Stop Building Marketing Platforms For Marketers
Columnist Jim Williams believes the marketing platform of the future needs to be focused on buyers, not marketers.
As marketers, we have nearly 2,000 marketing technology products to choose from across 43 different categories. The staggering number of vendors available to us has more than doubled since last year. We can email, tweet, track, engage, predict, analyze, attribute, optimize and more. There is now a layer of technology (or even multiple technologies) between each and every interaction we have with the buyers we’re nurturing through the purchasing process.
Yet despite the proliferation of these technologies, the marketing stack is still largely disconnected from critical aspects of that process.
It serves marketers, not buyers. It treats people like leads, not human beings. It doesn’t know if someone is just downloading an e-book because they’re interested in the topic, or if they’re raising their hand because they’re ready to buy — it just processes them all the same.
And it definitely hasn’t caught up to the fact that a “lead” might just be one person in a larger buying committee that is trying to address the complex and unique needs within their organization.
While individual technologies that fill these gaps are starting appear on Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape, we still have yet to see an integrated marketing platform that was created with buyers in mind — and that needs to change.
Moving Beyond Traditional Marketing
Meanwhile, buyers are designing their own journeys consisting of many crucial steps that today’s marketing tools just can’t track. The path to purchase isn’t a straight line; it’s a series of fits and starts, twists and turns.
As a result, traditional marketing and sales are dead.
To illustrate my point, I want to share with you my recent experience as a buyer.
As the vice president of marketing at a fast-growing, innovative company, I’m always challenging my team to make everything we do more interesting and engaging — especially our content. Often a little bit of creativity and ingenuity goes a long way, but sometimes technology can help.
My head of content marketing, Cassandra, recently approached me about implementing a tool that she wanted to use to create interactive content. She’d learned about it from someone in her network. The tool was a “nice-to-have,” not a foundational piece of our marketing tech stack.
But I had heard good things about this company from a few peers at various events. Plus, I was already connected to the CEO there — we’re both based in Boston, and the B2B marketing world is a small one. The peer recommendations and personal connections were enough to encourage us to investigate it further.
At this point, mind you, we’d had virtually no contact with the company aside from browsing its website, but it was on our short-list, and we were ready to start talking to a sales rep. Cassandra had browsed their website, downloaded an e-book and started receiving nurture emails.
The content was good. The emails were fine. But none of that, on its own, would have pushed us forward without the endorsements of people we know and trust.
A salesperson gave Cassandra and her team a demo, and my staffers asked for two things: 1) Examples of interactive content other customers have created with the product. 2) Customer references. The sales rep shared a few examples and connected us with one reference.
What the rep didn’t know is that Cassandra had already reached out to her own references. By looking at customer logos on the company’s website, she knew exactly who to contact to find out what customers really thought about the tool. Some of them she already knew, some she didn’t — so she connected with them on LinkedIn or cold emailed them.
We also looked at reviews on third-party websites to get a sense of what it was like to work with this vendor. (There weren’t very many, but overall they were positive.) Behind the scenes, we put in a lot of work to evaluate the vendor.
Luckily for them, all of the customers we contacted were advocates for the company. After an in-depth call about their marketing automation integration, which was led by our marketing operations specialist, Bruno, and a bit of back and forth on the contract, we signed.
This is roughly how the typical B2B buying process goes today.
Reconstructing The Buying Process
You’ve probably heard this stat before, but I’ll mention it again: According to Forrester, buyers can be anywhere from two-thirds to 90 percent through the purchasing process before they reach out to a salesperson.
Multiple decision makers who reach out to trusted peers (both online and off), research products on review websites, and browse conversations taking place in online communities before they ever fill out a “contact us” form. And they’re more satisfied for it: Peer recommendations make B2B buyers five times happier with software purchases.
Sadly, marketers and salespeople have very little insight into what happens before that step if it takes place outside of their marketing platform. We can still only track emails and touch metrics. We have no way to know about the acts of customer advocacy or hours of independent research across the social Web that ultimately lead a team to buy what we’re marketing and selling.
Modern buyers are reconstructing the purchasing process, and marketing platforms haven’t caught up. The marketing cloud is ripe for innovation.
Looking Toward The Marketing Platform Of The Future
So, how can we fix this? The marketing platform of the future can’t be email-based. It can’t even be marketer-centric. It has to be oriented toward the buyers everywhere they touch a brand — online and in real life.
All of the interactions on the buyer’s path to purchase need to be woven together so that the most valuable parts of the buying journey — like referrals, recommendations, reviews and references — aren’t left to chance.
Marketers should be facilitating these interactions instead of getting in the way.
Imagine this scenario as a buyer: You fill out a form on a vendor’s website, and brace for the barrage of calls and emails which you know you’re just going to ignore. Instead of hearing from a sales rep, you receive a call, email or tweet from an actual customer who looks just like you.
Instead of nurture emails, your inbox is filled with genuine customer reviews from third-party websites and relevant discussions from across the social Web. The resources you really need are sent directly to you when you want them, instead of you having to desperately search for them.
What impact would this type of buyer-focused experience have on how quickly you make a decision and how you feel about that company?