Common Sense - Are Digital Marketers Out of Touch with Buyers?

Ed Marsh | Apr 26, 2018

Content is King and Prospects are Just Pawns in the Digital Marketing Game!

About Common Sense - About John & Ed

john mctigueJohn McTigue recently retired from his role as co-owner of Kuno Creative, one of the preeminent B2B content marketing agencies in the country, and is now the Martech Whisperer. In his new role he's working with companies to navigate the convoluted world of the revenue growth tech stack. John can be reached at: 



You've met Ed here on the site. 

For many years John and Ed have enjoyed talking about thorny issues around B2B marketing & sales, and recently we've started to record those conversations/debates. We're calling it "Common Sense"  based on our shared love of history, and the perspective we hope we bring. 

You can follow our musings on Common Sense at:


Digital Marketing Relevance Debate Synopsis

Digital marketing has spawned an entire new class of marketers...who tend to think highly of themselves. Are they out of touch with buyers?

This episode includes:

  • Ed says "Yes!" they're out of touch
  • John argues that they mean well, but they're victims of metrics that force contradictory limitations upon them
  • They begin to find common ground in the importance of clear management philosophy
  • Embrace of the visitor/prospect/buyer/customer experience should infuse the entire interaction - and if that's done, then digital marketing, sales and service all focus on the buyers

We dive into each of those and more as part of this conversation about whether digital marketing has created a group that's out of touch with the very people they're trying to reach.

Transcript Follows:

Ed:  Hi, I'm Ed. Welcome to Common Sense.

John:  And I'm John.

Ed:  Hey, John.

John:  How you doin' Ed?

Ed:  I'm good because it's not snowing here in Boston today. We had snow yesterday, the 2nd of April and it's just enough, already.

John:  Yeah, you guys can't buy a break this year.

Ed:   Let's pray from here on out. But opening day for the Yankees, the opening home stand for the Yankees got postponed yesterday because of snow in New York. As long as we inflicted a little pain on the Yankees, we're okay with it.

John:   Alright. So, today, we're gonna get into the weeks on marking a little bit. We're gonna ask the question, "Are marketers out of touch with customers?"

A lot of my best friends will call themselves 'marketers' and if I asked that question to them, they'd probably say, "Of course not. We're always in touch with customers. We interview them, we do surveys, we create buyer personas, we cater all of our marketing efforts to them. Of course, we're in touch with customers."

Ed:  They'd be offended that you even asked.

John:  Right. They'd say, "Where are you coming from?"

But then, if you asked somebody else, like the customers themselves the employers of the marketers, or salespeople, for example, they'd probably give you a different answer. So, that's what we're gonna explore today.

Let's start with customers. If you asked that question, what would they say?

Ed:  I'd say, short answer, without a doubt, unequivocally, yes, marketers are out of touch. It's easy. Bottom line, how many websites do you go to that marketers have build that, really, don't talk about anything ... 90% of it is about nothing except product or service on the site or in their print brochures, or at their trade show booth or whatever.

By definition, they're out of touch because they're talking about what they wanna talk about as opposed to what the customers wanna talk about. So, the goals of visitors and leads and revenue are different than the goals of finding the best solution, solving problems.

Everyone, in my experience, understands that the question of orientation is critical in order to drive engagement and repeat visits, they know that you gotta answer the customers' questions. But somehow, there's this disconnect when marketing gets ahold of it, and they start to build it out, they just miss that. There's a survey on The Customer Experience, the Walker survey, that said that 86% of buyers would pay more for a great customer experience.

We've had that opinion. We've had those, like, "Jeez, don't make it so painful. I'll pay you more. Make it easy for me."

John:  And on time.

Ed:  Yeah, exactly. The survey also predicts that by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product and the key differentiators. This is what Brian Solis has been talking about for a long time. Visitors to your site, visitors interacting with your company by telephone, through the auto attendant, or websites, or the navigation, wherever the case may be, they're gonna find quickly what they're looking for at each stage in the journey and they gotta be able to quickly achieve what they want to achieve. Whether it's learning or researching, getting details, asking questions, making a purchase. It can be increasingly complex, depending on whether it's low consideration, high consideration, or complex sale.

The point is, that, for buyers, regardless of how they're interacting with your business, they have to be clear how they'll achieve their outcome. The experience has to be personalized and seamless through their very first interaction on up to ongoing loyalty sorts of nurturing.

If any of these are out of wack, that can doom, not only the initial sale, but also it damages loyalty.

Backing up to your question, if that's what it should look like, and it only looks that way in very rare occasions, than I'd say, by definition, yes, marketers are out of touch. But you may disagree.

John:  Well, I partially disagree. I think that marketers, in general, think about what customers want. The missions that they have that's defined by their job description is often different from what you're describing. It's much more about lead generation. It's more about generating new sales. It's about attacking new buyers. With that mindset, they're really much more focused on campaigns and advertising and content and things that they create in order to do that. To attract people.

That's part of the problem, I think, that we're talking about. The thing is, as you said, they need to improve on that. They need to really start focusing on what the customers really want. Maybe the customers don't really want eBooks and emails and advertising. Maybe all those things are really more of a distraction than they are an attraction.

In fact, there was a CONDUIT survey in 2015 that said that, even in the tech industry, which you would think would be on top of all this stuff, nearly half of all customers are dissatisfied with the tech suppliers. That satisfaction has dropped 10% in the last couple of years. So, it's not getting better. It's getting worse.

You might think that it's the customer service people that are screwing up and not the marketers, but really it starts much earlier than the customer support. It's really all about not providing a quick response to what people want, even before the sale.

Most customers are expecting very rapid response, within 30-60 minutes on social media and we'll get to that later. But, most people think that they're just not getting enough support. Eighty percent of customers are not getting the first-step resolution. Seventy-five percent eventually will get some support.

Users are obviously frustrated. Even at the beginning of the buyer journey. So, that's not getting solved. What can we do about that? What's some common sense things we can start to think about doing?

Ed:  Clearly, the reality lies somewhere in the middle. It's not that marketers are just these completely arrogant, out of touch people, disregarding users, but nor are companies fully aligned. As you talk about it, it almost sounds like, what you're describing, is a situation where this is a management and philosophical kind of a thing, where marketers are doing what they're told to do and they're not being told what they ought to be doing in order to satisfy the customer.

I think the solutions ends up being one that involves management, involves strategy, it involves alignment of company, alignment toward satisfying customers in a more robust way, not according to some Successories poster on the wall in the conference room, but according to really embracing it and understanding what that means.

It's gonna take nuance and it's gonna take a realistic assessment of what's going on.

You asked the question, so I'm guessing that you probably have a couple ideas for where a company might start to do that.

John:  Well, I don't think it's gonna be easy. But I do think we need to rethink the goals and the roles of marketers.

Ed:  That's got a good ring to it.

John:  Yeah.

The problem is that we have these processes in place and we're trained and told, as marketers ... even our influence by thought leaders in the industry to do things certain ways. So, building a campaign, running advertising, what kinds of content, how to deploy it in the buyer journey. All these things come at you as a marketer and you're really told by your bosses and by their bosses and by your customers that you need to do things a certain way.

There's not a lot of thinking outside the box and they're not a lot of cooperation between the different disciplines.

That's really one of the root causes of this problem. So, I wouldn't blame the marketers, per se, it's just that they're stuck in this mindset that you have to do marketing, you have to attract leads, you have to take these tactics into embracing them every day and just focusing on that. A lot of it has to do with what CPIs you're supposed to resolve for, leads, set SQLs, customers, revenue, all those sorts of things you're focusing on and not focusing on customer happiness at all stages of the game. It's partly built into the system.

What can we do at a structural or organizational level to try to clarify these roles and goals?

Ed:  We're not gonna let marketers completely off the hook. It's easy to say, "Well," the thought leaders that they follow say, "You need to take these tactical steps and follow this", and they could say "No," they could push back, they could go to management and say, "We wanna do it differently."

On the other hand, we'll acknowledge the fact that management often gives them KPIs that channelize them into doing some of the stuff that doesn't take into acct the way humans buy. But, still, we are back to this binary sort of a thing. It's yes or now, black or white. Do marketers ... are marketers a problem or are they victims of what's going on around them?

John:  Right.

Ed:  The bottom line is, if what we need to is improve the customer experience, then that's, I think, what we ... if we focus on that, then the rest of the pieces start to fall into place. Rather than saying, "What should marketers do?" Let's say, "What do customers expect?" Then, how do marketers backfill to satisfy that?

John:  I think we can take things in steps. We could start with something relatively simple, something we've been doing for many years now, and that is, using social media to engage or communicate with customers and with leads and with visitors. What happens, unfortunately, right now, is that there's still this mindset where a marketer thinks that all they have to do is promote content on social media, make sure that you get as many followers as possible, and you get comments, and that kind of thing. But, social media is also used as a primary communication tool, back and forth with customers, and customers want that immediate satisfaction. That immediate communication and answers to their questions.

So, we should be doing both. What we have been doing, is splitting this half and given the marketers the promotion and the customer service people the technology support side of things, for example.

That doesn't work very well. It's not satisfying to customers because they don't always want the same thing. Before they buys something, they want some technology question answered and the marketers might not know how to answer those questions or they might just completely ignore them because their job is to promote.

So, we need to fix that problem right there. If we just focus on one channel and we get the marketers, the salespeople, and the customer service people all on the same playbook, using that same kind of data that's coming into the CRM and not marketing automation system, we can all have a game plan together where we can quickly, using Chatbox or whatever it is, solve these problems much more quickly and have the right people on the right response within a few seconds rather than hours.

So, that's one way to start doing this.

Ed:  But, the key thing that you just painted on that picture, is you've got a multidisciplinary team. You're crossing silos because if the answer is, 'just dump this on marketing', you're gonna stress them out, which may not be the biggest consideration, but people get stressed out, they get tired, and they do stupid stuff. They give silly answers and they give half-ass, cross it off my list, say I took care of it kind of responses. That's the worst kind of an outcome.

Just because it's communication related, people are inclined to dump into marketing, but communication covers a lot of different sorts of things. We've talked about conversational marketing in sales. Communication could be with existing customers, it could be customer service. The only way that you can begin to route that sort of stuff, have those conversations happen productively, have them happen promptly and efficiently and correctly, in order to meet expectations, is to cross those silos. Just like you said. Where you've got marketing, you've got sales, you've got customer support, customer service, tech support, whatever it is in your industry, that can work together and collaborate on that.

John:  Yeah, absolutely.

So, what do you think we need to do next to put these things in place? Where do we start with that?

Ed:  All these conversations always come circling back to the same point. There's gotta be alignment between sales and marketing and customer service. That starts with leadership. It's not a management question. Management is gonna just continue to allocate budgets and head council the way they have. This is really a leadership question. This is a corporate strategy, philosophy kind of a gut-check. Are we willing to really focus on buyers and, if we are, then how do we change our organization to do it?

Once you've reached that point, where you say, "Okay. Philosophically, this organization's gonna change from being inward focused to being outward focused. Then you need to adapt other things. The voice and tone of your communication. You can't have your website and your phone tree and your literature lecture people. You've gotta have a conversation with them. It's gotta be helpful.

A really cheesy, but incredibly effective thing that I've seen some companies do, is put a big stuffed animal, like you win with the air rifle thing at the country fair or a manikin or whatever, put it in a chair at the conference table, and make sure that every conversation takes into account what ... that's your proxy customer. Make sure that what you're talking about is relevant and pertinent and appropriate for them. If the customer that's sitting there listening would be looking at you like, "Are you guys nuts? Why are you talking about doing this? Don't you know what that's gonna do to me, as a customer?"

If you can add that perspective by physically filling that seat with somebody who has a proxy for the customer, that can really change the tone of some conversations.

Website. It's a no brainer at this point. The website's gotta be optimized for the customer experience and so few are. It's amazing how few are. Everyone understands it intuitively, but the emotional tie to the very traditional structure and navigation and corporate babble that goes on websites is just so hard for some companies to overcome.

Content. It's gotta be relevant. It's gotta be helpful. It's gotta be distributed to the right people at the right time, based on the right kinds of questions. Maybe it's not behind forms anymore. Maybe it's not gated. Maybe it's with a simple, sort of an email address into a chatbot to just make it easier and more fluent for people. Certainly, it's gotta be mobile optimized. Everyone's gotta participate in responding to customers and making sure their needs are met and that, again, means across silos in the organization. [crosstalk 00:16:43]

John:  Which leads to sales. I think a lot of times, sales just says, "Hey, my job's done."

Ed:  Exactly.

John:  It's your problem now, Customer Service.

Ed:  Or if it's a lead, sales says, "Oh, well, social media, that's that marketing handles." How many complex B2B salespeople do you know that actually cultivate their social media profiles themselves and share that and interact with people. Almost done do. They say, "Oh, well that's not relevant for me. That's-"

John:  Right.

Ed:  "That's crazy." And there's a ton of data. We've gotta use technology to accumulate the data and understand how to be more efficient and then once we've accumulated it, we actually need to do something with it. We gotta look at it and figure out what we can learn and how to segment and respond to customers better, according to their needs.

There's a lot of work to do, but it all starts ... we consistently come back to these same couple points in our conversations. There's gotta be a management and leadership decision, kind of Rubicon that's crossed that says, "We're focusing on customers" and then that trickles down into organizational adaptation.

John:  Well that sounds like the right plan to me. If we can just get the executive team on board, we might just make this happen.

Ed:  Well, executive team, that's an interesting question. Is management part of the problem or are the solution? I suggest that's what we tackle next time. We can argue about whether management is right or wrong during our next Common Sense.

John:  Sounds good.

Ed:  Thanks for joining us today. This is Common Sense. I'm Ed.

John:  And I'm John. See you next time.