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Market with Empathy to Accommodate Changing Needs

Kristi Melani

Kristi Melani

former Vice President of Marketing at Poly

Kristi Melani, Poly

Now, more than ever, it’s important to put yourself in your buyers’ shoes to identify their pain points and how they may have changed since the onset of the pandemic. Doing so will allow you to market with empathy and meet their current needs.  

Quartz Network Executive Correspondent Britt Erler sat down with Kristi Melani, former Vice President of Marketing for Poly, to discuss challenges marketers are facing in a COVID-19 landscape and how to market with empathy.

Kristi shares insight into:

  • The concept of marketing with empathy
  • How to market with empathy
  • Aligning with the Sales team to inform your marketing strategies

Quartz Network: Can you share some background on your career?

Kristi Melani: I’ve worked in the marketing industry for about 25 years. I have been in high tech the entire time. In the beginning I dabbled a bit on the consumer side, but it was the internet in its early stages that really excited me the most. I stuck with that trajectory, starting out on the agency side. I always recommend that as such a great way to start out in your career and figure out where you want to focus. I stayed within the telecom space for almost 19 years from a B2B standpoint.

Quartz Network: How have marketers adjusted to interact with customers in this new COVID world?

Kristi Melani: The biggest change I saw immediately was from the events standpoint. Marketers and Sales team use events to meet with their customers and talk to engage, show and demo. And overnight, there were no events. So from a marketing standpoint, how are you going to augment those leads that you used to get from a physical event standpoint? Now, what do you do?

I think people over-pivoted and everything was a webinar. Everybody was inundated with webinars. As I started to talk to other marketers, my counsel was to slow down a little bit. Just slow it down and make sure that we understand what the challenges are, because they are different and you’re going to have to market differently. And look at your org as well. I had a full events team that overnight, I said, go become virtual digital strategist. There are courses out there. People have been doing this. But at the volume, we don’t want to be just noise.

So part of that was really just assessing the organization, where can you move people around to augment as well as saying, “Okay, we’re no longer going to be able to do a year over year benchmark.” And that’s going to be where 2019 goes down in infamy as the year that breaks benchmarks. Because this might be a new benchmark, but a, you know, how do we do last year in October?

So I think a lot of it was being really agile. And taking your plan and saying, “Well, I don’t think this is going to work. We might have to throw this away and start over or pivot where we need to.”

Quartz Network: What does it mean to market with empathy?

Kristi Melani: When I think about marketing with empathy, it really comes down putting yourself in your buyers’ shoes. Now more than ever. Most likely you are not the target market for whatever it is you sell. I am not the buyer for SaaS, I am not the buyer for XYZ. You have to put the customer in the center and figure out the pain that they’re experiencing.

Now the experiencing of pain is not something new, right? We have the aspirin; you have the pain. But right now, it is very, very different. If you’re targeting an IT decision maker who’s not even physically in the office per se, not even there to test out equipment, you have to take a different look at that persona.

Personas is the same sort of thing where you put yourself in the in the position of the buyer. But the empathy side is figuring out what is it that’s really keeping them up at night, right now. Their budgets might be cut, they are now in offices around the world. And is that still the number one thing, whatever it is, that you sell. Is that still number one on their list? Or is it just trying to figure out how to keep employee morale up, how to keep people connected, how to understand what their challenges are while they’re at home.

So looking at it from an empathy standpoint is realizing it’s a different time. And if you still try to talk to them from a speeds and feeds standpoint, you’re going miss that emotional connection, because this is a really emotionally driven time.

So we have to talk in a way not to capitalize on the pain, but to actually be able to say, “I get it. I understand it and I can help you solve for that.” Which might mean that that the customer acquisition or the buying might take a little bit longer your normal sales cycle of expecting to get leads within three months and close them in six. I don’t know if it’s going to be the same sort of timeframe. So again, it’s about talking to people and really making sure that you understand their pain and how it has changed from the last time that you’ve talked with them.

Quartz Network: When speaking with customers, how do you gather that information without just coming out and asking for their pain point?

Kristi Melani: You think about who talks to the customers on a daily basis, and that is sales. So if you are not in complete lockstep with sales, or the customer success organizations, you have to be.

I just had a conversation with a sales leader and asked if I could join some sales calls. And he said, “It’s funny, I don’t know that anybody’s ever asked me. But now that it’s virtual, why not?”

That’s how you start to hear about it. Customers love to talk about what they do. And you get to that pain just by joining those conversations. Yes, you can do it with surveys. Every webinar that you host should end with a survey asking if it met expectations and what else should have been covered? But I truly believe that it’s the customers.

If you have an IT decision-maker as your target audience, I bet you all know an IT decision-maker. Whether they’re in your customer database, or you just know somebody, go and talk to them. There’s so much knowledge you can get in a 30-minute conversation. Then you’ve started that dialogue and can follow up with some questions. That is where marketing and sales have to be lockstep for sure.

Quartz Network: Do you digitally marketing with empathy will be better for marketers in the long run?

Kristi Melani: I am optimistic that we are going to learn not only what worked and what didn’t, but the magical question of what do we put our budget? At the end of the day, this is going to force us to be more targeted in our messaging. It is going to force us to think about what our buyers are experiencing.

We’ve heard the term new norm. I don’t know what that’s going to be. Even the most amazing futurists are still putting quotes around it. I do think that it’s going to be a constant evolution. It’s an exciting time to be a marketer, because that whole cookie cutter approach just doesn’t work.

I think that is really what we’re going to see organizations more willing to take those risks. If you haven’t already been looking at the analytics, from a marketing perspective, you are going to have to do that. That should be the number one thing that starts every meeting. What is working? What is not? What is sticking with the A/B testing? And hopefully, as receivers of messages, we can only hope that people get smarter on how they market to us so it’s not just a bunch of noise.

Quartz Network:  What final advice do you have for marketers weathering the pandemic?

Kristi Melani: Don’t be afraid to try and don’t be afraid to speak up because that is what we need to do. We have to understand the world and you have to understand your customer. Right now, your customer from January is a different customer in November.

Part of that is being okay with taking risks. And that is a shift for many cultures and for many marketers. Success is going to be testing new things and then learning from them. I love that in the digital marketing world you can tell within hours if something does not work. So start small.

You don’t have to make these huge million-dollar investments to be able to see results. You can start addressing and putting budget in places where you saw success. I would also say, don’t give up too quickly. The event space is a great example of where we’re actually still seeing almost the same if not more lead volume. Now you have to figure out what to do with those leads. You have to nurture them. You have to take care of them and make sure you understand them through that journey to close. So instead of saying, “Well, without events we’re just not going to be able to make it.” I think we are. But then that long tail part is don’t give up if they don’t convert at the same velocity. You might have to send them something to their house.

For more industry best practices and insights from leading Marketing executives like Kristi, join Quartz Network.