Earlier this week our MD UK went to Drift's Hypergrowth summit in London. I encourage you to check his blogpost.
Much of the messaging during the event evolved around:
- WOM: Word of mouth is the principle way people buy today
- "Customer first" obsession
- Customer delight
We agree…. partly… because there's more to it than that. These type of messages feel very much like the type of marcom strategy we were fighting during the early days of B2B marketing automation. This is when we were trying to raise awareness levels regarding sales & marketing alignment as well.
During those days b2b marketing often was a non-accountable business function, busy organizing events and printing product brochures. Change agent-consultancies like ours started to talk about the need for b2b marketing to start contributing to the sales pipeline because sales teams were losing touch with buyers. Buyers who no longer just wanted to get sold to (by sales reps) but instead where 'actively buying' i.e. self guiding themselves via the interwebs.
Over the years more and more businesses went ahead implementing marketing automation solutions to support the growing need to replace their old school sales processes. The new goal was to facilitate individual buying journeys at scale. New disciplines emerged like content marketing, inbound marketing, nurturing, etc.
If we take a moment to reflect back, we'll find today that many of these enabling technologies have been implemented causing unwanted or should we say underestimated side effects. One of the more critical ones being that many of the deployments occurred at the expense of the “human touch”. Think about it:
- Email nurturing, with a pre-schedule drip cadence with the typical low open rates emails are prone to.
- (Long) web forms capturing only 2% of inbound inquires.
- Retargeting advertisement, disturbing and even annoying buyers.
- CRM routing process via BDRs, SDRs and sales reps that sometimes results into "leads" that are being called back days after the initial inquiry.
In a nutshell? Many MarTech powered campaigns today often feel very ‘mechanical’.
That is probably the reason we see more and more critical editorials and direct customer feedback stating that MQLs and nurturing simply do not work. I am not making the mistake to say in the same breath that marketing automation isn't working either, but I would agree that some of the needs marketers were hoping to solve, turned out not to be working that well. This is mainly because we have been putting too much emphasis on the automation aspects, underestimating the importance of the human and (clean) actionable (meta)data about them.
Net net, there is an immediate need to make our “automated conversations” human again. Not by going back to the past per se. This is why during the last years our firm (we were amongst the first Eloqua and Marketo service providers in Europe) signed up a couple of new alliance partners. Two in the conversational(1) marketing(2) space as well as the leader in the demand-data orchestration(3) category.
We are not contradicting ourselves with what we were saying 10 years ago. B2B marketing Automation still has its place. But we should not fall in the trap thinking that it fixes everything. Certainly not automatically. Especially at the top of the funnel we feel more and more the need for a different approach. It's here where the human touch (as well as data quality) should get more attention without losing the scalability effects technology provides.
We are also NOT saying that we all should go back to a world where we focus on the number of brand impressions or the measurement of sentiment. Inserting the human element in the B2B customer acquisition process is not about creating conversations for the sake of creating conversations. We still need to be able to measure our actions against the contribution it is generating towards the revenue goal. This is why we like conversational marketing solutions like DRIFT's B2B chatbot.
B2B Chatbots will still allow us to leverage the vast amount of customer data we have been collecting, making these chat scripts highly relevant. They may perform way better at the top of the funnel with double digit conversions than the meager 2% we got accustomed to with landing pages and forms. They are also doing it in way that gets us very close to how humans interact. That alone will drive conversion rates up.
Simply put: conversational marketing enables us to drop the awkward mechanical feel provided by webforms and drip emails. Instead we now can facilitate quick human-like conversations on our digital platforms with the same goal as before: estimating propensity (to buy) levels by improving and qualifying engagement. The big difference conversational marketing brings in, is that these, what we call "MQL-qualification" processes, were based on measuring stop and go, mainly outbound (email) triggered interactions.
Conversational marketing is replacing this 'mechanical' engagement with concepts like CQL, i.e. qualifying instantly the fully bi-directional conversation that is taking place at that moment. Just like we rate human interaction in the real world. Let's stop over automating conversations with long tail members (because but instead treat every single interaction in a human like way.
MARKETING AUTOMATION (NOT ALWAYS) TO THE RESCUE
Over the years we have helped create measurable demand generation process, enabling marketers to identify the relationship between marketing acts and sales. DURING the buying process as well as AFTER. We focused on measurement, we enabled marketers to become data driven. (but yes, by sometimes throwing the human out the top of the funnel window). This was a much needed change and MA systems were the catalysts for that.
Side note: Early implementations were about measuring person-"behavior" on our own (web) properties which in hind sight, provides a pretty narrow lens, especially during the early stages of the sales cycle. There's plenty of improvement needed here too. The human aspect is one but we probably also need to get smarter about engaging. We should not just find people that want to buy, we should also identify if the company's they work for want to pay. Intent Data providers offer us the ability to measure behavior on 'other' than your own properties, allowing marketing to target and engage on account level. But that's food for another post. Same goes for the way data enters our systems. To that end please check these guys.
Regardless of your targeting approach or data governance maturity, those that went too far in making marketing a SCIENCE and optimizing the spend & return relationship, need to perhaps also rethink the importance of the ART of communication. Not just the content providers feeding the systems but also the technology marketers configuring programs and campaigns. Marketing operations teams, usually the one in charge of the latter, that fell totally in love with their MA system should therefore consider conversational marketing technology (and AI) to find a better balance. As a result new field roles will emerge and intra team alignment surge. For example those who used to be marcom managers now can become conversational markers. This is fixing an age old problem in the average marketing department where the marcom team never really bought in the marketing automation proposition.
And for those that still haven't made the decision to infuse their marketing activity with some SCIENCE and therefor probably never relied on MA, we think Conversational Marketing is probably a much easier step to take first. This means indeed that we do no longer think that you will always need marketing automation as the most important change agent or catalyst. In a way you can even leapfrog some of the steps the early adopters made.
- You are going to market via channel partners. In what way does lead scoring derived from measuring your own website traffic help you? Maybe you need something that tracks behavior elsewhere to pick up the buying signals. And then yor probably need other mechanisms to enable your partners to engage with them. Think TCMA solutions like ZIFT and Intent Data provide like Bombora or Cyance.
- You are in need to deliver more pipeline quickly and (wrongfully) think that being a MA is what you need to fix it, then maybe it is better to first go Conversational marketing and THEN later add scale by adding an automation/orchestration platform like Eloqua, Pardot or Marketo. Think Drift and Conversica instead. Bonus? Your sales team will get quicker what it is you are trying to do.
- You are targeting only large accounts? You need ABM or MtA solutions like Folloze or Uberfip+Bombora and create highly personalized and content experiences.
Net net: there are many steps to take and for those who ever even thought it was the case: there is no ONE SIZE fits ALL solution. We and other wrote it thousands of times; you need a mix between enabling technology, process and skills. And now we're adding to that; 'while at the same time also striving for a sound balance between automation and human like engagement'.
UP-SELLING CAN LEAD TO UPSETTING
Technology is great and we love its enabling quality. We live in a world where the MA platforms are part of a tech stack provided by the likes of Oracle, Salesforce, Adobe, SAP and others. The original revenue enablement/measurement promise of MA (prior to their acquisition) is now diluted to a more 'high level' statements about "experience". It's great to see these mega-technology providers create aspirations about customer experience and engagement. But enablement is not a synonym for revenue and results.
With the consolidation in our industry we will also start seeing more pressure from these tech vendors trying to monetize their M&A activity. This means we'll see more focus from them cross and upselling their solutions into their (existing) customer base. This is understandable from their go to market standpoint. But whether it is in synch with your needs is another thing. There will be a lot of noise. Like the deliberately created confusion re: the difference between integrated data and code bases and application inegration. i.e. it's not because vendor X with its existing platform A after buying platform B, should claim that A and B are "fully" integrated.
There's always a danger in buying the full stack tech hype and responding to up-sell offers. This type of up-selling activity might lead to upsetting the blinded CMO, CIO and sales and marketing leaders. Let's learn from how buying CRM and MAP subscriptions in the past did not solve all the needs of the marketing and sales departments either. MarTech and SalesTech will always be an indispensable component of your infrastructure but we see a growing need to help SMBs, mid-market companies and enterprises see the forrest for the trees.
We will continue to acquire more in-depth knowledge about the many different platforms out there, we will expand and team up with the next generation martech solutions that do exist because the first generation MA platform vendors did not solve all problems. But we will try to stay unbiased. We are commissioned by you, our clients, not the tech vendors, so we feel it as an obligation to stay close to your needs. More than even this is our mission.