May 24

New B2B Persona Research From Salesforce and LinkedIn Study

Lead Generation


When was the last time you looked at the quality and accuracy of your B2B persona and contact data?

Getting the right content to the right people continues to be a challenge in B2B marketing and lead generation.

Starting in the fall of 2014, Salesforce started to analyze more than 15 million data points, spanning a four-year period, from two of the largest B2B databases: and LinkedIn.

The goal?

To do a detailed audience analysis to help marketers understand how they can improve marketing accuracy.

That’s why I interviewed Mathew Sweezey (@msweezey). Mathew works with Salesforce and is the Principal of Marketing Insights to discuss the just-released report, B2B Personas: Targeting Audiences. I wanted to talk with Mat and bring this vital information to B2B marketers.

Author’s Note: The transcript was edited for publication.

Mat, can you tell us more about your background?

Mathew Sweezey: Yeah, thanks, Brian, for having me; I love being on here. My background’s interesting. I think what’s relevant to this conversation is that I was one of the really early employees at a small startup back in the day called Pardot, a marketing automation platform. From there, we grew that, sold that to Exact Target, which then acquired.

Along with that way, I wrote a book called Marketing Automation for Dummies. I write for lots of different publications, and now I head up the forward-looking marketing ideas and theories as Principal of Marketing Insight at

What motivated you or inspired you to do this research?

These are fundamental marketing questions, and what bothers me is that no one else was trying to ask these questions or whether they actually knew they should even be asking these questions in the first place.

Let me explain.

As a marketer, we have metrics. We’re all right, so we got 10,000 email addresses this year. That would be a metric that we may give to somebody to validate our efforts. But that’s like saying, I’ve got 10. Ten out of how many? That’s the question. It’s not a “what did you get,” it’s a “how effective were you.” So these were effectiveness measures. Without really detailed information into our audiences, and exactly their size, growth, and churn, we really have no way to answer any of those questions, which should be key fundamental questions that we should answer to answer about our job. That’s what really sparked this.

This idea started a couple of years ago.  I wanted to understand the value of email better and how do we value our email addresses. When you look at the average number that it costs a B2B business to obtain an email address, that is about $150.

And when you then look at the typical size of a B2B email database, the average size is 50,000 names. That’s what a marketer has. Not their addressable market. Let me be clear on that. So if you multiply those two things together, the marketer has a seven and a half million dollar asset under their control, their email database. And to be clear, that is the largest asset that a marketer owns, point-blank. Now when you then say that’s the biggest asset, you start to ask some fundamental questions on how do we evaluate it, how often does it churn – anything like that. And there is no data that we can give you. The only measure that we have of the health of our email database is, did the email bounce: yes or no? Horrible metric. So that’s what led me down this path.

Brian: Wow, I’m still processing the cost of an email address is $150, and then along with that the size of the data, this is something marketers don’t think about, from my own experience.

What surprised you most as you analyzed the data from this research, and why?

I think the most surprising thing is that people don’t realize the amount of movement inside an organization. I mean by a movement that a person goes through both horizontal and vertical changes within a company.

So, if we’re only looking at the measure of, “Is this email address any good for us,” and “we’re only looking at the bounce,” all that says is, “does this person still work at that company.” Which, as a marketer, is not enough information for us to know if they are still in our persona or not. Because if the email address is still good, but the person took a horizontal shift, such as they were the manager of business development, and now they are a manager of support – it happens pretty frequently.

Their email address is still valid, yet that person is no longer in your persona, and you should no longer be targeting or talking to that person. But because that email address doesn’t bounce, we still do.

The aspect of the horizontal and vertical movement is pretty compelling. The second thing that I thought was really fascinating was the idea of growth and the concept of churn. One of the things that we often don’t really think about is that our personas are actually a fluid set of people. It’s different day-to-day.

Some people leave that persona completely. Hence they were in this managerial role, and now they’re in a different department; they have just left our persona. And then some people enter that marketplace altogether. That’s the reverse, such as they were in support, and now they moved over into sales, hence making them a part of our persona.

Look at your persona data growth and churn rates.

So when you start looking at these growth and churn rates, you see some pretty large numbers, and they’re all double-digit. And what I want people to realize is the power of math.

If your database churns at an average rate of 15% per year, that means your database is irrelevant if you don’t continually update it in 4.2 years. That’s the decay rate. That’s how quickly your email addresses become completely invalid. This data helps us determine just how fluid it is. And then gives us a good measure to say, all right, we lost 15% of our database this year, but we gained 30,000 email addresses, which we know is 15% of all the new people that entered the marketplace. So it gives us a much better way to evaluate our efforts and understand this most valuable asset that we have.

Brian: As I’m listening to you, the first things you were sharing blew my mind from a marketing standpoint because you’re right. We generally look at the health of our data based on if emails go through or not. Those of you and our listening audience. How many of you have had your job responsibilities change in the same company you’re working with? Mat, I’m thinking a lot about that just even in my own data, and how I do marketing because that is a whole other dimension. Vertical, horizontal, and then the other thing I’m thinking about is, okay, what do I do? We’ll get to that in a little bit.

So, your report said that B2B marketing as we know it is fundamentally changing. Why is that?

The idea of marketing has been around for a very long time. If you look at media, and the media environment, really media has three fundamental aspects: creation, distribution, and consumption. Now in the limited media era, there was only so much media that could be created, and it was only able to be set up by those who had the capital to do so, which means businesses.

Then there was the distribution of media, which had to go through a preexisting distribution network, which said you had to pay for it. So once again, distribution was limited to those with the capital or businesses. That then funnels down to how much media exists in the marketplace because you only had companies that can create it and distribute it. Hence, the entire media environment is pretty much a captive market by businesses.

You then take one step to the right, which essentially I prove that in my book when that step happens, and now we live in an infinite media environment, where there is no longer a barrier to the creation or the distribution of content, equaling an unlimited amount of content in the environment.

Companies are no longer the sole creators and distributors of media

So what that means is, all of the ideas that we have of marketing are created with a captive audience in mind. We no longer live in an environment where businesses are the sole creators and distributors of media.

In fact, what we’ve entered is the world where they are the extreme minority rather than the dominant majority. And because of that, because we have an entirely new media environment.  Just because you write a piece of content does not mean that someone will find it.

Now we have so much content that we’re using algorithms to connect people to content. Consumers are using algorithms to filter their content, and those algorithms are filtering out all of the crap that we used to make because there never was a demand for that content. It’s just what we could produce, and because there was a captive audience with no recourse, it was accepted. But now there is recourse and better options; the consumers are taking those better options. Hence, that’s the underlying foundational reason why marketing is changing.

If we took away our marketing and our advertising, would our customers miss it?

No, they wouldn’t at all. Customers hate it. Here’s the thing that blows my mind.  Gallup has put out the trust in professions poll, and they’ve done so for decades. Advertising professionals are some of the least trusted. The only professionals that are more distrusted than advertisers are congressmen, lawyers, and insurance salespeople. We are only one percentage point more trusted than insurance salespeople as a profession.

Brian: That’s depressing.

Mathew: So, why do we still do these things?  We have such a long and vested interest in the idea that it works when it really doesn’t work. It just worked because we were shooting fish in a barrel. They [consumers] had no other recourse. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with one of my favorite marketing books, Clue Train Manifesto, which Doc is a coauthor of with a bunch of other brilliant minds.

Brian: I’ve read it. It’s a terrific read.

Mathew: In that book, Doc says that there is no demand for messages. I was chatting with Doc the other day, and he stated that it’s not only that there is no demand, there never was a demand for messages, and he takes it a step further.  There are over 600 million devices with adblocking. If you think about it this way, that is the largest boycott in human history, and it is boycotting our idea of advertising and marketing. Think about that.

What can marketers do based on this research for their email?

Mathew: A couple of things. This doesn’t really give a lot of tactics as to what you do with email. Rather it puts into question when you should ask for an email or the value of email in your organization. So we have to take two steps back and think about telephone numbers.

Any marketer that uses email marketing now asks for an email address before a phone number. So, the progression of communication channels. Now we have other communication channels such as social. So maybe we should hold off on asking for email until a little bit later because we know that email is much more finite than a social handle. Why?

A social handle is usually a personal handle, which gives us personal access to somebody, rather than email, which is another level of communication. So maybe it suggests that we should invest in social as much as if not more, as a communication channel, just because it has a longer shelf life.

The other ideas really help people understand the effect they have with obtaining email addresses, and then the fact that we need to realize standard best practices.

If you email somebody five times and they don’t respond, stop emailing them. Churn them out of your database. At one time, they thought you were relevant, but, apparently, you’ve proven not to be of interest in their lives, so take the hint and stop it.

LinkedIn, now being owned by Microsoft, has a massively powerful database. To marketers, it is, I think, one of the most powerful databases for B2B marketers specifically because it gives us employment data.

Brian: Intuitively, I’ve sensed this with my own email list for example, and for our listeners, some third-party providers can help you append social data to the email addresses you currently have. I personally use one called Full Contact, and that is useful. There are others out there through, etc. But when you have someone’s LinkedIn profile or Twitter, as people are mobile and they’re moving around, your data represents your relationships. It’s tough to start relationships over and over if people move from company to company. So, what I hear from you, Sweezey, is that we need to think multidimensionally instead of right now.

How can marketers improve either their campaign or their data management? 

First off, realize the amount of churn in your database, and be aware that you’re reporting a metric to your bosses that really isn’t accurate. So if you say that I’m basing my performance on a three percent engagement rate with my email address, you really have a much higher engagement rate with your core demographic than you probably think because most of those people in your email database probably aren’t in that demographic or that persona anymore.

So that’s one way to think about it: by scrubbing out all these people, you actually can show your effectiveness a lot better.

Realize that email is a very particular type of communication, and it’s applicable.  Don’t discount this fact. It is the number one communication method for business, and it is the number one communication method that business is done through.

If you have people in your audience and are not actively in a sales cycle, email can help you keep up with them, but don’t discount all the other avenues that help you keep up with them.

What’s the question that I missed asking you or that you wished I would have asked?

Here’s one of my favorite, most interesting statistics that came out of this. Check this out. You got kids, Brian?

Brian: Yes.

Mathew Sweezey: Did you ever have hamsters?

Brian: Yes, we did. For a time, my daughters did.

Mathew Sweezey: And gerbils, right? Same thing. A gerbil will live longer than a marketer will stay in their current position. That’s right. A marketer’s tenure, on average, is 2.4 years. The average life cycle of a gerbil or a hamster or whatever is three years. So if you buy a gerbil and put it on your desk, it will live longer than you will keep your job.

Brian: Crazy.

Mathew Sweezey: And by the way, in comparison, we have the highest churn rate of any profession. Marketers. Salespeople are second. Marketers are first. Think about that.

Brian: Again, we’ve always known that it’s tough. It’s hard. This is why I do what I do.  I want to help marketers do better. And if we’re moving, that we’re moving for positive reasons. It is a challenging job, but I also love it because we learn so much.  But man, just hearing about that churn, I think for all of us out there, we’ve got to get used to dealing with change, and because change will happen to us, including at our jobs, right?

Mathew Sweezey: Yep.

Brian: So what’s the best way for people to stay in touch with you or to keep up with your research?

Mathew Sweezey: So I am @msweezey on Twitter. And I do a lot on Slide Share. Those are primarily the two places. And then I speak all over, so you’re likely to go to a conference and see me or read some stuff I’m writing. I started writing for Forbes recently and some other places.

Brian: Fantastic. Well, I always love talking with you, and I learn a lot. I’m sure our listeners and readers have as well, and thanks again for joining us.

Mathew Sweezey: Thanks for having me.

You May Also Like:

Download the full report B2B Personas: Targeting Audiences

Empathetic Marketing: How To Connect With Your Customers

Lead Nurturing: 5 Useful Tactics to Get More Opportunities

5 Reasons Why Your Buyer Persona’s Aren’t Good Enough

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. If a contact with whom you have had a strong (even if not sales) relationship leaves your target persona, tag them as such rather than removing from your database.

    Stay in touch with those who showed interest & know the territory of your internal target. Many professionals return to their initial personas when they decamp to other firms. That social media contact info and continual networking can work in your favor.

    Takeaway: always focus your efforts but never abandon a curious potential mind regardless of their job title or department.

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