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Harness Human Connection to Achieve Marketing Success

This blog post is transcribed from the session "More Social, Less Media: Harnessing the power of Human Connection to Achieve Marketing Success" presented by Molly Nelson at Drupal Texas Camp in Austin, TX - June 2017

More Social, Less Media

First and foremost, I want to begin by explaining the idea behind more social, less media, though I have to admit I cannot take credit for this concept. It was one that was actually introduced to me a few years ago by a blogger and fitness expert, Dallas Hartwig. And the way he described this concept is to not permanently avoid all media and digital technology, but rather to focus on prioritizing meaningful social interactions, to reassess the way that you consume digital media. And the addition of quality time is just as important as the reduction of distracting devices.     

Honestly, it kind of got me thinking about the implications of this process and of this concept. And while those implications really have an impact on our personal lives, away from our devices, and establishing those real human connections, it really got me thinking about, as a marketer, from a business standpoint, had I been placing enough weight on the tactics that really encourage that real, meaningful human connection on the business side of things? So that's really how this concept and this presentation kind of evolved.     

So today I want to start with what we will not be chatting about. I want to start out prefacing this by saying that these are absolutely crucial, fantastic parts of any marketing mix. I'm by no means saying that marketing metrics, and analytics, and ROI, and digital marketing tools are not important things. Because of course, as we all know, they are incredibly crucial parts of all business. But I'll be honest, it's just all too easy for marketers, for business development professionals, for project managers, for developers, any part of the business that you're a part of; it's easy to get caught up in hitting numbers, and filling your pipeline, and slamming your professional services team with as much work as they can possibly handle. But sometimes we forget to just stop and focus on what we do best, and trying to do better at harnessing that human connection.     

I want to invite every body to just take a step back from the numbers, from those tactics that might get us that nice, pretty ROI that everybody's looking for, especially when we're investing time and resources into the marketing side of things. And maybe even forget, for a while, about the MailChimps, and the HubSpots, and the Marketos of the world. We know they're not going anywhere, and they're always going to be tools that we want to use, and they're very necessary, but let's talk instead about what really matters most. And that's the people. All of the people that we interact with. It's going to be your team, your client, the Drupal community that, of course, brought us all here this weekend; and then of course, you, and your personal brand, and what you bring to the table both as a professional and just as a person too.     

Building Lasting Client Connections

We're going to go over establishing those real, lasting connections with your clients, how to harness the strengths of your team, finding and focusing what your business is really well at and how you can do more of it, and then using all of those things to market yourself, market your brand, and your team, or even your business as a whole. So let me give you just a little bit of history and background on myself first. Way back in 2011, just to give you all a little bit of context, I was right out of college and thrown into making a Drupal 6 site with my previous company, Go. They said, "We hired this freelancer, we're four months into the process," they told us it was going to take four weeks, "we need you to take this CMS and make it live."     And, first of all, I didn't know what a CMS was. I didn't know what Drupal was. I basically had only had the exposure of building a geocity site for my high school softball team, and building a little WordPress site for my study abroad adventures when I was in college. So I needed help. And all so often this is a similar story that I hear from a lot of the clients that Promet works with. We get people who say, "I've just had this site dropped in my lap, and I don't know what to do." That's really where Promet came in to rescue me.     

Of course there were plenty of other web development shops that the company that I worked for at the time met with, but it turns out that I ended up being a Promet client. It only took a little bit of googling Chicago Drupal support for that to lead me to Promet Source. As we can see, that digital marketing wizardry does play a role here, but it really wasn't what made the lasting impression. We met with plenty of other web development shops that whizzbang cool things that they could build for us. We were a small engineering firm, just kind of taking our business online for the first time, and we weren't really sure what we needed. And all these other shops told us all these cool things that they could build for us - they showed us their case studies, they showed us their products, and the things that they built for other people. But the problem was, we didn't even know at that time what we needed. And as a marketer, and being fresh out of college myself, and having to really make this Drupal site go, I had no idea what I needed.     

It turned out that what we did need was somebody to just sit down and talk through with us what we were trying to accomplish. What were our goals? And what were we trying to do by taking our business online? So when I stepped into the role I was previously in, they said, "We need a website. Everybody has a website. Our competitors. Our customers, they want to be able to see our business online." But there was really no talk about what the business goals were, what were the objectives we were trying to address, and what did we want our customers to really engage with when they went to our site? Did we want to make a sale? Did we want to educate them? And that was where Promet really led us through that process. It really helped that they took the time to understand our business. So they said, "Let's talk about it. Let's talk about your goals. Let's establish those goals."     

From there, my team really had the confidence in Promet that they truly understood our business, especially when it came down to getting to the project scope. So it wasn't just a conversation of numbers, and results, and what they were going to build for us; it really started with, "What would the business need?" So we felt like, as the client, the hardest part was really over, and we could hand over the website project, and that we knew that it was in good hands. So the next step, of course, from there was to build something great. But really, the long term impact for me as the client really didn't even come then. It's what I think can often be overlooked in what we're going to talk about today.    

Jenna, who was then my project manager, and now a coworker of mine at Promet Source, didn't just stop checking in with us when the project was over. It wasn't, "Here's your website, nice knowing ya!" It was those continual check ins, that every so often I'd hear from Jenna, and it might be a phone call, or it could be when she was passing along Drupal resources. She would say, "Hey, here's theweekly drop." Or, "Here's this news that's coming out of that you might want to take a look at because I know that you're new to Drupal and you're new to content editing." She knew that I was kind of like a baby deer. I was kind of lost and needed to find my way in the technology space. So it really helped me to feel more familiar with Drupal.     

Now, as a marketer for Promet, I can see the impact that both Jenna and our other project managers, and our account managers can really have on Promet's current and potential clients, and how that leads to more and new business. It's not the fact that we're just sending out the marketing campaigns on a regular basis, it's the fact that they know Jenna, and those all important check ins are helping to establish what's really most important in that long-term; lasting relationship with our clients.     

The Most Important Element in Lasting Client Relationships: Trust

So what do you guys think that is? What is that most important factor? Anybody have any guesses? Anyone? It's one word. Just one little word. Five letters. No? Anyone? It's trust. Yeah. So really, it's just the trust that their business, their project, their idea, their goals are in good hands. That they can rely on you no matter what the issue is, or the problem is that they might be trying to solve. They want that friendly face, or that friendly voice on the other end of the phone that's going to say, "We hear you. We understand what you need. Let's work through it together." And that trust is what's going to lead to that repeat business.     

So once you have the trust, how are you going to go about keeping the trust? One of my favorite questions that a mentor of mine years ago started prompting me to ask our clients is, "What would I have to do for you to fire us?" And that's something that kind of takes people aback when they hear it. They think that you're trying to catch them, or it's some type of trick. But really, what you want to get to is, what is the thing that would make you lose their business? And then, you just have a conversations, and kind of get to the point of, "Okay. Well, we're going to try to not do that thing."     But really, what it often leads to is that that conversation about, "Why did they choose you in the first place?" And, "Why have they stuck around." And that, for me as a marketer, that's the thing that I like to get to the heart of with our clients, and especially ones that have stuck around. And even those that we might have lost to another firm, or decided to go with somebody else for a new project. It's good to get to the heart of, "What were those factors that really led them either away, or that keep them as a customer for the long term?"     

A lot of times, those reasons that they've stuck around have to do with things that aren't necessarily tangible. It might not be the same reasons that they became a customer in the first place. Because, if you think back to some of the projects that you're working on right now, or some of your current clients, maybe they came to you because they saw another project that you put together. Or maybe they saw another client's website that they really liked. Or it might have been a case study, or one of your out-bound marketing campaigns. Or it could have been that they met you at Drupal Con. Who knows? But, more often than not, the reason that they decide to stay has nothing to do with those original reasons that they became a customer in the first place.     

Oftentimes, it has to do with your team. That's what's going to keep them coming back again and again for your expertise. And that's where building up your teams, and building up the strengths of your team, and really harnessing the power of that, especially when it comes to marketing and to business development, has to come into play. So when I have shared this slide with my team, it's kind of met with confusion. A lot of times, it's met with a little bit of panic. Like, "Are you going to take the developers and make them make cold calls? Are you going to take our project managers and send them all out to Drupal Con and say, "Bring us back 10 leads a day"?" And that's by no means what we're talking about.     The truth is that every single person, each and every one of them on your team, is a marketer. Everyone is a business development professional. Everybody has something of value to share. But a lot of times, our natural inclination is to have that imposter syndrome set in. To think, "Okay, well I've only been a developer for a couple years." Or, "I don't have anything of value to contribute back to the community." Or, "Anything that I might write a blog post about, what if people don't read it?" Or, "What if people call it out and say, "Well, actually, you should do things this way."" And they just get a little bit scared. They need to kind of have that drawn out of them. And as marketers, any of you that might be marketers in the room, that's really on us to draw that out of our teams, and to really get that engagement, and to get people excited about sharing what they've done. And a lot of times, that can be buried in a project retrospective.     

It could even just be the simple answer to a development question that maybe took somebody hours of googling to find. I mean, how often are you trying to find an answer to a question, or a way to solve a problem, and it takes you really long time to figure it out? Well, more than likely, somebody else has had that same issue at one point or another. And that, in and of itself, is worthy of a blog post, it's worthy of a tweet, it's worthy of a Facebook post, and putting it out there for the rest of the community to see. Because, more often than not, you're going to become that source of information that they're going to go to when they have a similar problem. They'll see that, "Oh. Well, John from Promet, he figured this out for me. Next time I have a similar problem, I'm going to cal him up. He might know what to do."     

So really, when you think about it, each team is completely unique. We might all be development firms, or freelancers, or digital agencies, or we might even work for a university, or work for a healthcare organization and think, "Okay, well, we have similar needs. We have similar interests. We might have some overlapping problems that we're trying to address." But when you think about it, the collective experience of your team is entirely unique. No two teams is going to work on the same projects, be working from the same set of requirements, or do the exact same thing every time.     

So when defining differentiators, I feel like this is one that can be often overlooked. We're trying to figure out, "What niche can we address that hasn't been addressed by another Drupal agency?" Or, "What product can we put out there that's trying to solve a problem that somebody else hasn't solved yet?" But really, if you just kind of look inward, and look at the team that you're surrounded by every day, you might come across some of these skill sets, or some of these areas of expertise that your team wants to pursue more of.     

How do you market that? You share the knowledge. Of course, a lot of us were brought here this weekend for the Drupal camp. Some of you might have also done speaking engagements at Drupal Con, or even some of the camps, but we even want to look outside of Drupal. Maybe talk to our customers about, if they are in a specific vertical, or in a specific industry, where they're getting their knowledge from. What publications are they looking to? What opportunities could you have to go to one of their events and present, or even build up your team and offer to help write a session submission?" I can tell you that, in the weeks leading up to Drupal Con, it was a lot of getting on HipChat and saying, "Hey. I saw that you did this cool thing. Do you want to speak about it?" Or, "Hey, I saw that you have this interest in this one specific area. How can I support you in that?" And, a lot of times that's all it takes to bring people out, and get them talking about projects that they've done, or areas that they want to learn more about.     And that's a great way to start submitting a session, is just pick a topic that you want to spend time doing research on. You don't have to know everything, but you've just got to kind of put yourself out there. So getting involved in the Drupal community, and even branching outside some of those Drupal specific events which we'll talk a little but more about in a couple slides, really gives your team a chance to establish that credibility and build up their confidence as well.     

Another way that you can do that is developing case studies. Of course, this might seem like a no-brainer, but one thing that a lot of people don't necessarily always consider is, even going back to previous projects and looking at case studies that you might have written years ago, and seeing, "Okay. What did we do previously, and how can we replicate that? If we build this really great solution for, say, a community college, for this one specific time of business, what are the chances that that specific type of business might also want the same type of solution?" And that gives you the opportunity to not only collaborate as a team, but then reach out on a more one-on-one basis to other people in that area that might be interested in that product, or that service that you have to offer.     And then, of course, hosting webinars as well. And this is also a great opportunity to get more of that collaboration. One thing that I've kind of found to be beneficial for our team is, when we do a project and we might be using some new tools, or we might be doing something for a vertical, or for a new type of client, that we've never done before, we kind of go through that project retrospective, and then we say, "Okay. Let's talk about this." Like, "Let's just collaborate." It might first be an internal webinar. Actually, at Promet, we call them "IT meetings", we have them on a weekly basis for our internal team. But that can kind of bleed into something that becomes either a session submission, or a blog post, or a webinar that we actually promote to the larger Drupal community, and even at camps and cons as well.     

And then, of course, there's also blog posts, press releases, and even podcasts. We've had a couple of our team members that have gone on some tech-specific podcasts. And then, past few months, I think there's a few more coming up to talk about the tactics that they've done, some of the solutions and business problems that they've solved for their clients. And again, that's just another way to get your team more confident, and talking about their experience, and kind of get past that imposter syndrome of feeling like they don't have anything of value to share.     

Marketing our Expertise: Promet's Training Practice

Training was one of those things that we'd tried to handle internally for a lot of years. We found to not only establish credibility for us in the community, but something that's really given us an opportunity to establish that human connection; is really getting involved with mentoring and training. At Drupal camps, at Drupal Con, and having a public training schedule as well. To give you a little bit of history, our training practice manager Margaret Plett, who was the author of the Drupal 8 Acquia curricula came on board with Promet a little over a year ago, and we started to build this training practice as a separate piece of our business.     

Now, what this opportunity to do training has led us to, is the fact that we get this great one-on-one face time with people who are current clients, or potential clients, to not only learn more about what their needs are, and what problems they're trying to address, but it also gave us at Promet the opportunity to establish our credibility and make those lasting connections with our students. Oftentimes, now that we've had this practice in place for a little over a year, we're starting to see all of that effort come full circle. We're seeing those students coming back to us when they have a question, or they have a problem they're needing to solve, or maybe they have a topic that they want some additional training on.     

This really comes back to those relationships that we've established with them. As much as I want to say it's because of my email newsletters, and my marketing campaigns, and all the tweets that I'm sending out, I know that it has much more to do with the connection that Margaret's establishing with our students, and the fact that we're making ourselves available to them, and we're becoming a resource for them long into the future. And that's something that even your team, from a mentoring standpoint, can get involved with with the local Drupal community.     

Filling the Other Guy's Basket

Another concept I wanted to introduce that was first introduced to me several years ago in a book called Uncontainable ... Which was actually written by an Austin native and container store founder, Kip Tindell. One of the concepts that really struck me the most in this book was one from Andrew Carnegie that goes, "Fill the other guy's basket to the brim. Making money then becomes an easy proposition." Now, for a container store, this became one of the core philosophies of their business from the very start. And the idea here is to fill the other guy's basket, allowing them to creatively craft mutually beneficial relationships with their vendors. And the way that container store has embraced this concept is really by investing in those relationships. Investing in their partnerships that they have in their professional community. That way, they're always making sure that they're nurturing those relationships in the long-term, and they're creating those really nice win-win situations.     

So for them, that can mean allowing their vendors to test out new products in their stores, which can often lead to container store being the first on the list to receive, say, a new shipment, or a certain product if it's out of stock. And then they're able to better serve their customers. And that cycle just continues to repeat itself. When you're creating those win-win situations for your customers, your business is going to succeed while their business is succeeding as well.     

Now, in our space, that doesn't necessarily always mean dollars. That might mean, for an association, a way for them to promote to their membership. So say you go out and your team builds this really great solution and a really great website for a new association, or for one that's trying to grow their membership. Now, one way for them to get the word out might be some of those co-marketing activities. And that's the really cool thing about all those tactics that we talked about. All of those very same tactics, from speaking at camps, to developing case studies, hosting those educational webinars, doing blogs, press releases, mentoring and training; those are all things that you can involved your team on, but you can also involve your clients and your industry partners as well.     

A lot of times, we're going back through retrospectives, and we're trying to identify, "Okay. What was the problem here that we were trying to address?" Or, "How did this solution come about in the first place?" And a lot of times, as a team, we can't answer those questions internally. We have to go back to our clients. And when we go back to our clients, that opens the door to the conversation of, "Well, how can we take this, and utilize this product we've put together for you, and how can we make it really move the needle for your business as well?" So if we're going to do a press release, then why not also do a press release on behalf of our clients as well? It's just kind of a natural extension of those marketing efforts that are only going to help establish that credibility, and that ability for you guys to continue the relationship with your clients.     

So how do you continue to kind of cut through the noise and make sure that customers stay loyal and continue to come back to you? So back in 2009, there was a Gallup study that actually showed that 70% of customer loyalty and spending decisions are based much more on emotional factors. So how can we continue to engage individuals and connect them emotionally. The thing that I've found over the years, as a marketer, and especially as I've started to work more in the Drupal space the last few years, is that a healthy mix of digital marketing and human connection is always key.     

I know as Drupalists, and being in technology, it's easy for us to say, "Okay. Well, I'm going to have my drip campaign set up." And, "I'm on the first page of Google," and, "I'm tweeting all the things," and, "I'm posting everything on Facebook," and, "All right, I'm done. I've done all the marketing I could possibly do." But sometimes it's just picking up the phone. It's asking somebody to meet you for coffee. Because what are they going to remember more? Are they going to remember the email you sent them asking if they were ready to start the next project? Or are they going to remember the time you took them out for coffee at Drupal Con and talked about your mutual love of Game of Thrones? I mean, which one would you remember most?     

You want to nurture those relationships and turn your customers into advocates. Because, a lot of times, you're going to want to go back to ask for referrals. And that would lead to new business. But, honestly, we have to earn the right to those referrals. We can't just expect, just because we launched a great product for somebody and sent them off into Drupal land, that they're going to continue to want to come back to us. We have to earn that right. We have to continue to nurture that relationship.