Marketing automation has been one of the success stories of the last decade.  Technology has enabled the automation of marketing communications, alongside more targeted messaging based on insight into individuals’ areas of interest.

Marketing automation is a great example of technology empowering marketers, helping them do more with less effort.  Once set up, marketing automation programmes will capture and nurture leads, gathering insight in to each contact along the way.

Where to start with Marketing Automation?

It may be clichéd, but you need to start by thinking about your market – who your audience are, what you want to know about them, how they can be grouped and what content you have that will be of interest to them.

Start by thinking about the possible groupings of your audience, such as:

  • Stage in buying cycle
  • Industry
  • Region
  • Job title – and how this factors into the buying dynamics of a broader team

Then consider what content you have which is relevant to each grouping at different stages in the buying cycle.  In many cases, you may find gaps in your content.  This is the perfect time to plug those gaps and ensure you have a compelling range of content which is valuable to your audience at all stages in their buying cycle.

It’s also worth considering how your content is split across different formats.  Not everyone responds well to written content, some people prefer to engage with images, video or even audio content.  Provide options and think about how you can serve different options to your audience and refine future offerings to better match their preferences.

A word of warning – don’t get too caught up with putting individuals into a specific group.  Sometimes an individual may express interest in a particular area, but later want to know more in other areas.  Do not cut people off from gaining access to the full range of content that may be of value to them.

Constructing a Marketing Automation Programme

Every audience is different, but there are a few rules of thumb to creating a successful marketing automation programme.

For any programme, it is worth having a fall-back ‘drip-feed’ campaign to bounce unengaged individuals out into.  This prevents email fatigue and having people unsubscribe because they’re inundated with communications.

Each marketing automation programme needs to start with data-capture to build a list.  Remembering of course to make explicit what you are tracking and why, for GDPR purposes.  Ideally, you need to request an email address and ideally a name.  Details such as job title, company name and other specifics relating to role in buying process can be asked later.  Remember, this is a value exchange; people will only part with information if they feel it is worth it.  Having a whopping great form before you allow anyone to download their first white paper isn’t going to work at all well.  Once an individual has engaged with your brand for a while and feels they have received value through content consumed to date, they may be more amenable to providing valuable insight about their role and influence within the organisation.

For each nurture programme, your steps should consider what content the individual has already received or engaged with; don’t send them something they’ve already consumed!  Consider how email communications can be personalised to provide more value – such as talking about known challenges for their job title, or explaining a logical link to previous content they consumed.

Data-capture along the way should be done progressively.  Progressive profiling means the questions asked in each form should change, as previous questions were already answered.  This gives an opportunity to learn more about each contact, starting with what you need to know to serve them better content, but progressing towards questions which inform the sales team with information they want to know before speaking to a contact.

Provide pathways for escalation, such as the option to sign up for a licensing webinar, or download detailed competitor evaluation materials.  When a contact jumps to one of these latter stage content items, this is considered a hand-raise to express sales interest.  This should influence their ‘lead score’ and potentially alert sales to make direct contact.

Lead Scoring in Marketing Automation

Lead scoring is the attribution of a ‘score’ to each individual.  This score is an indication of how ‘hot’ the lead is, therefore how close they are to ‘sales readiness’.  The score can be set to automatically increase as a result of specific interactions with emails, website, social media or content items.  As mentioned in the section above, certain late stage content items could be set to add more points to a lead score than typical interactions with the site.

When a lead score crosses a specific threshold, this should raise an alert to sales to make direct contact – potentially picking up the phone.  With a well-designed marketing automation programme, you should have captured sufficient information, via progressive profiling forms, about an individual to easily make contact and talk knowledgeably about their interests and challenges at this point.

Marketing automation can run in parallel with the sales process, integrating with CRM systems, and lead scores can influence thresholds for progression from Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) to Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) to Sales Qualified Opportunity (SQO).

Getting Started with Marketing Automation

Marketing automation takes a little while to set up, but the process of doing this often exposes opportunities to improve marketing content and sales engagement.  Sales teams need to be brought onside as early as possible – as marketing automation is designed to provide them with far higher quality leads to follow up.  Ask the sales team what they would like to know, what is current missing from their leads, what would help them close a deal and what could be done to filter out irrelevant leads earlier.

Sales teams need to be made aware that marketing automation is a nurturing process.  Just because a marketing qualified lead is captured, it should not be passed to sales.  For a hungry sales team, this may be frustrating, but this is about quality not quantity.  Marketing automation will drive higher quality leads into sales, when they are closer to being ready to buy.  Providing transparency and getting sales teams bought in to the process from the start is integral to ensuring success in marketing automation.

An audit of marketing content, combined with a few conversations with the sales team, should provide enough insight to start mapping a marketing automation programme flow.  Selecting the right marketing automation platform and integrating this with CRM, website, social media and other platforms can often be done in parallel with the content and communication planning to fuel a successful marketing automation programme.

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