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On becoming a multi-threat

How can you be heard in a world increasingly filled with noise?

Even as we have wonderfully useful tools to communicate – like this here email that you’re reading – it becomes harder and harder to rise to the level of importance that would cause a well-curated group of people to pay attention to your company and what it is that you have to say.

Reaching the select few most important people and accounts is even more competitive, because surely other people are competing for their attention, too. Indeed, the bulk of the dollars spent on sales and marketing is concentrated on the few companies most likely to yield a return.

And do you know who else is competing for their attention? Google, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify, and a long line of other companies attempting to monetize attention. This is one of the reasons I still recommend email as a primary outreach channel, and why professional prospecting companies are increasingly taking a multi-channel approach, as I wrote yesterday.

But the nature of the question – whether LinkedIn or email is more effective – sets up a false dichotomy. One thing I missed in yesterday’s article is something that’s now becoming increasingly clear to me. In the long run, you’ll only be able to compete through a multi-channel approach. Here’s why.

For the last 100 or so years, the telephone was a perfectly viable way to market and sell services. Sure, telemarketing is a shitty job, hated by both caller and prospect. But it works so long as you have the right volume of calls, and a winning script and offer. Even Hubspot, the earliest and most well-known evangelist of inbound marketing, has a boiler room of recent college grads dialing for dollars. The fact stands: calling is still a viable channel to start conversations and even win new business.

In the last week, I’ve seen several news stories about the recent boom in telemarketing. I’ve noticed it on my phone, which I rarely answer anymore because I primarily receive spam calls these days. This Reply All podcast episode does the best job of explaining a small change in the interpretation of the law that enabled the boom in robocalls.

I’ll summarize it for you here: the Obama administration made several attempts to limit robocalling, and wrote policy that required robocalls to hire real live human beings to manually click phone numbers on a screen to launch an autodialer. A small change in the interpretation of a single word in that law enabled telemarketers to remove the human from the equation, and have a true autodialing solution. It’s not surprising that computers can click and dial faster than people, and this simple change led to at least a 60% increase in robocalls in 2018.

The result: most people I know say they get “mostly spam calls” and “never answer” their phones anymore. I can’t prove it, but I have a guess about the effect of the influx of spam calls: it’s making the phone a less effective channel. I know, Captain Obvious here.

This over-simplification of the history or the phone as sales and marketing channel can teach us several lessons about how channels work generally:

  • Initial success leads to a rapid increase in the use of the channel, first within small groups of competitors, then across entire industries
  • Industry competition ratchets up the use of the channel, squeezing out rents obtained by early entrants, thereby reducing the profitability of the channel
  • Acquisition costs rise as a direct result of the rents and competition battling for attention within the channel
  • Technology is applied to increase both volume and efficiency, in an effort to recapture lost rents and reduce acquisition costs
  • Overuse becomes rampant and reduces the utility of the channel, even from its original intended use case
  • Policy is used to limit the overuse and abuse of the channel, sometimes by government, and sometimes by private companies and channel owners
  • Sudden changes and innovations will eventually upset the status quo of the channel, increasing entrants and therefore channel saturation
  • The channel is declared dead as overuse ratchets to unbearable levels, and businesses flee the channel in search of better opportunities
  • Desaturation makes the channel viable again, leading a brave few to recapture lost rents, and the cycle starts again

This cycle isn’t limited to the telephone, of course. Choose any marketing channel from the last 100 years and you’ll see the same thing. Coupons. Radio. Print ads. Direct mail. Billboards. Television. Email. Internet display ads. Search marketing. Content marketing. The list goes on.

Whatever channels are viable today will be less viable at some point in the future, and that viability will both increase and decrease over time, depending on the point in the cycle. What also appears to be true is that channels with decentralized ownership seem to remain viable much longer.

In the case of LinkedIn, they could suddenly make a change and send a ripple effect through the platform. Their bidding system also acts to steadily increase acquisition costs through advertising, meaning only the best marketers, and companies with highest value customers, will remain. Whereas in the case of email, policy is set on the server or individual company level, with occasional scary-but-ineffective interventions by the government. Conclusion: email will remain viable for most, LinkedIn will not.

Which brings me back to yesterday’s question.

In the long run, the right question isn’t which of two channels to use, it’s which channels can be used that give you a sustainable sales and marketing advantage by working in tandem. More specifically, you need channels to attract net new people to you, and you need channels to keep the conversation going with those who don’t yet trust you and/or aren’t ready to buy.

I haven’t touched on the role of relationships and IRL marketing yet, so I’ll cover it tomorrow. See you then.