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Lead Generation, Customer Experience & Empathy - An Interview With Brian Carroll

We had the opportunity to sit down with Brian Carroll (@brianjcarroll) and discuss lead generation, customer experience and empathetic marketing. Brian Carroll. As the founder of the B2B Lead Blog, a researcher and lecturer on marketing best practices, and leader in empathy marketing, he’s at the epicenter of the shifting B2B marketing landscape. Brian is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale (McGraw-Hill). He is also the founder of the B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group .

Brian recently finished a stint as Chief Evangelist at MECLABS (parent company of MarketingSherpa) and is now back to helping B2B understand and execute modern lead generation and empathetic marketing.

Thank you to Brian for taking the time to speak with us!

VisumCx: It has been over a decade since you wrote Lead Generation for the Complex Sale. What changes have you seen in how B2B buyers buy over the last ten years?

Carroll: I think at its core, B2B lead generation is really about relationships. But since I wrote my book, I think is the way people are buying has changed a lot.

If you look at statistics like 64% of adults, have smartphones for example, which has changed how we get information. I remember 10 years ago, people just had BlackBerries. Now, everybody has something it seems. And so our personal life and business life have become enmeshed. And what I have observed is B2B buyers are buying a lot like consumers because our lives are entangled.

Another thing that’s changed as well is social media like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. Back when I wrote my book those things really hadn’t taken off to the degree they have now so that’s changed in that we are always on and always connected. Social media has become the new employee smoke break.

Still, there are still some things that stayed the same but those are the biggest change is that I have seen.

As I said, I think at its core, lead generation is really about relationships. The fundamental idea is around being able to identify the right people and the right companies and having a way of initiating crucial conversations and then to nurture that dialogue that you started regardless if they are starting to buy with these people – instead of leads, thinking of them as future customers. This is now called account based marketing.

If I were to rewrite my book 75% of it probably is would remain unchanged because what I wrote I consider bedrock principles regarding connecting at a human level.

VisumCx: There is no doubt that aligning lead generation to buyers is critical. But where do you see the buying process within the context of customer experience?

Carroll: Back when I was with MECLABS, MarketingSherpa, our sister company, did research and found over 72% of the marketers we surveyed send leads directly to sales without qualifying them. So that was one of the things we looked at and one of the biggest reasons why 80% of leads are being lost or ignored when Marketing hands them to Sales as so-called qualified marketing leads.

How you sell and market tells customers how you serve them and that’s a huge part of customer experience.

There’s been a lot of talk about customer experience over the past year. Marketers are starting to recognize that we needed to move beyond marketing automation, content marketing, and predictive analytics i.e. stop focusing on tactics only. Marketers need to better understand what motivates our customers an throughout their buying journey.

Not only that, marketers need to focus on the broader customer experience.

So instead of just talking about being relevant, or creating more content, marketers need to focus on understanding and improving the whole customer experience. Overall, I think a lot of money is being spent on content, martech, and predictive data tools. Now marketers need to focus on making those investments deliver by interpreting behavioral data, understanding what individuals really want, what they are saying, how they are feeling, and how they are responding to our messages. This will allow us to engage our customers in a more intelligent, personalized way to help improve the customer experience.

VisumCx: You have been doing a lot of research and writing on “empathetic marketing”. Can you explain the philosophy behind this and what you mean when you say marketers need to have empathy?

Carroll: I’ll put it like this marketing and selling isn’t something you DO to people, it’s something you do FOR people. The problem with most marketing is that we get clinical and treat our customers as objects to convert and not people who need help.

Our thinking can get off track in thinking about, “How do I get what I want?” (revenue, leads, opportunities, etc.) So using our empathy is about putting our customers first. Getting out of the mindset being company-centric (how do I get what I want) to become customer-centric (how do I help them get what they want).

Empathetic Marketing is about using our intuition to walk in our customer's shoes and look at how we can connect with them and assist them in getting what they want. The best marketing feels like helping (because it is).

VisumCx: Can empathy play a role in delivering a more positive customer experience?

Carroll: Absolutely, yes! It’s essential. Sadly, I’ve found that marketers often don’t talk directly with the very people they are reaching out to with lead generation messages. All too often, customer service agents and sales reps are the only ones talking to customers live and/or in real life.

So it’s hard to design a great customer experience for someone unless you have empathy.

Here’s a few ways to fix that:

  • Get out in the field with your sales team and meet customers face to face

  • Pick up the phone or listen to calls your inside sales or sales development reps have with customers

  • Survey customers on your email list

  • Get into the world of your customer and observe

  • Use empathy maps

It is critical to know what customers want and what motivates them to think about the customer experience. Once you do this, you can use your applied empathy to consciously and intuitively understand and see the world from their perspective.

VisumCx: There are many research reports that show marketers are still struggling to be effective with content marketing, demand generation, marketing automation, etc. Should marketers be rethinking their strategic approach? If so, what can they do differently?

Carroll: Yes, I think so. The pendulum has swung. We have all these ways to connect with our customers, all of this data, content, and technology but they are tuning us out. For example, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting weary of all the “personalized” emails that I’m getting lately. It’s not that there bad, although plenty of them are. It’s that at its core, I realize that there’s something deeper going on.

You may be asking yourself: what is it?

It’s because our marketing messages are scaled.

Here’s the thing. As our sophistication grows, our customers are savvier. They know authentic-sincere communication from the massively scaled messages we send. They feel it.

We all can feel it when someone’s trying to push us to do something. We know when we’re being treated as objects (i.e. we’re just a conversion, a click, open, or lead score.) It’s dehumanizing.

We also recognize when someone really cares. We know when someone is interested in us. We can sense if people are trying to help rather than push their agenda in a way the benefits them.

As I said earlier at its core marketing is about building relationships. To do that we need to build trust.

It goes like this, we use our empathy to build rapport and understanding. And using our empathetic insight we create a connection, and over time with repeated connections, we built trust. Trust is the leading indicator if someone is going to buy. We don’t get trust after we buy. We must have trust before we do.

I advocate using your empathy to humanize your marketing. Humanizing marketing is about applying this truth from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio who said, “We are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think.” Marketers must recognize this truth.

If you liked this interview, you may also like some of Brian's blog posts which can be found here:

Blog post: How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline Empathetic Marketing: How To Connect With Your Customers Podcast: 5 Ways to Immediately Boost Account Based Marketing (ABM) Blog post: How to Put the Customer First in Lead Generation

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