As marketing’s quest to accelerate new and repeat sales remains unchanged, the means to that end has entirely shifted over the past few years. This fundamental shift can be tied, in part, to digital innovation; however, it’s not just about technology. It’s about the lifestyle shift, and what could be considered people’s ‘workstyle’ shift – which I’ll define as a person’s expectation and preference in how they work and engage with a company.
This article explores how companies are looking to transform how they engage with customers and partners while connecting to their existing marketing automation systems – specifically centring on three undeniable facts that are the crux for the transformation:
1. Customer Engagement Is King
The marketing funnel, technically, is dead. Yes, prospective customers still move through a buying cycle, but the difference is that they have many more ways to learn about a company throughout the buying process and to connect with existing customers. Content strategy is still important, but a conversation and engagement strategy is now a pre-req. For example, the majority of customers now expect companies to offer ‘social’ customer support (as reported in ‘The Social Customer Service Year in Review: Insights for your 2014 Strategy”).
The best path for companies is to move away from the separate knowledge base, support portal, partner portal, customer blog, idea place, docs system, etc. and move toward creating a central hub, or owned online community for customers and partners. Regardless of the technology used, there are three key elements to a winning conversation and engagement strategy:
- Connect: Here is where you’ll build relationships and create value among customers. You’ll also empower individuals to discover people and information that matter to them.
- Communicate: Through open communications, you’ll ensure customers and partners have access to the right information at the right time. From there, you can turn the communication into accessible and valuable intellectual property.
- Collaborate: Your customers are the single greatest untapped resource for driving innovation. And by really listening you can not only create better products but also optimise your marketing approaches by adapting to their needs.
2. The CMO Will Hold The IT Purse Strings
According to Gartner, the CMO becoming the #1 technology buyer is not only inevitable, it’s right around the corner. CRM, marketing automation, mobile, online communities, customer analytics, and other tech purchases are all driving this shift.
Additionally, a shift that’s occurred since 2011 and one that continues is the investment focus on cloud technologies where the hosting and technical aspects are provided as a service vs. being handled by the company. This trend means less internal IT involvement while ensuring key systems automatically stay up to date.
With this shift, and as the pace of innovation by technology vendors accelerates at an ever-increasing rate, the appetite for ‘building it yourself’ continues to decrease.
An analogy to this trend is this – would you prefer to buy a pre-built laptop where you can choose a few key add-ons (memory, etc.) or order a box of parts to then, with a lot of work, build your own computer. Theoretically you’d get exactly what you want with the latter option – that is, if you didn’t make any mistakes as you put the computer together.
However, it would require the right skills, a long time to build and custom on-going support. This is where the old adage “time is money” comes into play, underscoring that marketing leaders need pre-built, cloud-ready, auto-upgraded solutions to drive more business faster vs. being slowed down by systems and support.
3. Conversations & Marketing Systems
Ultimately marketers need to make technology decisions that help them stay on top of customer behaviours and emerging market trends. This is where the dots get connected between the marketing automation system and the conversations occurring. Intuitive and seamless connectedness between customer dialogue and the marketing automation systems creates a competitive advantage. Here’s why companies should connect the dots:
Although it’s hard to actually collect much pertinent contact information from a conversation occurring on Twitter or Facebook, the opposite is true when a company creates an online community, or central customer hub, where they then can more easily connect an engaged person’s profile information into the marketing automation system. At that point, tomorrow’s leading companies will have additional criteria to score and rate leads and contacts.
The feedback and thoughts shared by a customer in the central hub is information that can be leveraged for further communications and campaigns. At this point, the company has both profile information and activity data to better segment target audiences within their marketing automation system.
Additionally, most companies will soon be automatically tying activity within their marketing campaigns, such as webcasts or click-throughs on email campaigns, to rewards, points, and potentially access to certain places within their community.
Where many marketing organisations are failing today is that they are not connecting digital engagement investments to metrics that drive the business – lead generation and opportunity creation. And it’s not their fault. For instance, all the investment made in social over the past few years has often translated to either little ROI or at a minimum an unknown quantity when it comes to results. The roadmap for customer interaction moving forward will demand major improvement in this area, otherwise marketers will risk showing up at the executive table with little proof that their investments are driving business results.
We’ve taken a strategic look at the reasons for and value of connecting marketing automation with customer and partner engagement. The rewards for accomplishing this transformation can equate to a company thriving vs. struggling to survive in the coming years. And my last piece of advice is simple – move fast but deliberately, and always be open to embracing new workstyles and the technologies that encourage them.