Automation can go wrong when put in the hands of the impatient marketer. Last week, I wrote about the unintended consequences of customer journey mapping when marketers allow intention to drift away from the customer and toward the brand.

The thought was very much on my brain while attending Salesforce Connections in Atlanta this week, where I had a chance to sit down Salesforce Marketing Cloud product chief, Bryan Wade. Perhaps more than any vendor, I figured, Salesforce would have something to say about this idea, given their longstanding embrace of the concept of customer journeys. I wasn’t wrong.

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Bryan agreed with my premise that journeys can run amok when, as he put it, “marketers rely on their own biases to build their journeys.” He says the problem is particularly acute when marketers build their journeys from 35,000 feet or when freshly minted MBAs, perhaps having yet to learn tough marketplace lessons, focus on the four Ps over the needs of the customer.

Wade makes the important distinction between what he calls “promotional marketing” and “experience marketing,” where the intent of the former is to persuade and the latter is to serve.

Clearly, competitive dynamics are forcing a shift here, where yesterday’s carnival barker efforts of marketing whatever it is that you have on the truck to sell are giving way to a more thoughtful concierge-like effort to serve customer needs.

But how does the average marketer make the shift from here to there? The evolution Bryan suggests, begins with a deep understanding of customer needs. And by customer, what he means isn’t necessarily Salesforce customers, but their customers’ customers.

To enable this understanding, Salesforce offers a program called Spark, which Bryan describes as lessons for walking in your customers’ shoes. By closely observing their behavior and preferences and thoughtfully designing journeys that informs automation to execute these journeys at scale, marketing can make the leap from promotional to experience in orientation.

Is there still a role for promotional marketing?

Absolutely, Bryan says, but it’s all about getting the balance right. “I’ve spoken with at least three customers this week who are looking to control volume,” he said. “When you go from batch and blast to journeys, how you think about these journeys can be the difference between value-add and oversaturation.”

For example, Wade describes the scenario of a running shoe company that may trigger offers from, not just estimated purchase intervals, but the data collected from a wearable device which helps discriminate between lapsed runners like me and those who actually track serious miles. With this level of precision, they can time a promotional offer to more closely coincide with need.

The point, as Salesforce product Veep Leslie Fine says in a keynote is learning to listen and wait. Unsurprisingly, Wade agrees. “Everyone says that customer journeys are unpredictable. And they’re right. Listening and waiting is how you discover the customer journey.”

Such is the way of the patient marketer.

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