Today’s digitally savvy customer has thousands of potential access points to a company, resulting in an insurmountable volume of customer interactions via an ever-growing number of channels. In addition, with a variety of external informational sources, data about your company and products is readily available, making it seemingly impossible to understand your customer’s baseline knowledge.
As a result, businesses now have to rethink the way they communicate and engage with their customers. Simply put, the always-on, multiple-gadget consumer is fundamentally shifting how marketing organizations operate.
To successfully meet this challenge, companies must effectively interact with customers via various online engagement points, such as the Web, social networks, and mobile devices, as well as offline mediums, such as the telephone, trade shows, and in-person meetings. They must also deliver messaging that is consistent across all mediums, yet tailored to the individual needs of each customer. This article will discuss how Thomson Reuters is leveraging best practices to create a truly interconnected marketing strategy that:
- is rooted in a deep understanding of the customer’s journey;
- spans across sales, marketing, and support; and
- meets the varying needs of each individual customer no matter where that person is in the marketing/sales pipeline.
All Prospects Are Not Created Equal
In the past, customer engagements were fairly simple. A typical sales cycle would look something like this: Company A would advertise its product or service at a trade show or via the radio, TV, or Internet. Interested prospects would engage with the company on the spot, or click or call for more information. The customer would then be directed to a salesperson, who would answer questions and hopefully close the deal. For the most part, prospects started at the same point with a similar level of baseline knowledge, and they were methodically guided through a predictable process in which the company had control over the brand and message.
In today’s world, potential customers have a plethora of information at their fingertips, from social networks, blogs, comparison review sites, and traditional media outlets, making the predictable sales cycle obsolete. Interested prospects may or may not engage with the company directly. Instead, many prospects now begin their journeys long before the company gets involved. They can scour the Web for reviews, blogs, and posts from their peers. Based on what they find online, prospects will decide whether to engage with your company or one of your competitors.
In other words, your company could be losing out on business and not even know it. The big questions then become: How do you fine-tune your message for an audience you don’t even know about? And if you do connect with the prospect, then how do you identify what stage in the sales cycle he is in?
Connecting The Dots: People, Technology, And Processes
Critical to marketing today is integration across functional departments, such as sales, marketing, and customer service, and also across marketing mediums. Sounds simple, but when you are dealing with dozens or even hundreds of product lines, this process can be a nightmare to manage and result in disparate functions with individual objectives that are piecemealed together. However, with the right people, processes, and centralized technology, integrating your marketing efforts in the age of the social Web becomes much more feasible.
People: At Thomson Reuters, for example, we started by first making sure we had the right people on board. Implementing a new process is impossible without a team who is willing to execute on the marketing vision. In this phase, we evaluated the existing marketing team and, as needed, hired new leadership, filled key roles, and removed low performers. Once we had the right team in place, the next step was to reach out beyond the marketing function to the heads of the individual business units and get executive buy-in. One simple way to ensure business unit accountability is to jointly develop key performance indicators (KPIs).
It is also important to make sure the structure of your team is aligned with your overall marketing strategy. For example, in the past, the marketing team at Thomson Reuters Tax and Accounting was organized based on the various business units. However, with the goal of executing on a customer-centric marketing strategy, it was necessary to organize the internal team in the same fashion. As a result, we centralized the marketing team, which now focuses on customers versus product lines. This alignment has helped us facilitate better internal communication, which, in turn, has helped us gain a more comprehensive point of view of the customer and also allows us to better control messages to the market.
Process: Prospects are more educated than ever. As a result, building best-in-class processes must be focused on the customer’s journey. At Thomson Reuters, the development of best practices looks something like this:
- Analyze the buyer’s journey to help us understand the touch points where we win and where we lose. This critical feedback also helps us develop messaging specific to the segment and persona of prospects.
- Understand the interaction points, such as the medium, promotion or message, and cadence to help us decide the right marketing mix.
- Correlate data points gathered to segment customers accordingly and translate data into business rules that can be applied to lead scoring and funnel management. This step ties into our data-driven demand generation approach and is critical to marketing in the age of the social Web.
Once customer-centric business rules are in place, we were ready to input them into our demand generation frameworks.
Technology: Leveraging advanced marketing technology with our Web site as a central source for gathering critical customer information, we are able to understand our prospects’ “digital body language.” In the same way that body language helps a sales associate guide the sales process, the digital body language–the aggregate of a prospect’s digital activity, such as emails opened, Web pages visited, webinars attended, or referral source (Google, social media site, etc.)–helps us deliver an offer or experience that is customized to the individual. In addition, such an approach helps us more intelligently segment not only by traditional factors (vertical industry, functional role/title, region, etc.), but also by online touch points (social media, mobile phone, etc.).
In parallel, we keep a regular pulse on the customer experience by establishing measurements in everything we do and capturing feedback along the way (from a real-time case management perspective to more in-depth analysis we conduct a few times per year). We also are cognizant of the fact that marketing in today’s day and age is radically different than marketing 10 years ago, and that means the measurements of success must also change. For example, by combining historical measurements of success, such as closed deals/sales, with new measurements, such as customer sentiments from the social graph, we are able to determine whether the customer experience (which transcends all functions) is truly improving or whether a spike in sales is due to seasonality or a one-time event.
The bottom line is that today’s Web-savvy customer is fundamentally changing the way we have to market. There is no single formula that works. To stay relevant and address today’s new buying behaviors, successful marketing strategies will incorporate a variety of marketing initiatives, interconnected via technology and with a constant customer feedback loop so that adjustments can be made in real time. While marketing in today’s information-centric world may seem like a losing battle, progressive marketing departments that leverage the wealth of information available from online sources outside of the company and meld it with the latest technology to optimize the customer experience will ultimately gain their interest and win business.