The Rise of the Always-on Customer (and Always-on Marketing Team)

With the rise of the social, self-educated, always-on buyer, the CMO must own this digitally focused business shift more than any other executive in your organization. As the CMO’s role evolves and digital media blurs the boundaries between departments, marketing is seeping into all areas of your business. And though acquiring and keeping always-on customers is a challenge your whole business needs to confront, it’s an opportunity for the CMO to lead disruptive change.

It is critical, now more than ever, that companies have a strong marketing function. The International Data Corporation (IDC) has predicted that digital marketing investments will exceed 50% of total program budgets by 2016. As Kathleen Schaub, vice president of the IDC’s CMO Advisory Service, noted in a recent blog, “It will take a CMO with a business focus combined with a solid marketing capability to best help their companies weather the digital transformation.”

Get away from traditional sales roles

“Today’s customers are making more buying decisions before they even reach a salesperson—and the customers are never offline.”

Today’s customers are making more buying decisions before they even reach a salesperson—and the customers are never offline. It’s now marketing’s job to keep and nurture leads in the digital space rather than just hand them off to a salesperson.

“Bowing to the demands of a traditionally oriented sales executive will be lethal to the future of business,” says Schaub. “A visionary sales execution will support the marketing transformation—even though it means less emphasis on traditional sales.”

Instead, Schaub suggests both traditional marketing and traditional sales be replaced by a radical new “buyer-centric, data-driven, enterprise approach.” This primarily digital solution means even human-to-human interactions will involve digital tools.

Make more room for social

The trend toward more digital investment comes from the evolving buying process. “Almost half of the buying process is completed before a salesperson even gets involved,” explains Schaub. “The buyer is self-educated, using the Internet, mobile web, social networks in order to get their buying advice.”

“This webby, Twittery Facebooky thing is not just a game for the marketing department, it’s a game changer for the entire company.”

Marketers need to set the stage for their company’s entire digital experience. This is their opportunity to drive revenue growth across channels, including a wider range of services and products, such as content marketing and social media.

“This webby, Twittery Facebooky thing is not just a game for the marketing department,” says Schaub. “It’s a game changer for the entire company. And anyone who ignores these changes in buying behavior puts their company at risk.”

The challenge for a marketing department—with the challenge of communicating from behind a screen—is to keep that conversation as human as possible. It also means your team will need to look out for risks to brand and reputation on the Internet that may negatively influence your customers. Your marketing department needs to keep communication simple and genuine, while making customers feel included and heard. And the more your team can respond to individual customers, the more you’ll have a positive influence on your brand reputation.

It’s a work in progress

“CMOs must retain a certain amount of humility about what we still don’t know,” notes Schaub. “Becoming buyer-centric, discovering new social norms for digital interaction, adapting to new business models driven by cloud, social, mobile and big data—these are big leaps, not incremental nudges.”

It will take more than just your CMO to make this change across your business, and it won’t be easy to shift old habits to better serve current needs. Your business needs to make room for experimentation as you work out new processes and practices. It may seem scary to feel like you’re letting go of the reigns, but if your business designs a plan to accommodate innovation, you can strategically move toward a system that is better for business in the long run.