Is technology distancing us from the buyer?

The breath and depth of tools in the marketing (and sales) technology landscape is exploding. Many of you may have seen Scott Brinker’s overwhelming Marketing Technology Landscape graphic. Gartner predicts that by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO. There are a number of key drivers for this change.

We have all heard the statistics that an overwhelming amount of buyers do their research online before completing an offline purchase. This means that a major emphasis of growth marketing is focused on being discovered and educating the buyer online, ultimately in the hope of generating a high-value MQL (marketing qualified lead). Just this one sentence represents hundreds to thousands of tech companies focused on marketing automation, SEO/SEM, content management and distribution, predictive lead scoring, and many more categories.  In addition, these systems then need to integrate with the sales IT systems. The CMO today is not only being bombarded from all directions by hundreds of vendors but also has to answer to boards and the executive team on inbound marketing strategies and metrics.

The pendulum has definitely swung from traditional direct and in person marketing towards content and education. Sales leaders are required to deliver detailed, real-time metrics of lead conversions, opportunity creation rates, ASP, yields, pipeline growth, churn, and more. While I believe the pendulum needed to swing, I question whether management teams are not over rotating the other direction and distancing themselves from the buyer by focusing too much of their time on the sales and marketing technology implementations vs. spending time learning from and selling to customers.

Some things to consider:

  1. Lead scoring (predictive or not) tries to ensure sales reps are spending their time on higher quality leads and enjoy higher conversation rates to opportunities. This does not mean there isn’t opportunity in the non marketing qualified leads but there is an assumption that it becomes progressively harder to find the needle (opportunity) in the haystack (raw leads). At Zend we had seen many of our lucrative deals come from leads who had been in our database for quite some time and had just never been qualified in. So while not always possible, it may just be more impactful to dig deeper into the lead pool and find cost effective ways to do so. Less time on tuning the system and guesswork, and more time on picking up the phone and truly qualifying leads by talking to people.
  2. Digital marketing promises an abundant amount of leads at a fraction of the cost of more traditional approaches such as events. I do believe digital marketing is critical but in certain (not all) markets we have seen strong results from in person events. Typically, a prospect’s commitment to a conversation and follow-up is higher in an eye to eye encounter. It also enables the sales reps to much better qualify the tire kicker vs. the prospect who truly has interest and influence to move things forward. So before you abandon in person marketing opportunities think it through carefully.
  3. Meeting customers (new and existing) in their offices is invaluable. The ability to truly understand motive, environment and the various stakeholders goes way up. It also makes it way easier to get honest feedback from customers and build a personal relationship which can contribute at many levels e.g. getting the customer’s help to get a deal in before end of quarter, get a customer’s commitment to contribute time to being a design partner on a new feature and more… We consistently saw that end of quarter deals were more likely to come if there had been some face to face connection with the key stakeholder. Again, the more time is spent in the office tweaking the systems the less leaders are on the plane spending quality time with the customer.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a technologist, very metric driven and I absolutely believe the pendulum needed to shift towards more online engagement and education. I also believe that sales and marketing leaders need to be held accountable for both the forward and rear looking business metrics. But I do believe that sales & marketing leaders are spending less and less time with customers due to the increased overhead of implementing systems and reporting on the metrics.

There is no better way to gain new customers and learn how your existing customers view your value-proposition than human-to-human interaction. My advice to sales and marketing leaders is to embrace technology but don’t let it outright consume you. Carve-out a sustainable amount of your and your team’s time to make systems improvements but ensure that time is well spent and managed. One of my past board members would say “You can report on the news or you can make the news”. I prefer to make the news!

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