The Great Convergence begins
These days, most marketers are becoming obsessed with solving the problem of fragmentation.
We’ve all realised that we’ll never really understand what’s going on with our prospects and pipelines until we can connect all our different marketing channels (web, email, social, search…) and stitch together our ever-increasing collection of marketing applications and platforms (CRM, marketing automation, analytics…).
The work of today’s marketing department – or at least the marketing operations department – is to break down the walls between the many different kinds of marketing experience. To unite the channels. To smash the silos.
But while marketers are looking down at the mess we created for ourselves, we’re missing an even bigger, more important trend: at the same time that all the little walls are starting to fall within our discipline, even bigger, thicker walls are crumbling around it.
Welcome to the Great Convergence: when all customer-facing disciplines – chiefly sales, marketing and customer service – start to blur together into one, big, smart, consistent thing.
One day, it will seem quaint that there used to be whole different departments for what is essentially the same thing: serving people profitably. The idea that anyone would say to a customer, “I can’t help you, you need someone here who gives a shit,” will soon sound utterly ridiculous (as of course it is).
Once you start looking for them, the signs of the Great Convergence are everywhere to be seen. And the trend is completely inevitable.
Talk to anyone in a strategic role in customer service and you’ll recognise their complaints. The channels they use for listening and responding to customers are changing fast and proliferating faster (call centres, email, Twitter, Facebook, in-store…). They need to bring them together for a ‘holistic view’ of the customer.
Now talk to some sales leaders. They’ll tell you how the best salespeople are the ones that can look across channels to unite their understanding of prospects and accounts. To get a ‘360º view’, gathered from interactions across email, the web, social media, phone conversations, events and beyond.
They’re all doing what we’re all doing.
Trying to unite the user experience within their realms. Using insight gathered from each channel to inform and improve interactions in all the others.
We’re all trying to do the same thing — but we’re all going to fail. Until we realise that the dizzying collection of silos we’re obsessed about are still only one small portion of the entire customer experience.
Even if we all succeed in solving the fragmentation within our individual disciplines, we’ll still be left with three chunky silos.
From the customer’s perspective – the perspective that pays our salaries – a three-faced company is still a fragmented, inconsistent company that doesn’t seem to know who we are.
Your customers understand that you have these different departments, but they don’t care. They have a place in their minds for your brand and it’s a similar size and shape to the places they have in their minds for the people they know.
We think of others as single entities. When Nathan spits on our shoes we don’t say, “That was Bad Nathan. Good Nathan gave me a Mars bar yesterday.” We say, “Nathan is an asshole.”
Same with companies. A brand with awesome marketing will fail if its sales are sleazy or its customer service is crap. Nathan is Nathan.
So what will the Great Convergence look like?
Answering that question calls for a Venn diagram. Give me a sec to go and get my daughter’s index cards and felt-tip pens. Got ’em. Here goes:
That’s what it will look like: badly scribbled circles rendered in an ugly colour palette.
In practice, The Great Convergence of customer-facing disciplines means that each discipline can do two things with increasing degrees of frequency, accuracy and ease:
- They can listen to and learn from all the interactions that take place under the stewardship of the other two (as well as their own).
- They can share data with and send signals to the people in the other two disciplines, so they can listen harder and learn faster, too.
So what will that look like in practice? Let’s take them one discipline at a time (we’re still split into disciplines) and see customer experience convergence in action:
What converged sales looks like
A salesperson in a pre-converged world just sells. They’re specialists in grabbing people that the marketing department identified as ripe for picking, getting them to sign something and throwing them over their shoulders for processing. Next!
If you’re a prospect and not yet sales-ready, you’re somebody else’s problem. And if you’re already a customer but having a tough time getting value from the product, don’t waste my time. (I’m exaggerating for effect — but not by much).
A salesperson in a converged world can respond directly, instantly and intelligently to people wherever they are in the ‘lead-customer-funnel-journey-pipe-cycle’.
An early stage prospect? I have a great eBook to send you about the issue you’re worried about. An angry customer with a problem? I can see exactly what happened and how we fixed that for lots of other customers. May I?
Looking at the two things converged professionals can do:
- Converged sales teams will sell better by understanding everything that happens in the marketing journey and the customer service desk.
- The folks in marketing and service will be far better at their jobs if they know everything that the converged sales team has heard from (and said to) their prospects.
(BTW – This doesn’t mean that the new salesperson will actively seek out interactions outside her scope (which may waste the time of an expensive person). Only that she can now respond intelligently when they present themselves. More to the point: the other two departments will benefit enormously from the interactions she’s having.)
What converged customer service looks like
Today, the call centre doesn’t do much for people who haven’t yet bought. That’s a massive wasted opportunity, because they’re sitting on huge assets that could be harnessed to turn prospects into customers: their knowledge centre full of problems and fixes; and their first-hand experience with frustrated customers.
The helpdesk also sees lots of happy customers; people who they’ve solved a problem for and are back to being loyal advocates. Isn’t that a strategic asset for marketing? For sales?
- Converged customer service will prioritise better, focus resources more efficiently and get to resolution faster if they know what marketing and sales interactions this person has experienced.
- Their colleagues in sales and marketing will perform far better with full insight into every customer service engagement (think cross-selling and launching new products or services).
What converged marketing looks like
Marketers who can see above their silo walls are far more likely to deliver the magic fairy dust of marketing: relevance.
Would I market to you differently if I knew you were in deep sales conversations about Products A, and D? Would I email different things to you if I knew you complained yesterday about Product Y? Of course I would.
- Converged marketing can create and target micro-segments based on sales and service engagements, not just marketing ones.
- New sales and service professionals will be able to use marketing insights and content to improve their customer interactions. Selling more stuff. Pleasing more customers.
The fourth discipline: product
Franz Aman, SVP of marketing at Informatica (a Velocity client) includes the product department in this converged vision (he talks about it in his book – written with Anish Jariwala – called The Marketing Data Lake . Go get it).
Franz sees a time when all products will be fully instrumented with sales, marketing and customer service channels. So the service team will see if a customer is struggling to use a feature. And salespeople will see if only 1% of the customer company is actively using the software. And marketers will see which features are most popular with which customer segments.
And all three will be able to enter the product experience and engage directly with customers, as they use the product (guided by opt-in, of course).
What we marketers can do about the Great Convergence now
The question isn’t how we marketers can make the Convergence happen – it will happen with or without us. The question is how we can accelerate it. Here are some ways:
- Share data – as we unite our marketing channels into a central customer profile, let customer service and sales into the game. Bring in their data and share yours.
- Share content – each department is swimming in content that the others can use. Marketing can turn sales decks into new content. Customer support can use issue-led ebooks to educate customers. But only if they know they exist.
- Share ideas – spend a lot more time together discussing the whole customer experience and how insight from one kind of interaction can inform the others.
- Share successes – every department can learn from what works in the others.
- Share failures – and each can adapt to issues to prevent upstream and downstream complications. (“Hey marketing: your unrealistic promises are creating unhappy customers.”)
This doesn’t have to be major Transformation Program driven from above. It will probably happen faster as a series of small, practical process changes that deliver value right away.
So think about small steps. Bring some key customer service data (connected to customer IDs) into your marketing automation. Feed an account-based view of web engagements over to the sales development reps. Talk to the product guys about weaving in some upsell into your software product. The results of these kinds of use cases are quick, fueling more connections and integrations.
The Converged tech stack
Technology integration and data sharing will be critical as the customer-facing disciplines converge. Fortunately, the tech stacks of the three departments already have a lot in common (and in some cases, the tools are the same). Some notes:
- CRM is the natural core system for all three disciplines. Pick the same system for all and integration will be way easier. (Salesforce is a client but we won’t plug their impressive customer-centered platform here. That would be crass).
- A shared Data Lake can bring together data from all departments and publish it back to the analytics and engagement systems of all departments (again, Franz’s book is awesome on this). (So is his blog series, Naked Marketing: A Big Data Marketing Operations Odyssey).
- Segments created by one discipline can be activated by the others. This is happening with techniques like CRM retargeting, using data onboarding. (Disclosure: that link goes to LiveRamp, another client) (This is getting embarrassing).
(Note to haters: No, this whole post was not just a ruse to slip in plugs for our clients. In fact, it’s our work for these and other clients that led to these ideas. Correlation is not causation. Sourpuss.)
The bigger the silo, the louder its downfall
As we all go about the hard work of de-fragmenting our digital domains, it’s important to keep an eye on the bigger silos we’re working inside of.
As marketers, of course we need to connect our email and web and social channels. But at the same time, we need to connect what we’re doing to the work of our colleagues in customer service and sales and, ultimately, in product.
Let the Great Convergence begin.
(Any stories of bringing together two or three of the customer-facing disciplines in your company? Don’t be shy.)