It’s people….Leads are made out of people!

Marketing automation, programmatic targeting, content marketing and nurturing, social media management, cookie tracking, keyword analysis… and on and on and on. That’s a marketer’s world. At the end of the day, we all have three goals: leads, pipeline, revenue. As someone who started his career in digital marketing (this was the pre-AdWords era and it meant going into AOL chatrooms and telling people about “cool” new products); data has been in my DNA. The problem with my love of data is sometimes I’ve lost track of the customer. When I’m looking at beautiful spreadsheets and tracking clicks, conversions and approved contacts, I sometimes forget a crucial fact: Leads are people too.

“Marketing” was something I wanted to do since I was a kid. Back then I had Don Draper-like dreams that “marketing” meant coming up with the next slogan for Pepsi, all while drinking an Old Fashioned with the boss. To my dismay, my first marketing professor had a different vision. He was constantly reminding his students, “Marketing is not about fancy slogans, pretty colors and TV ads. Marketing is about the customer. Listen to them and the rest falls into place.” I believed him at the time, but it took me several years before I really understood. But today, with the all-encompassing focus on data-driven marketing, I worry that the customer will be lost in the process. So here are three simple reminders for all of us that if you really want to move markets you still need to move people.

1)  Understand what they’re interested in, but don’t force feed them. I’m fortunate enough to work for a company (and I promise I’m not selling here) that’s on the cutting edge of understanding the buyer’s needs and their purchase behavior.  I’m also fortunate enough to see the results of hundreds of marketing campaigns every year and evaluate what works and what doesn’t. The #1 area that determines success for every campaign I’ve seen comes down to interest. It’s not a particular ad size. It’s not a fantastic email subject line. It’s understanding what the audience is interested in right now and giving them more of it. When I email a prospect with content that aligns extremely closely to the last five things they read, I see a 4X improvement in CTR and conversion. Every time.

Sometimes as marketers I think we assume too much. We’re programmed to believe that the buying process is linear, and this leads to pushing materials our prospects aren’t ready for. We have false assumptions about what they “should” want. What we have to remember is that our prospects are still people. Use the data you have to make an educated estimation of what content will resonate, but make sure you give your audience a selection to choose from.  I always tell my team that the buying process for large technology purchases is never the highway, it’s a leisurely drive through a windy mountain road. Make sure when they’re cruising down that road you offer some great scenic views – AKA good content.

2)  Consolidate your data and use it. I’ve read a lot of articles lately saying there is just too much data these days, and it’s causing marketers to make incorrect decisions (or even worse – completely freeze). I have to disagree with this. There is never too much data. The problem is consolidating the data you have and being able to use it. We’re now forced to use a lot of tools. Sales/lead management tools, Web analytics tools, email management tools and social media management tools just to name a few. All of these are throwing off data about our interactions with potential customers (you know… people). Layer in third party and publisher data and you can see how it gets out of control fast. While there is no perfect solution out there to help us with this yet, it’s our job to do the best we can with what we have. Finding ways to consolidate the data you have and understand the real customer journey (what they do with you and what they do without you) is what separates good digital marketers from great digital marketers.

A friend (and lead generation rock star) once asked me what my dream “lead report/lead dashboard” would look like. Since I’ve trained myself to think people first and leads second, my answer surprised him. I want a personality profile, not a chart of trending data. My dream scenario would be to hand my salesperson a “lead report” that told her not only every business interaction “Joe Smith” took (products he’s interested in from us or our competitors, independent review he’s read, role in his current organization, other relevant people he works with), but also more about his interests outside of work (music he follows on Spotify, movies he liked on Netflix, sports teams he follows on twitter, restaurants he recommended on Yelp and the fact that he bought brand new fishing gear on Amazon). Why do I want all this additional information that has nothing to do with the business product he’s planning to buy? Because he’s a person with lots of interests outside of work and at the end of the day someone is going to have to call him. Great salespeople can bond with anyone, but exceptional sales executives with this type of information at their fingertips are unstoppable. In the very competitive world of technology marketing and sales, I want my sales team armed to the teeth before they hit the phones. Speaking of calling, this leads to my final point…

3)  Do your research before you call and invest your time in the calls that matter. We’ve all heard the classic saying “Don’t confuse activity with results.”  For some reason when it comes to lead follow-up this advice flies out the window. I’ll be clear. I’m not a fan of the boiler room/dial for dollars sales approach. I know it works for some companies and has proven to be a successful model for certain product categories, but it’s not for me. When you’re in a business based on relationships and renewals, the first impression means everything. We’re fortunate to live in an era with incredible access to customer data (as referenced above) and if you understand what your client is interested in and are consolidating this data into a usable format, why wouldn’t you change your call approach and process?

The status quo tech call goes something like this:

You visit a vendor site, download a demo or product sheet. A day later – or a couple of hours later – your phone rings. You pick it up and immediately hear, ”Hello Josh, my name is Jack (but you know it’s not Jack) I was just given your name from my marketing department. I see you are interested in investing in a CRM system. Could I please have your budget so I can determine who will follow-up with you next.”

How annoying is that? Strike 1: There is no reference to what I downloaded. Strike 2: They assume way too much. And Strike 3: This company managed to get past all my call screening mechanisms, and instead of taking advantage of the fact that they have me on the line they just want to collect more information so they can pass me off to someone else.

As you can probably guess, this vendor did not get my business.

I don’t blame these callers, though. Their mentality – and the collective attitude of the companies that employ them – is largely influenced by how digital marketing works today. We now see leads as numbers and when you’re working with numbers consistency is critical. But leads are people, and if we approach them all with the same script and with the same frequency it will have a long-term negative effect on your brand and the customer experience. Back in the day, I think dialing for dollars worked because it forced the diallers to cold call. They were prepared for the conversation to go anywhere, didn’t approach everyone the same way and were real artists on the phone. So why should we not contact our highly nurtured leads the same way? We know more about our potential prospects than we ever have before. So shouldn’t our interactions on the phone be better, not worse? But in many ways, we’ve gone backward. So here’s what I recommend:

  • Use the data you have before you call a prospect. No cookie cutter scripts. Plan for every call to be unique. Study the prospect and have your questions and resources prepared ahead of time. Know what they’re interested in, what others in their industry are interested in and frame your conversation around this.
  • Don’t call everyone with the same frequency. There are some prospects you should spend most of your time trying to reach. Invest the time and get them on the phone, even if it takes 100 attempts. The data should be your guide on this, but if you treat everyone the same (the classic three call attempts and you’re out) you may be missing out on some of the best opportunities you have.

Now for my disclaimer:  I’ve spent the majority of my career working in B2B marketing (mainly tech & tech media) and our goals and tactics are very different than what you’d typically see in B2C. But even if consumer marketing is more transactional than relationship-based, I still believe it’s useful for all of us to remember that your friend, neighbor or co-worker could be one of those ticks on that beautiful dashboard we’ve all grown to love.

Josh Garland

Josh has 17+ years of b2b agency, publishing and digital marketing experience in technology markets. He’s a self-proclaimed​ “cat loving marketing nerd” with a passion for learning about technology and its impact on the future of marketing. Josh currently owns and operates

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