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October 19 2010 3:09 PM

Why email is not an automatic choice for B2B marketers

It seems that, everywhere I look, people are talking about automated email systems.

I’d like to briefly mention two powerful reasons for it, and one nagging fear that works against it. You see, a bit of balance is an excellent thing.

The reasons that B2B marketers should do it are well documented, and nowhere more eloquently than in
Lauren Carlson’s recent blog, where she lists the “tailwinds” for marketing automation software. She mentions a number of factors, from changing buyer behaviour and extended B2B sales cycles to other less frequently cited factors such as the need for marketing departments to show greater accountability.

Another event that brought it home to me was listening to Charles Hidalgo of Annuitas at the recent Silverpop Customer Conference in London, who shared a couple of fascinating statistics, including the following:

70% of customers who respond to any given marketing campaign are not in fact ready to buy. But 45% of those will have bought within 12 months.

In essence this means two things: that we shouldn’t assume that all prospects are the same and should be followed up equally, but that we should stay in touch in some way. If not, those prospects will buy from someone else.

Most sophisticated marketing automation tools help us to do both of these things, by considering the different needs of different types of prospects at different stages of readiness to buy. But this brings me to my nagging fear: when automated systems are getting this sophisticated, is there a danger of expecting them to do too much?

Lauren’s reasons to believe in marketing automation are compelling, but I believe that the way buyer behaviour is changing makes it more important than ever that B2B marketers tread very carefully.

A question of trust
Levels of trust in big brands are at a low ebb. It is well known that buyers overwhelmingly prefer personal recommendation to information that comes directly from brands. And whilst it is important for brands to communicate directly, and provide information at different stages of the buying process, there is a personal element that is in danger of being neglected.

If you are investing in automated email,  proportionate investment should be made in personal outreach. Brands that speak - or that allow their people to speak - directly to prospects will enjoy a depth of relationship that automated email cannot provide.

Inbound v outbound
In addition, let’s not forget that automated email systems - whilst they take buyer needs into account - are still examples of outbound, interruptive communications. And as buyers become increasingly sophisticated at identifying online information sources for themselves, and gathering information when and where they want to, they may not be as receptive to email marketing as we might be led to believe.

The need to manage inbound communications - to invest in creating content, to improve SEO/PPC visibility, to have a presence in the places where your buyers go - is hugely important.

Of course, setting up a system that aims to match buyer needs with the content being offered is an excellent thing. And in these days of efficiency drives and stringent ROI calculations, email automation makes a lot of sense.

But it needs to be considered in tandem. Don’t think the machine can do your job for you. It is a wonderful tool, but one of many that the modern marketer needs to deploy carefully.    

October 04 2010 9:07 AM

The social media night club

I’ve never been one for nightclubs. With two left feet and an intolerance of crap music, I’ve always preferred socialising in places where you can [a] hear yourself speak and not get roughed up by bouncers on the way in.

But it doesn’t stop them being an excellent analogy for the world of B2B social media marketing - something that was discussed at some length when I visited a leading UK manufacturer last week to talk about how they can get the most out of social media.

If you are in a similar situation to them, this is all about a critical strategic decision that you need to get right at the start.