Stop Selling, Start Giving

FirstMark Capital yesterday hosted an Online Marketing Summit for our portfolio companies and friends in the community.  The goal was to bring together the latest thinking across a variety of functions (SEO, SEM, Email, Community, Social, Automation, and others) and to improve the overall fluency of our companies regardless of their field.  If I were to summarize everything I learned at the event, it was to “Stop Selling, Start Giving”.

The Internet has democratized customers’ abilities to learn about new products, instantly provide feedback, and share their experiences with others.  The traditional model where sales controlled the product message to buyers, carefully built relationships, and used those relationships to close deals has been permanently broken.  One way marketing strategies can now be easily sidestepped by a user that self-selects how to use products and research decisions on his or her own.  As a result, marketing’s role has changed to find buyers when they are ready to make a decision based on their OWN actions.  Steven Woods from Eloqua calls it “Digital Body Language”.  By reading the Digital Body Language, sales can step in at an appropriate and desired moment to facilitate the close of a deal at the right moment of intent.

What does it mean to “Stop Selling, Start Giving”?  By that, you should try to begin the dialogue with a customer with a value proposition and an insight that addresses a problem they have.  If they don’t have a problem, they don’t need your solution.  If they do, actively help them understand the PROBLEM better, not your PRODUCT better.  One tactic could be a whitepaper, another could be giving away your product for free initially, another could be hosting a community forum where experts comment on industry issues.  In addition, by actively participating in the customer pain and facilitating their dialogue, you gain a precious opportunity to subtly influence and learn from the dialogue.  Transparency exists whether you want it or not – embrace it!

By the act of giving, you’ll begin to engage a prospective customer in a series of activities.  Each of those activities can be measured online and used to decode where a customer is in their buying process.  Are they just exploring the web site?  What sections?  Have they downloaded a couple of specific whitepapers?  Now moved to using the product?  Asked for some help?  These data points can be mapped to a buying cycle where you can appropriately insert yourself to a sales activity.  Done well, you can tie all of these data into one continguous funnel that starts with first contact at the top and closes with a sale.  But it all starts by giving, not selling!

Marketing is the New Sales

Many have written about the rise of highly capital efficient companies, the growth of SaaS, the penetration of technology into the SMB community, and the new requirement to deliver value to customers at the time of purchase.   Each of these strategies has radically altered the sales process.  No longer are armies of sales people sitting in customers’ offices or spending endless hours over dinner trying to forge relationships they can lean on in the sales process.  Instead, customers are “pulling” solutions they are interested in, trying them out for free early on, and selecting products that meet their needs.  If the best way to do sales is to have customers “declare” their interest, then one needs an exceptionally broad funnel to ensure productive sales activity.

As a result, marketing in this new era is undergoing a rapid transformation.  Marketing is no longer about softer concepts like brand building and trade shows; no longer simply providing the appropriate message and collateral for the sales organization; no longer sitting with industry analysts, hoping for positive coverage.  Instead, it has become a much more active, tactical, and quantitative function.  Done right, it becomes a highly integrated and critical part of the overall funnel. 

The next generation of marketing leaders will be fluent in online acquisition channels and implementing a real time, transparent, measurable system.  The areas of spend are highly fragmented: SEO, SEM, Email Marketing, Affiliate, Social Media, Community, Video, and on and on, balanced with the traditional channels of PR, magazine and trade shows.  Quantifying cost per lead, customer acquisition costs, conversion rates, and value per customer across each of these channels requires significant discipline.  Architecting follow up in a highly automated manner and driving to increasing levels of qualification becomes key.  Webinars, emails, and free trials are scalable ways to move potential customers along and require minimal touch.  Site activity, logins, and usage inform how much deeper customers are getting. 

The challenge is that many of these channels have only been around for a few years at most.  At FirstMark Capital, we are trying to support our CMOs make the transition by sharing the nuggets of best practices across our portfolio.  Luckily, via companies like Clickable, Conductor, and others, we have some of the leaders in these areas within the portfolio.  We are also organizing an annual Online Marketing Bootcamp for our portfolio companies and friends of the firm to augment organic knowledge with leading experts in the field. 

If you are one of these types of CMOs, we’d love to hear from you.  We have lots of places you can be used!  :)