13 June 2017 Category: Insider Perspective
Technological developments have always shaped the business, sales and marketing environments. First came the telephone, then the computer and later, the internet – all changing the commercial landscape forever. But recently, the pace of technological change has accelerated rapidly, prompting companies across all industries to put digital transformation front and centre of their business strategies.
In 2017, digital transformation is about remaining relevant in a market that is increasingly evolving in response to new technologies and tools. Whether you’re operating B2B or B2C, digital and mobile are constantly changing the way that your prospects and clients communicate, gather intelligence, conduct business and view the world. In this context, businesses – and their sales and marketing specialists – need to be on these digital platforms too.
Today’s prospects and customers want better service, more personalised and relevant solutions, and more value for their time and money. By harnessing the power of digital technologies, businesses can become more efficient at meeting these expectations. However, too much efficiency can come at the expense of building real, personal connections with the people you want to do business with.
So, how can sales and marketing teams leverage digital technologies to optimise their resources and achieve more in less time, without affecting their ability to nurture lasting and loyal customer relationships?
Marketing automation and predictive analytics
Automation tools can help marketing teams to optimise resources and streamline efforts when acquiring and nurturing leads. This technology is built to handle repetitive tasks, such as scheduling and delivering marketing content including digital newsletters, webinars, podcasts, videos, social media campaigns and more. It can also play a useful role in rudimentary lead qualification, where prospects are automatically scored based on pre-set criteria, such as number of clicks, industry sector, behaviour on the digital channels and so forth.
Additionally, marketers can use predictive analytics tools that gather and analyse data on user behaviour across the various digital platforms (i.e. who participated in a user trial, who downloaded a whitepaper, who deleted an email, and so forth) to help create prospect profiles. Using these profiles, marketers can then create personalised, automated responses and send these out to each prospect category.
Predictive analytics tools can, to a certain extent, help marketers to forecast what prospects and clients are likely to do next; and even gauge their propensity to buy. However, these tools are not a complete solution – especially in the B2B environment, where demand generation is neither a linear nor a logical process. Leads can move up and down the funnel in unpredictable ways. Lead nurturing is therefore not a task that can be managed by automation technology and predictive analytics tools alone. It also requires human skills such as making judgement calls or picking up the phone to chat to a prospect and discover the nuances of their decision-making process, for example.
RPA technology with AI capabilities
One of the latest advancements in digital technology is robotic process automation (RPA) software. Software ‘bots’ are configured to automate the types of tasks that humans would usually do, with the aim of increasing efficiency levels, curbing costs and increasing accuracy. The types of jobs that you could delegate to a bot include those that are rules-based, repetitive and digitally-driven, such as populating a database, collating information in a report or monitoring adverts.
In the sales and marketing environment, the types of bots that are getting everyone excited are chatbots. These AI-powered bots operate on the interfaces of popular messaging platforms, where many customers spend a significant portion of their time. In these platforms, chatbots can answer questions, fetch information and issue reminders, enabling companies to communicate 24/7/365 with customers and prospects. This eases the pressure on sales and marketing agents, freeing up their time to handle the more complex cases which require empathy, judgement and other uniquely human abilities that bots are unable to emulate.
Bots have their limits
At present, RPA technology is more applicable to inbound marketing and reactive, customer service functions in consumer-facing environments like banking, retail and e-commerce. Bots are not (yet) capable of proactively supporting outbound sales and marketing activities in the B2B space.
A study by business messaging solutions provider LivePerson revealed that 56% of respondents worldwide would rather speak to a human, even if they had to wait for a short period of time, than chat with a bot immediately. Many believe that a human would understand what they need better than a bot.
What is more, trying to develop chatbot conversation to the point where it is indistinguishable from human communication may seem desirable but risks leading people into the so-called “uncanny valley”. This is the uncomfortable response which arises when consumers think they’re chatting to a real human being but realise that they’re interacting with a software application; this alienates and risks a negative impact on consumer trust and loyalty.
There is still a long way to go before chatbots are capable of organic conversation, but the ideal is not to replace human interaction within the sales and marketing process but to apply technology in a way that brings the distinct value of the human touch to the fore. B2B relationships in particular are complex and human agents are required to manage the process and nurture prospects through the entire customer journey.
Creating a synergy between digital and human interaction
Digital technology brings many benefits to sales and marketing teams in a range of industries – with one of the chief advantages being its ability to free up human resources to be applied where they add the most value.
Today’s marketing professionals can delegate the repetitive, time-consuming (and often mind-numbing) tasks to automation tools, carving out more time to focus on complex and strategic work. This helps to increase efficiency levels, as well as motivation levels, because skilled staff are given an opportunity to fulfil their potential instead of whiling away their working hours on mundane tasks.
Digital-human collaboration is also called for when fine-tuning your market intelligence. Digital tools can mine reams of data relating to interactions on websites, mobile apps, social media and so forth; but it’s important to maintain a healthy perspective – this data is useful, but it does not paint a complete picture of your prospects. In a previous article we looked at the danger of a ‘data-driven reality’. Telephone research can validate the intelligence gleaned from patterns within your ‘big data’ and help you understand the reality behind the numbers.
Similarly, when leads come in from your various marketing channels (digital content downloads, webinars, email marketing, etc.), these are still too ‘raw’ to send directly on the sales team. Early inbound digital leads don’t include deep insight into the prospects’ agendas and interests – this requires human qualification.
The value of including telemarketing in the mix
Telemarketing can augment your market intelligence and qualify your early inbound leads thoroughly through real conversations with your prospects that unearth the more nuanced insights you need to fully understand their priorities, needs, challenges, interests, goals and unique decision-making environments.
In the B2B world, it takes time to nurture a relationship with a prospect and get them to a point where they are ready to buy. It is not possible to achieve this complex process through digital technology alone. Having a skilled team of telemarketers to follow up on potential leads, ask the right questions, and engage customers in meaningful conversations adds tremendous value to your marketing and sales efforts.
An experienced telemarketer will know how to take your sales proposition, position it with your audience and then talk knowledgeably and confidently about the subject. Telemarketing is a real-time conversation, which means that as the agent understands more about each prospect, your proposition can be tailored on the fly to better meet their expectations. Agents also use emotional intelligence to understand the motivating factors behind a prospect’s behaviour, picking up on buying signals that identify those clients who are ready to buy and those who still need nurturing.
Once telemarketing has identified the leads that are not ready to be sent to sales, this knowledge can then be fed back into the digital tools that continue to nurture these individuals with relevant and personalised content to keep them engaged until they are ready to buy.
This is a multi-faceted process that can’t be achieved through one channel alone – but requires a carefully planned mix of technology and human contact that plays to the strengths of each channel to create a powerful sales and marketing platform.