Marketing never gets easier, but 2020 changed the game. Were you ready?
For many small to medium companies the mainstay of execution for building a sales pipeline has, for many years, been an internal (or maybe outsourced) cold calling sales team, supported by email and organic (non-paid) social platform marketing campaigns.
For many, the simple premise of getting the right message to the right audience at the right time had been getting harder and harder, but the events of 2020 redefined that challenge faster than many organizations could respond.
We see many companies react to a decline in sales pipeline by seeking to hire more salespeople when the core of their problem is centered on ineffective marketing plus a lack of internal expertise in using the latest social platforms to reach a buying audience. A new sales hire that is not supported by solid brand exposure and effective marketing communications is destined for failure.
Here we will outline some of the challenges facing many sales teams today, and look at how you can keep your marketing function effective and ahead of the game.
The new challenges for the Cold Calling Sales Team and Email Marketing
The cold calling sales technique has always been a tough challenge. There have been many methods and strategies evangelized over the years to help salespeople get past that switchboard gatekeeper, or to ensure your opener has the best chance of engaging your lead in a meaningful conversation, without a closed question bringing everything to a rapid end.
A telemarketing team comes with a huge price tag, wages are just a part, when you think that maybe 5% of cold called new prospects will be interested in what you have to say and a fraction of those will close, you better have a very high margin product.
Before the Covid pandemic telemarketing was hard enough, you really had to have your contacts direct dial number (DDI) at a minimum, with the mobile number being the holy grail. Of course, very many people hide behind a voicemail system, only answering numbers they recognize. Certainly, many of you will also have had the scenario where you have a prospects DDI, you call the number but a different person answers in what sounds like a busy office. If the colleague who has answered is good, you will be asked your name, company, the nature of your call and whether your prospect should be expecting your call. After that exchange you are placed on hold where you start to visualize the facial expressions going on across the open office partitions. You are eventually told that your contact is in a meeting and the best thing to do is send them an email, while the image in your mind’s eye has them sat at their desk finishing a bag of crisps.
With the current home working policy looking to become the norm for many companies, that noisy office exchange has also been crossed off the list of outcomes for your eager sales team.
Generally, that closing suggestion to ‘send them an email’ is irritating because the key reason for your call is because your marketing automation had indicated they had interacted with your email campaign. So, let us now look at some of the recent changes hindering email marketing.
Machines have hijacked your Email Marketing analytics
GDPR challenges aside, it is the advent of spam filter technologies which has thrown a spanner into the quality of email campaign tracking and reporting. Once an email campaign has been sent, any automated email platform worth its salt should provide details of open rates, click through rates, click to open, and click to send rates. Email tracking also monitors unsubscribes, soft and hard bounces to name just a few more metrics that can be used to measure the effectiveness of campaigns. Ultimately, email tracking can provide a tremendous amount of data regarding marketing efforts and help to build your strategy for remarketing and campaign improvements going forward.
In recent years we have seen a rise in the number of spam filters that are clicking all the links in marketing emails to verify that they are safe for the receiver of the email to click on. Of course, this is a good thing from the recipients’ point of view, but it has created an industry wide problem for the interpretation of email marketing analytics because open rates and click through rates are being inflated. This skews the results leading to false data for marketing automation users to work from.
Regardless of what email software is being used, or what server you are using to send out your tracked emails, there is no way around the impact that these spam filters have on the metrics being sent back. To the uninformed, the results will appear to indicate that your recipient has opened and clicked through to all your content, but usually the time stamp for these events will show that it was a machine doing the work; no human could open an email and follow the links so quickly after delivery, unless they happen to be a Rubik’s cube world champion.
By process of elimination, you can filter out these immediate opens and click throughs, but what if your email platform only reports back on the initial interaction made by the recipient and does not track any subsequent and genuine prospect interactions. In this case the spam filter will have removed any actionable metrics that you may have received. There are horror stories of companies falling foul of these spam filter actions when they had implemented ‘One-click Unsubscribe’ into the body of their marketing emails.
There are a few things you can do to minimize the impact of spam filter activities. The obvious one is to create a list of recipients that appear to have spam filters opening their emails and exclude these from your database, not a great outcome for your marketing reach but at least your ongoing metrics should be valid. A good way to ensure you are selecting the spam filter effected emails is to include a ‘fake link’ in the HTML of your email that only the spam filter can see. Unfortunately, no solution is perfect, and each instance will depend upon the characteristics of your email platform and its reporting mechanisms.
Email marketing has been under pressure from the many social platforms that form a big part of the B2B and B2C marketing landscape, such that the design of your subject line is probably the most important element that will influence the likelihood of the recipient opening your message. This hits on a key point, mass email marketing offers very little scope for marketing message personalization. Unless you already have some very recent specific insight into the interests and buying behaviors of your audience you can do little more than target them with the same headline message. Effective audience segmentation with email marketing is just not feasible. This is where social platforms provide a massive advantage by allowing expert users to pinpoint prospects and reach them with the right message at the right time. Unsurprisingly this golden pathway to buying customers does not come for free.
Digital Marketing: It is all about the algorithms and machine learning
We come across many companies who believe they can rely on the organic growth of their social platform presence to help drive the sales funnel. Of course, organic growth is a good thing, and we should all try to work as smartly as possible by taking advantage of ‘free’ marketing opportunities, but you must step back and take a reality check when it comes to organic social following. For example, a company may be proud to have reached 2000 followers on LinkedIn, but you must ask how many of that list are employees, competitors, existing customers and random others that the page administrators have invited from their own connections. The obvious issue here is that anything you post to your organic base is not reaching net new prospects. All social platforms survive from paid advertising so it should come as no surprise to hear that algorithms are in place to even limit the extent by which your organic subscribers get to see your posts.
It is the clever algorithms and machine learning within the paid marketing options (Pay-per-click PPC) on today’s social platforms that can reach new customers better than any email and cold calling team could ever imagine.
Our old attempts at creating a customer journey for them through email marketing automation sequences of our own design is dead. It assumes that the buying process is a production line which is miles away from our current reality where consumer intent can change with the sudden trending of a hashtag. It is beyond the capability of any one of us to foresee or predict the future, let alone analyze search trends and buying behaviors from thousands of transactions and truly drive incremental sales. Machines are far better at finding the patterns that matter in the vast ocean of consumer activity, enabling you to get far closer to presenting the right message to the right people at the right time.
Marketeers now need to be Technologists foremost
Creating and managing a successful PPC campaign requires many skills and this is where the role of marketing has changed massively over the past five to ten years. Marketing has always been about understanding consumer behavior in order to create the right message to drive sales and brand preference, but that role is being assisted today by the latest marketing tools and social media advertising platforms.
Marketing is rapidly becoming one of the most technology-dependent functions in business, so today’s successful marketeers must become technologists foremost in order to navigate the tools available to derive actionable insight from the mountains of consumer data now available.
PPC platforms offer a huge amount of configuration and customization, and once a campaign is launched the platform algorithms get to work testing the campaign reactions and performance in ways us mere mortals never could. The skill then required is in interpreting this machine learning and fine-tuning campaigns for even better results.
Expert management of multiple PPC platforms with an understanding of their individual nuances and areas of best practice is a science in itself. For many companies it is a skill that will take them a lot of time and investment to develop. Outsourcing this function can be the quickest way to derive new business from these increasingly powerful platforms while internal skills are coming up to speed.
The new way
Here at Plexus, we believe this new way of conducting business development is far more cost effective than the costly cold calling team of old, but technology can never replace the skills and knowledge of a human, well not yet. PPC marketing if implemented correctly will certainly provide a return on investment by finding the people who are searching on the internet for solutions to the problems you can solve. Your cold calling team can then be put to far more effective use through building relationships with these warm prospects, without having to be intrusive and burn through endless hours of unfruitful calling.
We can help you to use technology to find the needles in the haystack with a marketing strategy that is underpinned by an expert PPC campaign design team, plus all of the services around that which are required to build an effective marketing strategy in this changing world.
It is ironic that we seem to have come full circle. We are no longer in a world where were segmenting using categories such as age, location or job function are successful; we are in a one-on-one world where we must talk in a personalized way to everyone. It means we are back to where we were in the beginning of the 20th century, where salespeople knew their customers all by name.