210524 Marketing Relationships Survey

2021 Marketing relationships survey: Results are in

The pandemic shifted how marketers engage with their customers and prospects

Trends come back around. We feel nostalgia for our parents' or grandparents' music. We dip back into decades for style samplings with every passing year. New discoveries in health, wellness and diet see us eating like our hunting and gathering Paleolithic predecessors. We ditch over-processed and artificial for the eating habits of our old-timey ancestors with locally sourced, whole foods and artisanal everything.

It seems that marketing and sales have taken a similar, circular journey.

With the help of Engine Insights, we recently surveyed a sample of 500 sales and marketing professionals about their approach to sales and marketing and the results they achieved in 2020.

One of the key findings unearthed by the survey was an increased investment in relationship building … and a return to the “old-school” approach of connecting with customers and prospects.

Relationships actually blossomed during the crisis

In fact, 52% of respondents said that they’ve built new relationships during the pandemic. Covid-19 forced businesses to pivot on a dime to new, virtual business models, and to maintain and build relationships with customers under universal, extreme economic hardship — with empathy and respect.

And sure, we’ve been digital for a while; 4.72 billion people (more than 60% of the world’s population) are online today, with overflowing inboxes, digital ads, social media buzz, chat messages, all adding to the cacophony that eventually fades into an easily ignorable white noise.

But it was in early 2020 that we were all told to go home — and stay there, isolated — indefinitely. We didn’t know when we’d be allowed back out, we didn’t know what businesses were closed or open at any given time, and we were all under a great deal of stress. Businesses needed to reassess how they were communicating with their customers, clients and prospects to keep up the connections. Cutting through the digital clamor became even more difficult — and of more vital importance.

So, what did successful businesses do right in 2020?

Along with quickly adopting remote and touch-free modes of serving customers, companies needed to humanize themselves in the face of dire social circumstances, while continuing to deliver value.

Marketing exploded during the Mad Men era ... and people had no data whatsoever available for targeting. All businesses were based on real, human-to-human relationships with only a small side of mass advertising. Database marketing came about in the 80s ... and all of a sudden we could analyze consumer lists, demographics, and target segments. We began to diminish the human element and employ mass, targeted reach. Growth marketing took the practice one step further, automating everything, taking a “spray and pray” approach, knowing that they could use data and code to manage a meager 1% response rate into something meaningful. But the effort came at a great cost: Our world burst into a galaxy of digital junk. No one’s inbox is safe, anymore.

You might think all that clutter would've gotten even worse without the ability to meet people face to face. But in fact, the opposite happened. Now that a hybrid model of virtual and in-person has become a new norm, we’re experiencing a return to the good ol’ days, where we can apply that blend of old-school and contemporary to our customer relationships. It’s a cross between the ability to automate and work efficiently, and a charming Don Draper approach, winning clients over a steak, an Old Fashioned and some personal childhood anecdotes; when fruit baskets, smoked hams and direct mail actually worked. It truly has become the “Age of the Customer,” and as the name suggests, it’s all about them; knowing your customers well, nurturing them, knowing their paint points, meeting their needs, prioritizing their journey over that of your business or sales team.

Today’s businesses find successful partnerships with customers and prospects (63% reported good relationships with both) when they invest more in their relationship-building approach. Since the start of the pandemic, 70% of respondents did just that, and 62% of respondents have maintained their current customer relationships, in addition to forging new ones.

And not surprisingly, cold emailing is still ineffective

This more intimate approach to customer marketing certainly lends to the reason why our survey also found that a cold emailing strategy still isn’t working. Almost half (47%) of our respondents still send cold emails often, where they have no prior relationship with the prospect, and 37% have sent more cold emails since the onset of the pandemic. However, this strategy hasn’t yielded more fruitful outcomes. More than half (53%) say they see the same results they always have (according to Clearbit, the average cold-email response rate is only 1%), and 10% say they're getting a worse response, with fewer people responding to cold emails during the pandemic.

But businesses are painting an optimistic vision of the future

As you’d imagine, though, the pandemic didn’t pan out too well for all businesses. Literally overnight, in mid-March of 2020, many businesses went dark for weeks … and simply couldn’t survive even a temporary hiatus. It’s no surprise, then, that 14% of respondents reported losing customers in our new, virtual environment.

However, with the quicker-than-expected ushering in of vaccinations, partial reopenings and then full reopenings, optimism is seeping into our business communities. Clearly eager to re-enter life as we knew it, a whopping 88% said that they think their business revenue in 2022 will be stronger than in 2019 … and 73% said that they expect to increase the size of their sales and marketing teams in the coming year.

Get to know your customers, nurture your relationships with them, watch your business flourish

We’re all anticipating approaching something like a pre-Covid normalcy. As we ready ourselves to welcome more business, we do so with confidence in ourselves and our teams for having displayed such tenacious resilience and flexibility through all the challenges the past year and a half managed to serve up.

Individually, we’re re-evaluating our physical health, mental health, relationships with others and financial health. Businesses are following the same mentality. The economic landscape has opened itself up to more empathy, smarter and more efficient working, versatility, better team and customer relationships, and the need to really know the health of your business. Let’s meet the future with hopefulness and the conviction to succeed together.

Stay tuned for the release of the full report in the coming weeks.

We'll explore more of what sales and marketing teams discovered over the course of the pandemic, what worked, what didn't, and more. Sign up to the left to receive updates.

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