Exploring Conversational Marketing

by Jason Falls |

How do you know when, in the midst of conversation, to market? Is it never? Is it only when your conversational partner asks? How about at any reasonable opening to do so? Or is there a medium in between one more more of those?

From The Cluetrain Manifesto‘s declaration that “Markets are conversations,” we’ve all tried, and some have struggled, to figure out what that means, how we as marketers can capitalize on it and tactically, when in conversation can we market? Or more appropriately for many, when in conversation can we sell?

Ask 100 people and you’ll get 100 answers. Social media purists will say, “You never sell. You only make yourself trustworthy and ever-present and let the market come to you.” But how many salesmen do you know who make a good living just sitting back and never asking if they can help? None that I know of.

Lakhovsky: The Convesation; oil on panel (Бесе...
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve often used the civic organization or professional networking event as an example of what conversational marketing is. You migrate around the room, listening to conversations until you find one you most appropriately fit into. You stand adjacent to the circle of participants until they recognize and let you in. You participate, smiling and laughing only, until an opening comes where they ask you to introduce yourself or you can contribute to the storytelling and cajoling without breaking cadence with the group.

Eventually, someone asks, “So, what do you do?” And there’s your first opportunity to market. But you can dive into sales mode. You just tell them, give them the background and let them know in an unspoken way, “If you need someone to do this, you can call me.”

Over the course of the evening, or even other meetings and weeks or months of getting to know the group well, you find other opportunities to tell war stories from work, share problems you’ve solved for other people and the like. You may even find yourself saying to someone, “You know, you look like a guy who could use a new X. Why don’t you come by next week and see me?”

That relationship-building and conversational marketing happens online, too. Far too often, however, many traditional sales-oriented folks try to rush it. We live in a here-and-now world. I don’t care what the social media rules are, I’ve got a quota to meet. Yes, the social era has begotten a shift in mindset and behavior for companies. This is one of their hardest areas to change. But how can they change and still meet deadlines, quotas and projections?

When is it right to market through conversations?

I’m not only interested in your thoughts in the comments, but I’m co-hosting a webinar on the subject tomorrow with NetBase as part of its 11 for ’11 Webinar Series. We’ll walk through ideas on conversational marketing, show examples of some companies doing it well. I’ll go over how to handle detractors in the conversational marketing world. Heck, I might even share some embarrassing stories of my own missteps in the conversation space.

Register for the webinar over at NetBase and join us at 1 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT tomorrow, Thursday, August 18, 2011. It’ll be a hoot.

Now … when is it time to market in conversations? Your thoughts? The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).