Sales and marketing in the technology industry is broken, says Bret Starr, founder and CEO of The Starr Conspiracy. Starr’s latest book “A Humble Guide to Fixing Everything in Brand, Marketing, and Sales” is out now and takes readers through a step-by-step journey of reimagining conventional sales and marketing strategies to develop a new interpretation of customer experience as a solution for sales and marketing declines in the tech sector.
Starr, a marketing expert with decades of experience in software and technology, believes an endless quest for performance optimization has become “a road to nowhere,” and frustration is mounting in an industry without a roadmap for what’s next. New ideas are few and far between, but Starr says his new book offers one possible path forward.
In an interview with SmartBrief, Starr discussed the new book and his assessment of the state of sales and marketing. The interview is edited for length and clarity.
SmartBrief: Please briefly and broadly discuss this book and why you needed to write it.
Bret Starr: This book is about the decline of sales and marketing in the tech industry, and it’s about the reason for that decline, which is basically the broad adoption of software as a service and CRM Solutions. It examines how those things became the strategy for organizations and how organizations stopped competing on differentiation and started competing based on the notion of being a little bit better at doing the same things that everyone else was doing.
The solution for all that is a holistic customer experience. In the book, I detail a framework for implementing holistic customer experience across brand marketing, sales, product and customer success in a detailed way, with pragmatic guidance on how to make sure that your go-to-market strategy is built around your customer, as opposed to being built around your internal processes.
SmartBrief: How do sales and marketing leaders implement or orchestrate the type of change you’re talking about?
Starr: They have to start by understanding the quality of experiences that they want to create for customers. Sales and marketing leaders right now are rather myopically focused on the metrics-based quantitative goals that they need to hit in order to provide their part of the funnel or the buyer’s journey. Sales and marketing culture has evolved in a way that leaders rarely stop to consider the actual human experiences of the customers they interact with in different contexts over time.
When you start trying to organize your entire marketing strategy to increase a response rate from 1% to 1.2% – and you’ll do anything to get there – it leaves out the part where, for the other 98%, you might be creating a very bad experience. What I’m really challenging sales and marketing leaders to do is to add a different dimension to their strategy and to think about the experience that they want to create for everyone.
SmartBrief: When you talk about that experience, are you focused solely on the sales experience, or are we also talking about the end-user experience?
Starr: Problems are caused by breaks in continuity in the customer experience. You need to have a consistent quality of experience in brand, marketing, sales, product and customer success. You run into problems when marketing promises one thing, sales says something else, and the product is something completely different. It’s the breaks in continuity that create the issues. The product is a fact. Satisfaction is a subjective concept. It’s expectations meeting the fact of what you’re bringing to the table.
If your expectations aren’t met because they’ve been set differently in some other part of the experience, that’s where all the problems come from.
SmartBrief: In the book, you discuss “breaking the script.” What do you mean by that?
Starr: A script is what’s running in the background. In a marketing context, the marketers’ role in the script is to try to trick the customer into clicking on something or filling out a form or whatever. The customer’s role is to avoid being tricked at all costs. That’s why most customers can eliminate 95% of their email within the first 15 minutes of their day because they’re looking for all of the tricks that people use.
Most of the time, it’s the customer who wins because they are successful at avoiding being tricked, and so as long as we’re following the script, as long as we’re sending emails with a bunch of things to click on, as long as we’re doing sales demos that are boring, and as long as they are following the script and no one’s paying attention, we’re not achieving anything.
You have to break the script by first understanding what the script is. And then, doing something completely different causes people to pay attention.
SmartBrief: You talk about so-called blocking and tackling. Can you explain what you mean by that? And why it’s not enough anymore?
Starr: Blocking and tackling is a reference to American football. It’s an idiom that is meant to refer to the basic and fundamental processes of running a business. If you talk about the blocking and tackling of business, it’s the basic and fundamental processes. In customer experience, blocking and tackling are the basic and fundamental people, processes and technology that underpin the way that we engage in brand, marketing, sales product and customer success. It’s your marketing automation system, HubSpot. It’s your sales force automation system, Salesforce. It’s just the basic and fundamental processes that we have.
At the turn of the century, it was an advantage to have really good blocking and tackling because not everyone had it. Just being more efficient and effective at things like CRM gave you an advantage. But now, everyone with a credit card has a software-as-a-service solution for everything. We’ve all got the same roles. Every marketing team is organized the same.
Blocking and tackling are not effective on their own anymore. It’s not a strategy in and of itself. We need something on top of all that to create a differentiated experience for customers.
SmartBrief: Marketers often prioritize leads over brand awareness. Can you talk about why that’s misguided?
Starr: Absolutely. Because all our systems are focused on the lowest probability outcomes in the fewest number of people … The problem is, if you’re only getting to know someone at the point that they have already developed purchase intent, they’ve probably developed purchase intent for someone else. What our systems really need to do is focus on building engagement with targeted accounts and qualified prospects prior to them developing a business need. That way, in the worst-case scenario, when they develop a business need, they think of you first, and in the best-case scenario, you’re the one that caused them to imagine that they had a business need.
That is something that we can focus on 100% of the time – becoming the favorite of someone who could become a buyer later. When you move your entire marketing and sales machinery up to that moment, which only happens with one and a hundred buyers at any given time, you are always behind. You are always talking to people who want to buy but not from you. You’ve missed your opportunity to build vendor preference by not doing anything that focuses on building engagement or establishing vendor preference. You just want to outperform everybody else at that moment that somebody decides they want to buy something.
SmartBrief: Another thing you focus on heavily in the book is customer experience. Can you dive into what you call Customer Experience Design and the Starr Conspiracy Customer Experience Framework?
Starr: There are several innovations in the book; one is just having a simple definition for customer experience. That definition is the perception of the quality of time spent with the people, places and things in the company. That’s important because perceptions can be shaped. That creates a business purpose and context for customer experience, which is to shape perceptions of the quality of time spent with your company, leading to vendor preference.
The second thing is there are five domains of customer experience. It’s more than just product and customer success. It’s brand, marketing, sales, product and customer success. We all intuitively understand that what happens in the brand experience, the marketing experience, and the sales experience has some impact on the customer experience. Still, we need a model for understanding what that impact is. The model that I put forward in the Starr Conspiracy Customer Experience Framework clearly describes why brand, marketing and sales are just as important, if not more important, to the customer experience than product and customer success. They have to be considered holistically.
There also has to be an experience vision that makes it holistic. It’s a holistic customer experience if you’re trying to create the same experience holistically across every touch point, every domain. I have some specific guidance for how to create an experience vision and how to define the experience that you want to create so that it becomes actionable.
And finally, I have a framework for how to pick the highest stakes moments to live your experience vision. There are thousands of moments that you’re going to have interactions that you’re going to share with the company. We can’t control all of those moments. We don’t remember most of them, but we always remember the defining moments.
SmartBrief: Is there anything else that you want to share?
Starr: If you don’t believe that go-to-market strategy in tech companies is broken, then you don’t need to read this book. But most of the people that I’m talking to right now are sharing the same pain. I really feel for my marketing and sales comrades because we got into this career because it was supposed to be fun. And it is not fun. People are not having fun right now. They are number jockeys, and they have to produce a number of leads. It became a spreadsheet function instead of a creative function. All the joy has been sucked out of it by this relentless march towards these quantitative goals that become increasingly harder to hit year in, year out. We keep putting in more money and more effort, and the results keep going down, and it’s just become a race to the bottom.
I’m not creating a bunch of silly platitudes or unworkable ideas. I have real solutions that people can implement after reading the book that will make a difference. We’re at one of those moments of great change, and here is an idea at a time when we are dangerously short of ideas.
Matt Reitz is an editor for SmartBrief Business Services.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.