Truly engaging: The new era of marketing

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Imagine a typical day for your customers. Most likely, they have a to-do list a mile high, which they'll struggle to work through as they're deluged with “emergency” situations that arise. Making the task more challenging, these prospective buyers have to wade through dozens of e-mails, answer phone calls, respond to text messages and much more. To get anything done amid the chaos, they're required to juggle assignments and balance priorities with the skill of a circus performer. So when marketers attempt to barge into their awareness, today's business buyers turn away.

No longer can marketers rely on traditional marketing approaches of blasting messages to the masses. The reality is that a new era in marketing has arrived, one in which the message is managed by the very people marketers hope to influence — customers and prospects. This new world of marketing takes advantage of the Web 2.0 phenomenon by allowing marketers to participate in the dialogues and forums occurring in the marketplace that are changing the traditional approach to brand marketing.

Welcome to the world of engagement marketing.

Savvy business-to-business marketers, especially those closely aligned with their sales forces, understand the importance of listening to the customer. They know that business buyers have just as many choices as consumers. The difference is that business buyers buy more — a whole lot more. As a result, they seek out more information before making a purchase than would a typical consumer.

Increasingly, customers and prospects expect to be treated as partners instead of leads. They want to do business with companies that are willing to have conversations with them and form a partnership, rather than limit interaction to a selling opportunity. Establishing customer loyalty and prospect respect through marketing programs that fully engage with the marketplace will become increasingly important to remain competitive.

B-to-b engagement marketing is the logical extension of this listen-first philosophy, focusing on developing a two-way dialog between organizations and their markets. It calls upon buyers to not only voice their opinions about the brand, but to actually help enhance it — to participate in the brand's evolution. Rather than looking at customers and prospects as passive receivers of messages, b-to-b engagement marketers believe that both the marketplace and the brand are best served when communication and understanding flow freely from one to the other.

Under current economic conditions, with new business tough to come by, engagement marketing makes more sense than ever for b-to-b marketers. In 2009, marketers should be expected to place greater emphasis on building customer loyalty rather than acquiring new prospects. Managing the customer experience will be a focus of successful marketers. Attempts to limit client defection and revenue loss will be a key strategy. And while a difficult economic environment is a good reason to listen more closely to customers and prospects, the benefits of engagement marketing will continue long after the recession has passed.

By taking a customer-centric view, not only toward marketing channels but to product features and enhancements, marketers are able to position their companies as customer advocates. And customers can be more easily transformed into brand advocates. Obtaining testimonials and recommendations—a necessary element of many b-to-b sales situations—more easily becomes part of the conversation when engagement marketing practices are put into place.

Web 2.0 tools have created both the need for, and solution to, engagement marketing. Following are four tactics to help you start broadening customer outreach and input:

First, spread the load over multiple channels. B-to-b marketers create strong brand-building programs when they reach out to decision makers through a diverse network of touch points. Use e-mail, RSS, landing pages, surveys, white papers, blog postings, online forums, byline articles, newsletters, direct mail, telesales and more to communicate. Spread the message wide, but keep it focused.

Next, drive relationships through data. It is the fuel that drives engagement marketing. In order to ensure marketing suitability, b-to-b companies must not rely solely on sales force automation (SFA) or CRM applications to house actionable data. Instead, demand management platforms with sophisticated lead-scoring and nurturing capabilities should be utilized to manage and analyze customer and prospect data.

Third, incorporate conversations into lead-scoring methodologies. Create a series of questions to ask prospects that enhance your understanding of the lead's needs and interests. Use the information you gather to influence both the information you provide and the future questions you ask of leads.  Couple this information with their online activities, and you get a realistic assessment of their buying intentions and ultimately a higher quality lead for your sales organization.

FInally, seek out input. Gaining an in-depth understanding of customer pain points is an important component upon which to build messaging and product development. Keeping prospects talking during multistage consideration processes prior to purchase helps move leads more smoothly through the pipeline. Send surveys, make call, meet at conferences and ask for feedback.

Online engagement marketing serves customers, prospects and organizations, delivering tangible benefits to all. The more engaged a company is with its marketplace, the better the chance prospects will obtain the information needed to make the right decisions, and the more likely it is that customers will be reminded they made the right decision in doing business with you. The company gains stronger customer loyalty, higher conversion rates and enhanced revenue.
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