The Modern Marketing Wake Up Call

I’m a marketer. I’ve worked at startups, at large companies, and I’ve run my own marketing consulting firm. Over the years, I’ve heard marketers across industries talk about the need to engage customers to drive sales. It makes perfect sense: Engaged customers become fans, fans become advocates, and advocates convince their peers to join in.

There’s just one massive problem. Most marketers still adhere to traditional methods, where companies issue a stream of propaganda they hope will earn prospects and turn them into customers. This approach no longer works.

I’m convinced today’s modern marketing organizations require radically different roles, practices, and goals. Instead of one specific group talking to customers, I believe everyone—from product management and marketing, to events and corporate communications—needs to speak the customers’ language.

We must be attuned to how customers respond to our brands, and then understand their needs and build their stories. We have to make sure their voices are reflected in everything we do—from the messaging we deliver to sales to our product strategies. And underlying all our efforts is the guiding principle that modern marketing serves the entire sales process—from generating leads to closing deals. That’s because we can’t lose sight that marketing’s ultimate mission remains driving the sales effort, and that means supplying sales teams with messages that reflect the customers’ point of view, even as we build a community of customer ambassadors spreading good will on our behalf.

I’ve both built and rebooted several enterprise marketing organizations, and I can attest that everyone throughout a modern marketing organization needs to take on different skills. Such skills include the ability to interview customers, tell compelling stories, take risks, and use data to make smart decisions.

Here’s my advice on how to build a customer-centric marketing organization.

It’s still the customer, stupid

It starts by capturing the customers’ voice, and the only way to do that is to interview them.

This isn’t the same as talking to people. Rather, it’s knowing how to build a rapport that draws out the speaker. It’s also the ability to listen—to follow the unexpected nugget that reveals the emotion, business results, and insight that will resonate with that customer’s peers.

Sound difficult? If so, it’s only because we haven’t been trained to do it. That’s why I advise CMOs to bring in trainers who can teach whole marketing departments how to interview and build stories. As I said, everyone in enterprise marketing should live, breathe, and eat talking to customers as we create the content and messaging and plan events and campaigns.

When we succeed, our customers help us shape our brands, recruit top employees, reach more prospects, and close more deals.

Align customer stories with sales execution

Remember what I said earlier about serving the entire enterprise sales process?

It’s our stories that will attract prospects, convey value propositions, reinforce our messages—and weave an overall feeling of well-being that makes others want to belong. Just as important, we have to tell these stories in a way our salespeople can use—adopting their same language, with sound bites, zingers—and zero marketing fluff.

Think of it as tales for two audiences rolled into one: customers and sales. I firmly believe this is where we as modern enterprise marketers need to focus our energies and smarts. Because in a world where everything is measurable and everything is measured, we are judged by the revenue we help deliver.

Don’t forget the data

Today, our work is defined by data. As marketers, we have to supply actionable, data-driven answers to just about any question, from the most effective marketing channels and campaigns to the number of leads we can deliver.

We need to put data to work so we can tell our own stories. With data we can deliver factual stories that show why customers love us; how our products help them perform better, faster, and more efficiently; and why we deliver a competitive edge.

In the new world of modern marketing, the most successful professionals are the ones who can make their data tell a story.

Interviewing customers. Storytelling to drive sales. Data-driven insight and decisions. These are the hallmarks of modern marketing. The path to purchase is a bridge between sales and marketing, and it’s up to us to erect that bridge. Or we sink.

Maureen Kelly is CMO of GoodData.

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