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Go With the Flow; Flow Marketing, That Is

Campaign marketing by its very nature is based on the timeframe of the seller, not the buyer. It operates according to an internally-driven timeline and is aligned to standard “feel good” metrics such as open rates and click-throughs, where quality takes a backseat to percentages. In many ways the buyer is somewhat peripheral and secondary to these internal considerations despite these success metrics being completely reliant on the disposition and circumstances of that buyer at the moment of impact. And therein lies the inherent paradox of campaign marketing in an information-rich world.

In B2B selling today, for a campaign to be successful it must struggle through a torrent of competing messages and capture the attention of the target buyer at the exact right moment when the his attention, business issue, and urgency to address that issue intersect—a moment that is all too often like a solar eclipse: rare and frequently missed due to cloudiness. And yet we’ve become addicted to this neat, linear way of filling our sales pipelines, where the initial euphoria of campaign-generated leads is followed by the inevitable hangover of low conversion rates.

If we are to be truly buyer-focused, then we need to take an approach that acknowledges the reality of that buyer. A reality where speed, convenience, and relevance is paramount; put more simply, where they can get the information they need, when they need it, through the medium, and in the format of their choosing. To meet this demand, marketing cannot be linear and time-sensitive the way campaigns are, but rather must flow like water through every available channel taking the sometimes meandering routes dictated by the terrain. This is the essence of “flow marketing.”

So how do you execute a flow marketing campaign? The answer is you don’t, because flow marketing is based on a continuous conversation—and you don’t execute conversations; rather you facilitate, infuse, and expand on them. Think of it this way: When you have a product or service that you want to market, the first thing you need to do is identify all of the places your target buyer potentially accesses their information from and what kind of information is most valuable to them. These could include LinkedIn groups that are specific to their company, their industry, or the business issues they face. It could include industry-specific online information sites or online trade publications, as well as blogs and thought-leadership sites relevant to their industry. Additionally, it could include Twitter feeds and other micro-messaging and information sources that are typically followed by individuals or organizations with a similar profile.

Once identified, you now need to decide how you get involved in the conversations and observations being shared in these venues, what valuable contributions can you bring to them, and who best in your organization is suited to engaging with them. It could be that a product manager or a salesperson is a better fit for a particular LinkedIn group or blog discussion, rather than a marketing communications person. It’s all about the right fit, because any engagements in non-owned channels like social media that don’t add value but are seen as overtly marketing or selling will be quickly ignored and rejected in the way many email marketing messages are.

You also need to ensure that your own website, blogs, LinkedIn groups, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages provide additional valuable information to support the outreach and discussions you are having on third-party sites. Your goal is to engage with the buyer where they are, engage in a value-creating virtual conversation, increase that value through assets that are available from your own web properties, and eventually take that conversation to the level where you’re able to engage them in an active sales cycle that they’re actually open to.

This deliberate strategy of providing value without initially looking for anything in return builds not just a reservoir of goodwill, but more important, it credentials you and builds buyer trust in the fact that you and your organization may have something to offer. The old model of giving information only if you get information from the buyer in return simply reinforces the impression that you’re more interested in immediately getting them into a sales cycle than you are about understanding what their needs, challenges, and opportunities may be.

In a flow-marketing world, the fact that the buyer’s initial engagement with your organization may take place in a third-party venue and with someone who may not necessarily be from sales creates an environment where conversation and engagement can develop naturally and in a less pressured way. Such a result, though, is not achieved easily. Flow marketing requires an organization to forego neat linear approaches such as campaign marketing, it further requires them to be continual creators and suppliers of valuable insights and information, and it requires them to look beyond the traditional internal lines of demarcation and realize that everyone from product development, customer service, sales, and marketing have active and direct roles to play in reaching and providing value to the buyer.

  John Golden is president and CEO of sales performance improvement organization Huthwaite where he is responsible for the company’s global financial and operational performance and long-term strategy for success.
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