Technology is meant to make consumer experiences better at scale. Please note: I didn’t say customer experiences, or leads or SQLs or MQLs. I said consumer. The moment you forget that there’s a human being with multitudes of choices on the other side of that contact record is the moment you lose.
A CRM is meant to help businesses manage relationships. But, in my experience, what a CRM actually is used for by businesses is as a dumping ground of data and a lack of process structure. The CRM is no longer a tool to manage customers—it’s a tool to house customer information.
Marketing automation is another tool intended to help create a personalized experience for consumers. Your marketing team doesn’t have to spend hours building custom emails, they can put their energy towards content and creative and product development—things that help grow your brand and business.
When brands have their act together, when the CRM and marketing automation work together and are managed intelligently, the process of buying is so smooth you don’t even notice it. But the moment there are kinks in the system, it becomes painfully apparent how clunky of a process it is.
What should a modern purchase process look like?
Let me answer by giving you an example of what it should not look like.
Last year, I was starting the process of buying a car. I went to a dealership and spoke with a salesperson. I told him my timeline, my budget, and what features were non-negotiables for me. He entered all of that into his CRM.
In the days after I left the dealership, I started receiving (what I can only assume to be) automated marketing emails, and they made me legitimately angry. Has anyone else had strong, visceral reactions to marketing emails? Maybe it’s an occupational hazard. Anyway, I was angry because the emails were sending me available inventory—and none of the suggestions matched any of my requirements. I got emails for brand new cars after telling the salesperson I was only interested in a used car. I got emails for cars $20,000 above my budget. I got emails for cars that weren’t the model I was shopping for (when you’re looking for a SUV, a convertible coupe is not a substitute).
The end of the story is a sad one for my local car dealership: I bought a car out of state.
Now, I’m not saying that I necessarily would have ended up buying from my local dealership—but wow, did this experience leave a sour taste in my mouth. And a big contributing factor was that my contact record attributes in the CRM didn’t influence what kind of marketing materials I got.
I was a member of the 50%+ of consumers who have finished all their online research before coming into the store. And here’s the thing: the salesman knew this, and it was reflected in his CRM. But his marketing software still saw me as an indecisive consumer who was still in the “which one is right for me?” phase.
So, why is it important that your CRM and marketing automation platforms are speaking to each other? Well, I think it boils down to 2 main points.
The person on the other end of the contact record is a consumer.
In their consumer journey, they might be a lead, MQL, SQL, opportunity. They might be these things more than once. Or they might be a lead longer than the average purchase cycle. We know that consumer journeys are not linear and each is unique.
While going through their journey, they are likely navigating both digital channels and in-store channels. This is the “messy middle,” where the customer journey can get jumbled and complicated for everyone involved.
To provide the best experience, our tools need to capture these inflection points—all of them—and stop irrelevant messages from being sent. In my case, it was suggestions for cars $20,000 out of price range.
The consumer has the purchasing and influencing power
Provide a great experience: I’m going to tell all my friends every chance I get. Provide a bad experience: I’m going to do the same thing.
I’m not going to wax poetic about how consumers have endless choices and can research everything from their phone. We know this. I’m making an assumption that when I have a really great experience, the company has invested in technology and uses it well.
My parents went to Disney World for their anniversary. They received emails around booking dinner reservations, arranging transportation from the airport, and key “before you go” tips—all at an appropriate cadence. When they arrived at the resort, they were treated to a gift certificate at the one of the restaurants they had booked because they were celebrating their anniversary. After they returned home, they got a thank you card in the mail for choosing to spend their anniversary at Disney World.
This was several years ago, and now I’m bragging about the customer service they experienced in a blog. Treating customers well matters long after the purchase.
This is all easier said than done—and I completely understand that. So, what can you do about it?
You need an internal champion for your technology
Often automation platforms are treated like a “set it and forget it” investment. But what it is really is a “set it and forget it but then come back to it” investment. Eventually, you’re going to need to re-evaluate your emails or ads or workflows.
What could trigger you to revisit how your automation is set up?
- New products
- Economic shifts that change something major about your buyer, like age or purchase timeline
- A shift in your sales strategy
- Technology changes (new technology stacks, changing privacy laws, etc.)
Yes, marketing should probably own marketing automation software and the sales team should own the CRM. I passionately dislike the phrase “smarketing”—but I do believe that sales and marketing and customer success teams should be talking often about their processes and observations.
What insights could you learn from other teams?
Sales starts to notice certain qualities of ideal buyers. Marketing uses it for demand generation campaigns.
Marketing notices that a certain form has a low conversion rate and wonders if there are too many fields; they ask sales whether knowing the state and zip code is critical to closing a deal.
Customer success has noticed that a certain piece of the platform is underutilized by customers. Sales decides to include that specifically in demo videos.
All of these insights translate into contact record data on different platforms. As you’re working with other teams to better understand your consumer, you have to go back to the platform and make sure the technology is also supporting that cause.
A smooth process means more sales.
Marketing technology, whether it’s a CRM, automation, or anything else you can dream up, only works when it’s used correctly. When it is—when all the parts of your system work together and smoothly—it’s a dream for business and customer alike. But when things get out of sync, or when the information in the CRM is ignored or isn’t shared, that’s where things go haywire. So make sure that your marketing and sales process is as seamless as possible. Your customers will thank you.