The power of many

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A slew of recent research suggests there's never been a more chaotic time to be a b-to-b marketer. I'd suggest there's never been a better one. A study released last month by Forrester Research and the Business Marketing Association found that 97% of b-to-b marketers say they lack the skills they need to take on new demands, and half can't find the right skills to fill new roles in their organizations. BtoB reported just a few weeks earlier that most marketers say their online marketing efforts aren't meeting sales' needs and that almost two-thirds don't believe their current marketing programs effectively address buyers' needs. A recent study by Ascend2 found that “improving customer engagement” is now the No. 1 priority of corporate social marketing programs. In other words, the traditional marketing-as-lead-generator function is disappearing. Behavioral changes driven by technology have introduced new factors into the decision-making process, but nobody has a clear fix on what matters and what to measure. Chaos breeds anxiety, which is what many b-to-b marketers are feeling right now. Take a breath, because the thread running through all this research is that the marketing organization's influence is becoming more pervasive at all levels of the sales funnel—even after the sale. Social media, which was once regarded simply as another messaging channel, is now proving at least as effective in customer support as in lead acquisition. J.D. Power and Associates recently said twice as many U.S. consumers interact with brands through social media for service as for marketing. And who owns social media in 70% of corporations? You guessed it. With influence comes the responsibility to deputize every single person in the organization as a marketer. The goal isn't just to make the sale but to sell the business. Companies such as Adidas, Cisco Systems, Dell, IBM, PepsiCo and Sprint are mounting massive internal programs to teach employees and even channel partners how to evangelize the mission of the company. These brands are the tip of a very large iceberg. The only way to cope with the need to engage with customers at so many levels is to make it part of everyone's job. Not all organizations are up to this challenge. Silos and budgets discourage the kind of disruptive thinking that's needed to promote real brand ambassadorship. Nevertheless, it will be a necessary task for companies that hope to compete in a market of frictionless information. Any marketing organization that tries to control these new channels to the customer is missing the point. The power of many is only achieved by giving up control and trusting people to tell your story in ways that are meaningful to them. Paul Gillin's latest book is “Attack of the Customers: Why Critics Assault Brands Online and How to Avoid Becoming a Victim.”
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