“What technology has provided us with is the ability to communicate whenever we want and on our own terms,” says Mike Finn, marketing director of Intergage, the specialist B2B marketing agency.
You sense though that there’s a ‘but’ coming. “It means that communication has become all invasive; we cannot escape it,” he continues. “Work is connected to our smartphones, our social media accounts are constantly buzzing; we’re slaves to it.
“The consequence is overload. We struggle to control and consolidate the flow of information, which leads to time being wasted, disparate knowledge, and a lack of focus.
“We didn’t control how the genie came out of the bottle, and that has to be addressed now because digital age communication requires business to adapt their behaviours.”
That said, Finn doesn’t think that is too big an ask. “As human beings, we are constantly reinventing ourselves but at the moment we haven’t quite managed the transition. Maybe artificial intelligence will help provide that for us.”
For companies that need to provide a support facility, the plethora of channels can be a struggle because customers require the option to communicate in the way they want to. “That can result in businesses being inundated,” says Finn, “and the consequential poor service can easily be translated into less than favourable reviews on social media. A filter they could introduce might be a chatbot, a software program that can respond and ‘learn’ from consumer questions. Artificial intelligence can pre-determine what questions are going to be asked and provide succinct responses. Companies will have FAQs on their websites already, but people want to have instant answers; they don’t want to have to seek out the information.”
Finn sums up the challenge now facing companies: “People are using technology such as ad blocking, call blocking and email filtering to escape all the spam-vertising they see.
That means marketers must go back to square one and re-evaluate their strategies: less ‘push’ (or rather pushy) marketing that interrupts, and more ‘pull’ to attract potential buyers to explore their offer.
“Before the internet, the only way a customer could get information was to talk to a salesperson who would then send out a brochure and provide the pricing. This gave the salesperson the power.
“Now – up to the point where someone decides to buy – most of the information they require to make that decision is accessible on the internet. So they’re much further down the buyer’s journey before there is contact with your salespeople.
“That means a huge re-think for many salespeople. They’re facing potential customers who have done serious research and may know more about the specification of an individual product (and the reviews) than they do!
“There’s a fantastic book called The Challenger Sale: How To Take Control of the Customer. It concludes that a top salesperson is someone who doesn’t take what the buyer says for granted and is able to deconstruct why the customer is considering a particular purchase.
“That’s the way they can add value, otherwise the thrust of the conversation is simply about price.
For value to be transferred, the salesperson needs to go beyond simply understanding the client’s actual core requirement – they must empathise so the conversation isn’t confrontational.
“If a company doesn’t understand how and why customers buy a particular product or service, then it can never have a really distinctive offering in the marketplace.”
According to Finn, the only way to demonstrate that understanding is to publish and promote challenging, thought-provoking content which engages the user.
“If the content on your website adds no value to the buyer, then there’s no point in it,” he says.
“Content is key – high quality, engaging material that informs the customer at every step along the buyer’s journey and allows them to make the transition from ‘unaware’ to ‘problem aware’ to ‘solution aware’ at their own pace.
“Today, marketing tends to own the entire journey through the content it produces, and for one very good reason. It needs to feed the fire which fuels that lust for information, otherwise if the prospective customer has formed a view about your product or service from elsewhere, then as far as they’re concerned, the only consideration left to really talk about is price.”
“And, as everyone knows, price is the marketer’s last resort,” Finn points out.
“Only one player can be cheapest; everyone else needs a much better USP – which must be articulated simply and elegantly on their website.”
He believes the starting point for website content should be the challenges a product or service will overcome for the customer, rather than defining what the company perceives as the benefits.
“It used to be about features, then potential uses, and now is it storytelling from the customer’s perspective, highlighting issues that they face and how the product or service can deal with it for them,” Finn explains. “If you have an issue, then this is how it can be solved, and here’s how our product or service offering will enable you to do it.
“What really tees people off is when a website is not customer-centric. If a website has self-serving words such as ‘we’, and ‘our’, then the company has got it wrong.”