The goal of marketing still revolves around accelerating new and repeat sales. But the means to that end has shifted over the past few years.

This fundamental shift can be tied, in part, to digital innovation. However, it’s not just about technology. It’s about the lifestyle shift and what could be considered a "workstyle" shift, which I define as a person’s expectations and preferences in how they work and engage with a company.

How can companies transform the ways they engage with customers and partners and connect to their existing marketing automation systems? Here are three significant points to consider.

Focus on Conversions, Engagement

The marketing funnel, technically, is dead. Yes, prospective customers still move through a buying cycle. But the difference is that they have many more ways now to learn about a company and connect with existing customers.

Content strategy is still important, but a conversation and engagement strategy is now a prerequisite. For example, the majority of customers expect companies to offer social customer support.

Companies should move away from things like the separate knowledge base, support portal, partner portal, customer blog, idea place and docs system and create a central hub or owned online community for customers and partners. Regardless of the technology used, there are three key elements to a winning conversation and engagement strategy:

  1. Connect: Build relationships and create value among customers and partners. You’ll also empower individuals to discover people and information that matter to them.
  2. Communicate: You'll ensure customers and partners have access to the right information at the right time. From there, you can turn the communication into accessible and valuable intellectual property.
  3. Collaborate: Your customers are the single greatest untapped resource for driving innovation. By really listening, you can not only create better products but optimize your marketing approaches by adapting to their needs.

CMOs are Top Tech Buyers

According to Gartner, CMOs are fast becoming the No. 1 tech buyers. Customer relationship marketing, marketing automation, mobile, online communities, customer analytics and other tech purchases are driving this shift.

Additionally, since 2011 there has been growing focus on cloud technology investments. In these situations, the hosting and technical aspects are provided as a service rather than handled on-site by the company. This trend means less internal IT involvement is needed to keep key systems up to date.