Last summer, Elon Musk’s comment that “artificial intelligence is the greatest risk we face as a civilization” inspired me to read up on artificial intelligence and start thinking about it. Musk tries to describe the gravity of the situation by using several examples that I find intriguing. He thinks that the use of AI should be legally regulated. I’m afraid that greed always finds a way to get around regulations. Once this genie is out of the bottle . . .

Up until now we’ve always gone on about how robotization and AI would “devour” our jobs, but what the Tesla CEO is worried about is the long-term survival of humanity, when at a given moment in time it will (sooner or later) become redundant to AI. Well, anyway, I started thinking about how AI would affect my business, shopping or forming buying decisions, sales and marketing, and product development.

Who’s afraid of artificial intelligence? According to Elon Musk everyone should be. Click To Tweet

Are you thinking about the sales process or “intervening” in your customers’ decisions?

Since 2012, FrodX has been focusing on customer engagement and implementing marketing automation systems. To put it plainly, our goal is to help companies “intervene” in their customers’ buying experience more effectively. We think about what approach to take and prepare the tools that companies can use to more effectively influence their customers’ buying decisions even before they meet them in person.

Marketing communication means buying attention and trust

In addition to knowing how the mind works and how people behave, technology can be of great help here of course. Marketing automation is a tool that uses rules set in advance to help us segment people with similar interests (the area of interest and purchase readiness are the basic parameters of a specific segment) and automate personalized communication with each individual that the system identifies as a prospect. Let’s say that our project goal is to set up a kind of proactive digital turf (a combination of a website and communication via email, social media, and digital ads) that dynamically adapts to each visitor by holding their attention, building trust, and encouraging them become fond of us or sometimes even enthusiastic about us. Trust is actually the key component that makes the buying decision work to our benefit. All we must do is ensure the right communication with the right person at the right moment.

Marketing: a prisoner of unending optimization

In order to achieve all of this, we have to define the journey the customer wants to travel while making a buying decision, as well as the story along this journey that builds customer trust in the provider or customer enthusiasm. What this means in practice is that we have to clearly define the processes and business rules based on which the marketing automation system works, and prepare the content it distributes across the communication channels it manages. Let’s say that our services help turn a marketing automation system into a smart system during setup. It tries to handle the information it got from us wisely: that is, it tries to satisfy as many customers as possible of the ones it contacts during their buying process.

Marketing is subjected to constant optimization: we keep adapting, but there’s no end to it. Click To Tweet

 Of course we also make mistakes as consultants and system implementers. We make them considerably more often than one looking at us or our work from afar might think. But that’s nothing to be worried about. A component part of our services is using empirical measurements to find room for and provide improvement. This means we test how much sense it makes to change the business rules and processes driving how the marketing machinery operates for an individual customer. We also adapt the content that the marketing system distributes. Seeking optimal communication channels is also part of the optimization process. In truth, optimization is never fully completed. If we start by preventing childhood diseases, over time we start making optimizations primarily because the campaign’s allure faded. Because our competition may have used a similar approach and we’re losing attention.

Smart versus intelligent systems

Today’s marketing communication automation still continues to largely rely on marketing automation systems that are only smart. These systems can observe and follow our rules. They get their smarts from people. But they don’t yet have the intelligence to learn by themselves or adapt themselves based on performance analyses and ongoing testing. However, this time is unbelievably close. After becoming a SAP Hybris partner, I believe in this even more. I’m sure that by using intelligent marketing automation systems that will be able to learn by themselves and adapt their operation with the help of AI, within the next three to five years we’ll be able to use the same number of technical specialists to serve at least three times as many customers as today. We’ll most likely call them “customer engagement systems,” but in fact they’ll only represent a new technological development stage of the current marketing automation systems and CRM platforms.

AI already writes sports news today and will also write fiction and marketing messages tomorrow

Therefore, artificial intelligence will undoubtedly also take some business away from us, but not only in relation to the technical services required for system implementation and maintenance. I think something similar will also happen to content creation a little further on. Today’s sports news is already written by machines, so it would be naive to presume that fiction and marketing messages won’t also be written by robots one day. Yes, robotization and artificial intelligence will also take away jobs in the creative industries. In the long term, customer engagement will most likely no longer be FrodX’s central activity. The bulk of our business will probably include customer experience projects and the development of new products.

What if artificial intelligence turns out to be so good one day that people are no longer needed? Click To Tweet

Privacy is currency: we’ll intervene in your buying decisions through your friends

Sooner or later people will no longer want to be so closely connected with companies and give their personal data away to them just like that. We’re finally starting to become aware of how important our privacy is. Here, privacy protection legislation will probably make its greatest contribution. It seems that the days when consumers will be ready to pay for making access to their privacy more difficult are not that far away at all. On the other hand, we’ll want to be even more closely connected with our friends. We’ll communicate with them even more effectively than the technology and social networks currently allow. That’s why I think that in the future our friends’ experience with a specific provider and its service or product (customer experience) will be significantly more important even than it is today. This is where I think the key opportunity lies for intervening in the prospects’ buying experience, which companies will be able to influence. People currently involved in marketing and sales will have to start thinking along considerably different lines and develop completely new skills if we want to continue to be useful. Good luck!

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In Slovenia, if someone tells you that they’re involved in digital marketing, they’re most likely talking about advertising within the Google and Facebook advertising network. They’ll also tell you that they’re specialists in website traffic analytics and that they may manage their customers’ Facebook profiles. Even if they’re doing other things as well, most likely they only stick to the part of marketing that has to do with promotion, and they have probably never heard of Philip Kotler.

Promotion is only one of the Ps in the marketing mix. I think this is the part of marketing that should only be tackled at the end, when we’re confident in the product’s value to the customer. Companies often forget this.

Fooling the customer?

Often I come across companies that know that the uniqueness of their product’s value to the customer is questionable. They know that their product is not significantly different from those of their competition. Sometimes it actually is different, but to the advantage of the competition. Nonetheless they want to invest in promotion rather than the revamping their product’s unique value. Like it or not, such cases always make me feel that these companies are asking me to give them ideas for how to use promotion to fool the customer.

Promotion is the last step in the selling process. The first step is a high-quality product. Click To Tweet

Listen, the times are gone when you could bet on ignorant customers. They practically no longer exist. Today all information is only a click or two away, and we have our phones with Internet access constantly in our pockets or in our hands 150 times a day. Betting on uninformed and ignorant customers in this day and age is madness. Today’s economic model of society is no longer based on uninformed customers. Full transparency and limitless and effective dissemination of information is the core value highlighted by today’s winners.

We can see others clearly, but we’re unable to recognize our own mistakes. Click To Tweet

We’re all good at understanding the examples of others, but we find it practically impossible to take a critical view of our own situations. We think we can hold back on development and still retain our ignorant customers. Development devours its own young. If your development doesn’t, your competition’s surely will.

Record companies managed to destroy Napster, but that only prolonged the sale of CDs for a short time. They didn’t want to understand what customers were looking for and what a new value for them would be. Apple understood that, sorted out the copyrights with authors and performers, and offered iTunes to the market. But consumers gradually moved on. Now we want to stream music limitlessly through Spotify and similar services for a monthly subscription. Who in this chain would benefit from promotion alone? Only Spotify and its contemporaries, in my opinion. The others probably turned to something on the periphery, if they’re still present in the market at all.

Devour your young!

FrodX tries to offer its customers what they still can’t get anywhere else in the market, at least not as simply, conveniently, and inexpensively. We’re aware of all the followers that track our footsteps and try to offer our uniqueness from three years ago for less money. We can compete with them by lowering our prices and optimizing our operations, or by reintroducing solutions that our customers want but aren’t able to find because there aren’t (m)any providers on the market that offer a comparable range of products. Usually this means that with every such step, stories in which followers gradually increase while we’re adding new features come to an end, at least in financial terms. We don’t fight to be cheaper, but for the cheaper options to become irrelevant, or at least not comparable. We seek to go the extra mile, as the Americans would say. Considering the business we’re in, this path seems more natural to me, even though with every new step of development, we make everything that came before it less interesting.

Constant progress demands victims in our own ranks. So devour your own young! Click To Tweet

Something similar applies to all industries in which the product is the end result. When Philips makes a real market breakthrough with its smart toothbrush that can keep a record of and report how effectively I brush my teeth, and when parents realize that collecting toothbrushing data on a smart toothbrush is a tool that makes children have more fun brushing their teeth and do it better, all “non-smart” toothbrushes will turn into second-class items. Their only market advantage will be that they are cheaper. If such a toothbrush had been produced by GlaxoSmithKline (Sensodyne, Aquafresh, etc.) and if GlaxoSmithKline “had devoured some of its own young,” Philips wouldn’t have interfered in their line of business. Mattel realized early enough that someone with a new approach could interfere with their business and so they decided to come up with their Hello Barbie instead, which I’ve already written about. Amazon is also known for devouring its own young, as is a series of other global household names. What about you? Are you betting on being cheaper or offering more to your customers?

 

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Customer recommendations are the only marketing tool that definitely works. Always! All other methods that companies use are definitely less effective in terms of input and yield. Unfortunately, the range of recommendations is limited to the number of (satisfied) customers. When this range is reached, we have to start using other, less effective marketing approaches—whether we like it or not—to increase growth (if our ambitions for growth are substantial). Sadly I see that in most cases customer recommendations are completely left to chance and therefore represent potential that is still largely underused.

Customer recommendations are the only marketing tool that definitely works. Always. Click To Tweet

Do you know which customer recommended you?

When someone I talk to tells me the exact same thing I wrote in the title I don’t even bother explaining the difference between marketing and advertising. I came to realize that it’s significantly more effective to continue the conversation by discussing the use of potential provided by customer recommendations and satisfied customers. I ask people several key questions:

  1. Do you know for sure which customer recommended you and to whom? Do you also know this if the recommendation that was given did not lead to closing a new business deal?
  2. Do you know how you could systemically encourage satisfied customers to make recommendations? Can you make them think of you and motivate them to recommend you in their social circle?
  3. Can you assess the unused potential of satisfied customers that, even though they were satisfied with you, don’t actively promote you?
Can you make customers think of you and motivate them to recommend you in their social circle? Click To Tweet

If the conversation then develops into a debate on the suitability of certain concrete examples that we have already introduced with some of our clients, the people I’m discussing this with usually realize that they could still do a great deal to encourage their customers to recommend them or set up a special system for this.

This leads to discussing whether they have the capacity to systemically measure their customers’ satisfaction after every service they provide and accordingly measure the potential of promoters among all of their customers.

Be proactive and encourage satisfied customers to recommend you

The list of potential promoters (according to the Net Promoter Score methodology) forms the basis for being proactive and encouraging customers that have expressed satisfaction to recommend you. Another element guaranteeing success in encouraging your customers to do this is the “reward” they receive for making a recommendation, which you as a provider can use to start the conversation on recommendations or your wish to be promoted by satisfied customers in the first place. Here it’s of course wise to follow the golden rule of customer recommendation systems and reward both the person making the recommendation and the person receiving it when the recommendation has taken place. In any case, this sooner or later requires setting up a special system covering the entire process and providing suitable IT support for it.

Think outside the box

In some cases, especially when taking into account the provider’s activity, the simplest way to set up a customer recommendation system is to create special products that offer recommendation-related offers. I sometimes feel that companies don’t see this at all, even though it’s constantly there in front of their eyes or they are actually already doing something similar.

Why wouldn’t friends also take advantage of the concept of a family car insurance bonus? Click To Tweet

Why wouldn’t the concept of a family insurance bonus be used by friends that would add a new policyholder for the insurance company to their “family” circle each year? Why wouldn’t friends that decide to take out a consumer loan together with the same bank be offered better loan deals? Why wouldn’t we collect loyalty points with a retailer or tourism provider collectively with our friends, and then all receive discounts for making group purchases? I’ve already written about some concrete examples in the past. Maybe they’re worth reading again.

Show gratitude even for recommendations of little things

The “soft” recommendations are a separate chapter altogether. I (FrodX) would be happy to reward anyone that only brought me a lead or invited new readers to sign up for our newsletter and start reading our blog. Even though they didn’t buy anything. Or at least not any time soon. In the B2B segment, recommendations probably count significantly more than in the B2C segment, but it’s significantly more difficult to link them directly to closing a specific deal and they are always more of a matter of handling a person on-on-one than through an automated process.

Consultancy companies and business solution providers, such as FrodX, can use case studies that their customers proudly share and active participation of satisfied customers at their events as a tool. Visits by our reference customers have an even greater impact and we also bet a lot on the personal promotion of our clients’ employees that got promoted by their companies thanks to taking part in our projects.

The most sensible step you can make when you’re no longer satisfied with your business growth

Your business may truly not need to be advertised. But I truly doubt that you don’t need to manage your customer recommendations actively—that is, systemically measure your customers’ satisfaction and encourage the most satisfied ones to recommend you. In any case you practically can’t set up a more measurable marketing process than customer recommendation management. Setting up a customer recommendation system is the most sensible first step in enhancing your marketing activities, when you’re no longer satisfied with your natural business growth. We’d be happy to give you a hand.

You practically can’t set up a more measurable marketing process than customer recommendation management. Click To Tweet

 

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Despite all the clever solutions modern marketing has come up with, the comment that John Wanamaker made over a century ago still holds true—that is, that half the money spent on advertising is wasted. The only progress we’ve actually made is that now, in the digital world, we can much better determine which half hasn’t produced any results. Let’s say we can measure our successes and failures significantly more accurately, but we still respond reactively. Despite all of the technology and because the digital and physical worlds are interconnected, many businesses are incapable of piecing together an individual customer journey so they measure the effects of their promotional activities in terms of clicks or even ad views. Media buyers that fulfil their customers’ needs this way are dying out, even though they themselves may not yet realize this.

Where does martech see its big opportunity?

I often say that technology will swallow marketing sooner or later. And I mean it. Those that will help companies detect and also prevent in advance the wasted half of funds for winning new customers (not just advertising), will clearly make a big breakthrough in the industry. Investors invest enormous funds in companies that want to take up this challenge. I think that in some way even Microsoft justifies its recent purchase of LinkedIn along these lines. And let’s say that Salesforce knows what a big opportunity it has lost with LinkedIn.

Technology will swallow marketing sooner or later, for sure. Click To Tweet

We can only see the true picture from the end of the customer journey

If we want to act intelligently in designing a marketing strategy and outline reasonable promotional activities, we always have to look from the end of the customer journey towards the beginning. This is the only way to really understand the starting point well: who, when, where, and why buys the company’s products or services. We can only find the answers to this with our existing customers. If we don’t do that, we only guess and take greater risks than necessary, even though the answer is right there in plain sight.

You want to win attention but also build trust. And you’re not alone in this!

To put it more simply, a company investing in promotional activities buys two things: the public’s attention and the trust of individual prospects. Advertisers are pretty good at buying attention because many things can be saved by a big pile of money. On the other hand, buying trust is often a critical point in winning new customers. What is funny about it, though, is that we often don’t know who blows it when it comes down to trust. Was it the marketing communication specialists that designed the campaign that made the fatal mistake or was a mistake made while switching to one-on-one communication with the prospect? I personally think that the latter is usually more fatal, especially because customers are considerably more engaged during one-on-one communication and because they expect to receive personal treatment tailored to their needs. But here we might have a problem if we only see “the average customer.”

One-on-one communication must be credible and personalized so we can maintain the customer’s trust. Click To Tweet

We might successfully win attention based on a sample of average eyes and ears, but in order to build trust, every customer hears the story his or her own way. Customers can even hear (and understand) the same story differently depending on who’s telling it to them. The more they trust the narrator, the more credible they find the story and the more attentively they listen to it. You probably often say it yourselves that the best advertising is word-of-mouth and that your good reputation precedes you. Yes, it does, but not all by itself.

Who influences whom to what degree?

Here I’d like to talk about an opportunity, where machine learning and later also artificial intelligence may soon lead to revolutionary changes in winning new customers. We can now use publicly accessible data to identify connections between people and the strength of this connection, shared interests and experiences, and so on. The frequency of their communication is only one of the indicators and certainly not the most important one given that only a small percentage of people conveys a large majority of content in the social media. The majority of participants are merely passive observers.

The frequency of communication in the social media is just one of the indicators of influence between people. Click To Tweet

Let’s say we’re close to the moment when technology will be able to use complex algorithms to calculate the level of influence between connected individuals based on publicly accessible data in the social media and business directories. Your sales staff will be much more successful during their first contact with the prospects because, in addition to the contact information that your marketers have obtained from them because the prospects responded to you or because you’ve managed to win their attention, you’ll also obtain information on which people that are already your customers or are one of your customer’s employees your prospects have a certain relationship with and how much they trust them. Would you be able to use such information? I imagine this could be some sort of a business directory of the future. Can you see that we’re on the verge of marketers and salespeople obtaining the tools that will allow them to finally start selling things using people’s connections? Plus, there’s a bunch of others that could use this. Can you imagine the HR department receiving reliable information on how much the individuals applying for a position of a salesperson can influence the decision makers at companies you want to reach? I sure can.

 

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A while ago I posted the article titled What beats the lowest price? on our Slovene blog, which probably attracted quite an audience based on the title alone. When I started analyzing the readers, I found out they primarily consisted of people that are in some way or another involved in sales and are responsible for sales results.

This post discusses the development of a new sales channel that is undoubtedly being brought about by the Internet of Things (IoT), focusing on how a convenient buying experience influences people’s buying decisions. The fact that the title attracted readers among sales staff persuaded me to touch upon the issue of “overly high prices” once again — this time in the context of complex (B2B) sales.

The issue of “forced inquiries”

If you ask a salesperson why he couldn’t close the deal when competing for a project, they will most likely tell you they didn’t offer the right price and that they were too expensive. The price is always a welcome excuse and it always seems to be someone else’s problem, rather than the seller’s directly. But I’m not sure that’s really true. That’s certainly not always the case.

Based on my long years of experience in selling business solutions, I know that any inquiry that I failed to co-shape in some way with my opinions before I was asked to make an offer or I even forced one was most likely lost for me. My solution was often too expensive or inappropriate in some other way. I didn’t feel guilty as a seller because of that, because I wasn’t the one responsible for the pricing policy in the company.

Marketing is a process, too: connect it with sales!

I know today that “Alright then, prepare an offer for me” is a forced inquiry that doesn’t have even the slightest chance of closing the deal. All you can achieve with this is that the customer doesn’t submit an order to anyone. If you have nothing else to do, this may also be success, although not much of one.

Over the past years, we’ve managed to finally grasp that sales is a process that systematically manages sales opportunities, but now it’s time we understood that sales is also a marketing process. Only a combination of both ensures business growth to companies involved in complex B2B sales.

Customers used to be educated by salespeople, but now marketers are taking on this role

I look at the issue of overly high prices differently now. If we’re too expensive, it’s very likely that someone didn’t do their job in the process of winning a new deal. Almost always this happens when we get involved in the customer’s buying decision process too late and we have to skip a phase or two in this process, during which customers are gathering information and shaping their buying preferences.

Customers used to be educated by salespeople, but now marketers are taking on this role with useful content on the internet. Because customers can access information by simply clicking on it, they do their own research and look for information that is useful to them or their companies. That’s why salespeople get involved in their buying decision process fairly late. It is actually the usefulness of our internet content that largely co-shapes customers’ buying preferences and determines whether our salespeople will even have an opportunity to establish personal contact.

I a way, the “convenient purchase” rule also applies to selling complex B2B solutions, only that it’s reflected a bit differently: through the safety of buying decisions. Buying safety is the key value. Nothing is as expensive as choosing the wrong provider. Providers that show the best professional competence already through their marketing activities usually have such a big advantage that the competition’s sales staff can only catch up with great difficulty upon personal contact.

Let’s take action

Over the past years, we’ve managed to finally grasp that sales is a process that systematically manages sales opportunities, but now it’s time we understood that sales is also a marketing process. A process of systematically generating interest and nurturing prospects with an ongoing and proactive supply of useful content that helps them make a safer buying decision. Only a combination of both processes ensures business growth to companies involved in complex B2B sales.

For a start, I highly recommend that you read the free manual, which we prepared as an aid in learning how to approach your customers the right way, how to track them, and how to recognize their needs.

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Learn how to approach your customers the right way

In reality, this is really a problem of the marketing staff (not sales personnel!) and hence the key reason why in the majority of companies marketing and sales, as business functions, continue to remain unconnected (in procedural terms). Give me three minutes to explain this thesis …

To increase growth, you’ll have to fill in the gap between promotion (advertising) and sales activities, or the customer’s first contact with the seller

For proactive and sales-oriented companies, inquiries are not enough! Such companies also seek opportunities for successful sales beyond the inquiries obtained. Because they want more, and also because they’re afraid that more active providers have had a significantly greater impact on the customer that submitted the inquiry. Accordingly, they are more or less in the role of the second or third option.

For the sales personnel’s efforts to be more successful, companies must combine marketing and sales into a uniform process. This way, the sales staff will be able to identify the people and businesses that are already thinking about making a purchase or are just about to make one. It would be even better if, before making their first live contact, they could identify how much these individuals are inclined toward them or at least how much they know the product or service they want to offer them. It is significantly easier to transform a person who understands the topic and your product better into a buyer than someone who still needs to learn a lot and has no opinion of his own.

This may sound like utopia, but it’s not.

Well-coordinated cooperation between marketing and sales also means that marketers with no direct-sales contact must be able to identify the leads or contacts that need more information or knowledge—in order to become familiar with the product or service and know how to make the “right” decision in the buying decision process. Only leads like these will be able to understand and correctly evaluate the competitive advantages when the sales staff contacts them. Only leads like these will even wish to be contacted by a salesperson.

To many, this may seem like daydreaming, but with some technology and a systematic approach the companies that understand and practice marketing beyond branding and event management could actually achieve all of this fairly easy. We only have to follow the newly acquired leads throughout their entire customer journey and bring them into the CRM system.

The sales staff isn’t impatient if it aims at the right targets

The task of marketing is to inform and orient individuals in the right direction and to make them love a company or its products and services. The task of both marketing and sales is to then effectively identify these people (or companies). By effectively, I mean in a timely fashion and in the right context. Without that, sales activities simply can’t achieve any meaningful success. At least not the kind that could be (provably) ascribed to marketing efforts.

Accordingly, over the past years many companies have also upgraded their investments in digital marketing or marketing automation in the direction of developing an inside sales team and systematically supported activities, the primary task of which is to detect and qualify new leads. With smaller purchases, these tasks also include closing the entire deal or upselling to a more expensive item for new customers that have made their first purchase through other channels. With more valuable purchases or complex products, booking the first live meeting with the sales representative comes to the fore in addition to lead qualification. We’re (still) afraid to make remote purchases of certain things. For now.

The primary task of the inside sales team should be to identify hot leads—those who have in any way indicated a certain intent to make a purchase. Those are the only ones you can sell something to. The most you can do with the rest is to encourage them to do research and in some way, remind them of your marketing efforts. But if that is your goal, you need to suitably adjust the way you address them when you call them.

Your marketing staff needs feedback on processing leads

Statistics have shown that inside sales development contributed the most to effective (digital) marketing efforts for winning and nurturing leads when establishing a ROPO sales model. In our projects, it is here that we can identify a key difference between our more successful and less successful clients. If the marketing staff knew who processes the leads they brought in and warmed up—and how and when—and if they also had the chance to change the procedural rules, they would be significantly more successful. But most often it’s very difficult for such feedback to reach the members of the marketing staff who make efforts to win and warm up new leads.

Inside sales primarily deals with the leads and customers, whose intent you have identified. Forget about the call lists you’ve been using so far!

It’s very difficult for the sales personnel to convince someone to make a purchase if this person hasn’t thought about it yet. If they succeed anyway, they are basically just lucky. Lucky that they came across an individual who had actually already thought about making a purchase. If that’s not the case and the sellers simply exerted their power of suggestion over a slightly more labile person, they run a great risk of having obtained a customer that in time will “cough up” his or her disappointment in some way or another. This doesn’t do you any good in the long run.

I say that the times are long gone when it was still worth trying through cold-calling. Back then there were not as many opportunities available to inform people as there are today. The salespeople actually played an educational role. They were knowledge carriers. Today it sometimes happens that I know more about a certain thing than the person who’s trying to sell it to me.

The marketing staff should ensure that people start thinking about buying something, and sellers should be able to identify that moment with the right people. The seller who’s only guessing what that moment may be is losing focus and wasting energy in vain.

Today salespeople only seal the deal because customers do research and learn about things on their own using the digital material available to them. They want to do this completely on their own, at least at the beginning of their buying path. They only seek the help of Google and their friends in the social media or online communities.

Intent marketing: focusing on those who “have their wallets out.”

This is not just some new fad, or a brand-new phrase. It’s about the techniques and skills of detecting those that “have their wallets out.”

The clearest message that someone is looking to buy something is when this person actually tells you that. Usually by sending you an inquiry. But another signal is when a person that wants to buy something is making inquiries in the social media and online communities. This year FrodX has identified quite a few leads that way. We made timely contact with them and sort of caught the last train in guiding them towards our solutions. Listening to all the developments in the social media can be pretty painstaking if you’re doing it by hand. But social listening technology is becoming increasingly more available and, more importantly, more effective. Here we’re also getting very close to saying (at least for some systems) that tools can identify a sentiment in Slovenian with which customers mention the keywords in messages we want to read.

But for the most part of identifying intent to buy, it is worth relying on your own digital environments and the visitors that have already been following you in some way and leaving their digital footprints behind. If you interpret that correctly, you receive very reliable signals about when it’s worth calling someone or passing them over to your inside sales team.

As long as your marketing and sales are not connected into a uniform process, you won’t get very far.

There’s a multitude of these and other similar signals, covering anything from monitoring your prospects to seeing who they “hang out” with in the digital environment. I would ask you to bear with me a bit longer, so I can explain all the intent marketing approaches to you, but I know you’ve already run out of patience and so I’ll have to cover that in a different post.

You won’t succeed with the inside sales if you merely expand your marketing by making a follow-up call to all those that you’ve already reached through direct digital marketing. You have to stop seeing this merely as a continuation of your campaign or some additional step or activity on your marketing list. You need to be able to identify currently hot leads regardless of how and when they came into contact with your material or what campaign you used to approach them.

Salespeople who think they don’t need any help from the marketers, bet on their own luck or also take on the marketer’s job by themselves. They may feel they aren’t gaining any benefit from their marketing colleagues. This is most likely because marketers continue to focus more or less exclusively on branding and think that “digital” only covers Facebook or Google advertising and a well-designed responsive website, for which they receive an award from the agency that designed it for them. They haven’t thought about the customer journey yet because customers are only in the domain of the sales department.

A total marketing reset

When I stumble across a salesperson who thinks he can sell his product or service anytime, even if I’m not thinking about buying anything, I know I’m speaking to someone that comes from a company that needs to reset its marketing. As a whole. For me, this is a signal that I need to encourage this company’s management to think about who its customers are and what, why, when, and how they buy, as well as when the company starts tracking its prospects’ buying decision process. During the first few sessions I have with them, we usually don’t even get to the “how.” It’s clear to them that they need a fresh perspective on their marketing and that they must reconsider their sales strategy.

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Well, I don’t really know the answer to this question, but I do know his campaign used people that specialize in capturing data on the audiences he addressed. These specialists used sophisticated methods to segment the “ears,” so they could hear the version of the story they liked the best. They used Facebook not only as a source of demographic data, but also as a source of user behavior data: based on the data obtained, they created psychographic profiles of individual voters, whom they addressed through personalized content. To simplify, they did this merely by analyzing individual Facebook profiles and of course the model defining an individual’s “character” based on his or her likes. A similar approach is also said to have been used by Brexit supporters. Much has been written about Cambridge analytica providing assistance in both cases.

We can have the most influence with people we know pretty well

Marketing seems to be increasingly turning into a skill in managing (publicly available) data. In contrast to just a few years ago, when marketing campaigns were still shaped according to data obtained from doing business with existing clients and using their demographic data and business registers, and when we were targeting people within companies, now everything has been turned upside down.

Trump won the election with the help of his voters’ Facebook likes. Click To Tweet

Just as it’s already pretty much taken for granted that a successful B2B campaign demands expanding the company data obtained from public registers with contact information on people holding key positions in these companies, it will soon also be taken for granted that in order to design a campaign successfully we also need to start collecting and processing data on these people’s behavior in the social media and elsewhere on the publicly accessible internet. So we can start approaching them within a better context than we have so far. If we know what’s currently happening to individuals and where they are located, we can personalize (and automate) communication with them so that it has the best possible effect on their engagement. If we know their intent, our marketing messages can be significantly more effective and, first and foremost, more precise.

New data collection, segmentation, and marketing campaign methods

According to IBM, by the end of 2017, the volume of data available on any one of us will have increased by nearly 100%. Unfortunately, more than 80% of this data is unstructured and hasn’t been very useful so far. But times are changing and computer cognitive skills (machine learning or Al) now also help us collect and interpret such (huge amounts of) data. Technology that is already being used commercially (but is not yet available to a wider circle of Slovenian companies) can predict people’s characters, their areas of interest, hobbies, social circles, and the interests they share with others within their social circle. If we’re active enough in social media and leave many digital footprints behind, computers know us better than our own partners and families, let alone coworkers.

For the time being, I’m still taking all of this with a grain of salt. We’re definitely moving in this direction, but we still need some time. Especially a small country like Slovenia. Slovenian is spoken by only two million people and even the most advanced technologies currently understand only seven world languages.

We’re definitely gradually entering the era of new-generation marketing engines.

Over the past five years, FrodX has implemented more than seventy marketing automation systems. All of them are based on collecting data on the visitors to their own “digital backyards.” They thus collect data on the visitors’ behavior on the websites and in the emails and advertising campaigns of our individual clients. Based on the data on their activities, the system automatically launches actions that either serve more relevant content to an individual visitor (automatic emails, personalized website content, and so on) or alert the seller when to take action or how to approach an individual customer because he or she has already been sufficiently warmed up. This is a practically indispensable tool if we want to make content marketing more effective and, first and foremost, measurable in terms of sales results. Nonetheless, this approach has certain problems that marketing technology providers would like to solve.

Current marketing automation systems are too slow for transactions that demand instant buying decisions. Click To Tweet

The key problem is that every visitor who makes a first contact with a website is treated as a total stranger and so quite a lot of time and visits are needed to get to know him or her better. With activities that require a long buying decision process and include several participants in the buying decision, this doesn’t present a major problem. But it is a problem in cases that require instant buying decisions or where providers don’t want to build a long-term relationship with their customers through regular marketing activities.

Current marketing automation systems operate by introducing a cookie to the device upon first contact, which enables us to track the activities on that device. When the first conversion is made (for example, by completing a form to access premium content), this cookie is also connected with the user’s identity. In practice, this means that it is from this moment onwards we use marketing automation to collect data on prospects and predict their interests and purchase readiness. That’s all very fine, but you need to know that you need quite some time and several visits to collect a critical mass of data to be able to really effectively process an individual as a prospect. Another problem is that we can only take into account the data we have captured in the traffic and interactions in our own digital backyards. The marketing automation systems that are now considered mainstream (and are still fairly rarely used by Slovenian companies) don’t connect the identities that individuals reveal during a conversion, in which they download one of our files or sign up for a webinar by logging in through their social media accounts. Accordingly, these systems don’t provide data on how these individuals may be connected with people that are our competition’s employees or customers, or our customers’ partners, let alone predict and compare their sentiment towards us or our competitors. For now, more skilled sellers are identifying all of this by hand, when they are preparing for a personal approach to a customer. But in coming years, this will become a constituent part of activities performed by marketing engines that will also become affordable to large and medium-sized Slovenian companies.

An example of a new-generation marketing engine

Let me make up an example, so you can have a better idea of what I’m talking about. I’ve read that the largest Slovenian online store has 520,000 registered users. That’s more than a quarter of the total Slovenian population. If they could register through their Facebook account (which I would personally prefer because I wouldn’t have to come up with new passwords and so I always use options like these), the store could find out many things about their registered users (and even their Facebook friends) before they made even a single purchase.

Amazon, Facebook, and a wizard for finding the perfect gift for friends, all in one. Perfect! Click To Tweet

Let’s say that one of the purchasing moments of every individual is connected with giving birthday presents to friends. Facebook knows who your (close) friends are when they have their birthdays, and what they’re interested in. Some of them allow these personal data to be revealed to the public (consciously or not). Can you imagine receiving an email from Amazon informing you which of your (close) Facebook friends have their birthdays next week and what you could buy them based on their interests in life (and what they haven’t yet bought on Amazon by themselves)? Can you imagine that, not that far away in the future, you will also begin to be bombarded with such personalized ads? A personalized ad recommending you buy something seems to be the most personalization can do at the moment.

What the wizards for finding the perfect gift for a friend are asking you about today could also be found out by these systems themselves. If you look at my Facebook profile, it’ll soon become clear to you that you can’t really go wrong by getting me something golf-related, a bottle of good wine, a trip to a winemaker or a reservation at a good restaurant.

If technology used social media data to help Trump win the election, it may also help your business in the future.

How about we make the first step together today already? Call me at 00386 41 668 757.

[email protected]

I’ll be forty-nine in 2025. My first child will be in college, the second in secondary school, and the third will still be in primary school. I think that the eldest two, at least, will be at precisely that age when they’ll be making key decisions on how they want to live their lives, their career visions, and so on. But that won’t be nearly as fateful as it might have been for their grandparents’ generation when they were that age.

You may have top-notch expertise right now, but it could be worthless in a few years

Today FrodX is considered a leading customer engagement specialist. We introduce expertise and technology to companies that no one in the region can currently compete with. Because we’d like to keep this position in the future, we spend a great deal of time discussing what steps we should take in the future, where development is heading, how people are changing, and how technology changes society.

If you asked one of our technicians, who mostly deal with technology and usually don’t see the whole picture, what they do at FrodX, they would tell you they create “smart” websites. The sort that track every visitor, or their current interests and interests they’ve shown in the past, and know how to dynamically (automatically) adapt the selection of content and the intensity of communication accordingly, so that we can systemically approach them as well as possible and consequently build our customer relationship, even though no physical contact has been established yet. Another technician may also add that through integration with marketing automation, the CRM system, and the corporate notification system, this kind of smart website can manage the entire process of winning new customers and help optimize it based on the data obtained. In any case, in the most banal terms, our customer ends up with a website and a system that sends spam automatically.

Expertise that is top-notch today could be worthless in a few years. Click To Tweet

Can you imagine the shock a top expert in designing the smart websites mentioned above experiences when I explain to him that by 2025 websites may no longer be needed at all? That they will no longer exist. At least not ones with the concept we’ve known for the past ten years. There may also be no public internet by 2025, either. We may find it too dangerous. I think that providers will be able to connect with customers much more directly and interactively than the concept of online marketing offers today.

During the fourth industrial revolution, digital connectivity is fundamentally changing society.

The Deep Shift: Technology Tipping Points and Social Impact survey report published by the World Economic Forum in September 2015 predicts twenty-one technological shifts, their tipping points, and expected dates of their arrival on the market. Can you imagine that implantable mobile phones will be commercially available by 2025? That by then 10% of reading glasses will be connected to the internet? That practically all electric devices will be connected to the internet? Most internet traffic to homes is currently for communication and entertainment, whereas by 2015 more than 50% of internet traffic will be delivered to homes for appliances and devices. The processing of all these enormous quantities of data is already being slowly taken over by artificial intelligence, which will not only analyze data but also make decisions and manage activities.

Today the ability to learn and adapt to new conditions is the fundamental capital of individuals and organizations.

If the World Economic Forum’s predictions come true, it’s pretty clear that a considerably different type of technology will start to be used for connecting with customers in the future. I’m almost certain that the technological expertise my best-qualified colleagues have today will no longer be worth much by 2025. In order to capture data on customers’ interests, we’ll have to be able to connect with completely different systems or buy them from personal data aggregation providers (data banks). In order to communicate with customers, we’ll most likely have to develop and manage intelligent holograms rather than websites that can automatically send emails.

Customer communication and connectivity will be very different in 10 years. Do you ever think about this? Click To Tweet

When I tell my coworkers about these things, they feel worried because they haven’t learned any of this new stuff yet, but on the other hand, they feel reassured because we’re already thinking about this.

The only long-term solution is enthusiasm, creative thinking, and hard work.

To conclude my introductory thoughts about my children … Before I graduated from high school, when I was supposed to be thinking about what I’d like to do in life, I couldn’t even imagine that by 2025 I’d be helping companies design and manage holograms, and buy and process their prospects’ personal data in order for the holograms to be able to suitably talk to or approach new customers. To be honest, I still find this unimaginable, even though I’ve been actively studying this for quite some time. I’m realizing that it’s key that my children learn to be enthusiastic, think creatively, and work hard. That they courageously take up any challenges that may cross their paths. If they develop all of this, they will be able to easily adapt to changes, which in the future will occur much faster than today.

What will happen to your business by 2025? Click To Tweet

What about you? Have you already thought about what will happen to your business by 2025? We certainly have. At least regarding the part about how you’ll be winning new customers and trying to retain the old ones. Would you like to share any thoughts with me in the next couple of days?

 

[email protected]

 

The-fall-of-CRM

 

For the past couple of months, I’ve been asked at least once a week whether we’re also going into legal counseling now, and whether lawyers and business compliance officers are our new target audience. After all, the GDPR is a regulation, and regulations are something that lawyers are interested in, right? (This is the short explanation I get after people notice my surprise at their question.)

Why should the GDPR be of interest especially to marketers and sales people?

As I understand it, the key purpose of the GDPR is to provide some sort of uniform consumer protection across the EU. Accordingly, I see it as a form of protection for customers and prospects when approached by sales and marketing tactics. And to be honest, consumers have needed this protection ever since the game moved into the digital environment. The methods that marketers have managed to develop have made people feel indifferent toward their (digital) privacy, and clever companies have built their business approaches primarily on the digital footprints that consumers leave behind (mostly unaware). I’d say we already sold our (at least digital) privacy long ago. We exchanged it for discounts, the chance to participate in prize draws, or merely out of convenience by clicking the Agree buttons to close those annoying pop-up windows.

We’ve already sold our privacy anyway out of convenience and the desire to get discounts. Click To Tweet

In a way, the GDPR will create some order in this area. Over time, the most likely result will more or less be that data-driven marketing will remain primarily a game for the big guys. Or at least a much more expensive game than it has been so far. For businesses, the GDPR will largely turn into more of a technological challenge than a legal one. This is the key reason I’ve been giving so much attention to this area for the past few months and encouraging my companies to invest in developing solutions in this area. Compliance with the GDPR will demand a transformation of practically all processes connected with capturing and processing personal data. Like it or not, these new processes will also require lots of new IT solutions that will fill in the gaps of current marketing automation and CRM systems, online stores, user portals, advertising platforms, and so on.

Where should businesses look for opportunities within the GDPR context?

Marketing and sales personnel should think about the following three things in connection with the GDPR:

1. How are they going to allow their customers and prospects to inspect (on demand) the personal data they have captured and processed while doing business with them? Here it’s important to note that the GDPR expands the concept of personal data significantly compared to the definition currently provided by the Slovenian Personal Data Protection Act (ZVOP).

2. How are they going to allow their customers to exercise their right to be forgotten?

3. How are they going to allow their customers (again, on demand) to export their personal data in a readable format?

New business models that will be introduced by the fastest

It is here that the GDPR will provide new business opportunities for companies. The thing that heads of marketing or sales should focus on today is finding methods and strategies for importing personal data and creating a competitive product or service ranges based on that information. A good example would be a telecommunication service provider that offers a personalized product range to its potential customers tailored to the individual’s needs (the personal data as defined by the GDPR also include information on an individual’s activities; in this case, these would comprise the mobile data usage, frequently-used telephone numbers, the number of text messages sent per month, and so on). Potential customers could disclose all of this information to the provider by importing the relevant personal data that were acquired by their previous provider.

The GDPR should be of primary interest to marketers and salespersons as it will affect their work the most. Click To Tweet

Data as currency

Here’s some more food for thought: it’s very likely that a type of an online broker will appear in the future that will provide competitive offers for a specific service to individuals based on their personal data. I believe people will be willing to share their personal data without reservation in exchange for the relevant information on the best deals.

Aside from its restrictions, the GDPR will also provide marketers and salespersons with new opportunities that only the fastest and most ingenious among them will be able to monetize. But how the regulation will affect the activities of media buyers and advertising campaign organizers is an entirely different matter.

 

[email protected]

 

Product

More than one hundred years ago, Henry Ford introduced the first conveyor belt assembly line for his Model T. Before that cars were a pretty rare and expensive product that only the richest people could afford. Through lower production costs resulting from the introduction of a conveyor belt, in 1925 Ford managed to decrease car production costs to USD 260. Cars turned into affordable mass products.

Consumer society

By the 1950s, the conveyor belt had been implemented as a standard in all developed industrial countries. The relevant experience and expertise were also applied to the production of household appliances and items for home and personal use, which also became significantly more affordable and higher quality. Through industrial production, the economy of that time basically reached its peak. Practically anything could be made and the product itself was no longer at the forefront. The story or brand began to add key value to products.

From convincing consumers of what they need to trying to offer them the best user experience possible ... Click To Tweet

Product development began to focus increasingly more on sales and marketing. This was the beginning of a golden era for marketing agencies and the mass media, which were trying to convince people that they needed fridges, cars, toys, services, and so on. The consumer was placed at the center of the economy, whose goal was to convince consumers of what they needed.

Digital interfaces and user experience

Over the past ten years, during which the millennials have become a desirable target group, the situation has begun to change. The millennials didn’t grow up in front of the TV like the generations before them. Their development has been influenced by the internet and the mobile revolution. The amount of information available to them has provided them with a variety and amount of choice that no other generation before them had. The value or accessibility of information has become a key currency to them. They select the information and communication channels themselves and they respond significantly less to generic messages than the previous generations. They’ve discovered the world “on demand,” they don’t want to be bombarded with large quantities of marketing messages, and they refuse to be “passive consumers.” They are aware of their power. They want to be actively included and involved in developing the user experience offered to them by products and services.

Technology is changing the rules of the game and users are changing the customer engagement standards

It seems that the consumer society that was created by mass media and advertising, and which lasted for two or three generations, is now falling apart. The habits of the millennials are now also being adopted by those older than them. We do this a bit differently, but we nonetheless like the new options that we’ve gotten to know through them. We want to be informed, empowered, and feel well-informed. As consumers, we are starting to like the full transparency and unlimited sources of information, so we can check anything at any time at any place. And we like being able to share our experience with anyone through only a few clicks or touches on our smart phones.

 

Today’s consumers have all the information and constantly share everything with the rest of the world. Click To Tweet

Seventy-four per cent of managers believe that the purpose of digital transformation is to improve value for the customers.

Today’s digital economy is no longer based solely on creating and selling products, but on creating a better user experience with products or services than the competition. This applies to all stages of the customer lifecycle, not only the stage of marketing and winning new customers. User experience has become a key differentiator and foundation of providers’ uniqueness. The most successful companies are proving to be those that are best able to include their customers and raise their engagement to the highest level. These companies no longer need marketing communication in the sense of promoting products the old way. This role has been taken over by their satisfied users within their communities. As long as marketing (as well as sales and implementation) ensures a high level of user inclusion and engagement, the transaction goals of such businesses will automatically be met. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet fully adopted this mentality, at least not in large numbers. But there are exceptions, such as the Duth ZLM insurance company, which seeks to meet its financial objectives by rewarding employees based on the empirical measurements of customer satisfaction as the key value of its employees.

If there are no more traditional promotional approaches, what should marketing be doing then?

Let’s use an example  to think about this …. What makes Uber different from the experience offered by other taxi providers in the eyes of the user? The basic aim of the service has actually not changed at all. But the experience is completely different. Let’s see: you start by ordering a taxi the same way at any place around the world (where they have Uber, of course). The driver that comes to pick you up knows you based on the information he or she got from his or her colleagues that have already driven you before. You can track the car that’s coming to pick you up on the map and you know exactly when the taxi is supposed to pick you up. You also know exactly who the driver is and how he or she has been rated by other users. You know the taxi fare in advance as well as the optimal route, travel time, and the time of arrival at your destination. You don’t have to pay cash. You don’t have to worry about how much taxi drivers are usually tipped in that specific country …

Successful businesses offer such a good experience to users that they spread the word about it themselves. Click To Tweet

There seem to be a lot of advantages for the user. And so the service becomes a logical choice for everyone that tries it out. All Uber needs to achieve is that you try their service out at least once. Then you become a member of a community with whom they can directly communicate in a personalized way as a customer, also based on the information your smart phone conveys to them (in line with the relevant context).

Marketing as a technological skill?

Technology forms the basis for effective omnichannel communication throughout the customer lifecycle and is practically a vital precondition. The more the channels and the longer the customer lifecycle, the harder it is to provide omnichannel communication without excellent technological support. Technology is necessary, but it’s far from being a guarantee for success in and of itself. But you can succeed if alongside technology you know how to successfully innovate your business to the extent where you can discover an experience that your users will grow to like so much that they will spread the word about you in their social circle themselves. I think precisely this is the new mission of marketing and marketing communications.

 

[email protected]

 

P.S. Would you like to get to know the technology that the most successful companies in the world use to manage their omnichannel communication with customers? I’d be happy to prepare a presentation for you if you are able to stop by our office for two hours. You have my e-mail. 😉