When Should You Stop Shooting at Customers?

inbound marketingHave you ever stopped to consider the terminology of marketing, and how it both reflects and affects the way we think about our relationship with customers? Marketing activities are organized as campaigns (often launched with advertising air cover) which focus on targets for the sales force to acquire. These terms are not only militaristic, they betray an attitude of control over customer and channel relationships that is an artifact of a bygone era. Businesses no longer control relationships the way they once did, and channel managers and marketers needs to adapt.

The new world of channel marketing is inbound over outbound—instead of putting a target on the backs of? customers for partner sales team to hunt, you help partners attract customers with relevant content that addresses their interests and needs. You do that by enabling partners to engage with the market, cultivating peer connections, collaborating with influencers and driving dialog with customers.

Why has the game changed? Because of a change in the balance of power in customer relationships. In the recent past, businesses enjoyed a substantial advantage in power, primarily due to overwhelming control over information. Businesses could afford to blanket mass markets with advertising messages on television, radio and in print; they could place stories and influence news coverage in the “objective” media through PR; they enjoyed much fewer restrictions on how they could harass and even mislead consumers.

Instead of trying to shoot a fraction of your targets and call it success, you need to invite prospects into a customer community without making the rest of the market gun-shy.

Many of the ways we still think about marketing today were born and perfected in that era. Advertising is not dialog with customers, it’s an intentionally manipulative message designed to influence perceptions. PR is not about dialog with customers, it’s about influencing the way businesses are covered in the media. Direct response is not about dialog with customers, it’s about driving prospects through the most efficient sales funnel possible to produce qualified leads.

People often comment on the remarkable fact that in baseball, a batter can fail 70% of the time and still be considered successful. That’s nothing! In marketing, you can fail 98% of the time and still be considered successful. A 2% click-through rate on an email campaign these days is a solid win—and that’s not even a 2% sales conversion, it’s just a click-through rate!

Putting that in the militaristic mindset of marketing terminology, email campaigns today are like lining up 100 prospects, shooting all your ammunition at them, and hoping you knock down two good prospects. Meanwhile, the other 98% become increasingly gun shy—signing up for do-not-call lists, or blocking? emails with a spam filter.

The game has changed because the balance of power over information has shifted. Buyers no longer believe advertising messages, even though they may be entertaining, because they know they’re being sold a bill of goods. Buyers no longer need to rely on data sheets or buying guides to figure out what products to buy, because they can read product reviews and discussions on forums. Buyers may read good news about your solutions in the press, but when it comes down to a purchase decision, a simple Google search will reveal what their peers have to say, potentially undoing all your great press.

The new world of inbound channel marketing requires a change in the way we think about? relationships. Instead of trying to help partners shoot a fraction of? targets and call it success, you need to help partners invite? prospects into a community of shared interests and dialog that can continually offer up new customers, without making the rest of the market gun shy.

What will happen to your campaigns that target market segments? They should become discussions that help partners develop customer communities. If you do it right, prospects will be seeking out the information you and your partners publish that helps them solve a problem, instead of running away when they see reps armed with a sales pitch.


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