In the Relationship Era, No One Should Be Marketing to Strangers

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

Whether or not this is good life advice that people should follow, it’s a saying that most are familiar with.

Even though this suggests we might have difficulty engaging with strangers, marketers have no problem selling to strangers. We spam unsegmented email lists and display annoying pop-ups on websites. We spend exorbitant amounts of money on digital advertising—without even taking the time to learn about our audiences.

Unsurprisingly, these efforts often lead to unexceptional results.

So, is there actually any value in trying to go beyond one-size-fits-all marketing? Is there any value in bothering to determine how to segment prospects and what kind of segments we should use? Is there any value in getting to know our prospects and customers even though we don’t know for sure if they’ll convert, or if they’ll stay long-term?

In this early stage of the Relationship Era, the answer is almost certainly yes. Yes, there is.

Marketing in the Relationship Era

To put it simply, the Relationship Era describes businesses’ gradual shift to long-lasting relationships with prospects and customers.

It encompasses everything from new marketing processes and sales mentalities to unlocking potential for marketers and sales teams (whose jobs should be easier now that companies are capable of gaining so much more information about everyone they come in contact with).

In the last few years, “relationship marketing” has been commonly used to refer to “marketing to customers” as opposed to marketing to prospects. But as we enter the Relationship Era, it would be strange to not include prospects in “relationship marketing” too. With rapidly evolving technology, marketers absolutely have the means to nurture relationships with prospects. With chatbots, automated (but customized) email drips, and robust CRM tools that house conversations and files, the potential is unlimited.

The End of the “Not Enough Information” Problem

Even telemarketers practice a basic form of personalized marketing. They have people’s area codes and possibly addresses—from which they can infer socioeconomic status and household income, giving them an idea of what products this family might be interested in, and so on.

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But why isn’t this good enough? Why bother taking personalized marketing to the next level?

Well, for one, consumers love it.

In Epsilon’s survey of consumers aged 18-64, 80% of respondents said that they’re more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences. In other words, personalization isn’t just some fad or a young person’s game. The Harvard Business Review found that a personalized marketing experience can deliver “five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend, and can lift sales by 10% or more.”

When people love your marketing, they’re more likely to form a relationship with you—and ultimately, to buy from you. But you already knew that.

What you may not know is just how few companies are personalizing their marketing—and how much of an advantage you can gain from doing it.

Generally, it’s not particularly difficult to personalize email content, yet research on the state of personalization in email has found that 75% of consumers in North America felt that email content was not customized for them. And it’s not as if companies are trying very hard either. Only 17% of companies worldwide reported having personalization as a core part of their business strategies.

Not every business has caught on to the Relationship Era yet, which, for companies that are adapting quickly, is good news.

When Prospects Are No Longer Strangers

Traditionally, businesses may have thought of prospects as strangers, but no longer. Thanks to readily accessible information from sources like LinkedIn profiles and self-segmenting email subscribers, marketing and sales teams have an unprecedented amount of information on their leads even though they’re not (yet) customers. Information that, if used correctly, can help build pre-purchase and pre-subscription relationships.

The trick is to organize all of this lead data into something that’s searchable and usable.

While it’s impossible to do this manually given the sheer volume of information, industrious marketers are using specialized tools to gain the upper hand on their competition. From customizing landing page copy to matching Google ad headlines to sending curated Twitter posts to followers with specific interests, the possibilities for marketing to prospects are—without any hyperbole or exaggeration—endless. Instead of hoping that a prospect will fill out a form with 22 required fields, it’s now possible to ask three or four questions. Then, you can gather the rest of the information later.

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Marketers are also beginning to venture beyond their traditional tech stack as they discover the efficiencies of tools like customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, which are typically used by sales teams. Today, modern CRM systems are designed for the benefit of both marketing and sales teams, giving marketers newfound visibility into the prospects that sales teams are interacting with on a daily basis.

Why is this important? Altify’s Business Performance Benchmark Study reported that organizations with aligned sales and marketing teams had 26% higher win rates and 18% shorter sales cycles. If anyone’s looking to help sales and marketing teams collaborate better, this could be the solution that gets everyone onto the same page. Or as we like to call it, a win-win situation.

Relationship-making: The New Marketing

In the Relationship Era, there’s no longer an excuse for generic marketing campaigns, hard sells, and one-size-fits-all messaging. Consumers have shown that they’re receptive to marketing if it takes into account what they need and what they’re shopping for.

This gives brands a huge opportunity to build meaningful relationships with customers and prospects that last for a long time. And more importantly, create relationships that can weather hiccups in customer service, product satisfaction, and bad press.

These are all new and exciting possibilities, but they exist because of the long-established power of relationships—which marketers are only just beginning to capitalize on.

Most businesses will probably take the easy route and continue pushing out general marketing campaigns without putting in the work to understand prospects. But if this early stage of the Relationship Era is any indication, maybe—just maybe—marketing will finally stop talking to strangers.

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