The engaging attraction of Engagement Marketing

SUMMARY:

Engagement Marketing is getting a technology makeover as businesses realize that to compete in the digital age, they need a much larger pool of people to whom they can market

Engagement gapingvoidI confess. I know Marketo is a diginomica partner but that has no bearing on the fact I really like them as a company. I have a marketing degree (undergrad) and have marveled at how marketing as a profession has evolved over the last couple of decades.

Recently, Marketo had an executive lunch in Chicago. I attended because I wanted to hear how they saw the Engagement Marketing phenomena unfolding. Engagement Marketing involves the active study of a firm’s customers to better understand their wants/desires/needs and prior interactions with the company. When one knows the customer and the history with this customer, one can better pitch the right solution at the right time.

I learned this from my days at Accenture (nee Andersen Consulting).  The best partners spent a lot of time on-site (almost living) at clients or prospects. They listened. They sought the counsel of Accenture subject matter experts. And, when the time was right, they brought the right potential solutions to the right client executive. These peers of mine were often brilliant at creating a specific point of view for clients. The rewards for all of this planning were very high win rates, low selling costs and a lot of frustrated competitors.

I thought every firm knew this and did this kind of selling. Wow – was that wrong. Whether you call it engagement marketing, strategic selling or point of view selling, sales & marketing organizations need a lot of help to bring this capability to fruition in their firm.

When to shift to engagement marketing

When businesses get launched, friendships, personal relationships, Rolodex entries, etc. will only fill the sales pipeline to a point. Eventually, you’ll need to attract more customers if growth is an objective.

As one of the Marketo event speakers opined: the next stage in corporate growth is not about marketing but learning how to market at scale. What she was referring to is the need to create ever-larger pools of prospects to push into the Marketing development funnel. This is a concept that Marketo, Salesforce and other tech companies helped to successfully introduce in the market.

Putting more names into the funnel works up to a point. Eventually, a company (or its representatives or websites) must do more to entice both new and existing customers to buy. This triggers a change in marketing focus, sales tactics, rewards, and collateral.

Buyers are more sophisticated and empowered today. When they need or want something, they are content to research the future purchase on their own. They’ll surf websites, read product reviews, consult with peers, etc. Smart marketers try to track some of this activity and see if it leads to insights about future purchase intentions.

That works some of the time but think about what a company could learn about its sales prospects if it took the time to really understand what these people have already bought, what they’ve said about these purchases in social media, how that purchase fits into their life/lifestyle and whether this buyer would be ready to move to the next level of interaction with a different solution.

Some of the best marketers develop personas about buyers. They even know when you’re transitioning from one persona to another as life or business roles ‘alter’ your existence. For example, retailers love to know when you’re about to experience a major life event. A newly married couple, a new parent or recent empty nester is ready to make major changes in not just where they shop but how they buy as well. Businesses evolve, too. Companies coming out of a recession, recent merger/divesture, product line expansion, global expansion, etc. all have new, emergent needs.

Smart sales people (i.e., the ones who do their homework about their accounts) might recognize these trigger events within their customer base but are the Marketing systems smart enough to do this, too? Chances are, they aren’t.

Engagement marketing is the capability that brings this awareness into the nurturing process. It helps target the right collateral, campaigns and more to the most appropriate potential buyers at the most optimal time.

What changes are needed for Engagement Marketing

Engagement Marketing really isn’t about large scale campaigns. Marketing isn’t necessarily trying to cast a huge net. Instead, marketing is targeting certain subsets of customers and prospects who share similar needs, issues or concerns. Marketing is focused more acutely on a specific kind of prospect who likely has a very specific kind of want. To do this, Marketing developed analytics, account reviews, etc., to find out which prospects or personas will be responsive to a new offer.

The collateral for these Marketing efforts is often more focused and different than prior efforts. If typical, a firm has a lot of collateral that selfishly discusses the products/solutions of the firm with scant attention paid to the issues/pain points of the intended buyer. That’s a mistake. Or, the collateral is overly focused on explaining the differences between the company’s solution and those of competitors. That, too, can be a mistake.

Buyers go through three stages of buying:

  • Do I even have a problem? If not, why are these people pitching me a bunch of unwanted ‘solutions’?
  • If I have this problem, how do I decide between the various broad-based kinds of solutions out there? (e.g., do I outsource, bring the function in-house, re-engineer the process, etc.)
  • If I know I have a problem and I know the general kind of solution I need, how do decide between the finalists?

In engagement marketing, marketers help prospects see the business problems they’re facing. They help inform the buyer and they demonstrate that they understand the firm. How? They bring independently sourced information, analyst reports, industry/benchmark data, etc. to the fore. For more pricey deals, the marketer might demonstrate specific proof points based on what the customer had purchased previously (e.g., “Now that your luxury sports car is seven years old, you must be concerned about the growing maintenance cost for it…”).  And, of course, personas help the marketers stay on point by addressing prospective customer wants/needs and not pitching specific solution features.

After the buyer is aware of the problem, they will need help in deciding what kind of solution, generally, they will need. As before, this is NOT the time to sell/market very specific solutions but it is time to help the buyer sort out the major categories of solutions out there (e.g., Do I want another luxury sports car or a family sedan?).

Finally, after marketing knows what sort of journey the buyer is on, how they got to this point and what kind of solution they need, then the real product education can begin. Sales organizations love a prospect at this point.

Some adaptations to and requirements for Engagement Marketing

One consulting experience I learned well is that different buyer personnel will like or listen to different sales professionals differently. For this reason, it can be beneficial to have a team selling approach to winning deals. Some sales people are lone wolves who don’t like to share but they’re also probably leaving a lot of deals to the competition because their pride or unwillingness to share credit gets in the way.

To do team selling well, sellers and marketers need to be on the same page. They need to speak the same language as to what kind of buyer/persona are they dealing with and where they are in the education cycle. Prematurely rushing things won’t help and neither will a combination of a feature/function/high-pressure or impatient sales person with an engagement-oriented sales person. It will confuse and frustrate the prospect and no one wins.

Another must is that marketers must organize content, collateral and campaigns around customer needs not their solutions. Videos and content should be about the common issues, challenges and desires of buyers and not about the seller and their solutions. Egotistical selling happens whenever firms do nothing but talk about themselves and their products. It’s boring, off-putting and disrespectful. Essentially, egotistical selling tells the buyer that they are not important.  Ask any women who wants a man’s undivided attention and she will say that all she has to do is ask the guy questions about himself. Guys, like most buyers, want to talk about themselves.

Post-Marketo lunch

On the walk back from Marketo’s lunch, I re-traced the path I walked innumerable times from the old Andersen Consulting headquarters office to the train station. Along the way, I noticed:

  • The old shoe shine stand is gone (everyone wears casual or tennis shoes now)
  • The great classic record/CD shop is gone (everyone gets tunes digitally now)
  • A great menswear store is gone (men don’t wear suits anymore)

and

  • A solid bookstore is long gone, too (e-books did in that business)

In a few short years, the makeup of downtown Chicago’s retail world has been transformed. Marketing must change just as rapidly and powerfully. Yet, there are a lot of issues to sort out for Engagement Marketing to be a big success. These include:

  • There is an incredible amount of corporate amnesia in firms today. Whether it is due to mergers, divestitures, key personnel retirements or terrible information systems, companies cannot engage with their prospects and existing customers well as they have no idea who these buyers are, what they’ve bought before and, most important of all, how those past experiences have been.

This amnesia drives me nuts and yet it is all too commonplace. If a company can’t remember simple things about its customers, what are the odds they can’t remember the important ones?

I’ve bought a lot of major home appliances in my life but I’ve never had one of those manufacturers ever ask me how my ownership experience has been.  How will they ever know if I’m in the market for a new appliance? How will they know if I’d ever buy another one of their products? They don’t and, worse, they don’t seem to care. Sensors might be the starting point in the future but that’s a long way aways.

  • Companies that care are different than those who don’t. Companies that care, listen to their customers and prospects. They take notes. They learn from these encounters. They tune and improve their solutions. Companies that don’t care, see every prospect as a generic nail that needs a hammer.
  • Companies with a culture of selling (vs. developing long term customer relationships) can be very short-term focused. Every car dealer I’ve dealt with over the years wants me to be part of “John Smith Honda/Chevy/Nissan/etc. Family”. However, I’ve never met the same salesperson twice in my life. There is no ‘relationship’ if there is no continuity. I find all this pretend-family attention to be laughable. It’s insincere as the salespeople are just there to make deals, NOW, and not become anyone’s best friend. In these firms, the rewards for salespeople are instant and out of sync with the goal of developing long-term relationships with buyers. These firms are short-term sales focused and not interested in engagement marketing.
  • Laziness destroys engagement marketing especially when sales or marketing people don’t want to do the homework – If you don’t bother to do the work to understand the buyer, you can’t engage well with them. I’m amazed how many sales pros think they can skip this.
  • Silo’d functions are hell on Engagement Marketing – My bank is awful about this. Their business banker doesn’t talk to the personal bankers who doesn’t talk to my mortgage banker, etc. All of them work for the same firm but, like the Tower of Babel, they cannot communicate with each other. It drives me nuts to work with them. Recently, I made them assemble the ‘team’ in a conference room so that they could ‘discover’ what I already knew: their bank is failing at Engagement Marketing. (Note to Marketo – that bank had executives at your lunch!).
  • No empathy – If you can’t walk a mile in your customer’s shoes, get a new job. There’s a television show about CEOs who go undercover to learn what’s really happening on the front lines. How anyone can make someone CEO when that person doesn’t use the product or talk to customers is beyond me. Case in point, when United Airlines got its latest CEO, they tapped a board member who hadn’t flown in coach on a United flight in eons. Really?!

My take

This event by Marketo was proof that they eat their own dog food re: engagement marketing. They weren’t trying to hard sell us anything. They were educating. They patiently helped attendees understand what engagement marketing is, how it could help firms and why it’s becoming a go-to tool in a marketer’s toolset.

They knew that some people in the audience probably didn’t even know they had a problem yet but they had enough Marketo folks there to answer questions and help those interested in moving to the next level get there. Marketo acted the role of an advisor and earned the trust of those in attendance.

That’s what engagement marketing looks like in practice.

Image credit - Story and featured images via @Gapingvoid

Disclosure - Marketo is a premier partner at time of writing