Becoming successful as an online B2B marketer or business owner now requires more than effective marketing strategies and delivering to customers what you promise. It also now requires taking action to ensure that your customer data is kept secure.
In fact, the security of customer data now runs at the heart of what it takes to run an online business successfully. This is for two reasons: 1. so customers of B2B marketers and business owners will have confidence knowing their data is kept secure, and 2. so B2B marketers and business owners avoid the massive financial ramifications of suffering a data leak or ransomware attack.
In this article, we’ll discuss how B2B marketers and online marketplace owners can secure customer data in an open world against the most common kinds of data breaches.
Why data security is at the core of business success
The foundational reasons for why data security rests at the core of business success have been established above, but to expand on those principles, it’s worth noting that the subject of customer data security is hardly anything new. Since the pandemic struck, the number of cybercrimes has risen substantially, and this has made customers (both for B2C and B2B transactions alike) far more cognizant of cybercrimes than they were before.
This is one of the reasons why up to 84% of customers now report that they will not complete an online transaction if they have reason to believe that the site or marketplace they are buying from is not secure. It’s also why there has been a 50% rise in the number of people purchasing comprehensive insurance policies to help cover financial losses in the event of their businesses going under or becoming the victims of a successful cyberattack.
Online customers are now more aware of how their personal information is being collected, and what security measures are being used for the sites and online stores they’re doing business with. B2B marketers and business owners need to adapt, and there are three key areas where they can do so:
Use progressive profiling to gather data
The first step for B2B marketers to secure customer data is to only gather absolutely essential information and to be fully transparent with consumers and businesses about the information they are collecting.
The best strategy to ensure this is called progressive profiling, or where you steadily build up a profile of your customers each time they make an interaction with your brand, site, or products and services. In other words, you collect small pieces of information from customers over time versus a larger pool of data at once.
Too many businesses will hit customers early on with long-form questionnaires that must be completed before they can even interact with a product or service, and that require several minutes to fill out. The result is that customers may not even fill out the questionnaire or form because of the inconvenience, resulting in lost business.
Instead, with progressive profiling, you only gather the absolutely critical information (i.e. names and email addresses) in an initial commitment form. All other data you need is gathered in small increments at later stages in the customer journey. Examples of information you may need to collect with B2B customers include details about the customers’ company (addresses, budgets, phone numbers, etc.), financial data, and the position of the customer within the company.
Only ask the questions that are appropriate or relevant for each stage. Again, the idea is to collect only the data you absolutely need and at the least possible inconvenience to the customer. Make sure that each questionnaire or form you provide to a customer has a maximum of two or three questions each.
It’s also important to be fully transparent about the data you are collecting and how it will be used, which you can indicate in clear print on each form or questionnaire. Also, point out here how the data is stored on a need-to-know basis only amongst the members of your company for maximum security. Speaking of which...
Ensure Access To Customer Data Is Kept On A Need-To-Know Basis
Limit access to customer or business information on a strictly need-to-know basis. Not everyone in your company needs to know the data you collect concerning your customers. This is especially true when it comes to financial information, which we’ll use as an example.
Having reliable systems in place for customers to pay is an obvious part of successfully running an online business. Simply offering an option to pay via credit card or debit card alone should be sufficient. After all, according to recent studies, over 70% of customers today favor using credit cards for making their online transactions.
But less obvious is how you handle that data. If you truly keep customer data strictly on a need-to-know basis, this means three crucial things:
This leads us to our final point...
Ensure Encryption Policies Are Kept Up-To-Date
The process by which encryption of customer data works is simple...and the process for how cybercriminals can attempt to hack out-of-date encryption policies is even more so. Most companies rely on asymmetric encryption algorithms (or public-key cryptographic encryption) to secure customer data. This means that customer data is kept secured using ciphertext, which can only be viewed in the original text if it is decrypted with an encryption key.
However, unless symmetric encryption, two different keys are used to access the ciphertext: one key is public, and the other is private. The public key may be shared with anyone and is used to encrypt a message so that the intended recipient can then decrypt the message with their private key. An example of asymmetric encryption is to use RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) algorithms, which also happens to be one of the most widely utilized encryption methods.
The most common strategy hackers use to break encrypted messages or data files today is through brute force attacks, or using different keys until the correct one is discovered using trial-and-error application programs. The length of the key alone determines how many digits are in the key, which is why it’s smarter to use longer encryption keys to help reduce the odds of a brute force attack becoming successful.
Beyond that, the best strategies to ensure your encryption policies are kept properly updated are to: update your encryption ciphers, keep your private encryption keys secure (ensure compliance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Recommendation for Key Management), and encrypt your website using SSL encryption security in your host.
By no means are the above tips the only things you should do to help ensure customer data security. But at the very least, making sure your B2B customers are aware that you take the above measures seriously will help make them feel more comfortable buying from you and add legitimacy to your business.