This may seem a little counter intuitive - using lists of accounts and/or contacts, and their buyer intent data, as means to enhance one-to-one marketing and boost sales. Traditionally, we think of lists-for-fees as inputs to email marketing campaigns or programmatic advertising. Or maybe we think of rented lists as invitations to violate spam or GDPR regulations, so we avoid them like the plague. Either way, list-based marketing and cold-calling have gotten a bad rap for privacy concerns and for poor performance in reaching our revenue goals. Why? Because recipients are interrupted with salesy communications that they never requested and have little perceived relevance, timeliness or value. So, people seldom respond, and they often unsubscribe or otherwise block your future outreach efforts. Chances are, you have tried this approach more than once. Were you really happy with the results? If so, can you sustain that success over time? For most of us, the answer is, “I wish I knew…”
Is programmatic marketing working for you?
It’s easy to denigrate mass sales and marketing, even in its relatively modern forms:
- “Personalized” emails and web pages, including videos
- LinkedIn InMails and messages once a connection has been granted
- Targeted social ads and retargeting ads
- Chatbots that recognize you and ask relevant questions (at least we think so)
- Search engine result pages that have been worked assiduously to show you our stuff based on what we think you want
Nearly every marketer I know will defend these tactics as being much better than the old school forms of mass marketing, like bulk emails or direct mail, TV or radio ads, misleading ads and landing pages, or robocalling. But do people want to be “sold to” via these new methods?
You can find data that both supports and rejects this premise. The only data that really counts is your data. If you have a 20% open rate and 3% click rate, does that mean that people want your emails and your offers? Depends on your perspective, right? Statistically, though, at least 80% of your contacts are saying “no”, and that should be enough to consider trying other methods, if you care about your prospects and customers that is. Yes, personalization and social selling are steps in the right direction, because they work better for marketers, but do they work for your customers? Why don't you ask them?
In many cases, personalization and automation can be used effectively to streamline communications and improve that “stay-in-touch” mode we want with all of our prospects and customers, but as a primary outreach tool? Well, it’s up to you, but I don’t think so in B2B complex sales.
Have you tried one-to-one marketing?
Some people define one-to-one marketing as “personalized”, in which you use a clever combination of persona development and marketing automation to optimize digital engagement (see list of tactics above). I don’t agree. To me, it’s what it says - you and me having a conversation. If the conversation uncovers a need (by you or me) that the other person can solve, cool. If not, we talk about something else. It’s a simple, and ancient, concept. It definitely doesn’t have to be digital, but it can be.
I know what you’re thinking. The reason we have digital sales and marketing is that it scales. We can reach far more people on their devices than ever before, effectively read their minds, and offer them our products at just the right time. Everybody wins, especially us smarketers. But the buyers win too because we made the process so easy, and we reached them at precisely the zero moment of truth. That might work well with shoes and candy bars, but does it work with construction projects and cyber security systems? Never has, never will, in my opinion.
Ask any B2B account executive with a winning track record, and she will tell you the truth. You have to start, build, and maintain one-to-one relationships, and yes, work them into multi-person accounts to win deals and grow them over time. Period.
My recipe for one-to-one, data-driven marketing
As you might expect, the recipe starts with strategy. Who’s coming over? What kind of meal are you cooking and why? How much time do you have to prepare? Which wine should you serve? What’s for dessert?
This is where you create a first impression. To do that well, you need to know your customers. Which traits determine the best fit for your products and services? Who is in the market and showing some buyer intent? Here’s my recipe for putting together some great hors d'oeuvres:
- Ask your customers, your sales team, and your support team for feedback on why customers choose you. What’s working and what isn’t, and how you can improve the relationship?
- Lock your management team in a room and decide on your company goals, ideal customer profile, customer journey map, and go-to-market strategy. Get specific about revenue goals, KPIs, and overall growth strategy.
- Look for high priority prospects among your existing inbound leads. Go through your database with filters based on your ideal customer profile. You will probably find quite a few hot leads that have just been ignored.
- Note the characteristics of a qualified prospect and your existing customers. What were the most common qualifying criteria? What behaviors did they most often take prior to a deal and/or sale?
- Purchase and activate third party intent data to find the more likely, qualified buyers, both accounts and key contacts, in your market right now. They should be your top priority invitees for the main course.
Now you want to hit that home run, by connecting with and building trust with your top prospects. Do this before you try to close any sales, because building relationships first is the key to higher close rates and shorter sales cycles.
- Build a prioritized account/person list for every sales rep by merging first and third party intent data, segmenting by account and by active contacts within each account. Include criteria that pertain to each rep, such as product responsibility, industry expertise, region and content creation experience.
- Each rep (or account team in ABM) will be responsible for activating their lead list by building relationships personally, NOT by cold calling and cold emailing. This involves:
- Glean both account-level and contact-level information from the gathered data and do further research in Linked and elsewhere.
- Build an account and contact profile for each company and person, focusing on intent, content authored and shared, role within the buying team, decision authority, and relationships with known influencers.
- Engage with high priority contacts, first by LinkedIn shares and comments. Don’t just say “great post” in a comment. Add value by adding your own experience and ideas that further the conversation. Join groups that your prospects are active in and listen to what’s being discussed. Don’t just jump in and start selling. Participate when you have something to add to the conversation.
- Publish posts and articles on LinkedIn and elsewhere that demonstrate your expertise in the subject matter that’s important to your prospects. Be careful sharing other peoples’ work instead of your own. This isn’t as authentic and doesn’t go as far to build trust.
- Do this activity EVERY DAY for 1-2 hours at least. If it helps, you can consider this part of your sales activity, because it is, even though the purpose is building relationships.
- Don’t forget to leverage your first and third party data and research every time you engage with your prospects. Keep every communication personal (not personalized) and up-to-date with relevant information and context.
- As you start to engage more with your prospects, you can ask for a connection, ask for their email address, and even send them something helpful - not a sales brochure! Short videos explaining your points of view or hot tips are often well received. The important thing is that this should be a natural process, not a sales process.
- If things go really well, a brief introductory call may be in order. In that first call, don’t talk about your products unless asked about them. Focus on your prospect’s problems or, even better, your mutual problems and seek to gain clarity or possible solutions.
- As your relationship builds, a live meeting or even a thoughtful gift by direct mail may help to nurture things along. Work HARD to get together in person - at trade shows or other events, for coffee or a drink, at the first tee, wherever it makes sense based on what you know about your prospect or customer.
- PRO TIP: Be the advisor, not the sales person. Think of this as expanding your network, not generating appointments and closed won deals. You will get there if you are doing this right.
The final course should be short and sweet. During your relationship building, you have hopefully developed a mutual sense of respect and trust. The deal comes more as a formality than a negotiation. You have already worked out the deal, and now you’re just toasting to it. This is how deals get closed at anything approaching a 100% close rate. Not only that, but because both parties want the same working relationship and success, you’re now working as a team to get there. A few important things to remember along the way.
- You are constantly asking your partner how she feels about the project and where it’s going.
- You are completely open and honest about everything - there are no surprises, ever!
- Once the deal is signed, your mission is to guarantee success for your customer. If you run into roadblocks on either side, your job is to resolve them.
- It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the data. Ask your customers how things are going early and often. If you can, monitor utilization and KPI dashboards. Make suggestions for improving results.
- Don’t start up-selling or cross-selling on Day 1. Wait until it makes sense, when your customer has reached a logical tipping point where an upgrade makes sense - based on your prior conversations and plans.
Mea culpa. I’ve introduced several important, and controversial, strategic sales and marketing philosophies in a discussion about using intent data. For example, I’m not a huge fan of outbound marketing or cold-contact methods in B2B sales. I believe in one-to-one marketing and its cousin, personal (not personalized) sales. Why? Because that’s what customers want. Yes, they want to use digital channels to do their research, but they don’t want to be pushed by sellers at any stage of their journey. Does that mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, use data to assist them? Not at all. Both first and third party intent data are invaluable in finding people and companies you want as customers, and they give us critical information to help us gently build lasting business relationships.
The rest is gravy.