Marketing Automation is Dead, Welcome People-Powered Marketing!

Nicolas Vandenberghe

I love Sales. 

So much so that my wife Alina and I decided to start a Sales Tech company five years ago, and I initially sold our solution myself, as a Sales team of one.

By 2019, we had bootstrapped past $3M in ARR, and it seemed that it was time to add this thing called Marketing.

I contracted a headhunter to find us a CMO. We ran a very thorough process and ended up with a very experienced candidate. Perfect on paper.

Our new CMO started building our marketing motion literally by the book. He had done it multiple times before. I was thrilled.

Except… six months into it, it wasn’t working. 

Nine months into it, still not where I wanted it.

Entrepreneurs have this weird trait that whenever they see a problem, they think it’s up to them to fix it.

So I did. 

After 12 months of this puzzling situation, I took over as CMO.

We’re nine months into it, and what I have discovered is astonishing!

The Old Way: Marketing Automation

Most CMOs today have built their career in the decades of Marketing Automation Platforms (MAP).

Eloqua is broadly considered the inventor of this category. Ask “what is Eloqua” on Quora and the top response explains:

“Marketers using Eloqua or any other good MAP can develop a large database of potential and existing buyers, and track their interest in buying products through their online behavior - their responses to emails and their website visits. ...The three components - database, email and website monitoring - are common to all marketing automation tools.”

So perhaps the most important part of this process was “capturing leads,” which really meant capturing email addresses. 

Then a very sophisticated email campaign would be orchestrated to “nurture the leads,” until they come back to the website ready to be passed on to Sales, as shown on the Capterra diagram below:

What’s wrong with this picture?

First of all, most of these emails now get filtered by email servers and end up in a bucket right next to spam, at best. 

But even if they don’t, potential buyers have many other options to get educated. And they take advantage of these options.

Gartner reports that buyers only give 17% of their time to vendors during their market education process. 

The remaining 83% of buying research activity is done in what 6Sense calls “the Dark Funnel.”

Potential buyers talk to their peers on social networks and in Slack groups, meet at events, read others' blogs, check out reviews on G2, etc. And none of this is trackable in your marketing attribution models — hence why it’s dark.  

In other words, potential buyers rely on other people who have used your product.

Note that this funnel only seems dark to the vendor. For the prospect, doing research by talking to peers and reading their content is natural, fun, and enlightening!

The Birth of People-Powered Marketing

My friend David Jones spotted this trend very early and founded You & Mr Jones, the first “Brand Tech” company. 

He recognized that marketing has completely changed and coined the term “people-powered marketing.” 

Here’s the most simple explanation of people-powered marketing:

The New Marketing Tech Stack

If marketing is now all about people, does that mean that Tech no longer has a role to play?

Quite the opposite.

The Dark Funnel is very fluid, meaning buyers can change their minds quickly, before and even after buying. In other words, the dark funnel is hyper-competitive.

So MarTech has to get even more sophisticated to optimize every step and every detail along the buying journey.

This is why highly specialized solutions have emerged and created new, larger categories, as shown on the diagram below:



The New Speed of Buying Decisions

In B2B, buying decisions that used to take months can now take days. It’s not unlike the dramatic shift that’s happening in D2C industries, such as travel. 

I love traveling.

In the old days, pre-internet, here’s how I would organize a trip:

I’d go down to a travel agency nearby and ask for brochures about the hot springs and cascades in Pamukkale, Turkey. I’d buy a book about the region, read it for a few days, then go back to the travel agency to consider my travel options to get there. Two or three weeks later, I had an envelope with airline tickets and a printed itinerary in my hands.

Last weekend I booked a trip to Portugal. It took me 30 minutes. I had a quick chat with local friends on where to go, bookmarked designer hotels and relais-chateaux websites, then booked my plane tickets through Google flights — and done! 

All email confirmations are on my iPhone.

The same applies to B2B. There are many more solutions for all sorts of use cases, many more decisions to be made, and in most cases, they’re reversible (aka churn). 

So your opportunity for conversion has never been more narrow or more important. 

Inbound: The Straight-To-Meeting Imperative

As mentioned earlier, in the old days the number one goal of marketers was to capture leads.

This is now close to useless.

Proceeding to chase these leads via email campaigns is a losing proposition — the yields are long gone. An email address can be bought for tens of cents anyway.

When a prospect hits your website, there are two possibilities:

  1. She’s done enough research that she’s ready to buy. In that case, a meeting should be booked immediately
  2. She’s not quite sure and needs to talk to someone; in that case … a meeting should still be booked immediately

This is what we call the “straight to meeting imperative.”

If a prospect is kind enough to grace your site with a visit, return the favor and roll out the red carpet to book a meeting!

If you don’t, your competitor will, and in the process add one more advocate for their solution.

PS: You may wonder if our results have improved based on the above ... stay tuned for my next article, and follow me on LinkedIn.

About the author
Nicolas Vandenberghe

Nicolas is Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Chili Piper, a SaaS platform helping B2B companies double their inbound conversion rates. Nicolas and his co-founder and wife Alina bootstrapped Chili Piper in the 2016 — and the rest is history. A native of Paris, Nicolas has an MBA from Stanford University and a Bachelor's in Mathematics from the prestigious French institution Ecole Polytechnique. When he's not helping companies improve their inbound lead conversion process, you can find him enjoying champagne, traveling the world, or spending time with his two children. Connect with Nicolas on LinkedIn.

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