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CRM: The Train Coming at You

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There is a trend within your clients’ organizations that is going to affect the offerings of your firm. It will open up exciting new areas of opportunity that you will be forced to capitalize on. To ignore this trend would be dangerous, I think, because not only will it affect how you deliver your services, for some of you it will represent a whole new service area.

This article is most pertinent to creative and marketing firms whose clients are businesses that sell to other businesses (B2B), not-for-profit organizations or companies that sell expensive consumer items. CPG and other consumer-focused firms might identify less with the changes in the client landscape but should find the net lessons as valuable to their own business development efforts.

Sales and Marketing Collide

The trend is that the functions of sales and marketing are getting closer together. This shift is being driven by advances in online analytics and other tools that allow marketers to gain greater insights into what prospects are doing online.

Marketing’s Heightened Responsibilities

It used to be that the job of marketing was to create leads for the folks in sales. But as the marketing and analytics tools have yielded better data, the pressure has mounted on marketing to not just create leads but to sort through them, rate them and hand off the most meaningful ones to sales, while marketing continues to nurture the less meaningful leads.

The term marketing qualified leads is fairly common now but was unheard of three years ago. While its definition varies from organization to organization, the very term implies a higher standard of vetting from marketing before a lead is turned over to sales for further qualification within the one-to-one interactions that are the hallmark of sales.

The marrying of web analytics with landing pages, email and link tracking tools and other techniques that make it easier to identify visitors now offers a level of intelligence on individual prospects that some might find borders on privacy invasion. Add in other tools that aggregate prospects’ social media activity and the digital fingerprint of individual prospects becomes clearer and clearer.

Marketing used to be relegated to mass communication, while the one-to-one interactions were the domain of sales. No more. Thanks to the new tools, B2B marketing is now largely a one-to-one enterprise where the behavior of individuals is tracked and their predisposition to a purchase or willingness to talk to a sales person is predicted with increasing accuracy. From sales’ perspective, marketing qualified leads are no longer crap shoots – they are highly coveted. (Another impact of this, that I’ll discuss next month, is that lead generation is increasingly being separated from sales, thus changing the make-up of the typical sales person.)

This is the new world of technology-driven B2B marketing. Sales knows marketing has access to these tools and they’re quite right to demand better vetting of any lead before it’s handed over for a sales call. The implications of this extend right through your clients’ marketing departments to your firm.

Most B2B Marketing is Now Online

The first implication is that if yours is a B2B firm, there is no longer any reason to grapple with the digital vs. mainstream (largely print-based media) argument. The vast majority of B2B marketing is now done online. You cannot be a B2B marketing firm without significant digital chops. Even the remaining old school approaches of three-dimensional mailers, display ads in trade pubs and trade show booths are focused on driving prospects to landing pages where their digital trail can be easily picked up and decisions on what to do next can be made from predictive models of online behavior.

So much of the purchasing decision or at least information gathering in a B2B purchase is done online, and the tools of web analytics, marketing automation and CRM are so effective at letting us see who is doing what that the digital aspect of B2B marketing can no longer be seen as an add on. It should be at the core of what B2B firms do.

CRM is the Convergence Point

Imagine your clients’ sales and marketing departments as two different silos being pushed together until they overlap in a Venn diagram. Now ask yourself where in the organization this overlap is happening. It’s not a physical place (the sales and marketing folks aren’t moving in together just yet) but a cyber-place: the CRM application.

The CRM app is both the expression and the record of the entire sales and marketing pipeline. It’s where marketing records the large quantities of leads their programs create, scores those leads and then hands off the best ones for sales to follow up. It’s where sales tracks deal flow down to the individual, recording all pertinent aspects of the opportunity and the sale.

With both sales and marketing tracking efforts within a shared CRM, sales can get a sense of what marketing is really doing and what’s coming down the pipe. Marketing can monitor the deal flow after the hand-off to see if the sales department is following up on all those hard-won leads. Working together, they can agree on what constitutes a meaningful lead or an effective marketing program. Gone now are the days when marketing can say, “well our campaign generated leads – the sales people just didn’t follow up on them,” or when sales can say, “all these leads are crap.” Each department now has the ability to disprove the other’s claim in their shared planning and reporting environment that is the CRM application.

The impetus is now there for the two departments to work together. One of the trends you will start to see is that when one department gets way out ahead of the other in embracing the new technology, the lagging department will be in danger of being subsumed by the progressive one. More often than not, marketing will start to report to sales, but the opposite will happen, too.

The Answer to the Data Silo Problem

You’re probably keenly aware of how much data you generate in the business development (sales and marketing) efforts of your own firm. There is your prospect database, including existing and former clients. There are various lists of leads, from that business card pile on your desk to the Excel spreadsheet of attendees of a conference at which you recently spoke, to the CSV file of that trade publication subscriber list you purchased. Then there’s your newsletter list – that now goes far beyond a list of names and actually shows you who has read what – and your online subscription to Hoovers or The List. There’s the whole ecosystem of website analytics. There’s social media and PPC traffic sources.

It’s data, data, data piling up quickly, and – here’s the real problem – it’s piling up in different places. Much of it, you feel good about having, but let’s be honest – you don’t really use it, do you? You can’t, because it’s either not in the right form or place or because it’s only meaningful when paired together with other data. What you really need is to bring it all together in one place where you can make sense of it and make smart decisions from simple dashboards.

Your clients have the same problem. Everyone has this problem right now, but the solution is upon us. The CRM application is increasingly the place where all this data comes together to be made sense of, to be made valuable and to be accessed by both sales and marketing.

Salesforce, the 800-lb gorilla and gold standard in CRM, let’s its users pull all this, and many other data types, together in one place, and other CRM apps are following suit. Just as we no longer think of Amazon as an online book seller but the number one place to buy most things online, so too you shouldn’t look at Salesforce as just a CRM app. It’s essentially open-platform computing with CRM at its heart, but with proper configuration, the addition of third party apps and some relatively quick and inexpensive customization, you can run accounting, project management and any other enterprise-wide computing functions through it.

This is the trend in CRM technology: it is starting to talk to everything, rolling up data from numerous sources to become the one windowpane organizations look through to see the whole sales and marketing picture.

CRM is Creeping Into Your Product

To do your job effectively you are going to have to know CRM in general and be able to operate comfortably in various CRM applications and their growing ecosystems of third party CRM-centric marketing apps. Within two years, perhaps less, CRM expertise will be one of the costs of entry for B2B marketing firms.

Once you gain this knowledge you will start to see opportunities to expand your service offering. I predict that as early as this year some of you are going to find yourselves in the CRM advisory business, offering customization, training and advice on CRM deployment and best practices. While only a few of you will choose to chase the opportunity as far as CRM consulting, many more of you will at least find yourselves having to conceive of, implement and track your clients’ marketing campaigns within a CRM context.

The New B2B Gold Rush

For years I’ve been dismissive of B2B as a vertical focus for a marketing firm (I thought it was just too broad and therefore meaningless) but with the technology changes and their impacts on how these products and services are sold and marketed, I now liken the B2B landscape to the early days of the gold rush. There’s gold in them hills and as of this writing, very few firms see it.

There are a lot of pretenders in the B2B marketing space – firms that were inspired to claim a B2B focus by observing their own accidental client concentration in the area but that never built any meaningful expertise on the subject. Well, now is their moment. These firms with the early lead can evolve quickly and capitalize on the changes in the landscape. If they don’t, they will be pushed out by real entrepreneurs who see the opportunity and are willing to quickly develop the required expertise.

Why Many Will Fail

Many marketing firms are design based, run by designers who have only recently and reluctantly acknowledged that they are not really in the design business. Design as an output is now highly commoditized, while paradoxically, design as a tool (or process) is increasingly valued. Firms that properly employ design as a tool or process to solve client problems have started to accept that the problems solved are usually (but not always) problems of marketing or communication, therefore marketing or communication is the real business these firms are in.

So the designer who has grudgingly accepted that he is a marketer must now come to terms with the truth that he is moving further and further into the world of sales.

It reminds me of my ex-hippy friend coming to terms with the fact that he is now a golf-playing real estate agent, or more correctly, it would be like going back in time and trying to get him to believe a prophecy of his future which would seem so at odds with his core values.

A lot of marketers, and many more designers, don’t like sales. I believe this is why so many of the firms who could and should capitalize on this shifting landscape probably won’t, at the cost of their success and perhaps even survival.

Don’t get me wrong – other than becoming CRM proficient, you won’t have to become a sales expert, but you will find that your diagnostic (discovery) work at the beginning of engagements will see you spending as much time understanding your clients’ sales process and sales people as you do learning about their marketing. You’ll also find that to win the business you’ll have to win the vote of the VP of sales, who is increasingly sitting at the decision making table when it’s time to hire a new marketing firm. Some firms just will not want to go to these places.

The Rise of the CRM Technologist

This trend of sales and marketing overlapping in CRM will almost certainly see the rise of a new position in marketing firms: the CRM technologist. Similarly to how most firms have replaced onsite web developers with third party relationships paired with an in house technologist whose job it is to marry the client’s technical needs with the right partner’s expertise while understanding the greater trends and coming changes in the tech landscape, the CRM technologist will be charged with keeping abreast of the various CRM options, knowing what to select and how to configure, and knowing when to bring in an outside developer for deeper customization.

Some firms will see the need to bring this level of CRM knowledge to all of their account people, and some will roll it up in one position, but it’s a new and unavoidable knowledge requirement.

Starting with Your Own Business Development Efforts

The logical place to start developing your own CRM knowledge is in your own sales and marketing efforts – what we call business development. Take your own medicine first – and get good at it – then you can think about selling it to others.

You might be interested to know that very few marketing firms are competent users of CRM. It’s ironic, really, that as sophisticated CRM deployment is becoming increasingly central to the sales and marketing efforts of B2B businesses, the firms that are advising them on these marketing efforts are all but ignorant on the subject.

Every once in awhile I encounter a firm or a new business development hire that claims to be a deep and knowledgeable user of CRM X. Once I dive in though, the claims are almost never borne out. Firms or individuals may have used the software for years but in most cases it’s being used as an expensive address book. Very often, entire key components such as leads or opportunities go unused. The more robust CRM applications such as Salesforce which all but require you to customize the setup to your sales methodology are, to my observation, almost always used right “out of the box” with no configuration or customization at all. What I would call graduate level use of CRM – lead scoring, integration of website analytics and online marketing automation tools – is nonexistent except for a very few firms that work in the B2B technology space (software as a service (SaaS) companies in particular are highly sophisticated in this area, therefore some of their marketing firms are too).

I know a few of these firms whose work with SaaS clients has led them to see and capitalize on the converging worlds of sales and marketing. When I ask them about it they gleefully expound in hushed tones on the vein of gold they’ve struck. For the most part, however, marketing firms are poor users of CRM. That’s okay because most clients are big but still poor users of CRM too, but that’s changing quickly.

For years in my own practice as a business development consultant to marketing firms I did not see CRM competence as integral to business development success, whereas today it’s a key component of my recommendations and training. Viewers of Win Without Pitching webcasts will have noticed that as of about a year ago every sales process topic is now framed within a CRM context. Additionally, an increasing number of my webcasts are now devoted to CRM topics.

The amount of time I spend logged in to my clients’ CRM applications seems to rise every month, and my co-worker Leanne, who joined me last Fall, spends 75% of her time on CRM training, evaluation, configuration and working with outside developers on increasingly complex customizations, both for our business and our clients’.

In my business, in your business and in your clients’ businesses, CRM is increasingly at the heart of everything.

The Opportunity, and Threat, Summarized

This technology-driven shift in the relationship between sales and marketing and the resulting opportunities around the myriad of CRM-related advisory services represent the biggest opportunity I have ever seen for firms that work in the B2B space. Clients are diving in, but with the exception of SaaS companies, they still have  a lot to figure out.

I’ve started collecting quotes from marketing firms about their changing experiences which point to this trend. I heard these three statements from different folks in the same week:

“[The marketing department of] our biggest client now reports to sales.”

“Our new client asked me, ‘Can you teach our sales people what to do with the leads once we generate them?’”

“I was in a four-hour [client] meeting on salesforce.com. I had no idea what they were talking about.”

I’ve already likened this opportunity to a gold rush but the more correct metaphor is in the title: it’s a train coming at you. You can get on it and ride it to new, wonderful and rewarding places, or you can stand there on the tracks contemplating the rumbling noise that’s bearing down on you. If your clients are in the B2B or not-for-profit space (other big CRM users) or they sell large ticket consumer items, then you are standing on the tracks, whether you see it or not. Consumer focused firms won’t face the same pressure to change their offerings to keep up with client demands, but the lessons on the changing landscape of sales and marketing have business development implications for all firms that sell services to other businesses.

Like any sizeable opportunity, people are going to get rich off of this. And others are going to get run over. I see the landscape of marketing firms changing more in the next 24 months than in the previous decade.

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