We’re Communicating, But Are We Really Connecting?

Technology has extended wonderful capabilities to make us more efficient. We have CRM, Marketing Automation, and Emailing systems that enable us to “communicate” in ways we never imagined or had the time to do in the past.

A prospect reaches out for some information. We immediately respond with a “personalized” note and the content. Some days later, our autoresponders send another note in follow up. Perhaps something that furthers the discussion, a little additional insight, it might ask if the recipient is interested in more. Then some days later, another communication, again personalized, following up again, perhaps extending the conversation, perhaps an offer for something further-maybe a webinar, maybe a demo, maybe a promotion. We continue to communicate–in some cases into perpetuity or at least until the recipient gets pissed off and unsubscribes.

The recipient may actually respond to some of the things, maybe signing up to a webinar. This, in turn, sets up another communication stream. Our scoring tools take note of this, perhaps prompting other actions. All of these on autopilot–or in the least autoresponder. All done by the systems, untouched by human hands.

We’re communicating, but are we really connecting? We may be engaging, but are we building a relationship? We can make intelligent assumptions about the customer based on these automated interactions, but do we really understand what they want to achieve?

I’m an avid reader of white papers and all sorts of stuff. I participate in lots of webinars. I know each one of those activities kicks off an autoresponder stream. But I never see them, because my email system is very efficient. It allows me to set up rules to automatically handle these messages. I never see them, they are either archived in some file, deleted, or sent to SPAM.

This is where a variant of Newton’s third law kicks in. It provokes an escalation of the communication. Somehow as we notice our response rates decline, whether it’s an email campaign or something else, it provokes the response to increase the quantity and frequency. We email to more and more, we do it more frequently. And the autoresponders kick in even further, the volume skyrockets.

Even if it’s stuff that’s interesting to me, the sheer volume overwhelms, so I just ignore it. Same with everyone else I speak to.

Then there are the other things which make us more efficient, but have unintended impacts because we’ve implemented them all wrong.

The other day, I get a call following up on a webinar. It was for a webinar that occurred about 6 months ago. I very professional, polite sales person wanted to follow up to understand my interest in the webcast and if there was any information she could get me. I was confused for a moment, I didn’t know what to say, then finally, felt helpless as I admitted, “Well, I’m a little confused, I was the keynote speaker at the webinar. I think I’ve pretty much dealt with all my own questions about what I said in the webinar……” The sales person was embarrassed and we had a laugh, but clearly the automation system had run amuck.

Right now, I’m in another similar — and similarly stupid cycle. I’m a speaker at a conference in a few weeks. Somehow, that’s put me into their communication cycle — I’m getting emails encouraging me to attend–but I will, they’re paying me to attend, so I don’t need the reminder. I’m even getting emails promoting my session — saying, “Based on your profile, you will really want to hear Dave Brock speak on……” My knee jerk reaction was to sign up for another session being offered at the same time, but I suppose I should sign up and attend my session….. I know it will be really interesting and provocative….

Another example of things running amuck. I received a note from a colleague recently. At first, I thought it was a personalized note asking for some help. I was all set to respond with some advice tying to be helpful, I hit reply and noticed the recipient was that famous person “DoNotReply@webaddress.com” (I disguised the website). I then looked at the email more closely, it was a mass email (the second clue was getting another from him on a different email address—he has me in his system twice.). The, I hope, unintended effect of this email strategy turned me from wanting to be helpful to , “Hell No, no way I want to do anything for this person.” Even more, all communications to both email addresses from this individual are now automatically diverted to an archive. I don’t have to be bothered by anything from him again.

The purpose of all our marketing and sales communications with prospects and customers is to connect with them, appropriately. We want to build a relationship, understanding their needs and plans, working with them with the hopes of moving them into a buying cycle.

Technology can help us be more efficient, but it is not a surrogate for connecting and establishing relationships. People still buy from people. However great the relationship your autoresponder has built with my email rules handlers, at some point we have to pick up the phone, or send a message, or send a real email–one that we’ve personally written.

Technology can also make us stupid. I get “personalized” communications filled with misspellings–only because I was clumsy in filling out the response or sign up form. I may have done dAVE bROCK accidentally, so now every “personalized communication” is always addressed Dear dAVE (OK, I admit, often I do this on purpose just to screw with the systems!)

There may be something else at play. I think sometimes we are afraid of connecting and building a relationship, choosing instead to hide behind technology. Connecting carries risk and requires some level of commitment. There’s an implicit vulnerability, we may find the recipient really doesn’t want to connect, they don’t want to build a relationship.

Building a relationship takes this further. But it takes “human” intervention. Just because your technology is interacting with my technology doesn’t mean we have connected and engaged. Until I authorize my technology to buy on my behalf (just kidding), if you want to sell to me, you have to connect with me.

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