As I often do, I’d like to wax poetic about the old days of marketing. I was recently reminded of the massive and painstaking Gantt charts I used to help make to dissect the buying process and provide if-this-then-that steps that sales or marketing teams could take once a customer was engaged. Nowadays, software and customer relationship management (CRM) systems can condense those would-be walls of paper into self-adaptive digital maps and charts.
The future implications of this are astounding, and they’re already in play, especially in B2C industries. If I search for a pair of Brand X shoes on a website, the site may suggest more Brand X shoes, or perhaps a few pairs of comparable Brand Y shoes. If I don’t buy, I might get a personalized email from an automated system. My next action — whether I ignore, open or click through that email — will determine the next content I’m exposed to, and so on.
We’ve built platforms that are mapping and applying personalized Gantt charts in real time, and some marketers are figuring out new ways to orchestrate demographics, trends, behaviors, etc., to get scary good at predicting and influencing purchases.
But there was something really great about those old paper Gantt charts. They forced you not only to see the big picture, but to create it. And there was no autopilot — you were forced to constantly monitor and rejig your plan. It rewarded the marketing teams that could muster up the best brainpower.
Today’s tools — while overwhelmingly powerful and useful — can often distract us from the bare bones of marketing we used to pore over. “Human-made” strategy and content still drive those automated systems.
In fact, as systems are getting smarter, they’re learning to seek out and endorse that human-oriented information. Google’s latest Hummingbird algorithm exemplifies this. It places emphasis on conversational, real speech. Like the aforementioned automated retail website systems, search engines are getting better at thinking like people — inanimate systems are becoming personal.
We’re getting to a point where marketing technologies are working to get back to the roots of personal selling. First, these technologies introduced an incredible way to scale communications with mass contact management and communication. Then they learned how to better distinguish those contacts to facilitate lead generation. Now, they’re learning to procure contacts, convert them to leads and sell to them.
In a sense, we’re trying to put Bob Salesman — the guy with a vacuum, a sales quota to meet and a ploy to show how the vacuum is powerful enough to lift a bowling ball — back on every doorstep. Of course, online platforms and CRM systems can help us do this in a very big, cost-effective way, but the sine qua non remains: Personalized, intuitive selling is the ideal.