We stand on the cusp of the most significant changes to marketing practices since the advent of marketing automation tools more than a decade ago.
No shiny new tool is prompting sweeping change this time. Instead, the next wave of marketing stems from a huge increase in the fidelity and accuracy of customer signals from across the business.
The pandemic has set the scene for change. The June 2020 results from an ongoing CMO survey conducted by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business illustrate the trends. As customers shifted to digital channels, so did marketing efforts. Digital marketing budgets in particular have either stayed the same or increased. Even with head count reductions, marketing teams have shifted their focus, largely toward online customer outreach and improved digital interfaces.
But the coming revolution in marketing is not simply a matter of increasing and improving use of digital channels. It rests on a better and better-integrated understanding of customers.
We’ve had a lot of digital tracking in marketing signals for quite some time—email open and click-through rates; social media views, likes, and shares; website traffic and content performance. But we now have a much wider range of signal sources that together offer far deeper insights into customers’ behaviors and priorities.
Commerce sites tell us what customers are looking for, how they navigate, and when they purchase. They highlight differences between customer groups: browsers, casual shoppers, or those on a mission and in a hurry.
Configure-price-quote (CPQ) tools show what customers might have considered and what they bought, and the influence of various prices, discounts, and delivery times.
Automated email cadences enable salespeople to identify serious buyers and engage when it’s convenient for them. They can suggest actions, schedule meetings, and include appropriate experts based on customer priorities.
For B2B sales teams, artificial intelligence (AI) tools evaluate external, publicly available information to identify the business context and recent events that influence decisions—things like acquisitions, leadership changes, and major announcements. That can be combined with site traffic data to evaluate who from a customer organization is interested in what, and how involved they are. Sales teams can see what gets their customers’ attention and be prompted to speak with them at the appropriate moment. We can accurately predict if a deal will close and when.
Customer service and contact centers have long been untapped gold mines of verbatim, unprompted customer feedback. Natural language processing, conversational analytics, and other AI tools surface key trends, major issues, and customer preferences. The proliferation of bots that address high-volume, predictable requests reduces customer effort and provides a continuous source of data.
And let’s not forget proactive, qualitative customer research. Surveys, focus groups, and advisory boards continue to enrich our understanding of what matters most to customers. A growing set of tools that allow customers to record and share their thoughts and reactions—whether to products or messages—add even more color.
THE SHIFT FROM QUANTITY TO QUALITY
There are benefits to be had by every part of the business from these deeper customer insights, but most substantially in marketing.
Marketing automation tools brought performance measures that have been squarely focused on quantity: how many campaigns, how many emails, how many interactions, how many leads. Get to the magic number of touches and a prospect must be ready to buy. And while different weights may be assigned to certain activities (attending a webinar is worth more than opening an email), the major question has been “how many.”
With the abundance of knowledge we now have about our customers—current or prospective—the operative questions instead become these: What? When? To whom?
By distinguishing the loyal but price-sensitive customers from the big spenders prone to splashing out, we can tailor promotions and timings for each group. Identifying when a customer has had problems with something they’ve bought helps us avoid trying to upsell them at a moment when disappointment risks turning to disgust. Providing just the right clarifying information when a customer has questions about a purchase can be the difference in making a sale or losing the deal.
In all of these cases, the quality of interactions, not the number, produces results. It’s a matter of doing fewer things but more of the right ones. And that’s to everyone’s mutual benefit.
L. Nicole France is principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research. Over the course of 20 years as both analyst and marketer, her passion has been helping customers harness technology to improve customer engagement and drive business results.