what data you want and why, sign-up pop-ups on your website will not breach any rules, giving users a way to sign up for marketing just as before. Make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of using pre-ticked boxes, and only collect the data you actually need, however.
The fact is that many of your old lead generation tools will likely still work under GDPR. What at first looks like draconian rules designed to stamp out data collection actually just represent small changes to the way you work, and can even bring data-quality benefits to your business.
GDPR also touches upon the way that lead filtering works too. Previously, leads could be automatically filtered using a wide range of variables using the masses of data that had been collected. Under GDPR, much of this is unnecessary as leads will have pre-qualified themselves by opting to receive your B2B marketing materials.
That’s not to say that no work will need to be completed to filter your leads. In fact, simply assuming that all leads come to you pre-qualified post-GDPR could put you right back to having a database filled with irrelevant contacts.
Because less data will be made available to marketers under GDPR compared to the past, businesses will need to work smarter to meet their goals. No form of lead generation under GDPR rules needs to be worse for your business than those you used before the regulations came in. It’s true that your business may collect fewer leads than before, but, if the statistics we referred to earlier from The Drum are to be believed, much of that data wasn’t reliable anyway.
Marketers will need to make greater use of buyer personas in the future to cope with this, creating much more niche-specific content to target exactly the leads they want. A broader variety of very specific lead magnets will also help to ensure that your lead list remains healthy post-GDPR, while still allowing you to remain compliant with your opt-ins and data handling.
Engagement online and offline will need to be focussed in on fewer people too, with highly specific content being posted to the right places to ensure opt-ins from only the type of leads you want.
New ways of working will give you the opportunity to focus on lead quality, using targeted marketing in the to ensure that all of their leads remain high-quality.
The GDPR data regulations might seem a little rough at first glance. Businesses face tougher restrictions than ever before when it comes to consumer data, many will need to change they way they work, and the fines for breaching the rules can be staggering.
But, with all that said, GDPR doesn’t need to be viewed as a bad thing for your business.
Every marketer knows that lead quality is worth more than quantity, and GDPR gives you a golden opportunity to re-evaluate your processes to focus in on collecting only high-quality data.
From May 2018, your business will be forced to focus purely on collecting relevant data from relevant people. Your lead list may shrink, but what you’re left with will be a list of qualified, verified data that you can more successfully use to make sales.
The days of collecting as much data as possible and hoping something sticks are over. Instead, GDPR will open the door to a more targeted way of working - one which will make your customers happy and bring you more success as a business.
What GDPR means for organisations in the UK: