The Internet changed everything … especially for marketers. Now more then ever, customers have a million tools and information sources at their disposal, and the power balance has forever shifted to the needs of the customer versus that of the brand-company and its products and services.
Customers are now driving the marketing process … in case you haven’t heard.
The consequence for us as marketers (and our role in demand generation) is that our fundamental posture must change. Yes, it remains increasingly important to get the attention of your customers and to ‘rise above the noise,’ but it also is increasingly important to be a better listener and observer – catering to the needs, preferences and timing of your customers. I liken our new role as marketers to being similar to the attentive and omnipresent, but unobtrusive, waiter at a five-star restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton or the Four Seasons – standing by and ready to cater to the customer’s every need and knowing exactly when (s)he wants something. Fortunately, the same Internet domain that has made our job tougher as marketers can also be a source of new and valuable insights into customers’ ‘digital body language,’ as Steve Woods (Twiter: @stevewoods), CTO and co-founder of Eloqua, calls it in his new book, (not coincidentally titled) Digital Body Language – Deciphering Customer Intentions in an Online World.
Steve Woods is a forward thinker who has spent the last decade of his career learning about and building systems to help marketers better leverage insights into customers’ digital body language. His book is the culmination of his domain expertise and years of experience in software architecture, engineering and strategy for marketing systems, as well as his track record of client successes since Eloqua’s founding in 1999. This expertise, experience and track record led to him being named one of Inside CRM’s Top CRM Influencers in 2007.
Prior to co-founding Eloqua, Woods worked in corporate strategy at Bain & Company and engineering at Celestica. Woods holds a degree in Engineering Physics from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
So what does it take to better understand digital body language, and how as marketers can we better leverage digital body language to improve our delivery to customers, our collaboration with our sales-team colleagues and our fundamental ability to drive demand generation?
We’ve touched on this topic and on Woods’ high-level insights into digital body language in Part 1 and Part 2 of our current series for marketers on evaluating integrated marketing management platforms, but we thought it was important to dive further into this topic, by itself; thus, we wanted to present his perspectives here.
So here is our Q&A with Woods on digital body language and his new book.
PB: How would you describe ‘digital body language’ (and its underlying drivers) to someone in 200 words or less?
Woods: Quite simply, Digital Body Language is the online equivalent of physical body language; the set of hints, insights, and guidance that you can pick up from observing people’s interests and reactions. Whereas the sales professional used to be able to “read the room” by observing physical body language, now the marketer is tasked with reading Digital Body Language in order to understand today’s online buyers.
A core premise of your book is that the roles both of the sales professional and of the marketing professional are shifting dramatically, especially in the once-sales-driven world of the ‘consultative sale.’ This is synced to a shift in the point in time when a sales professional now gets involved with a prospect in the sales cycle — i.e., when the ‘hand-off’ from marketing occurs. Can you explain what is driving this shift and how companies and their marketing organizations must respond?
The fundamental shift is in information access. Now information on almost any product or service you might be considering is available online, for free, tagged and organized by social media, and indexed by search engines. [The sales organization] is no longer the conduit for information on a company’s products or services.
This leads to two main shifts.
- First, marketing must be involved until much later in the buying cycle, as most buyers will only want to engage with sales when they are much closer to being ready to purchase.
- Second, sales must work with marketing to mutually understand and define what aspects of Digital Body Language indicate that a buyer is ready to engage in purchase discussions.
You note that buyers have a ‘new tool kit’ for assessing purchases. Can you talk about this tool kit and how it differs at different stages of the buying process?
The tool kit is all the information sources online. Whether it is industry articles, social media sites, blogs, vendor Websites, competitor Websites, or news articles, the information is there. For a marketer, however, the tools that are most relevant depend on what your marketing challenge is.
I describe three main categories of challenge in the book:
- The Flying Car: You have a solution to a problem that most potential buyers don’t know is possible to solve. In this case, the buyer tools to focus on are general awareness tools like industry analysts and press.
- The Wallflower: You have a recognized category, but you are not brought into consideration for opportunities. In this case, the buyer tools to focus on are solution discovery tools like search and some viral marketing strategies.
- The Redheaded Step-Child: You have a recognized category, and you are considered as a vendor, but you are not selected. In this case, the buyer tools to focus on are validation tools like comparison charts, evaluation guides, and influential bloggers.
It’s a very high level framework, but the idea is simple. Understand what your marketing challenge is, then understand how prospective buyers would find information that would help them with that aspect of their buying process and focus on those aspects of the buyer’s tool kit.
As the sales professional has less opportunities to observe and interact with the potential customer during the nurturing process, you argue this responsibility shifts to the marketer, who is playing an increasing role at this stage of the sales cycle. How is it possible for marketing organizations to get a better sense of nuanced ‘body language,’ especially in the digital domain and on a scale level? What are the key indicators?
The first step is data – being able to understand all your interactions with each prospect and to put together a picture of their Digital Body Language. This picture grows and evolves over time. Whereas historically the main use of a marketing database was an occasional outbound mailing, now the main use of the marketing database is as a source for insights into buyers’ Digital Body Language. This means we as marketers need to ensure the data is kept clean, standardized, and de-duplicated, or we will be unable to draw insights from it. This requires a more significant focus on data quality than was previously common in marketing – which I recently wrote about [on my Digital Body Language blog].
Once this step is in place, that raw data on a prospect’s Digital Body Language can be understood by scoring it to understand what stage of the buying process they are at, what they are interested in, and how they like to receive information.
The key things to look at, however, differ based on the buying process for each product. A white paper, for example, may either indicate a prospect is educating her self on a market, or is ready to purchase depending on its content, so the key indicators have to be mapped based on the specific buying process.
You suggest that being capable of reading digital body language requires a new level of ‘marketing-operations discipline’ that marketing organizations must embrace and that this further requires “… a new suite of skills and thought processes within the marketing organization … .” How would you describe this discipline, and what are the new skills and processes required to support it?
There are a few key aspects to this new discipline. Data, as we just spoke about, is one key element. On top of that, because the buyer is in control and wants information in his or her time frame, we as marketers need to build the systems and processes to understand and react to these buyers’ needs.
Large, outbound campaigns once or twice per quarter, targeting an audience of unknown interest level, were the norm historically. Today, it is more important to build the processes that allow us to recognize when an individual buyer is showing interest and to react to that interest by providing the right information. To do this requires the ability to think in terms of processes, automation, business rules, and exceptions. Many marketing organizations have begun to develop these skills, and these marketing organizations are seeing significant success today.
What is lead scoring, and how does it relate to understanding the true nature of a prospect’s digital body language? How does lead scoring help broker the hand-off between marketing and sales and eventually support the optimization of your marketing process?
Lead scoring is the discipline that allows us as marketers to act on what we learn from our buyers’ Digital Body Language. By taking the raw information on interest areas, interest levels, and reactions, and applying rules to it, we are able to turn raw data into insight.
Many marketers use lead scoring to determine when a lead is ready for sales, by scoring on who the prospect is (explicit information like title and industry) and how interested the prospect is (implicit information like Web activity and searches). This way of scoring is something I recently wrote about [on my Digital Body Language blog].
Some marketers, however, are sophisticated enough to use lead scoring to understand exactly where in a buying process a prospect is. From there, not only can the hand-off to sales be managed, but so can the best way to communicate with that buyer throughout their entire buying process.
You assert in Chapter 6 of your book, “Marketers have it backward.” You go on to talk about how customers are now driving the marketing process, “… and they have no use for a marketer-defined sales cycle.” You also talk in Chapter 7 about how marketing has evolved into a complex ‘process ecosystem.’ What do you mean by these observations, and how does it relate to marketers’ increasing role in nurturing of prospective customers?
Buyers are now in control. They can get information online from a multitude of sources, and they want to get that information on their own timeframe. This leads to a fundamental shift in how we, as marketers, must communicate with them. Rather than large outbound campaigns on our own timeframe, we must put the processes in place to understand the interest area and interest level of the buyer, and to react to that by communicating just the information that they need at that moment in their buying process.
To succeed in this shift from large outbound campaigns to reactive inbound campaigns, however, requires automation and process to be successful. Each prospective buyer is an individual, and without the automation of marketing processes, it’s impossible to communicate with each individual on their own timeframe and interest level.
What is the new collaborative model for sales and marketing?
Marketing is a key part of the [sales] funnel. It’s no longer a model where marketing drives brand perception and awareness while sales is involved from first inquiry to close. Marketing must work with sales to establish objective criteria on what level of interest and what type of buyer can be handed over to sales, and then take responsibility for the funnel upwards of that.
If there is a clear definition of what makes a Marketing Qualified Lead, marketing has processes in place for scoring and delivering them, and sales has the processes in place to work them through to close, then you have a model whereby sales and marketing can effectively work the funnel together.
Without that, you are left with a situation in which marketing hands sales thousands of unqualified inquiries which sales doesn’t follow up on, and both point their fingers at each other for the breakdown in the process.
How does an awareness of (and an aptitude for measuring) digital body language lead marketers’ closer to the ‘Holy Grail‘ of accurately measuring marketing effectiveness?
If you are using Digital Body Language to measure where each prospective buyer is in his or her buying process, then you can begin to understand the effect that marketing campaigns have on guiding buyers through that buying process. Any complex or lengthy buying process is comprised of many touch points, so you need to understand the phases of that buying process in order to understand how each marketing campaign influenced buyers within it. If you are not observing your buyers’ Digital Body Language, it’s difficult to understand where in the process each buyer is.
You believe the results of investing budget in new marketing processes, systems and skill sets to better leverage digital body language far outweigh the costs. How would you defend this belief to marketers whose budgets are being scrutinized now more than ever?
The numbers are clear. Anyone who is spending money to get new names in the top of the funnel, while only a handful of those names progress through to become new business, is wasting money due to leaks in their funnel.
Putting the right marketing processes in place to understand who is leaking out the side of the funnel, and then capture them in a nurturing program, allows you to generate extra revenue without additional campaign expenditures.
Do you have any final thoughts for marketers about how to gain leverage, achieve order and improve marketing ROI in the chaos of the current digital marketing environment?
This current environment can be looked at as an opportunity. Budgets for big conferences, city tours, sponsorships, and large outbound campaigns are being slashed. That means that there is an opportunity to put effort into the processes and approaches that will allow you to understand each individual buyer and to deliver the right message at the right time to each of them.
This transition in marketing is only accelerating, and the marketers who have the processes in place as we come out the other side of this downturn will be in the best position to thrive.