Marketing Automation & Its Best Practices
What is Marketing Automation?
Marketing Automation is a combination of different software platforms and technologies that have been designed to help organizations market their products and services on multiple channels online. The objective of implementing these software’s and systems is to automate tasks that are repetitive, time consuming and which do not generate any revenue while focusing on other core marketing activities.
In an ideal situation marketing automation software’s and systems can allow companies to buy and sell their products by converting prospects into customers and customers into super revenue generating customers. This would help in generating significant amounts of new revenue for the companies using such systems. Although marketing automation is a significant task and requires a lot of effort, yet once executed correctly has great long term benefits. The following factors can be considered as an appropriate yet cogent explanation of what Marketing Automation is:
a) Measurement. Getting the right tools in the right places. Gaining more data and greater insight into customers in order to help and inspire to buy.
b) Content is still the king and Marketing automation helps personalize the content delivered to the customers.
c) Relationship Development and ongoing relationship management. Marketing Automation can help nurture the relationships and facilitate due diligence early in the sales cycle.
d) Organization and insights marketing automation helps organizations gather insights from data and build iterative processes that utilize this data. This can include organizing customers into groups based on common behaviors, interests and needs.
e) Helping Marketing professionals. Automation can help humanize a brand by helping marketers, brand managers in better understanding the needs, interests and requirements of other humans and especially customers.
Since marketing Automation software’s are automated platforms therefore it is better to understand what these platforms can generally do or what their core functionalities are. The marketing automation software’s can basically be divided into three subcategories which are as follows:
a) Marketing Intelligence Software’s
b) Marketing Automation Software’s
c) Advanced Workflow automation software’s
Offline marketing intelligence involves the capturing of customer behavior. Preferences, likes and dislikes through different non automated means. The internet provides an extensive opportunity to capture customer information quickly that can then be put into action. For example, using tracking codes in social media email and webpages to track customer behavior of a user who is interested in a product or service can actually help in determining the intent of that customer about buying that product.
Automated Market intelligence systems can record which threads or social media groups did a particular customer follow, which link was clicked upon in an email or what search term is bringing in the optimum number of customers to a website. Multilink analysis can then further help in tracking buyer behavior – following links and multiple threads related to product This allows administrators to design responses that are more targeted and accurate , additionally it facilitates in the development of nurturing programs specifically targeted towards customer interests and other vertical markets.
Marketing Automation Software’s:
The marketing automation software’s are more focused on converting leads at the top of your marketing funnel/effort. The underlying objective is to make those leads sales ready and bring them to the bottom of the funnel where they can actually generate some cash flows for the company.
Even over here the prospects are selected, based on their activities and the exposed to drip campaign messaging via different sources like email and social channel which leads to the their nurturing into a full-fledged customer. Commonly used in business-to-business (B2B), business-to-government (B2G), or longer sales cycle business-to-consumer (B2C) sales cycles, Marketing Automation requires multiple areas of marketing to work in cohesion and is the unison of email marketing technology paired with a solid sales process.
Advanced Workflow Automation Software’s:
Advanced workflow automation software’s are designed to automate internal marketing processes. The activities included under the umbrella of these processes are budgeting, planning, approvals of workflows, development of marketing calendars, internal collaboration, creation of digital assets and basically everything that supports the operational efficiency of the marketing function inside the company.
Generally these systems require the deployment of Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRMs) like Salesforce which then needs to be administered in order to set different rules to trigger actions that facilitate company professionals in managing sales. Such systems increase the marketer’s ability to deliver cogent content to the most relevant audience at the most relevant time. The good thing about tools like salesforce.com is that they have a marketing suite for B2B (Pardot) and for B2C (ExactTarget), which are very simple to integrate. As a result It removes the integration complexity and make the tools ready to work together once setup.
Misconceptions about marketing automation
a) Marketing automation does not only involve the development of automatic processes that deliver desensitized messages to cut down human interactions. In reality it is about helping marketers better understand interest, behaviors and relationships by making complex data simpler. It is more about building relevance and personalization throughout the marketing/sales process.
b) Marketing automation is not about developing shortcuts but in fact it is an effort to learn a bit more about your potential customer. Furthermore it is an effort towards helping your customers become more educated and interested in your brand.
c) Another misconception about marketing automation is that it removes people form the marketing and sales process which is incorrect. In reality marketing automation only facilitates the people already in the system and the processes to complete their jobs in a much more efficient manner.
Steps to Kickstart Marketing Automation
It is important to understand that Marketing Automation in today’s world is not only restricted to big enterprises. In reality marketing automation benefits small and mid-sized companies as much as it benefits larger corporations.
a) Integrating CRM with the Sales Process
The close alignment of marketing and sales is essential for the success of the entire marketing automation endeavor. In order to do this it is important that the marketing team clearly understands the sales cycle and how do sales prospects actually move through the funnel. Another essential part of this step is to measure the true effectiveness of your marketing efforts/campaigns. Essentially this requires tracking the leads and ensuring that they reach down to the marketing funnel. A lot of emphasis needs to be laid down on this particular step and it needs to be ensures that the automation platforms are holistically integrated into your sales process. As stated in previous paragraph, having a vendor that already have a CRM and a Marketing Automation software like Salesforce ease this step as the CRM will be natively integrated and reports ready to be used.
b) Have an end goal in mind
Marketers today are expected to know the complete details of what are they are trying to achieve out a particular activity. They are supposed to know in detail the targeted audience, where they are and what is the best way of bringing them in. The same rule has to be applied to marketing automation and two very basic yet generally overlooked factors are crucial.
I. You have to be certain that you exactly know the identity of your targeted customer. Their age, probably their geographical spread, their income level or annual revenue, their level of education. These factors are important to understand and lay down as early as possible because any miscalculation at this stage will deviate your entire effort from the objective that you tend to achieve.
II. Secondly it is your job to make sure that your understand that what appeals to your audience the most. This is important in the designing of the content which is supposed to funnel in the customers.
c) Having realistic time lines
Closely studying and understanding your sales cycle in order to get insight into when do you expect convert a prospect to convert into a revenue generating customer can facilitate your marketing efforts. Understanding this process will help you in driving your marketing efforts at a much faster pace while being realistic. It is important not to be discouraged when your customer is slower than you thought in converting into a revenue generating entity. Hurrying this process does not usually help because this can lead to lack of trust which will leave you with a prospect at the end your sales funnel who is not interested in committing any revenue. This is disastrous considering the fact that you spent all the time and effort in moving this prospect from the top of the funnel all the way to the bottom of it.
“The first step is to understand who’s involved in the buying cycle,” advises Denise Barnes, president of global B2B brand-to-demand agency Babcock & Jenkins. “What answers are they searching for as they journey towards a purchase? What is their typical sales cycle? Using that as a foundation, you can then map the conversation –– delivering targeted, relevant content when and where it counts the most.” Additionally it is important to be able to judge that when it is ok and when it is not ok to take a shortcut.
A well-regarded marketing automation feature allows the creation of targeted marketing campaigns with segmentations and list management. This effectively allows a company to use all of the contact information they have to create lists based on behaviors and demographics.
d) Setting the optimum path to the leads
Experts agree that it is in the greater benefit of a company to target directly and then prioritize leads rather dividing time equally between all the leads. Lead categorization is certainly at the top of a marketing automation best practices list and helps you in deciding when to turn and where to turn, when to go faster and when to go slower for each and every individual customer.
Marketing Automation software’s come with features that ensure that marketers spend more time with their best leads rather than wasting time on phone tagging and other misadventures. Such features can automatically score leads based both on demographics and on actions customers take with your business. The automated software then creates lists or groups based on the information you have about these contacts and sends out targeted communications and campaigns to those lists, advancing different prospects down the sales funnel.
e) Call to Actions
Developing and delivering call to action is one of the keep parts of generating leads that can ultimately lead to sales. Call to actions can be defined as the text or graphic prompts on a particular website that encourages a contact to take an action immediately. These call to actions allow prospective customers to know your intent and will help you drive customers further down into the sales funnel
According to digital marketing agency White Hat Media, CTAs need to be included in all PR and marketing campaigns, every time. Any automated software system a company uses for marketing should help design professional e-mails, with attention to CTAs, their size and what they need to say to particular people.
If the recipient of a piece of your correspondence is already a customer, for instance, you won’t need a call-to-action to re-convince them you are the best company for what they need. Materials sent to that type of customer are not tailored the same way as they are for someone still investigating and researching a specific product or service.
f) Do not activate the Auto mode
Yes, it is true that marketing automation does save time and resources but if the auto pilot is left on unchecked it can lead to a complete system failure. It is better to avoid a full auto pilot mode and imperative to keep a check on the system, intervening, tweaking it for better performance and output. Automation if left unchecked can actually become a reason of sales prevention because a single un updated process or rule in the system can leave the entire sales funneling process crippled. It is important that the process flows are checked regularly ensuring that they are ending up where are supposed to end.
g) Work on Insights and building profiles
One of the core objectives of building of marketing is to develop leads and build up prospects that consistently engage with you and generate revenues for you over time. A good insight into how your content is being consumed can also be used in deciding what your future content offerings will be and how will they be delivered. This is customization at its best because this cyclical method of correcting yourself bit by bit every time you run campaign is going to help you move towards perfection.
h) Focus of content quality
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that content is the king but it is also important to remember that quality over quantity matters. Although it might seem like that it takes large quantity of content to make a campaign successful yet in reality lesser, better more targeted content can so the trick. The content should be engaging and valuable enough to motivate people into committing an exchange of information. In order to make the content more interactive it is important that it is made exclusive and the readers are engaged by its novelty.
i) Consistent testing
Consistently test and optimize the performance of your campaigns and your entire system. The same stands true for leads nurturing and marketing automation. Test thoroughly as there are unlimited opportunities for testing. You can test the content, subject lines links days of messages and even the time of the day when your messages get you the most optimum of results. This consistent test and retesting will lead towards the optimization of your system and eventually increase your return on investment.
j) Customer Feedback/Surveys
A quality marketing software platform is supposed to generate reports on your marketing campaigns that clearly show what’s working and what is not. A report can also track real-time campaign results. This allows you to have actual live insight as various campaigns are advances.
The customer’s voice is the judge and the jury and no matter how strictly you are implementing marketing automation best practices it is vital to seek consistent feedback from your audience.
Marketing Automation Best Practices
Below are some best practices that are utilized by industry leaders and can serve as an excellent blue print for implementing and running Marketing Automation Systems:
a) Defining a Marketing Strategy
Companies frequently focus too much on picking the best technology. Before you go out and select an Automation platform it’s important to have a crystal clear strategy on how you plan to use the system. Companies that fail in doing so frequently get very low mileage out of such systems. Mostly companies are doing things backward and they tend to buy the technology first and then decide on how to use it. It is important to understand that Technology is just a facilitator and not a magic pill to all the marketing problems.
It is seen too often that companies make an assumption that the simple deployment of an automated system will result in greater marketing efficiencies. Before you can extract anything concrete out of the system it is important that there is a plan and strategies that you can execute.
b) Integrating the systems
Expansive systems like Marketing Automation systems cannot work in isolation. These systems need to be integrated into other company systems like the CRM. If you are a company which is trying to deploy a marketing automation system then it is recommended that a deployment and integration plan is in place before the actual deployment starts. Most often there is no clear cut plan for how the integration will proceed and what sort of data needs to flow between the systems.
In reality your marketing automation solution is only as good as the data you feed to it. Generally companies overlook this important aspect and miss out on a great opportunity to fully utilize the benefits of Marketing Automation.
c) Aligning people and Processes
Marketing Automation presents an opportunity to engage with your customers in a new way and to align you marketing activities in a better manner so that they can generate greater revenue for you. This process can involve the utilization and deployment of additional resources but there is also a clear return on investment available.
It is important to involve your company is a strategic dialogue which ensures that they marketing and sales are aligned on different matters including the definition of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL). It also involves ensuring that the content team is producing content that is optimized for the buyer. If the organization and sync is out then people the whole deployment can fall short of what is being expected out of it.
d) Committing to a process:
We all know managing change can be problematic and deploying a Marketing Automation system is actually a pretty big change. Once you have successfully gathered all the input from all the key stakeholders and then prioritized them it is then time to develop a process using actionable outputs and the commit yourself and the different stakeholders to that process. People generally do not scale automatically and they need to be managed through this process. It is imperative that the right process is replicated all across the board because the automated system is not supposed to replace human involvement just facilitate it.
e) Gathering the Input data accurately
First and foremost, to every successful system there is accurate input. Marketers would need to gather and assemble information regarding the target audience accurately. This would involve capturing different types of data and expanding the exercise of capturing the data beyond traditional sources of data collection.
Different sources like the social media networks can be utilized for gathering this preliminary information but an important aspect at this stage is to ensure that all data about prospects is collected accurately and summarized in a manner that is useable by the automated system.
f) Developing a sound content strategy
In order to generate an effective amount of Demand it is important that you have a high quality content which is in significant quantity. It is also important to design the content based upon a through systematic assessment of your target audience. There is no saying that the content needs to be educational and should not only serve the objective of promotion as it might put off the customer. Content production is a non-trivial problem but there are efficiency opportunities through atomization – breaking up existing content and repackaging it.
Content can sometimes serve as a road block to being successful because companies sometimes but automated systems but they just do not have any content to deliver once that system has been deployed. It is imperative that before your company up for this journey you should invest resources into developing content in advance. This is sometimes realized a bit too late by companies and they end up offering zero added value to the customer and thus underutilizing the entire new system.
Tagging content to the different states of the buyer’s journey through your funnel can be a very difficult exercise and many companies do get stuck at this stage yet it is imperative that proper time and resources are invested into this stage.
g) Gathering Additional Information
Another best practice utilized to smoothly run automated marketing systems is to collect information beyond the basic order details or history. This widening of the scope of information allows in organizing future marketing activities that can help in generating further revenue by uncovering opportunities that were originally invisible.
h) Re-designing the Metrics
Once a company approaches the new deployment it is important that they move out of their past and look into the requirements of the future. Marketing organizations are often stuck in the past, concentrating on metrics like open and click rates for emails, but not tying their campaigns back to revenue. Beyond agreeing on the right metrics to track, it’s also important to ensure there’s consensus on their definition. They have a hard time proving they value of their efforts as they fail to tie it to the revenue. Marketing is often removed once it goes into sales, which is a pretty big mistake.
It is important to note over here that sometimes sales teams are looking for a shortcut for lead generations and sales enhancements. In most cases the conversion rates between leads and sales is a crucial metric but by focusing too closely on the closing rate for a particular time period the sales teams feels the pressure to only accept leads that are ready to buy, probably leaving out a big chunk of potential customers who have the potential to generate revenues in the future. The decision of not evaluating or nurturing new leads can become a critical error in the entire system because these leads can easily shift over to competitors making your company loose crucial revenue.
i) Real time or near real time updates
Once the system has been put into place it needs to function in real time or close to real time environment. This can be very beneficial as it allows companies in engaging prospects when their interest is at its highest in the product or service at offer. This would also help in locking down the customer and securing any future revenues that are expected to be earned from them.
j) Customer Grouping
It is always best to group customers together in line with some shared attribute or characteristic. For example they can be grouped together based on their age, demographics, company, product preferences etc. This can help in revealing patterns and generating insights that can majorly benefit the company and help reveal revenue generating areas that formerly were not visible.
The above are some basic Marketing Automation best practices that are currently utilized by market leaders. As the field of marketing automation evolves best practices are being put in place to ensure a smooth transition for companies that are moving from conventional marketing management to automated marketing.
k) Measuring and monitoring
Undoubtedly, one of the most critical success factors because programs often fail because of lack of predefined objectives un-realistic matrices. Once you have insight into specific marketing automation objectives for your brand then the time is right to identify the specific KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) so that your entire effort can gain the ability to measure program efficacy. These measures will vary based on what objectives you have determined.
The term marketing automation is sometimes associated with negative sentiments. Focusing on the real benefits based on the unique challenges of each stakeholder helps a lot. If you have not already started to build critical relationships with the key stakeholders who are most likely to benefit from the output of a marketing automation system, then it is better that you start doing so. Take your time in asking questions, listening to the answers and then developing solutions that satisfy the concerns of the stakeholders.
This approach does take time but it is important to remember that successful automation solutions require collaboration and acceptance from key stakeholders. Collaborative process breaks down silos and this is an essential component of a differentiating customer experience. Waiting for that perfect process can be a mistake, instead starting simple; using a well-designed process and then adding complexity if and when it becomes appropriate can be a better way of going about it.
B2B Marketing Automation best practices
B2B marketers need to work differently than B2C Marketers and how they used to work in the past. Today there is more data on prospects, leads and customers available than ever before and this can be used to run better experiments and reduce wasteful practices.
a) It is imperative that Hard Work is put in to understand your prospects buying cycle. Marketing automation can only make the delivering of the right message at the right time to the right people possible and within the grasp of B2B marketers since it is just a system that supports and facilitates the marketer.
b) Buyer identities should be used to build relevant processes, workflows, communications, team standards and lead relevancies. These are fictitious versions of your customers and a user that helps guide marketing and content decisions and can be very effective is surrogating a real situation.
c) Understanding which stage a lead is at is quite imperative because not all leads are equal or ready. If a lead isn’t ready to buy then there is no reason to discard them, instead it might be important to invest more time on them and play a longer game.
d) Personalizing content to buyer personas: Provide more diverse and appropriate types of content to leads. Considering the point above, different leads may need different types of content. Some leads may need factsheets to make a case internally for a sale. Whereas other leads may need to understand categorically if such a decision is necessary for their particular brand or industry.
e) Scoring leads can help marketers quickly assess the commitment and buying readiness of a lead. Using point systems can also track where the bottle necks are in your marketing to sales process.
f) Sales teams may not be adequately equipped to develop early stage leads and marketing teams can use automation systems to evolve such leads with relevant content, adequate interactions and timely communications/messages.
g) Do not use one-fits-all emails for your leads, instead customize for optimization. Using triggered emails, segmentation and workflows can help in building smart, relevant communications.