We know customers want to us to engage them differently. There’s all sorts of research that says customers want to self educate. Other research showing that customers are engaging sales people later in the process–largely after they have determined the problem, determines their needs and requirements, and in fact narrowed their solution alternatives to a few choices (of which they are indifferent).
Likewise, sales and marketing are facing pressures. Recognizing the desire of customers to self educate or to avoid seeing sales people, they are providing more content. Using marketing automation tools, they are able to “move” the customer through their cycle–appealing to their desire to self educate and defer sales engagement.
Sales loves this, like everyone else, sales has too much on their plates. So taking a lot of the upfront work off their shoulders is helpful. Getting to the customer when they are truly qualified and saying, “This is what we want, how much will you charge us to buy if from you,” focuses the selling activities immensely.
- It works when it works–but is it really working? Are we really engaging the customer in the way that is most helpful to them–rather than what they want?
- Are we designing and implementing our customer engagement processes in ways that create the greatest value for them, while positioning us most favorably?
- Are we integrating and sequencing marketing and sales activities in a way that optimizes the customer buying experience?
To me, it seems like we really haven’t designed the engagement processes that enable us to achieve the things above.
Largely, marketing and sales are still separate and sequential processes. In the old days, marketing created demand, then passed off a lead to sales. In the new “marketing/sales integration,” marketing still creates demand—it may nurture and develop it further–ultimately passing a lead off to sales. It may be a much higher quality lead, it is certainly much later in the process.
So all we’ve done is changed the point at which leads pass from marketing to sales, but have we really improved the buying experience, are we really helping customer create the best outcomes they can possibly achieve. Furthermore, we’ve really not integrated and changed the marketing/sales process–they are still sequential, they are still largely independent of each other.
Before I go on, things are better. High quality, targeted, relevant content contributes greatly to educating the customers, focusing them on critical issues and improving our own sales/marketing capabilities. Marketing automation tools help us (and the customer) get the most relevant content to the right person at the right time. Intelligence from the marketing tools can enable the sales person to improve the quality in which they engage their customers.
So things are better–but not necessarily right.
Much of this is based on the assumption the customer knows what they are doing. They recognize there are things they can do better, there are opportunities to improve and grow. It assumes they perfectly know their situation, and can perfectly define the issues they should be addressing, what they should be assessing, how they should be educating themselves and evaluating alternatives.
It assumes customers are constantly scanning the horizon, looking for new things to do, continuously learning, improving, investigating–even though there may be no obvious need to change.
Further, this assumes the customer knows how to organize themselves to define new opportunities (which they had been unaware of), to address divergent agendas, priorities, and interests in the team, and to even know they should enter a buying process.
The problem is, too often the customer is clueless–not because they are dumb, but because the don’t necessarily know what they don’t know. They are so consumed in their jobs, they may not have the time to learn and understand new ways of doing things.
They may be prisoners of their own experience, so they don’t know the right questions to ask. However, well intended, they may just be off in the wrong direction, through no fault of their own.
To want to consume content, they have to know there is something they should be doing. They have to search to find other views, they have to know how to find the right information, they have to navigate and filter the overwhelming amount of confusing and different views on the web.
Helping the customer get it right is too important to leave them alone in the early stages of their buying process. Helping them get it right may even be about kicking them into a buying process.
So too much of our current approach to the marketing and sales process may be in response to what customers want, but not what is right and what they need. It assumes they know what they should know, not what they do know. It assumes they know the right questions to be asked.
Overlay this with our own drives to improve marketing and sales productivity–getting more from each dollar invested in each.
Taken together we create a perfect (or imperfect–depending on your point of view) that keeps us from serving the customers as effectively as we should, from creating the value they expect and deserve.
We need to reassess the engagement process. I suspect it’s not a set of sequential processes, but interleaved processes. The sales person may be the very first person to engage the customer. Helping them understand the opportunity to change, perhaps getting them hot and lathered to do something new. Then it may be marketing’s role to educate. Then the sales person might be involved in helping the customer manage their own internal buying process, then marketing might provide more focused content, then sales might solve the “last mile” problem–focusing specifically on “what is means to me”—the customer.
Most marketing/sales integration efforts has improved the quality of information, has increased collaboration and shared metrics, but largely isn’t much different than the old days.
To really help our customers, particularly in areas where they don’t realize they need help, we can no longer look at marketing and sales integration as sequential processes, but look at the issues customers face in deciding to buy and buying. We have to get the resources, sales and marketing, engaged with the right customer, doing the right things, at the right time.
What are you doing to redesign your marketing and sales processes to optimize the outcomes customers get from their buying experience?