In today’s world customers are bombarded with information, resulting in a lot of micro-moments in which companies try to catch the attention of the customer. Which in turn results in a lot of touchpoints and complexity of marketing initiatives. To capture their attention companies need to communicate on the right and in the right context. Here Marketing Automation steps in the game: streamlining, automating, measuring, and visualizing marketing efforts. This way companies can start building 1-on-1 relationships and experiences across channels & campaigns.
Marketing automation often layers on top of CRM. While not essential for a company’s survival – it is starting to become indispensable if you want to be relevant to your stakeholders, and in any competitive environment, it is becoming quite fundamental for long-term survival. This category too has seen a tremendous evolution in becoming highly affordable financially and technically easy to adopt. Besides, they have the same goal: Increase business Impact. So, sales & marketing need to work together.
We will be sharing a blogpost on the the current state of CRM’s very soon.
The start of Marketing Automation
The company that cracked the code on marketing automation was Eloqua. Back in 1999 Eloqua, however, was not referred to initially as marketing automation – they were Revenue Performance Management platforms (RPMs). Why is this relevant? Well, today you have several ways to get to Rome – and many ways to achieve a functional level that marketing automation solutions provide by combining best of breed solutions. Some companies still believe in the build vs. buy principle for this category of software.
However, the essential thing is, while marketing automation software is an essential enabler for you to create fully integrated programs – it is more importantly capable of tracking, measuring and analyzing the effectiveness of those programs. This initial use case nowadays often gets underestimated or not even looked at all.
About ten years ago, Hubspot entered the stage. Hubspot has been a gamechanger and catalyst in providing a paradigm shift towards inbound marketing.
Benefits of Marketing Automation Software?
Marketing automation typically allows you to follow a prospect or user’s top-of-funnel activities, including when they visit your website, read your blog posts, open an email, or fill out a form. Important to notice is that it typically does this for both known and unknown audiences. This is important, as, with unfamiliar audiences, you can already start tracking this behavior. Once the anonymous profile identifies her or him, you can immediately start putting them into the right segment or dynamic lists based on their previous behavior before they were known to you by name (and email address). Marketers use marketing automation software typically to plan and track marketing programs – often via email and in the context of mass business-to-customer communications.
Core Benefits of Marketing Automation:
- Dynamically and automatically segment prospects in lists based on past interactions, based on interests and preferences – typically driven by behavior rather than interrupting and asking for intentions or information.
- Lead-nurturing and scoring capabilities, allowing you to automatically fire triggered emails the moment it is most relevant for the individual, and when they show high interest in your product or service. Commonly you can foresee a series of emails in a ‘drip’ campaign – so your solutions stay top of mind with prospects for a more extended period.
- Foster leads and prepare them for the sales team. By the time your lead has progressed to the bottom of the funnel to mature into a qualified sales lead (and in the end a customer) and align your marketing and sales efforts into measurable results and impact.
- Improved marketing efficiency: it allows you to automate time-consuming and manual chores regarding content creation and distribution, content personalization, scheduling recurring campaigns, executing on your data hygiene, communicate with sales at scale and in a consistent and predictable way.
- Improve the capacity to create more and better-qualified leads – it can combine demographical, firmographic, behavioral data (what pages are visited, what content is downloaded, what forms and fields have been filled out) to score leads so this generates when those leads are sales-ready.
- Better alignment between sales and marketing objectives. Marketing automation can help align marketing and sales by jointly setting the parameters and definitions of what are precisely qualified leads. Marketing typically focuses on building trust and relationships with early-stage leads so that sales can focus on highly qualified prospects. As the buyer evolves and becomes better educated, you see this tipping point of handover between marketing and sales more often and further down the funnel.
- Improved lead conversion and Return On Investment (ROI). Numerous studies have found that using a marketing automation system can increase conversions. Forrester found that B2B marketers who are implementing marketing automation, experience a 10% increase in their sales pipeline contribution. Marketing automation can result in a 15% increase in sales productivity as well as a 1% decrease in marketing overheads, according to tech research firm Nucleus.
Signs your business needs Marketing Automation
- You’re having engagement gaps and need to re-engage with prospects all the time while keeping your resources consistent. Your traditional communication model is broken, and customer acquisition costs are soaring or are not in line with your industry average spend in customer acquisition costs (CAC – more on that metric later). In other words, you are in the ‘Find, Engage, Forget’ model ...
- Your prospect and customer lists are getting too complex to maintain manually. This is typically a phenomenon that you will encounter when using email automation tools – they are not too great at managing dynamic lists and segmenting; especially if your business has a decent portion of offline touchpoints. You will need marketing automation software to ensure each contact rightfully goes through the correct stages of your marketing funnel to nurture them into a solid lead for your sales teams.
- You don’t have enough leads, or your customer list is too thin: don’t worry if you only have 1,000 contacts in your database. If for example, you have long sales cycles, long buyer journeys with high transaction value per customer, then you have a solid argument to consider implementing marketing automation. Often business performance is not only a matter of ‘not enough leads at the top of the funnel’ but more an issue of a leaking funnel – or sometimes the back door is wide open and preventing churn can be the first use case for your marketing automation initiative.
- Every marketer wants more leads: when deploying marketing automation, you can create a homogenized outreach experience across various channels and using several media types – optimizing the influx of leads and building a better-balanced media mix, thus also a better-optimized customer acquisition cost. However, do not overestimate the expected result. Marketing automation’s primary use case is not dealing with your top of the funnel challenges.
- You’ve got your content all worked out, but there’s a hiccup getting it distributed and in front of your audience
The functionality of Marketing Automation Solution
One of the primary use cases of marketing automation is often tech stack consolidation. Many of the components are available as the best of breed solution – and as you have read above workflow automation and GAPs are a way of bringing those components to work together to achieve some equivalent functional level. However, this will only bring you so far – and at a certain given point in time, this approach will spin out of control. That is where you need to consolidate and rationalize.
A Marketing Automation Platform has 12 core functionality categories to distinguish:
- Email automation
- Tracking behavior
- Hosting marketing files
- Lead management
- List management
- Social media management
- Analytics and reporting
- SEO and digital advertising integration
- Forms and landing pages with progressive profiling
- Automated workflows
1. Email Automation
Many times, marketing automation projects serve the purpose of fixing email marketing performance challenges. However, the unfortunate thing is that – while marketing automation goes way beyond basic email sending, and yes while you can A/B test content, email subject lines, test across spam filters, preview emails across various platforms and devices, create brand-consistent email templates – many times deployments get stuck at the level of pretty basic email automation. Some platforms are rather rigid when it comes to customizing email templates (one of the downsides of a fancy WYSIWYG interface), and if you would require personalization on opening rather than when sending an email, this is functionality that often gets overlooked when selecting the right platform.
One of the main reasons to transition from email automation platforms such as Mailchimp towards more advanced capabilities of segmentation are more enhanced levels of personalization based on behavior, product interest, location, frequency of store visits, purchase behavior, average basket sizes, etc. can be achieved.
One of the critical questions to ask yourself is: “what type of emails does my organization send out?” Many times, a newsletter or blog subscription mail is the only mail that you are aware of that goes out the door. If you think about it, there are many more email types that you could consider: transactional emails, product updates, market news, etc.
- Segmentation and batch emails: when segmenting your audience and communicating with each group in a way that’s relevant to their explicitly expressed interests, you establish trust. A vital impact of this is that segmented campaigns have a 14% higher open rate than non-segmented ones. What is even more powerful is segmenting according to behavior – and send behavior triggered emails. This is an automated response that sends designated content if a prospect takes action – for example, downloading content, completing a form, registering for a webinar. These follow-up emails offer a reassurance that their activity was noticed and that you are either in the process of responding or have responded immediately with the requested follow-up. The instant reply is a minimum nowadays to gain access to your audience’s trust. It is striking to notice that while the vast majority of marketing automation tools have the capability of triggering and sending automatic emails, more than 43% of marketers don’t use this capacity.
- Within email automation, it’s imperative that your emails render correctly on all email clients, but more importantly, on all mobile devices. At least 50% of all emails in the world in 2018 were opened on a mobile device. This number even varies significantly depending on age, geography, type of email, etc. What is also important to realize is that today, opening an email works in sequences. Emails get opened on mobile-first, then – when interesting enough – they will get actioned upon from a desktop device. That’s why it’s essential to set up your drip nurture campaigns accordingly. You might want to send a reminder trigger when emails were opened but not actioned upon.
Hence a correct setup of the subscription center (sometimes referred to as email preference center) is crucial. It’s one of the critical components of any proper Marketing Automation Platform deployment. Often this vital component is not or not detailed enough implemented, though, within a GDPR proof design, it is even an essential building block. A subscription center is where your customer can let you know what and with what frequency they would want to get communication. A subscription center can start pretty basic and can evolve. The more it is developed, the fewer unsubscribes you will get in the end.
As a bonus, knowing that the vast majority of software vendors license their subscription (mainly) on the number of contacts in the database, it’s a good practice to start off by determining ‘what is a subscriber?’. While this might strike as an odd question initially, and when looked at critically – you will see that when clearly defining the concept of a subscriber, you can swiftly and efficiently decimate your database, and thus optimize your technology spend. Not many vendors will share the ins and outs – so make sure you have this nailed down before entering into the negotiation process.
For example, when setting up the subscription center, you might want to foresee options like newsletter emails, event invitations, webinar invitations, blog posts. However, also in a later phase SMS, mobile notifications. In best practice environments, you would ideally also have operational kinds of communications such as the status of tickets, invoices, etc. being sent out by the Marketing Automation Platform. First of all, the number of touchpoints in this stage of the lifecycle is usually a lot higher than before they were a customer, but secondly, the behavior on this communication will tell a lot about your customer as well.
Another best practice is to proactively manage your email pressure. Sometimes you might not want to wait up for the customer to unsubscribe. It’s good practice when someone does not engage with your message 3, 4, 5 or 6 times to send them a proactive unsubscribe, or suggest to them a time-out of a couple of months. First of all, reversed psychology typically creates goodwill and reflects positively on your brand. However, it’s also essential to hold back any marketing communication when an escalation on a support ticket is ongoing. When you have a displeased customer, no matter what communication you send – it will always be looked at through a negative glass. As you evaluate current usage or are on the lookout for a new marketing automation vendor, you might want to consider the vendor’s capability on dynamic personalization. This means that pretty much any kind of customer information from any data source can be included in the mail by using dynamic tagging. Often this is used in personalization while still wanting to keep an authentic feel for the mail.
When talking about email automation, it’s finally also essential to consider split testing – sometimes referred to as A/B testing. This means that you will be able to run different variations of the same email campaign to a primary (smaller) test audience, then analyze which version of your email has better engagement, and then even automatically send the best performer to the rest of your list. So rather than addressing the same mail to 10,000 contacts, you test to the first audience of 500, adapt and then send to the next 1,000, adapt, etc. Split testing is habitually used to assist teams in finding the best subject line, modify the content, optimizing design, adjust and optimize send time, or change pretty much any element of the email you can change.
2. Tracking Behavior
One of the other major building blocks of marketing automation is visitor tracking. Tracking how long they spend on each page, what content they engage with, have they been viewing your pricing page, your cancellation page – or even what part of the email have they clicked on – was it the detailed information, was it the picture, or the pricing? All this activity creates a wealth of intelligence that you can act upon.
Anonymous visitor tracking with various lookups and reversed IP lookup can even provide you with the legal name of the company of the unknown visitor as well as geographical detail. Marketing automation tracking is not to be compared and is very much different than standard web tracking like as used in Google Analytics. Google Analytics aggregates and summarizes anonymous activity on your website. While it provides useful insights into popular pages and content, it does not allow you to track specific individual behavior. Tracking this behavior provides you with a universal or holistic view of an individual or on an aggregated level an account across your various touchpoints. This behavior then allows you to score and segment your audience accordingly.
This means a key benefit of marketing automation software is the universal view it offers of an individual across multiple touchpoints, specifically when it comes to tracking behaviors such as:
- engagement with emails (opens, clicks);
- visiting and browsing around your website;
- downloading ungated or gated content;
- requests to get in touch with the sales team;
- RSVP for attending physical events and webinars – and their respective follow-up.
This results in engagement scores that you can use to better segment on drifting or exploring customers.
3. Hosting Marketing Files
Marketing automation allows you to organize your content and files while generating tracking URLs so that you can monitor more in-depth what content resonates best. It will provide you insights on clicks, content views, file downloads, etc. A more critical evolution in the content capabilities of many Marketing Automation Platforms is the possibility to customize and display content dynamically based on who is downloading it.
4. Lead Management
Lead management (scoring, distribution and grading) and integrated sales alerts: Lead nurturing is a feature offered by most marketing automation software tools. Lead management capabilities allow you to segment, score, grade, track, and communicate with leads so they can be swiftly converted from prospect to a paying customer.
Below you will find some of the fundamental but also more advanced lead nurture capabilities worth considering and essential to look at if you want to align marketing and sales:
Basic lead nurturing features:
- The lead database: equivalent to a CRM database, the marketing automation lead database offers an in-depth perspective on prospect behavior and monitors customer behavior, engagement levels with your campaigns, potential shares and likes on social media, but also conversations with your chatbot, your sales and customer service. The lead database ideally is fully synced with your CRM and shares lead intelligence that way.
- Lead scoring, grading and nurturing: For now, it should suffice to share the notion of having a balanced scoring model that decays over time. Using this feature allows you to tailor the intensity of your engagement and the level of eagerness (in terms of paid budget) you would want to allocate to this particular lead. Know that lead scoring is how vital the prospect is to use, based on who they are. Lead grading is the amount of interest they show as they engage with your brand.
- Drip campaigns: the principle method of nurturing new leads towards a transaction are drip nurture campaigns. With drips, you send valuable and helpful content to prospects to encourage them to trust you. Drip campaigns should follow a logical path from one action to the next. Drip campaigns usually occur through email, but they can also be extended to or re-enforced via social media or other channels. In this blogpost, we will elaborate further on the concept of drip campaigns and the difference between real lead nurture campaigns. Lead scoring has a different angle of approach depending on if you are in a B2C or a B2B context.
- Task and alert automation: It’s called marketing automation for a reason. Given that one of the new mantras of marketing should be to unburden, it’s essential to extend this philosophy into your marketing automation efforts. Many of the tasks, reminders, follow-ups that are today being done manually can be ejected by correctly aligning your marketing automation and CRM system. Below are just a couple of examples and scenarios that probably today your teams spend time and effort following up manually – or need to think about themselves:
- revisiting websites of previously lost opportunities;
- notifying when someone is browsing the section on your website that talks about the end of contract conditions;
- onboarding sequences when a contract is signed, automatically follow up after three months on behalf of the sales rep.
Allowing your sales teams to determine themselves what real-time alerts they get – based on the parameters they have set – will enable them to know exactly when to follow-up. These platforms allow them to complete more tasks in less time; they typically cut down manual processes and the amount of juggling that is wasted paying personalized attention to prospects and leads.
A sales rep will be more responsive to leads generated by marketing when they are offered insights into their behavior. It will also better prepare the sales rep for the first encounter with the prospect since they know their tangible interest based on the activity record. This will make the first conversation create more value, be more accurate, save time, and ultimately increase the customer’s experience. The more mature organizations will have developed more sophisticated lead nurturing flows based on behavioral activities.
What is the link between segmentation and lead nurturing: high-quality demographic data, professional details, online behavior data are all key to doing high-quality segmentation. This feature typically relies mainly on lead score functionality and is referred to as list segmentation. This type of segmentation can be done pretty much in the old fashion way with spreadsheets. Lead segmentation tools, however, will streamline the whole process and allow you to create lead reports based on practically any customer information field or tag you have created in the system. Tagging allows a much more detailed approach and offers a multitude of narrower lists to come to your segment of 1.
5. List Management
Marketing automation typically works with different kinds of lists:
- Static lists: leads in this list have to be manually added or removed – for example, you need to run a list of all CMOs who are currently in Belgium. Even when the data field of the country changes, the list is not updated. In other words, a pregnant woman will still be pregnant after 9 months …
- Dynamic lists: every single time this list is used in a campaign this list is rerun. This means if the country of lead changes, they would be immediately excluded for any campaign targeted at Belgium. Or, pregnant women after nine months will automatically go to the segment of ‘mothers with a 1-year old’ for example.