Not Just Automation, Marketing Needs REAL Conversation

Create a personalized dialogue with each prospect at every point in the sales process!

This sounds like a pitch for marketing automation. While the result is valuable, it is not a dialogue. Here are some of the characteristics of this “dialogue” marketing has created with automation:

  • Most of the audience response is a click and inferred consumption. In mass it is a valuable indicator but it isn’t a valuable individual response (Scott Brinker discussed this at Insights from the explosion of marketing touchpoints)
  • It is based on well educated guesses about what information someone needs next, not answering a specific question or need.
  • It is designed to replace the conversation that once happened directly between sales and a potential new prospect.

Real conversations need to come back into marketing communications.

One solution is online group discussions. These discussions have more in common with the lunch roundtable conversations at a conference than traditional marketing communications. A subject matter expert and a facilitator keep the conversation moving, but everyone can participate, asking and answering questions.

Why Conversations are Valuable

  • A conversation is naturally audience-focused.
  • Real time discussion highlights the knowledge of the participants and associates that knowledge with specific accessible individuals within your company.
  • Conversations build relationships that let you address needs and deliver additional information (ie content).

How to Enable Conversations

The most common platform I see is Twitter. Tweetchats are in public, allowing conversations to be discovered and followed by anyone using Twitter, however only people comfortable using Twitter are likely to join. I join #B2Bchat most weeks and have met a number of people through the chat.

A more interesting model, in my opinion, is Stanzr (currently in beta). Since it is not tied to Twitter, the potential audience isn’t limited by a platform choice. I have recently participated in chats on Stanzr hosted by Crowdbooster and NetProspex. The platform was an improvement on the Tweetchat model and the hosts were able to lightly brand the chat environment and provide additional information.

Is a Trend Forming?

Just yesterday, SAP announced they will be hosting an enterprise mobility chat using the hashtag #SAPchat on Twitter. Earlier this month, Forrester launched an Interactive Marketing chat using the hashtag #IMchat. And of course, #AskObama on July 6th briefly put Tweetchats in the national news.

Your Turn

Do online conversations build stronger relationships than relying only on a content-based “dialogue”? If so, have you had good experiences with online chat platforms as a marketer or individual? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter.

About Eric Wittlake

I am a digital and B2B marketer with a background in online media and analytics. I work with B2B clients on media and integrated marketing programs. You can connect with me on Twitter at @wittlake or in the comments here on my Digital B2B Marketing blog.

10 Responses to Not Just Automation, Marketing Needs REAL Conversation

  1. Marcus Schaller says:

    Hi Eric,

    I’ll pick a conversation over static content any day. In fact, my opinion is that initiating some kind of conversation (whether that be an event, a phone call, whatever) should be one of the primary goals of a lead generation strategy.

    It’s through conversations that we get the chance to ask, rather than tell, and it’s the asking that enables us to find the true problems worth solving for our prospects and customers.


    • Marcus, thanks for the comment. In B2B, we certainly need to get to a conversation. What do you think of introducing new types of conversations to get prospects to let down their guard a little bit? Today, it seems every time I agree to talk to someone, I get a sales pitch, and usually a pretty useless one at that. I’m reluctant to have a conversation today with anyone that even might try to sell me something.

      If having earlier conversations is our goal, something needs to give. What kinds of options can we give prospects for less threatening conversations?

      • Marcus Schaller says:

        That’s a great question…

        Maybe the answer is the tone and focus we use with our content, the first and continuing impression we get based on whether blog posts, videos etc are all about them or all about us. The softer the sell in our static content, the more comfortable we may be taking the next step into a dialogue.

        Another solution may be in how the invitation to converse is presented. If we lay out the agenda of the discussion in a way that shows, again, that it’s about them, not us, it may help ease that resistance.

        At the end of the day, companies need to decide if they believe in hitting their numbers by solving problems, or are myopically focused on the numbers over everything else. That trickles down through management and translates into the wrong type of pressure for sales teams. It’s hard to focus on the prospect when your sales manager is breathing down your neck about “how many units you’ve sold today.” A little off topic, but relates I think. You?

        • Marcus, thanks for answering. I at least like the thought of the tone and focus of content being critical. When everything we do reinforces an approach that puts helping the prospect first, it helps to set the expectation.

          I think you are spot on with your last comment. Are we focusing on the numbers, or the reason we have numbers in the first place? I’m not sure if you saw my Triberr-inspired post, I fell into that trap a couple weeks ago. It is oh-so-easy to do. When Measurement Misleads: A Lesson From Triberr’s Downtime

          Thanks again for commenting, twice!

  2. Hi, Eric — this is a great question!

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. Are these mutually exclusive? Can a company have aggregate systems in place AND engage in real conversations with customers? It does seem at scale that it’s challenging to engage in a one-to-one conversation with every prospect at every touchpoint. But at the same time, I agree that it’s incredibly valuable for marketing to not merely “fly by instruments,” but to strike up real conversations with people to develop a more organic and qualitative perspective.

    Gord Hotchkiss of Enquiro has frequently encouraged digital marketers to actually get up from their computers and go meet more customers face-to-face, particularly in their “native” environments — marketing anthropology, if you will — to better understand their audience. But as valuable as that can be, it’s probably only economically viable for most businesses to do that with a sample of their total audience.

    2. Do prospects want conversations with marketing/sales, or do they just want the relevant content? I read a great post by Neicole Crepeau the other day, “Are we killing our customers with engagement?”

    I like the idea of a prospect/customer being able to raise their hand at any point to say, hey, I’d like to talk to a real person about this, ask questions, have a dialog. But in cases where their not raising their hands, I suspect that many people are happier finding and reading content on their own terms — and that’s one of the main reasons there’s been such a migration to people using the web instead of picking up the phone to have conversations with companies, especially for earlier in the funnel exploration and consideration.

    I suspect that there isn’t one right answer for every company, but depends on their business, their market, their audience — and how they choose to differentiate themselves from the competition. Definitely a big and important question though.

    • Hi Scott, thanks for the comment!

      I don’t think they are mutually exclusive at all. Providing relevant resources is incredibly valuable, but it isn’t a two-way conversation, despite the claims many in the space have made. Neicole’s post was great. One of the challenges is that as marketers, we ask people to engage engage engage with us, but we provide very little back. Today, I generally don’t want to engage, because I don’t see value in it, and I certainly don’t want a conversation with sales and marketing.

      I think there is an opportunity here though to give people the opportunity to engage. To create an environment where, for at least a short window of time, the company is engaging back. It isn’t a conversation with sales and marketing, even if thy may be the individuals involved, it is an opportunity to ask questions and participate in a broader conversation that is far less likely to turn into a sales pitch. And if I hadn’t been trained to expect a sales pitch and a one-sided perspective with every conversation, I would want to have a conversation. Today, the phone call with a potential vendor is rarely a valuable conversation for me.

      Thanks for commenting! I’m interested to see if social media creates new opportunities, like chats, for companies to once again have conversations with prospects, or if they become another sales and marketing channel full of pitches and close another door on potential conversations.

  3. Really great article. You have me thinking!! When you think about it, the Twitter interface is about the worst thing you can have for conversations. Such irony. That’s why all these third part apps are thriving!

    • Mark, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! I love the irony – social is supposedly about relationships, yet the tools of the social trade increasingly make conversations more challenging. Thanks!

  4. Taariq Lewis says:

    Eric. Thank you VERY much for such a wonderful and very cogent post. We have a few things to say about conversations:

    1. Conversations should be aligned with marketing communications. YES! If folks are “engaging” in social media and not delivering impact in their marketing communications that aligns with corporate objectives, then massive failure.

    2. Conversations are a source of content and an education channel. This is very different from real-time commentary. Conversations are exchanges which require synchronous participation to get the takeaway. Remember group conversations at school? The learning was done with the group, at the same time, not whenever anyone felt like visiting to make a point.

    3. Most companies DON’T really WANT conversations with their customers. They would rather get followers and Likes and call it engagement.They simply want more clicks and more opens because they need to fill their marketing quota within a very constrained time. Conversations are hard, not easily scalable and require segmentation. Ooh! Too much!

    At, we’re focused on making conversations fast, scalable, and completey integrated into the marketing communications and sales workflow so we can drive more quality insight and funnel activity to sale in a sincere, customer-centric manner. We look forward to those companies that may actually see this approach as a way to more quality sales and faster closes.


    • Hi Taariq, thanks for the comment. Stanzr has been a good improvement, watching for more improvements.

      I like your #3. It is so true. Conversation doesn’t scale. Unless you put more time into it, it turns into preaching at people or a cacophony of voices all at once. One thing I like about the idea of chats is giving people an option for another way to engage, not replacing the existing (very scalable and relatively impersonal) options they already give their audience. By not trying to have a conversation with everyone, but simply make it accessible, hopefully it won’t hit scalability issues as quickly.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

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