Within days of writing my blog post on the Three Roles of a Transformed B2B Marketing Organization and announcing that one of the roles is “Relationship Builder”, Eric Whitlake writes his thought-provoking blog post, Marketing Is Not about Relationships! Although much of the debate sparked by Eric’s blog post can be chalked up to semantics, I still maintain that building relationships is a new and extremely important role for B2B marketing. Let me explain in more detail and then you tell me what you think.
In the transformed organization, marketing builds relationships with customers and prospects in two distinct ways:
1. Marketing works with and through sales to build relationships with customers.
“Marketing and sales are really part of the same function anyway, just working on a different phase of the customer relationship.” —CMO of a Global Communications Solutions Provider
Marketing initiates and then builds relationships with customers and prospects via demand and lead generation campaigns, and lead management and nurturing programs. Marketing also provides tools and teaches sales to do thought leadership selling. With marketing’s support, sales can be equipped to communicate:
- Points of view on key business topics relevant to buyers
- Insights from recent research or thought leadership initiatives
- The application of insights and thought leadership to solve buyers’ business issues
By doing thought leadership selling, sales is educating, rather than promoting. Sales helps the buyer buy instead of selling. This is relationship marketing at its best–shifts sales focus to customer lifetime value rather than the immediate transaction at hand.
With account based marketing (ABM), marketing partners with sales to do strategic account planning and execute an account-based sales and marketing strategy with tactics to achieve the established account objectives.
I like how Carlos Hildago put it in his comment, “As with any relationship, there must be an introduction, or early stage of the relationship and I do believe that marketing is key to this. Yes, we are trying to reach the masses, however with targeted dynamic content and an attention to buyer behavior you can create a 1-1 type interaction or relationship that endears the buyer to your organization and allows for deeper engagement.”
2. Marketing builds relationships directly with customers via on- and off-line community marketing, and customer engagement and advocacy programs.
“Because sales has been the conduit to customers in the past, there’s a feeling that marketing isn’t close enough to customers, but it’s critical that marketers are able to interact directly with customers.” —CMO of a Global Communications Solutions Provider
Here I am talking about marketing programs—not one-off activities or campaigns—that strengthen relationships and build loyalty with key stakeholders at existing customer accounts (e.g., users, decision makers, influencers, C-level executives). This can include one-to-many, one-to-few, or one-to-one activities.
Relationships may start online or via email, but to truly develop, nothing beats face-to-face interaction. This is especially true when selling complex B2B technology services and consulting. Of course, marketing is not going to be able to build a direct, personal relationship with every single customer and prospect. There is a lot fewer marketing staff than there is sales staff. (Even so, some sales organizations are stretched too thin to have direct personal relationships.) That is where tiering comes in.
There are four levels of community, each level building a tighter relationship until you reach the ultimate goal: a trusted advisor relationship between provider and buyer. However, not all customers will make it all the way through to that level—nor should they. The goal should be to move all customers through to become promoters, but the most intimate relationship level is reserved for those customers who offer tremendous value to you and you to them.
Marketing Is about Relationships!
I have been researching technology services and consulting marketing since 1988 and one thing I can say with confidence is that there has been more change in marketing in the last 3-5 years than in the previous 20! Marketing today goes beyond crafting and communicating the brand and managing reputation. In the new, transformed organization marketing plays a direct role in generating revenue and building relationships.
It stands to reason that the nature of marketing’s relationships with customers and prospects will differ from sales’. Each has a role to play. Marketing’s role in the relationship spectrum is to initiate contact (spark epiphanies, increase awareness and knowledge), sustain contact until a prospect is ready to buy (nurture), and build advocacy among existing customers (ABM, community and customer engagement programs).
Marketing is about relationships. Marketing builds relationships with customers and prospects in collaboration with sales, and also directly with customers through community and customer engagement programs.
What do you think?