Engaging with clients by joining their conversation
 

Typical marketing initiatives are designed to be interruptive in nature. Their goal is to capture customer attention through various creative methods. Emails are launched with the hopes that the customer will notice, open, read, and respond. Web banner and video ads are developed and placed into industry newsletters with the goal of distracting the reader from the content they originally sought. And to further gain attention, seminar and webinar invitations are sent out to potential customers with the hope that they will make room in their busy schedules to attend.
Each of these commonly used marketing initiatives (and there are many other examples) share a similar approach: they’re effectively designed to interrupt the customer’s routine long enough for them to focus their attention on your company message, value proposition, offer, or call-to-action.

Most traditional marketing is interruptive in nature
 

Man stopping traffic

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach. But in today’s rapid-fire, information-overloaded world where the average adult’s attention span is shrinking yearly (down 33% since the year 2000 in the most recent study*), these initiatives are often challenged to achieve 2–3% response rates. While they may still yield ample sales opportunities when (a) repeated consistently and (b) paired with well-designed lead-nurturing efforts, we must continually strive to look at new approaches to augment these efforts.

The conversation highway

Your target customers are actively engaged in a wide range of conversations regarding their critical business needs, customer behavior, trends and market changes, competitive information, new technologies, and a wide range of other topics that impact their business, positively and negatively.  These conversations are occurring in one-on-one and group discussions with peers and associates, conference calls, meetings and events, email, blogs, and a range of social media outlets.

Instead of simply focusing on interruptive-style marketing efforts to gain their attention, let’s focus on how you can join in on these ongoing conversations—in essence, to merge smoothly onto the “conversation highway.”

Merging onto the conversation highway

car merging onto highway

Driver’s education teaches us to merge smoothly into traffic by gaining speed up the entrance ramp to match the speed of the highway—and then to carefully find the space to move into the traffic lane without disrupting or endangering others (or yourself). If successful, we merge virtually unnoticed onto the highway—causing no one to slow down, speed up or swerve to avoid us. The fewer other drivers that are forced to adjust, the safer and more successful our merge is.

The same concept holds true for merging onto the conversation highway.  We want to insert ourselves smoothly into the ongoing conversation of our customers. We should strive to avoid interrupting the customer in any way. And just like merging onto the highway, we will be more successful when our efforts to join their conversation require little or no adjustment by our customers—and feel both effortless and seamless.

Understand the strategic value that you offer

To effectively engage in ongoing conversations with the true decision makers of your target customers, you must first understand the strategic value you bring to the conversation beyond your products or services. What can you offer that these clients can’t get from their own peers, co-workers, and associates? Fortunately, there is plenty:

  • Experience addressing challenges that customers are facing.
  • Insights into approaches, strategies and solutions to address those challenges, and likely insights into their competitors.
  • Advice and guidance to assist them.
  • Vision for where the market is going in terms of industry changes, technology innovations, etc.   
  • Proof points, stories, and anecdotes that can help clients gain further insights.
  • Reassurance that customer fears and concerns regarding business risks and threats are surmountable.   
  • Connections and contacts in the industry that your clients may be able to gain from.

Once you spend a little time truly understanding the value that you offer to your prospective customers (beyond simply your products or services), you will quickly realize that you have much to offer their conversations. And this will allow you to better develop approaches that help you merge with and join those conversations in a seamless, natural process.

Determine where these conversations are happening

The next step to improve customer engagement is to identify where these conversations are likely taking place.  Discover where decision makers spend their time learning and sharing information on platforms that are most relevant to your solutions or services.

Some of the places you may want to explore include, but are not limited to:

  • Executive events/conferences
  • Industry events/conferences
  • Industry news sources and media outlets
  • General business news and opinion
  • Key technology trend sites
  • Enthusiast and leisure sites
  • Industry financial news
  • Business/industry blogs
  • Technology blogs

Be an invisible marketer

Much like our analogy regarding the right way to merge safely onto a highway, the success of your marketing efforts in joining the client conversation is directly related to the invisibility of your marketing engine. Your goal should be to engage with your clients in a manner that reduces the exposure of your marketing engine. That is, your client should not feel as if they are being marketed to. Instead, the more organic and seamless your interactions are, the most successful they will likely be. When it comes to engaging executives in conversation, you want to be an “invisible” marketer.


For more on this concept of Invisible Marketing, see my article here.

The bottom line

To be clear, you needn’t shut down your more traditional interruptive marketing efforts. They still have good merit. But to further enhance your marketing impact—especially when it comes to reaching your key executive-level decision makers—consider how you can join your clients’ ongoing conversations regarding the business topics that matter most to them. Recognize that you offer real, strategic value to those conversations, and determine where those conversations are happening so that you “merge with the conversation highway” and improve your ability to incubate meaningful client relationships.

*National Center for Biotechnology Information and the U.S. National Library of Medicine