Customer Acquisition is a Myth

The economy is working on rebounding and companies are gearing up.  Pipelines and revenues are heading north and hiring along with it.  But something in this rebound is different.

For new sales hires, the expectation is that they join with a solid book of business and a pipeline already in hand; even for companies where the ramp time for sales people to achieve repeatable revenue productivity is six to nine months.  Same goes for marketers. Regardless of the market’s or company’s maturity or readiness the expectation of newly hired marketing leaders is that they produce a significant uptick in pipelines in 60 to 90 days, regardless of the capabilities or competence of marketing or sales.

For many new hires, these are unrealistic and unachievable expectations.  Nevertheless, the message is loud and clear – growth comes only from net new customer acquisition.

Have CEOs finally ‘had enough’ of sales and marketing mis-alignment?  Or has the uncertainty of the rebound resulted in a laser focus on priorities?  What’s really happening is that customer acquisition is dead.  The irony is that customer acquisition always was a myth.

Companies do not acquire customers; it’s actually the other way around.  But for decades companies, and their marketers, held a myth that they controlled how and when customers purchased their products.   With better marketing, snappier messaging, the right sales approach, better sales people, and more features the customer will “have” to buy the product if they want to successfully address their challenges.

By the end of the Great Recession, the buyer took control and began to mandate how companies will sell to them. If companies want a sale, they need to follow the buyer’s rules which can be somewhat unforgiving.  And these rules are not obvious since buyers never told vendors what the new rules were.  Except that the buying process is now social.

The statistics point to the sea change that has happened and the ensuing chaos within the vendor community.  Only 3% of all sales interactions are considered worthwhile by prospects.  On average only 50% of sales people make quota.  A buyer spends 2.7 seconds reading an email before deciding to delete it.   A voicemail is only slightly better at 5 seconds before the buyer hits the delete button.  Ask for more than 5 pieces of information on a web form and conversion statistics plummet.  And don’t even think of asking for a phone number.

The myth of customer acquisition is dead.

The new rules are for vendors to invest in a deep, intimate understanding of the buyer – their business, challenges, desired outcomes, definitions of value, and how they go about solving problems.   Only by understanding the buyer’s journey and how value is defined can companies begin to compete and win new business.

Counter to marketing’s traditional integrated marketing approach (a.k.a., cover all the mediums in case buyers show up at one of them), marketers need to first invest in understanding the buyer’s journey.  How do the various buyer roles acknowledge they have problem, commit the organization to solving the problem, understand the root causes of the problem, investigate best practices and alternatives to solving the problem, explore available solutions, develop a criteria to screen potential solutions, and validate shortlisted solutions?

Marketing needs to accept that much of the journey happens without their knowledge.  For companies the first inkling of a buy cycle is when buyers download multiple pieces of information from corporate websites or click thru on adwords.  At that stage the buyer is already 50% into the buy cycle with well formed impressions of what constitutes a successful solution (and vendor).   Marketing and sales is too late to dramatically influence the buyer’s process or their definition of an optimal solution.

The new rules require that marketing map the buyer’s journey by stage and document where they go (medium), what they look for (content), and the actions taken.  To win, marketing needs to be where the buyer goes at each stage of the journey.  If the buyer turns to industry analysts to ‘understand causes of the problem’ make sure the analysts are well briefed on the vendor’s capabilities and their reports mention the buyer.  If the buyer looks to social communities for suggestions on available solutions, make sure vendor evangelists and customers are regular, credible contributors.  If buyers explore and evaluate potential solutions by downloading or accessing free versions, offer freemium versions.  Then engage them through ‘tips, tricks, and best practices’ drip campaigns integrated into the product.

The key is to first understand the buyer’s journey and secondly, to purposely participate in the journey by offering the sought content in the right mediums for each stage of the journey.  Done right the buyer will engage with the company early on and subsequent conversations will be more meaningful for both parties.

Think of it as sales enablement for the buyer.

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