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Why Permission Marketing No Longer Works for B2B

Permission marketing is no longer effective when selling to the enterprise PHOTO: Serkan Goktay

Before I get out of bed in the morning, the latest barrage of unwanted sales pitches from strangers is already in full swing. 

What’s worse, their approach is alarmingly too familiar, with messages ranging from overly presumptive to borderline stalking:

  • “Happy Friday Mike. Cheers to the weekend! Following up on my last email. Is it safe to assume you don’t have a need to drive more business? Please advise.” (Yikes!)
  • “Hi there Mike, just a quick note to say I’ll be near your office this week and wondered if Thursday at 10am or 2pm works best for an introductory meeting?” (Huh?)

By the time I’m sipping my morning coffee, the majority of these interruptions fall prey to the swiping left motion of my thumb, and I bet you do the same. 

Putting Permission Marketing to Rest 

As a CMO, I’m an ideal target for MarTech solutions. But the fact is I don’t have time to read the countless unsolicited emails I receive, nor the desire to take a meeting with a stranger.  

Activating defense mechanisms for “stranger-based marketing” is now a reflex. The digital world has eroded our attention span, and daily stories of identity theft and email hacking have instilled a real fear of cybercrime. 

The result? Cold outreach programs simply condition your best customers and prospects to ignore you, or worse, shame the company’s efforts on social media.

It comes down to this: Marketing’s standard operating principle for the past 15 years — permission marketing — is no longer effective when selling to the enterprise. The process of turning strangers to friends, and friends to customers, beginning with a “small” interruption and building a relationship through the ongoing exchange of personal information for business information, is going through digital disintermediation.  

The number of new relationships people are willing to invest in has fallen victim to a lack of time and trust. New permissions are not readily given, and relationships are no longer built on the exchange of scarce information. If I’m interested in a product or service, I can find everything I need to know online, and if I’m convinced, my next move is to reach out to a friend or peer to hear their experience with that product or service.

Changing the Rules of the Game

The biggest challenge for CMOs today is to align with sales and executive leadership on the new reality — this won’t be easy. 

As marketers, we’ve trained the world to believe that names, titles, email addresses and phone numbers are monetizable artifacts. And that programs to obtain more marketing artifacts result in more sales. Maybe that’s still true for Book of the Month Club, but in the digital world, there’s little correlation to creating real enterprise opportunities.

The shift is on. Generating demand begins by working with the people you know, or asking people you know, to introduce you to those you want to connect with. 

Your existing relationships and their connections are the real currency of business.

Measure Metrics that Matter

Shifting strategy from stranger-based marketing activities to connections-based requires a new set of metrics. Push aside bogus sales and marketing metrics that don’t really deliver against business goals. Walk away from counting webinar registrants as leads. 

It’s time to shift the conversation to current customer expansion opportunities and increased renewal rates. Track connections and count relationships: across customers, consultants, employees, friends and partners.

Focus on your Current Customers

The core of any connections-based marketing approach is to focus on the customers you already have. They are not only far and away your best source of profitable growth, they also are your best source of credibility to help you acquire more of the customers you want. 

This is not a new concept. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote about it in the book The One to One Future in 1993: 

“Typically it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain a customer. Most businesses experience a customer churn rate of about 25 percent annually. If you are able to reduce this by 5 percent, you could add as much as 100 percent to your bottom line.”

As compelling as this continues to be, too few companies are making the changes required to operate in our subscription-driven world. A recent survey from SiriusDecisions showed just how poorly B2B companies are doing at capturing the hearts and minds of their customers: 42 percent of respondents were unsure about renewing, and a whopping 61 percent were unwilling to recommend the provider. 

No matter how you look at it, that’s an F.

Build Real Growth on Real Relationships 

Marketing technologies have given us the capability to leverage vast amounts of customer information. They have also given inexperienced sales and marketing staff the ability to pester strangers on a mass level, masquerading as personalization. 

This fixation on volume activities has taken the marketer’s eye off the immense value in building much better one-to-one relationships, and leveraging them to drive growth. 

If you don’t think the time has come to end stranger-based marketing, consider this: My latest social suitor offered up an email-based artificial intelligence prospecting system that finds decision makers and engages in a back and forth dialog until they say, “Let’s set up a time to talk.” 

If you’re not talking to someone you know, you just might be having a conversation with a computer.  Which, now that I think about it, might have more success than a stranger.

Mike Colombo is CMO at Cloudwords, a software provider transforming the way companies manage global campaigns and localized content. As an experienced global marketing leader, Mike appreciates the complexities of marketing to global audiences and has a unique perspective on how technology can address its core challenges.


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