Automate or Die! Part 1
Our headline may sound dramatic, but consider this: every day, dozens, hundreds, even thousands of prospective customers are searching for solutions that your company can provide. Smart businesses have figured out how to identify those prospects; rank them based on how likely they are to buy, and how soon; engage them with content that’s relevant to their stage in the buying cycle; and nurture them as they move through the cycle – all in an efficient, cost-effective, automated process.
It’s called marketing automation. And if the smart business using it is your competitor, then you are at a competitive disadvantage.
A recent study by Aberdeen Group showed that of best-in-class companies currently outperforming their peers, 31 percent are employing marketing automation, while only 12 percent of laggard companies are. This suggests that marketing automation provides a competitive advantage, and that it is still not used by most companies. The time to fill the gap is now.
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So what is marketing automation?
In a BtoB world, most people’s search for products and services involves the web. In many cases, it begins there. So marketing automation tools center on your website, but they also integrate the results of all potential prospect touchpoints—your website, email campaign, call center, direct mail, and online, interactive channels—into a central database, enabling further engagement, nurturing and measurement.
Think of marketing automation as the conductor of your interactions with potential customers – a set of tools that identifies and scores (or qualifies) prospects; helps you nurture their interest in your company with ongoing targeted campaigns; and measures how they respond, and how you are doing.
How would you like to find in your inbox every day a list of all the companies who visited at your website the day before – what pages they looked at, and how long they spent on each? A marketing automation solution can do that: tracking every visitor and every move.
Sometimes, knowing the company name alone can be golden information, making Marketing look like a hero to Sales. But if the visitor is from a large company—“someone from IBM was on our site yesterday”—this may not be as useful.
However, sooner or later, some of those visitors will identify themselves—by filling in a form to watch a webinar, download a whitepaper, request a brochure and so on. (You do use forms before giving those things away, don’t you?)
And when they do, “Aha!” says the marketing automation solution, “so it was YOU who visited last week, and before that two months ago, and before that in January!” The entire history of that individual’s prior visits now has a name attached to it, and is suddenly made meaningful, and valuable.
With the marketing automation solution watching every visitor’s every move, it’s a simple next step to assign a score to the different actions they take. Clicked on an email link: 1 point. Downloaded a whitepaper: 5 points. Filled in a form: 10 points. You decide which actions are most indicative of potential buying interest, and the system keeps the score, creating what’s sometimes called a digital blueprint. This allows you to quickly prioritize your most likely buyers. (Clicked on the “Careers” page: minus 20 points. Job-hunters are rarely buyers.) When a visitor reaches a certain score, they can be automatically forwarded to Sales for follow-up (and copied into your salesforce automation solution if you have one).
So far, marketing automation has been passively waiting like a spider in its web (pun intended). But it can also help you be pro-active, by automatically executing follow-up activities that nurture prospects’ interest in your company. For example, a week after someone downloads a whitepaper, you send them an invitation to watch a demo. You can even fine-tune these offers based on the prospect’s prior behavior—sending them information on products they spent the most time reading about, for example.
The beauty of it is, all of this is performed automatically. You simply set up the rules and let the system “touch base” with each prospect on a predefined schedule, using best-in-class practices for lead nurturing and follow-up.
Measure, Iterate, Improve
The last great benefit of marketing automation is the ability to continuously measure the effectiveness of your all lead generation and nurturing activities. You get a real-time view of which campaigns and what calls-to-action are doing best at capturing prospects and moving them through the pipeline.
Marketing automation solutions then let you use that insight to continuously improve things. If you think you might be bugging prospects too often, you can change the follow-up frequency. If a certain call-to-action seems to get better response, or a specific sequence of touchpoints works better, you can alter your programs on the fly. Over time, your programs become more elaborate—and more successful—based on how prospects want to have a dialogue with your company.
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A big deal… and getting bigger
The ability to identify who is coming to your website and how they are using it... the ability to score prospects based on activity and interest... the ability to nurture them while they are being educated and learning... the ability to measure results and iterate your programs for greatest efficacy... Is it any wonder that more marketing spend is moving towards online programs that can be managed and optimized within a marketing automation solution?
Next month – Automate or Die II
Every great story deserves a sequel, and in our opinion, marketing automation is a real blockbuster. So now that we’ve covered the basics, we will share some more specific recommendations next month, in Automate or Die (Part II). In the meantime, if you are looking for guidance on using marketing automation to shorten the sales cycle in your company – or want a partner to bounce some ideas off – we’re happy to help! Contact Arketi at firstname.lastname@example.org.