It's pretty much a cliche to say that marketing today is all about give-to-get. You provide customers and prospects with new ideas, new experiences, and new connections in order to earn their attention. You keep at it until they open up to a conversation that, over time, can lead toward an actual sales opportunity.
In B2B, though, I'm constantly surprised at how often marketers pay little more than lip service to this essential idea.
You see it in companies that persist in spending more on promotion and pitch than on interaction and collaboration.
You see it in the cutbacks to customer research and insight (how can you "give" something of value to customers if you don't even pay attention to what they're facing?).
And you see it when marketers hand off the first hint of a "lead" (e.g., a name from a trade show or white paper download) to the inside or outsourced sales team to begin "qualifying" opportunities.
Recently, Doremus and the Financial Times collaborated on a survey called Decision Dynamics in which 470 worldwide senior level executives were asked: Which supplier is most likely to get work from you in tough times as compared to prosperous times?
Interestingly the top answer was not the cheapest or the supplier with the best/longest relationship, or even the one who could prove ROI. The answer was the supplier most proactive in helping you [emphasis in original].
Sherman goes on to list some types of help that marketing agencies in particular might be able to provide, including being more nimble, strengthening internal relationships, and rebuilding trust with investors and customers.
For me, the key point here is that give-to-get is more important than ever. The executives in the survey are saying "help me."
Your customers need help, they want it from you (so long as you have something valuable to offer), but they're typically so stressed out by the daily grind that they barely have time to ask. And they certainly have little tolerance for promotional marketing. As such, the idea of "proactive help" should be front and center.
Practically speaking, this means:
- Investing more in understanding your customer's businesses and challenges; you can never have too much customer insight
- Putting more energy into developing real thought leadership in the market that demonstrates truly news ways to help customers solve problems
- Reaching out to your best customers with offers to provide legitimately useful briefings and demos (i.e., not sales pitches)
- Investing in social media skills, tools, and initiatives to help share the wealth of knowledge and experience that lies throughout your organization.
The concept seems easy. Is the execution so hard?