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Modern marketing - between a rock and a hard place?

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As competition grows fiercer, customers gain more control over their buying journeys, and digital technology continues to disrupt the demand generation funnel, the modern marketing and sales environment has been shaken to its core. In this article, we discuss the issues that are driving marketers to rethink their purpose within the business – and explore possible ways forward.

The developments that are disrupting the marketing function

More channels, more complexity:

With such an overwhelming number of marketing channels available today – mostly digitally driven – the marketing role is not only evolving, but also becoming increasingly complex.

Ensuring an orderly and successful demand generation process is not an easy task. With so many channels in play, there’s a larger volume of leads flowing into the business from multiple directions. And, because the buying journey is no longer a linear path, leads come in at different stages of the buying funnel. In other words, these potential customers have varying levels of awareness and interest that need to be nurtured in different, yet relevant ways.

In this environment, it can be challenging to find the right balance between lead quality and quantity. Automated lead qualification and scoring plays a valuable role in managing the vast volumes of leads that are coming in, but this needs to be carefully balanced with human-driven approaches, to ensure that every opportunity is thoroughly qualified and that there’s a healthy level of insight gained through real conversations and interactions with customers.

Ultimately, the challenge here is to manage multiple channels and a much more complex buying funnel to ensure sales receive the right leads at the right point in the purchasing process.

Big data, great expectations:

Digital transformation has created more communication channels and devices than ever before, giving buyers a sizable digital footprint and a growing trail of data from their internet use. The role of the marketer is changing in response to the large number of channels at our disposal and the rapidly growing volumes of data that are now produced. Moreover, there’s pressure to keep up with developments in the fields of AI and advanced analytics, which help to make sense of this data.

While it will always be the marketer’s role to generate actionable insights from data, it is becoming increasingly difficult to process all the data available. While it is important to be tech-savvy, do marketers now also have to function as data scientists? And do they need to gain a greater understanding of AI and machine learning, as well as the skills required to handle advanced analytics?

Additional challenges include keeping high volumes of customer data clean and unified when it flows in from so many different directions – not to mention managing all this personal information in line with complex privacy laws like the GDPR.

Ever more complex marketing attribution:

Like any business function today, marketers are under pressure to prove their worth and deliver more value while optimising resources. It has always been tricky for marketing to prove ROI. Now, with a non-linear buying journey and many more channels to choose from, it’s even more difficult to calculate the cost of customer acquisition and demonstrate where marketing spend is delivering value.

It can be very difficult to find a balance between content and channels that deliver an immediate response (or a high quantity of leads at a low price) and platforms that nurture customer relationships over time and build customer lifetime value.

With this in mind, how can marketers balance lead quantity and quality better in order to deliver greater business value over an extended period?

Customers want to connect on an emotional level:

Marketers also have to contend with higher expectations around personalisation; and there’s often a need to create personalisation at scale using digital insight. However, it’s also important to validate the customer motivations, needs and pain points that lie behind the data in order to make an impact on an emotional level.

A recent Forrester study found that emotion plays a critical role in differentiating brands and has a bigger impact on brand loyalty than effectiveness or ease of use, regardless of industry.

According to Forrester Chief Research Officer Carrie Johnson, “With customers in the driver’s seat and heightened consumer interest in organizations’ corporate values when making buying decisions, how an experience makes customers feel has a bigger influence on their brand loyalty than any other factor.”[1]

How can marketers build emotional connections with customers?

A complex regulatory environment:

The regulatory environment now supports the notion that individuals own and should therefore control their personal data. This can be a challenging ethos for marketers to live up to – especially give the confusion that still surrounds the GDPR. More than a year post-implementation, many countries are still ironing out the particulars – yet that hasn’t stopped the authorities from issuing more than €56 million in fines since the new regulatory regime was introduced.[2]

Adding to these challenges is the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Although the UK has already adopted a bill that translates GDPR standards into local legislation, a no-deal scenario will see many UK businesses diversifying their markets beyond the EU – which means navigating the data protection rules of other countries at a time when the GDPR has speared global change in this area of the law.

Marketers now need to manage regulatory change on top of a growing list of responsibilities.

What's the way forward?

Right now, marketers may feel like they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. But these challenges are not insurmountable! Rather than seeing these developments as roadblocks, businesses and their marketing teams could view them as an opportunity to grow and improve – and perhaps even reimagine the marketing function and its role within the traditional business structure.

Beyond evolving the marketing role itself, business may need to reshape their organisational structures and cultures in line with the new sales and marketing environment and its needs.

Below, we have outlined five key points for consideration.

1. Should marketing and sales be a single function?

While many businesses have worked hard to achieve better sales and marketing alignment, now may be the time to go a step further and integrate these two departments into one.

With marketing and sales on the same team, sharing a working environment, it will be easier to get everyone to agree on a clear plan for generating and capitalising on sales opportunities. As one function, sales and marketing will combine their strengths, unite behind one strategy and support each other on a much deeper level.

At the same time, sales and marketing targets and metrics could be aligned around important business goals such as customer satisfaction and loyalty, and sales growth. This way, there’s less risk that marketing and sales will follow their own agendas and work at cross-purposes to prove the ROI of their respective functions.

2. Aligning marketing with other business units

In fact, a strong business case could be built for building closer working relationships between marketing and other business functions, such as IT, to ensure CMOs have access to the resources they need to succeed.

For example, it may be necessary to include a data analyst in the marketing team to help unlock the potential of all the marketing data available. This, in turn, frees marketing specialists to focus on core marketing activities – such as building customer relationships and gathering valuable insights through real conversations and interactions, which add an extra layer of meaning to all the data collected.

3. A new approach to demand generation

Marketers may need to focus their generation strategies around delivering opportunities, not just leads. Breaking through the walls that separate marketing and sales could help to address this.

Sales and marketing need to agree on how to define, recognise and nurture an opportunity – as well as clear criteria for ranking and qualifying high-potential customers and accounts. Once everyone knows what they need to deliver, the demand generation strategy can be built out from there.

Also, when choosing which marketing channels to use, it’s important to think about the interplay between the channels chosen and how these support each other in generating opportunity and achieving conversion. Now could be the ideal time to invest in more quality content and conversations, while scaling down channels that do not offer this type of interaction. In the GDPR era, for example, mass email campaigns may no longer offer value. The regulatory environment has shrunk distribution lists and left marketers with fewer customers to interact with.

It has, however, also created an opportunity for marketing and sales to build more intimate (and hopefully valuable) relationships with a smaller number of engaged customers.

4. A move towards account-based marketing

In many enterprises, there’s been an increased focus on account-based marketing. According to Forrester, “Account-based marketing (ABM) is becoming the way marketing gets done”. The research firm predicts that by 2025, the term ‘ABM’ will disappear “as account-centric becomes the way most B2B organizations identify, plan, manage, and measure buying and post-sale motions.”[3]

This feels like part of the shift away from marketing only focusing on generating high volumes of leads – towards gaining a deeper understanding of sales goals and taking a more strategic approach to delivering the right opportunities.

The goal of ABM is to focus on the accounts that offer the most potential value to the business, enabling a highly targeted and personalised approach. To achieve this, sales and marketing need to gain a thorough understanding of their customers by building connections and investing in real conversations that allow them to gather sufficient insights. This deep, account level understanding will enable businesses to drive buyers down the funnel, while also earning their trust and loyalty.

5. A smart channel strategy

Investing in more communication channels does not necessarily bring in more opportunities. Often, this approach spreads resources too thin and creates more fragmentation and confusion along the buying journey.

Ideally, the channels that support the sales and marketing approach, as well as other business units’ interactions with customers, need to be integrated and unified under a single strategy. This supports a more holistic approach to managing sales opportunities and building customer relationships, while ensuring consistent and compliant data management.

Additionally, it’s important to fully understand the unique value that each channel adds to the business. For example, automated communication is best suited to routine customer interactions – helping to scale efforts and free skilled agents to focus on higher-value work. On the other hand, human-led channels like voice contact can be brought in to handle more complex communications, build emotional connections with customers and gather the type of insights that can only be unearthed during individualised, two-way conversations.

The way forward

Today, it feels as if the marketing function – and the business as a whole – is at a crossroads, due to all the challenges that digital transformation, the exponential growth of data, regulatory pressures and a changing buying funnel are creating. Now is an ideal time for business, marketing and sales leaders to recalibrate roles and strategies, in order to offer marketing the support and resources needed to move beyond traditional lead generation approaches towards new opportunity generation models that support ongoing business success in a fast-evolving environment.

With the growing pressures on today’s marketing function, resources may often be stretched beyond capacity and in these instances a flexible outsource solution can help marketers adapt to changing requirements and retain focus on strategic goals.

A specialist telemarketing agency can provide talented and experienced Inside Sales agents, who have the capacity to profile prospects thoroughly, communicate value propositions strategically, gather valuable customer insights and keep high-level decision-makers engaged at every stage of the account lifecycle. External resource can be integrated within a multi-channel approach, providing a healthy pipeline of opportunities and progressing customers through the buying cycle efficiently.

At the same time, specialist CATI agents can work with existing data to ensure it is clean, accurate and compliant with all relevant regulations, or capture unambiguous consent from customers to provide a foundation for relevant, consent-based communications.

If your marketing team is ready to turn challenges into opportunities and explore new ways of delivering value to your business, please get in touch.

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