As a marketer trying to stay ahead of the curve, keeping up with changing technology and trends may feel like running a career-long marathon at a sprinter’s pace. From newspaper ads and direct mailers to email and social media and now onto location-based marketing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (A.I.), it’s a lot. Especially with growing customer expectations of immediate, personalized touch points.
Before you get overwhelmed, meet Vala Afshar. He’s the author of The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence and the Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce. He knows marketers are up to the task of adapting to the Connected Customer, and he’s compiled data to help.
On a recent episode of the Marketing Cloudcast, he discussed the results of The State of the Connected Customer research report. You can find the podcast here, or if you are short on time we have summarized the talk below.
The State of the Connected Customers report shows several notable trends. One of them is how customers expect brands to interact with them. “Customers expect every touchpoint with companies to be immediate, to be personalized, and to be proactive,” Afshar says. “In fact, 65 per cent of consumers expect companies to interact with them in real time.”
These interactions must be both sophisticated and timely. Customers are more willing than ever to take their business elsewhere if your brand isn’t on board. The good news is that in exchange for such targeted interactions, consumers are happy to share personal information with brands they’re interested in.
How can marketers take advantage of consumer desires? By leveraging data and being proactive with content. However, many marketers aren’t doing that: A nominal 15 per cent of companies have invested in advanced analytics, processes, and tools to engage in a digital economy. As Afshar points out, that means “there’s 85 per cent room for businesses to understand and leverage technology to improve and delight customer experience.”
This could explain why many marketers pass too many unqualified leads on to their sales teams. According to a separate, Salesforce-sponsored Harvard Business Review study, more than half of marketers pass unqualified leads to sales, which burdens sales with unnecessary task of sorting through leads that won’t convert. “It’s the job a good marketer should do,” says Afshar.
“The top two critical success factors to achieve advanced capabilities are firstly analytical skills, talent, and tools,” says Afshar. “The second is alignment within the lines of business in an organization.”
With the powerful analytical tools and data available today, a marketer’s role is to anticipate the needs of consumers, then use the different lines of business to fulfil them with meaningful engagements, whether that’s sales, service, or marketing. “You don’t know someone until you know what they need,” Afshar explains.
Just last year, social media overtook search as the number one source of traffic for businesses. The Connected Consumer Report shows that users average one-fifth of their time online using social networking, and the younger your audience is, the higher that percentage, capping off at around 90 per cent of time spent online for teens and young adults.
But this is news to many marketers. “I don’t think the majority of marketers have absorbed the fact that social networking is the number one use of the web,” Afshar says.
It’s not just a matter of reaching your customers on social networks. It’s also about listening to what they have to say about you. As Afshar puts it, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. The web is the room.”
The best marketing teams hone their social listening skills and identify the right time to deliver the right message, much like a publisher. “When you realize there’s a moment to educate, inspire, and ignite action,” Afshar says, “you have to have access to that content so you can deliver across the right channel, at the right time, to the right audience, with the right value proposition."
Users now spend more time on mobile than on desktops. That means marketers need to respond in a way that delivers what mobile does best: instant gratification. “The connected customer feels that there shouldn’t be any lag time when it comes to communicating with a company,” says Afshar. “In fact, 80 per cent of consumers and business buyers revealed that a company responding immediately influences their loyalty.”
Many marketers aren’t fully harnessing the power of mobile yet. Only eight per cent of B2B sales organizations and 13 per cent of B2B sales teams have the ability to provide outstanding mobile sales.
As Afshar puts it, “By 2020, 6 billion people will have a supercomputer in their pocket, on their wrist, or on their face with the next generation of Glass. As digital marketers, we have to consider not a mobile-first, but a mobile-only, ecosystem.”
Our recommendation: more integration between marketing, sales, and customer service. For B2B companies especially, the majority (a whopping 70 per cent) of all customer touchpoints come through customer service. In truth, your service team is your brand. They help deliver what marketing and sales promise.
These days, customer care is more complex than ever because the customer now owns the conversation. “For you to earn their attention, you have to be informed, available, trustworthy, and proactive,” Afshar says. “That’s a team sport.”
He encourages companies to converge their marketing, sales, IT, and community in order to achieve a 360-degree view of the customer, so that in moments of truth, your company as a whole can interact with the customer proactively and intelligently.
Want more insights for marketing in 2017 from Vala Afshar? Listen to the entire Marketing Cloudcast episode.