Andy Cutler is one of the world's top experts at building database marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies. As a leader at the famous database marketing agency Epsilon, Cutler managed relationship marketing efforts for IBM, MCI, General Motors and Texas Instruments. These days Cutler is VP Strategic Marketing Services for BeNOW, a firm that takes B-to-B database marketing to the next level -- online.
We had a conversation with Cutler recently about how the art of conversation itself has become a central factor in successful B-to-B marketing online.
Q: Why is a "conversation" so important in B-to-B marketing online?
Cutler: Because you want to keep customers. Literally people who ask that aren't thinking about a relationship over time. They are thinking about 'I want to sell X thousands of products over the next month, so I'll blast emails and hopefully it hits and they buy.' But they aren't thinking about the people who aren't interested and how they perceive it.
Too many people are just thinking about getting permission and than turning on the electronic megaphone. They're viewing email as just another channel -- one more way to blast a message out to the marketplace.
The Net is an opportunity to exchange information and have more of a conversation with people, not to be a carrier of banners. I don't think users view the Internet as an advertising medium. They view it as a place to get the information they're seeking. Business users go online with the intent to find something, not with the intent to be entertained. They have a specific task in mind.
Some marketers think, 'as long as I have permission I can do whatever I want.' They don't know how to grow a relationship. How to meet customers' needs. Seth Godin has the right ideas and people will begin to adopt them. We totally agree with those ideas.
Q: Got any examples of a company that is doing relationship marketing well now?
Cutler: There are companies beginning to do it. It's such a new idea that they've changed the way they are starting conversations.
Instead of saying 'Here's a list of products and these are the great features', they are starting to think about which groups might be interested and why, what the benefits are to the people. That's where you see the shift to the word 'solution.'
All the tech companies talk about 'solutions' now because they are trying to change they relate. There's still a lot of resistance internally because product management people are compensated on how much product they sell. So they end up being very tactical and waging campaigns against target audiences instead of trying to relate to people.
Q: What do you think about the whole Cluetrain Manifesto that lots of leading B-to-B marketers have written glowing things about on Cluetrain's site guestbook?
Cutler: If you strip away the pretentiousness of Cluetrain, there are some good ideas in it. The back third of the book really talks about how the basic dynamic of the seller/buyer relationship has changed. How the conversation has to shift to be solicitous instead of pushing at people.
Q: Can you explain exactly what your firm BeNOW does to enable this conversation building for B-to-B companies?
Cutler: We don't get involved in banners, it's your job to get your prospects out there to click through and say "I'm a prospect" -- then we pick it up. We take it from there and nurture them all the way through the sales cycle.
Q: How do you nurture someone through a sales cycle?
Cutler: On the tactical side, it depends what you're marketing. Say you're a tech company and you're getting 5% response to your campaigns, but only a small number of people are in the market at the same time. Say 10% of these people. We'll bring solutions to capture that lead and route it to a sales rep or reseller.
But that's still only 10% of the responses, what are you going to do with the other 90%? You need to content side figured out ahead of time so you can provide info if they're interested but not really in the market now. Then you need a program in place to get information out to them on an ongoing basis. A newsletter has to be set up in place. You need a process set up and automated on a continuous basis.
You need to interact with them so people have a way to get back to you.
Q: There are so many conferences these days on B-to-B ecommerce and eCRM. How do you decide which to go to? Do you recommend any of them for marketers seeking advice and solutions?
Cutler: The big problem with conferences is they are so dominated by sellers or products and services that you can't be sure the information is credible. They're going to confuse you because they're experts at this and you are not.
The conferences best at communicating are the direct marketing and database marketing conferences and not the newer ecommerce ones. Any conference that has an 'e' as the first initial is doubtful because they're telling you they are only interested in that channel and any solution has to be cross channel. An 'e' won't help you because they won't take into account any other channels.
Q: We keep on hearing that 'integrated marketing' is the big thing now -- what does that mean to your conversation building?
Cutler: You need all customer conversations to be captured in your database. That they called customer service three times last week, that you sent them email and direct mail campaigns, and also what the total value of the relationship is. It's amazing how many companies don't know. They can't even segment based on customer value. That's basic analysis!
Q: Where do you go to buy database software that can handle all of this?
Cutler: The fact that I can't answer that question easily is evidence of the problem. Frankly the tech is relatively new to have these automated dialogs. It's a young industry. Our own B-to-B database model is all built on open system stuff and then we've attached all this emarketing stuff.
Most people's databases can't select at the level you need. You can only select people who bought PCs last year. That's not the granularity you need. Other databases can't accept feeds on a daily basis from the Web or from sales. You need a database that has that customer touch-point information updated on a regular basis. DM, sales calls, everything. Otherwise you're not going to look coordinated to the customer. Most emarketing people still view it by itself.
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