Building real relationships in a digital world

STRATEGY Building real relationships in a digital world

It may seem strange for a vice president at a digital agency to write about the drawbacks of digital communication, but hear me out.

Don’t get me wrong; I love digital. I love the internet and CMS platforms and marketing automation and CRM cloud services. I love them all for their foundational ability to enable more timely communications, amplify stories, and strengthen connections over time. However…

The more digital we get, the more human we must be.

Gatum Ramdurai

Google Creative Lab

A relationship is more than 140 characters

Sometimes nothing can compete with forging real relationships, person-to-person. Earlier this month I was at the MarTech conference where my colleague Jeff Cram nailed his presentation, “The Marketing Technology Myth.” After the session we had dinner at a restaurant across the street from the Twitter offices. We were light-heartedly debating the concept of forging a relationship via Twitter.

At precisely the right moment, our waiter came by and warmly greeted me with a hug, saying, “Michelle—it’s been too long. I’m so glad you’re here for dinner!” His timing was impeccable. His reaction on seeing me proved my point about the value of face-to-face communication, and the complimentary appetizer for our table further strengthened my fondness for him and for the restaurant.

Digital communication offers no sensory connection

Twitter—as a social justice platform, a breaking news amplifier, a promotion tactic, or a thought-leader publishing tool—is fantastic. It, and all other social platforms, allow people to stay better connected than ever before with friends, family, and fans. But it will never take the place of good, old-fashioned human contact, whether on the phone, videoconference, or the very best: in person.

Deeper meaning can be conveyed in person with the tone of voice and choice of words in the moment. Subtle nuance can be very telling with body language and eye contact. Even more so than hearing the words, being on the receiving end of these sensory clues is what gives me my superpower: making someone feel like I am meeting their needs without them having to verbalize what they are.

Your company may be B2B, but your buyer is still human

Although digital communication generally offers no sensory connection, if done well, it can bring a smile to your face, like 1-800-flowers does in their post-purchase emails. The brand has evolved communication around the mundane post-purchase process into a personal affirmation of the customer’s generosity. This kind of human connection at this scale requires two foundational elements, regardless of the brand:

  • Stories: a brand experience and personality that is crafted around the customer
  • Systems: the digital platform to consistently support the brand personality (connected experience) across all the customer touchpoints

And whether B2B or B2C, no buyer is immune to today’s Age of the Customer and the human desire to have an excellent experience, both online and offline.

We need B2B to be more human.

Andy Goldberg

Global Creative Director General Electric

B2C experiences are setting the expectations

Whether purchasing office supplies or considering a complex purchase or large-scale professional services agreement, B2B buyers have come to expect the same quality of digital experience that they get with B2C companies like Amazon. But the bar is higher than simply delivering a “frictionless” online experience; the entire purchasing process needs to be meaningful and personalized. In the end, the benefits flow both ways, which is why we say companies that are loved, win.

I’ll leave the topic of personalizing the digital experience to my Connective DX colleagues and subject matter experts, while I address building real relationships during the buyer’s purchasing process.

Draw on your culture to form an authentic relationship

We use three key culture traits to drive the strategy behind our business and market development, content marketing, and digital customer experience. Equally important, all of us at Connective DX focus on these aspects of our agency culture while building new relationships:

  1. Helping: we live and breathe digital and understand that our prospects generally do not. Being a guide through the evolving world of digital and offering frameworks and tools, best practices, and industry trends is second nature to us. Our potential clients appreciate this and get a sense of what it’s like to working with us, long before starting a project.
  2. Inspiring: we love thinking big, and while we will not have access to a prospect’s customer insight or long-term strategy yet, we will have enough visibility into their immediate needs that we can paint a blue-sky picture of what might be possible for the business and brand.
  3. Reassuring: this is really where the rubber meets the road in terms of a real relationship. There’s a lot of talk these days about brands needing to be transparent and authentic. The brand’s authenticity, however, is truly only as real as the individuals who represent it. When we are reassuring prospects, we ensure that they are comfortable with our previous work, our approach and methodology, our culture, and our people.

People like working with people they like

We should all know from experience (or friends, TV, or movies) that when we aren’t portraying who we really are, no one wins. It’s only when we authentically represent ourselves that we can hope to have a real relationship. B2B buyers are people, and digital agency employees (or software vendor account executives or healthcare marketers) are people too. And people like working with people they like.

BTW: when you’re in San Francisco, definitely go to Alta CA for dinner. And if you see Aaron, tell him Michelle says, “Hi!”

Related Thinking

Companies that are loved, win.

By creating experiences that surprise and delight customers, you can transcend the transaction and build lasting love, loyalty and value for your business.

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