The homepage of customer experience management provider Lithium Technologies carries the strapline, ‘Make customer experiences human again.’ Its suite of SaaS solutions help the likes of AT&T, BT, Best Buy, Indosat, Sephora, and Skype build communities on their websites that look like they were created in-house. The company also provides tools to help these brands manage their community engagement across a range of social networks.
The latest in Hot Topics’ B2B Marketer series, CMO Katy Keim shares her views on the changing role of the B2B Marketer, the death of traditional ‘broadcast’ marketing, and the unique position marketing holds to inform the rest of the enterprise.
HT: How have you seen the marketing industry change, and what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing CMOs today?
I think from a marketing perspective the days of broadcast are diminishing very, very rapidly. Unfortunately, marketing has been trained and inundated in this world of broadcast; promotional messages going out saying, “Me, me, me, me, me”. A study we did in the UK said that almost 80 percent of brands were just doing straight broadcast rather than response listening and engagement. We don’t think that is going to last very long because consumers are going to get that information from someone else besides the brand.
I think there is both an opportunity and a challenge to this. The opportunity is there for those that get it right quickly. Some brands like The [UK] Post Office or telecom brands like Giffgaff, and also others in the U.S. like Sephora who have basically figured out, “I’m going to capitalize on that customer conversation to have a competitive advantage and do it differently.”
The challenge is that companies are resourced, organized, and focused around the old broadcast model. How do we shift appropriately [as marketers]? Some CMOs that I talk to are afraid of moving from the vehicles that they have known and understood for so long, like print advertising, and moving to ‘non-proven mediums’. For me, the biggest challenge I hear from marketers is, “How do I shift to that content/conversation model? What do I leave behind?” That has an organizational design, resource, and skill implications.
HT: Most B2B marketing strategies are seemingly now being shaped around content. How do you as a company create differentiated, relevant content? Given that you are targeting C-level folk who are difficult to reach online, how do you handle distribution?
Content has to be about utility. It’s a description of what [a product or service] is, but not what it does for me. When I think about useful content, the things that I open, they’re usually data about competitors or benchmarking. They’re data points that might help me figure out what strategies to take on. They’re tailored. They’re personalized.
We spend a lot of time with our content really thinking about how we can appeal to all of our customers through sharing data points and benchmarking. We also comment on the state of the industry and look at who is doing it right or who is doing wrong. We did a recent state of community engagement piece across eight verticals. In the UK, we did a consumer study on how consumers feel about calling the contact center.
In our world, it’s less about the products and services and more about challenging and providing useful information around business strategy and business contacts. The other side of that coin, quite frankly, is [to be] entertaining and engaging. We continue to produce things that catch people’s attention, that are engaging and can be fun and lightweight, but I don’t think that is the thrust of our strategy. It’s just sometimes a popup initiative, to keep people engaged with the brand.
HT: In terms of how you measure the impact of that content, a lot of high growth B2B tech companies have to show near immediate results, often due to pressure from the VCs behind them. Do you feel there’s sometimes a disconnect with content, where it can take quite a long time to have an impact or attract a following?
You can’t be creative with content ad nauseam without having some desired results in the business. We tend to think of it in two halves, two levels of success. One is simply on the awareness side. We look at placements and how potential buyers may have been exposed to our content. The second, we have a very targeted account-based strategy, so we can know with precision how many of them engaged with us specifically, either downloading the content or engaging in a sales conversation. Ultimately, we are trying to tie those into opportunity conversations with our targets.
HT: It seems as if there has been a big shift towards account-based marketing, as you mentioned. Can you define what that means to you or Lithium?
Account-based marketing is where we profile the types of accounts that we believe have the highest proclivity to buy from us, and the highest likelihood of success with our software. We have a series of named accounts, more than 1,800 globally. They are tagged in our system, so we know when those accounts have engaged with us. We can also campaign to them in a different way.
With all of the tools and technologies out there you can start targeting your spend by data matching in the background when you see that someone from a specific IP address is from a target account. The technology is very good now. I would just say [account-based marketing] is a good buzzword, but it is really about targeting, segmenting, and more precision-based marketing programs; the kind I think marketers have always looked for. We now have this technology available today.
HT: One of the big themes from this B2B marketer series is the relationship between the sales and marketing function and how that is changing. With marketing becoming more lead generation focused, what has been traditionally a fractious relationship now needs to become more harmonious. How have you managed that relationship at Lithium?
That is not new, it has always had to be harmonious. Maybe today marketers are feeling more pressure on the performance side. Generally, marketing is selling an idea or a perspective. Maybe the horizon is slightly longer than sales, falling from quarter to quarter, but you both should be selling the same thing; an outcome. I think working together on which parts you do in that process, in that journey, is of course critical.
In my role, I think one way to be aligned is to make sure you’ve got marketing people that understand sales, not just salespeople who understand marketing. At the end of the day, the outcome is the sale with the customer, so you have to have people with that DNA all the way to the last mile. I think for too long marketing people have said, ‘Well, I’ve done my bit’. That hasn’t worked particularly well for us. We [Lithium] tend to look for people that want to see customers succeed, who want to see customers adopt our technology, and have that mentality. Then I think it’s just constant collaboration.
HT: You mentioned the tools and technologies now available to marketers to make their work more precise and targeted. What’s the process for identifying what will work well for you?
There are so many things coming out that could be real competitive weapons, I only wish we could experiment more rapidly. There are tons of technologies that do algorithms to see who would be the highest qualified prospects. There are a lot of competitors in that space, and I wish we were better at turning those through on a three to six-month pilot and figuring out what wins for us. I think that is a capability we are trying to get better at; bring the technology on, run it through its paces. If it performs for us, we can deploy it.
I would just say experimentation, data, and having the capabilities to rapidly deploy and evaluate these technologies. Because there are tons of point solutions. I think that would be a successful avenue for marketers in the future.
HT: How have you seen the skill set required from marketers change over the course of your career?
There is a cliché that says marketers have to [be] more data-driven, more analytical, and more performance marketing led. I think all of that is true, but what I would say is that it’s just more outcome-oriented and more collaborative today. I think for a long time marketing departments got away with, “Well, look at all these great ideas we’ve come up with.” I think the skills that are now necessary come from a pressure to extend deeper into the sales process, kind of a sales DNA. A more collaborative nature and I would say, more outcome driven.
You’ve also got to have an iron backbone and [be able to] just say, “Nope. We’re pulling that initiative out.” I think marketers are generally nice people, and they won’t shoot things as fast as they can. That’s probably an area where I would encourage my team to be tough on as well.
Marketers in this day and age more than anything need courage. There will be a lot of people who will say how marketing should be done, and where the sales development reps should focus, etc etc. But it’s the marketers who are in the best position to explain to the [rest of the] organization that the consumer is changing very rapidly. We continue to use old models in the face of a new consumer. I’m constantly trying to challenge myself to explain to my organization with courage what’s not right, where we’ve got to go, and how we’ve got to shift money away from broadcast.
It’s easy to talk about, but harder to do.