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Thought Leaders in Big Data: Interview with Jim Swift, CEO of Cortera (Part 1)

Posted on Friday, Mar 22nd 2013

Jim Swift is the chief executive officer of Cortera, a company that provides B2B solutions such as purchase behavior data and business monitoring solutions. Jim studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology and has many years of experience in database marketing. In this interview, Jim talks in detail about how Cortera provides companies with useful information to minimize risk and gives step-by-step insight for entrepreneurs on how to proceed when entering this space.

Sramana Mitra: Jim, tell us about Cortera. What do you do? What kind of customers do you have? What kind of technology do you use, and what kind of problems do you solve?

Jim Swift: Think about what is happening in the consumer world. Retailers, travel companies, and others have been out in the front edge of using big data to bring new kinds of solutions involving behavioral targeting and better services and offers to us as consumers. When you go to a website, you might get an offer that is tailored to your needs. You might even get a price that is dynamically matched based on your behavior, there is a new cool web tool that allows you to upload your travel itinerary, and it then creates an overall picture of your itinerary and helps sew up the holes in your travel arrangements based on prior behaviors you have exhibited as you travel.

The key to these innovations is the availability of consumer behavioral data. If you think of applying that to the B2B world, that is what we are trying to do at Cortera. Currently, the B2B space is far behind. Companies still mostly use demographic data – what they think a company does and how big they think a company is – to fuel the interactions they have with other businesses. We just don’t think it is good enough. Our mission at Cortera is to transform the way companies interact with each other by providing a whole new series of insights that are driven by the behavior of companies, not just their demographics. We think that we are going to see the B2B world move at a rapid pace, along the same curve that the B2C world has been moving over the past 10 to 20 years.

SM: Who are the customers who are buying your products?

JS: From a functional perspective, they are people in sales, marketing and finance. From an industry perspective, they tend to be companies that are somewhere along the physical supply chain: manufacturing businesses, distributors, transportation companies, logistics providers, financial services companies, and others.

SM: Let’s do three use cases in quite a bit of detail. You can pick whichever three you want to showcase. We have a very sophisticated audience, so you don’t need to dilute anything.

JS: One of our customers – and we have thousands of them – is a third-party logistics company. Think of the logistics industry as travel agents for freight. They are trying to connect people and ship things with carriers that can move products for them – whether it is truckload, less than truckload, rail, air, etc. These new players in logistics are using different kinds of business models. They are using a lot of inside telesales techniques to acquire new customers. Picture a large call center that needs a lot of fuel to figure out whom they should call. The old world was that you would use demographic data to figure out roughly whom you are going to call. But you don’t necessarily know what is going on inside a company: Do they have their own fleet of trucks? Do they use third parties to ship things for them? How much do they move? Do they use multiple carriers? Are they growing or shrinking?

These are all kinds of different factors that haven’t been visible before. A lot of people in the space use this, but this company in particular now refers to us as their secret weapon. What they do is use a concept that we are rolling out in production and testing it with companies like this. It is called lookalikes. The idea is that we can take a set of customers you have, and we can create profiles of them. Then we use that to identify lookalikes of other companies that have behaviors in common with your current customers. So you can have access to this data, and you don’t have to figure it out on your own. You can come to us and get the equation of what your customers have in common based on the data that we have on them.

What they are doing is using this to drive leads in their telesales organization. The results they have had so far in the use of the data are that they have been able to increase their revenue by about 10%. It had a high return on the investment they made with us. They have a much smarter way to identify which prospects they should be calling and when. It is not just the old approach of “just call everybody that is in this industry and find out the hard way if they are  a qualified prospect or not.”

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders in Big Data: Interview with Jim Swift, CEO of Cortera
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