Q&A: Adam Sarner, Research VP, Gartner Inc.

Gartner Inc.‘s lead analyst in CRM and marketing automation, Adam Sarner, leads a life of multichannel exploration. He writes regularly about “Generation Virtual” and its unstoppable influence on business and culture, both online and off. Direct Marketing News asked him how significantly its members will alter the behavior of marketers.

Describe the new age of marketing.

Marketing had been very push oriented. You ran a campaign, you targeted people. It was like a military operation. It had nothing to do with the people. But now people are dictating how they’re going to be sold to in these real-time channels. Attribution measures will be the norm, and you’ll only get half the story if you’re just measuring offline or just measuring online.

Have the people become the media, as digital pundits claim?

The Internet is the biggest communications channel man has ever built. It’s TV, radio, newspapers, the printing press all in one. There’s a lower barrier to entry than anything we’ve ever seen. That doesn’t necessarily mean that when people are building their own channel it has anything to do with business. People don’t want to become some business’s BFF. Marketers should approach social media on a need-want assessment basis. People use it mostly in the evaluation stage of the buying process. It’s, “I don’t trust you, Brand X or Y, but I do trust the people in my channel.”

Where should a company invest first when venturing into uncharted channels? Technology? People?

I don’t think any company woke up one day and said, “We want to be social!” Companies did very well being siloed and not talking to customers, but social media changed this. Who in the company should react if somebody posts something bad on a fan page? Marketing? Sales? Customer service? Yes, yes, and yes. However, I think they should explore different roles within their companies. They may need to hire writers, curators, and researchers. This is an area where they may have to do some heavy lifting.

Can agencies fill the gap?

The problem is they’re once removed. People inside the company are on it already. They’re on chat, social, email. And they’re going to be the ones to say, “What is the ROI in all we’re doing? How is this affecting the bottom line? Let’s put a business plan in place.”

Is change happening too fast for large enterprises?

Small companies can absolutely increase their footprint through social channels. You’ll have big companies buying a blog on WordPress, posting it, and then noticing it’s from 2011. If you’re going to invite this two-way communication flow, you’ve got to serve it. People can smell BS a mile away.

What’s the bottom line for marketers?

Get buy-in. If the CEO says we need to have it happen, it’s going to happen. Before you adopt new tools and technology, have a strategy in place. The good news is that people want to buy stuff. Walk them though the decision and help them. That’s the new marketing. Recognize intent and be at the ready with answers.

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