Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Marketing Automation: Facilitating the Conversation

I was at a conference recently where a guy was talking about Marketing Automation with a cocktail party analogy. His idea was that in a cocktail party, you don’t know what stories you’re going to tell in advance, you just get a sense of people and then tell the appropriate stories. He then jumped to a conclusion that, therefore, you could not automate your marketing as that would be like pre-scripting which stories you were going to tell at the cocktail party.

Having worked with a lot of marketers in implementing marketing automation for lead nurturing, I can say that he’s partly right and partly wrong.

If you automate a one-sided conversation, you are just alienating your audience more efficiently.

A conversation only works if your stories are of interest to your listeners. When we’re in the room, we quickly get a sense of what the people we’re talking with are interested in and tell stories accordingly. With some people at the cocktail party, we’ll talk about sports, and who’s doing well in the playoffs. With some groups, we’ll talk shop, and with some groups, we’ll entertain with tales of travel disasters we’ve experienced. All groups are not the same. We read their interest through looking at their body language and adjust our stories accordingly.

One on one, this works very well. However as marketers, we are faced with two challenges when it comes to replicating this approach in marketing.

The first challenge, we’ve dealt with quite a bit on this blog. We need to read our buyer’s digital body language to see what they are interested in. We do this through observing their response to marketing and their areas of interest. From there we leverage those observations to understand what their main area of interest is likely to be, or what role they play in a buying process. It is our way of determining what stories are most of interest to them.

Once this has been accomplished, the next challenge comes down to logistics.

That challenge is how to facilitate not just one conversation, but thousands or tens of thousands of conversations. Each person is interested in a different conversation, and will likely be turned off by stories that aren’t of interest. Compounding the challenge is the fact that we need to deliver these stories when the audience is interested, not when it makes sense for our own campaign schedule.

This is where marketing automation comes in. Without marketing automation, it’s hard to imagine being able to carry on more than a few conversations at one time, let alone thousands or tens of thousands of individual conversations.

However here’s where there is some truth to the idea that marketing automation and conversations don’t mix. If you are hoping to automatically deliver the same story to each person without any awareness of their interests, you will fail. Marketing automation that forces your audience down a single track just automates a one-sided conversation. This alienates your audience as it does not alter the conversation based on their interests.

The marketers who succeed are focused on listening first, talking second. By understanding, through their audience’s digital body language, the topics of interest to their audience, successful marketers cater the conversation accordingly. Through the understanding gained by looking at digital body language to understand interest, each person can receive stories of interest to them.

A list of stories, told in sequence regardless of audience interest, will fail just as surely at a cocktail party as it will in marketing automation.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar


Rebecca Caroe said...

This sounds rather like autism in business...trying to teach emotional intelligence to machines is not possible.

I'm trying to hire a first-jobber for a biz dev role and one of the key skills I want is someone who has organised large events (like parties) on a minimal budget, or run a college society. These people know how to improvise, pitch and sell.

Know anyone who wants a job in London?

Jeff Ogden said...

Good post, Steve. I agree on the need for personalization and timing and this is why tracking digital body language is so important. Marketing don't know information to deliver at what time unless they have their "ears" on.

Read your book too, Steve.