Five cross-channel marketing lessons from “the channel”

 
 

We often talk about "cross-channel" or "multi-channel" when it comes down to marketing. New interaction channels have emerged and marketers are trying to figure out how they work, how they can serve their business goals and how they can integrate them in order to achieve improved results and provide a better customer experience, regardless of communication channels.

The word "channel" has two meanings for me: that of an interaction medium or a platform that people and businesses use to communicate on one hand and that of a partner ecosystem, the sales and marketing channel with vendors, resellers, etc., as it is used in many go-to-market strategies, on the other hand.

I started my career ages ago in the ICT "channel", working for distributors, dealing with all chains in the go-to-market strategy of hardware, software and ICT services. And it has learned me that you can only be successful in the channel business if you don't focus on products and go beyond relationships.

Cross-channel marketing is about more than relationships: do you know what your customers want?

Relationship-based selling and marketing is good, as long as the relationship delivers value. If your customer loses money, he will stop working with you, even if he adores you and likes playing golf with you every now and then.

You need to create value for everyone in the chain, you need to understand what your customer wants, what his customer wants and so on. To do that, you need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of your customer and his customer.

What does a reseller, for instance, want? Sell to end users (or other kinds of resellers). If you work for a distributor you need to help your reseller customers sell more, thus you must understand the whole value chain. And there are more than the commercial needs and even the needs of your customer as a "business". Maybe your customer earns a bonus when he is successful, so in order to succeed you need to make him successful. Maybe he wants the local branch he works for to do better than other branches, to satisfy his ego or win the annual trip to Mauritius for the best performing branch.

It requires a lot of empathy, listening and understanding economical and psychological motivations across the whole go-to-market process to understand this. You need to be like the method actor: you really go far in understanding your role.

Why do I elaborate on this? First of all, because I believe that working in a channel and partner ecosystem, is an excellent learning environment. But most of all because there is a link between success in this definition of "channels" and in the one everyone knows: communication channels, and most of all from the cross-channel perspective.

So, here are five marketing lessons coming from a former B2B channel marketer

1. Cross-channel and multi-channel are a must
When working for distributors, resellers had several options to contact us or stay informed about promotions: their sales rep, a call centre, fax mailings and a printed brochure. Later e-mail and e-commerce were added to that mix. And this multi-channel approach was a must: every reseller had his own preferences. Some only wanted fax mailings, some wanted to be able to rapidly call their sales rep and others preferred e-mail. On top of multi-channel marketing, cross-channel was a must because different actions enhanced each other but also because resellers did not WANT to miss promotions or actions. These musts haven't changed, they only become even more important in a fragmented reality where several new interaction channels have joined the party. What we in fact notice is that, what has been common practice in advanced B2B environments, is now also being applied in B2C, with, among others, an increased focus on the buying journey and media consumption.

2. Everything starts with the customer
No, the customer isn't always right. But you always listen to him, understand his needs and are where his preferences lead you. When you want to provide value and interact with customers, you have to be that method actor. Your cross-channel marketing mix is as adapted to the communication needs as possible. Think about the fax mailings I talked about. I'm told that, despite the waste of paper and growing ecological awareness, some resellers still want them. Should you provide them? Prioritize and calculate the quid pro quo but regardless the channels: you offer what your customers want.

3. Inbound and outbound marketing are very similar
This might come as a surprise but there is much less difference between inbound marketing and outbound marketing than one might think. In inbound marketing people "find" you, while in "outbound" you send messages. That's the theory. However, in a permission-based cross-channel marketing strategy you always start from the customer as just explained. If you look at the customer, marketing is always "inbound" in the sense that people want it. The resellers wanted fax mailings, just like your customers want e-mail marketing. If they don't, they unsubscribe or don't click anymore. If they haven't subscribed, you're not doing marketing, you're spamming. It is probably not a coincidence that e-mail marketing has been called "outbound marketing" in the US. In Europe, opt-in regulations are much stricter. When I confronted Mike Volpe from HubSpot with this recently, he admitted e-mail plays a key role in lead management and is really "inbound" when it's permission-based. So, forget these debates and focus on the cross-channel customer journey instead. Because e-mail MARKETING and cross-channel marketing are permission-based.

4. Data, the big picture and the small details
Marketing programs are not dialogues, some actions are. They are not monologues either. They are ongoing integrated cross-channel flows whereby conversion optimization, improved user experiences and customer satisfaction are key elements that are defined by the behavioural analysis, interaction data and input from personalized and individual (automated or not) dialogues between you and your customers or between your customers and their networks (social media monitoring, influencer identification). It's important to see the big picture and integrate all your "voices and ears" in order to have a full view on your customers and at the same time understand how their markets are, what they want to achieve, etc. So, work in a cross-channel way across the value chain. While it's important to see the big picture, it's equally important to notice the small details. This requires a strong data-driven approach that enables you to consistently and continuously improve your customer and marketing insights and act upon them to optimize conversion and be more valuable.

5. Business relationships are a means to an end
People seldom buy solely based upon a relationship. Sure, you can sell to people who really like you, and, sure, people will buy from you if they have a bond with you. But relationships are a means to an end and sometimes you don't even really need them. What matters most is the perceived value your customers have. The strength of a relationship, the power of a brand, the personality of an employee and the culture of a business, all contribute to this but in the end people want value for money, make money themselves or be satisfied one way or the other. And to achieve that in a multi-channel world, your monthly tour of golf or your weekly friendly tweet are not enough.

Value comes from relevant interactions and offers that fulfill a need. Cross-channel and data-driven marketing are a necessity to deliver and…get it.



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