February 24, 2015

Expert Interview: How Marketing Automation Helps Brands Navigate Buyer Preferences

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Doug Kern is the head of marketing at nFusion, a successful marketing agency in Austin, Texas that helps large clients like Samsung and AMD improve their customer engagement. He also has a wealth of experience running marketing programs for growth companies and startups, which gives him a great perspective on successful strategies for companies of all sizes.

I invited Doug to be a part of the TechnologyAdvice Expert Interview Series and share his views on the changing marketing landscape and the rise of inbound marketing. Doug believes marketing automation is “the glue in modern marketing,” and he has a variety of invaluable tips that can help brands improve their relationships with customers and better target their audiences.

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TechnologyAdvice: As a veteran in the marketing industry, what are some of the major changes or trends that you see developing right now?

Doug: There’s a lot of things that have been going on the last few years regarding consumers, social, mobile and everything, but you can boil it down to two simple trends that impact marketers everyday.

The first is this trend around the changing buyer journey— how we as individuals and consumers make decisions and engage with companies. That has radically changed. We have access to unlimited data and information. We are often more booked-up and smarter than the car dealer that we’re in front of when we’re buying a car. So, that’s radically changed the relationship between companies and their customers and drives the need for content and transparency.

The second big trend is a ‘good news/bad news” or an “opportunity/challenge” trend. This is this explosion of applications, software apps, and technology that is available to marketers to solve this problem and to engage in a compelling way, in a smart way with customers. So if you’re doing this right, there are great outcomes in terms of impacting the bottom line. But doing it wrong, you can really make a mess of it and run customers away, and that also affects your bottom line.

TA: With this rapid explosion of tools that are now available for marketers, what is the top strategy for people trying to find the best marketing automation software for their needs?

Doug: It’s easy as a marketer to get in the shiny object syndrome and turn to an app to try to solve your problem because it’s sexy. A lot of people do that and they end up with this Frankenstein stack of software apps that actually won’t work if they don’t integrate and the data is not consistent. You can’t really get true good engagement because it’s not consistent. It’s unwieldy and you’re spending more time wiring the data flows together.

So the first step in picking a good marketing automation app is to figure out who your customers are. Then do the basics around personas and mapping customer decision journeys. Who are your buyers? How do they gather information? Where do they do it? When do they do it?

Learn what their decisions, questions and concerns are before you engage them so that when you get in contact with them for the first time, you are relevant. You are compelling. You can build that relationship from a more trusted level, rather than spamming nurture programs that don’t make sense to them.

TA: When you’re dealing with customers who already have access to the information they need to make a decision, how do you approach trying to get to know them better or trying to help them? How do you navigate that relationship?

Doug: It can be intimidating when you’re thinking about broad sets or types or industries of customers at a macro level and you’re thinking about all of their needs. So I think the first step is to realize — and it’s a hard thing — it’s to realize that you can’t be all things to all buyers, all customers. You need to be unique and you need to be specialized in terms of the kind of value propositions that you talk about and not limit it. That is tough in working with sales teams because they want to be able to broaden and widen the net of folks that they go after. But the first step is really narrowing in who, what customer you are targeting. You narrow down to two or three and be fantastic for those two or three, and understand what their issues are.

So that narrowing process is a great step. And really, everything follows up from there. You don’t have to do fancy primary or secondary research deep dives. Just get them on the phone.  Find them in the wild. Talk to existing customers. Talk to people. It’s a great way to get in front of people in a non-confrontational way and say, “I am not selling you anything. I just want to learn how you manage your day. I care about what you do, your priorities and your challenges

TA: What advice do you have for that modern marketer who is trying to better connect their sales and marketing teams to get everybody on the same page for a strategy like this?

Doug: There are mindset and structural things that you can do with your teams. The first is a switch from not thinking about products, but to thinking about customers. So really about how I can help that customer instead of pushing a product. The next is thinking more in terms of journeys— decision journeys, not specific serial sales funnels. So today it’s very rare that a customer would transition directly from a marketing qualified lead to sales qualified lead to customer. People have a variety of paths and you have to be able to understand where they are in their learning and decision process in order to provide the best customer experience.

The next is around thinking in terms of long-term experiences or on-going experiences as opposed to one and done campaigns. You think about an engagement. And the last is around personalization. How do I personalize the message, the interaction? How do I know if they come to the site or not? As opposed to broad segmentation. Those would be the mindset shifts that I would recommend as somebody who is shifting into this in and about marketing mode and looking at marketing automation as a way to help them with their business.

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To learn more about nFusion, visit nFusion.com or connect directly to Doug Kern on LinkedIn. You can also connect with them on Twitter @nFusion and @doug_kern.

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To hear our full conversation, or download our conversation about lead generation, you can subscribe to the TA Expert Interview Series via Soundcloud, in order to get alerts about new episodes. You can also subscribe to just the Marketing Automation category.

This podcast was created and published by TechnologyAdvice. Interview conducted by Clark Buckner.