5 Things Everyone Should Have Before Marketing Automation

This article covers the 5 things to plan for before deciding on a marketing automation platform, including a strategy, adequate content, sales-marketing alignment, definite objectives and a training and continuing education strategy.

Map your way to success with marketing automation

Marketing automation (MA) is the industry’s new buzzword, especially in conjunction with content and inbound marketing.  If you are thinking of investing in Marketing Automation software, there are some factors you should consider.

1.  An updated strategy

investing in marketing automation

As someone responsible for a marketing automation implementation, I can attest that MA software does not just lie over existing processes.  You will need to change, not just how you carry out marketing, but how you think about and plan campaigns.

According to data from an Ascend2 survey published on Marketing Charts, 45% of respondents considered lack of an effective strategy the most challenging obstacle to marketing automation success.  It is important to approach your implementation, or future purchase, of marketing automation software with a strategy in hand.

Make a list

Start with a list and work through your strategy

Begin by thinking about all the reasons why you want to invest in a marketing automation solution.

This is more than just why you think you need MA.  There are tons of statistics showing how marketing automation software can free up time, save money, increase lead conversions and engage prospects.

The question here is more ‘what do you need marketing automation to do?’

What specific processes do you want to improve?

How could you improve your current marketing activities if you had increased functionality and time?

There are a couple of benefits to answering these questions:

  • You will have a list of tasks you need marketing automation to accomplish.  This will help you select a specific program.
  • You will have a map of how you want to guide prospects through your sales cycle.
  • You will save time in the long run by rethinking processes from the beginning.

If you skip this step, you may realise later that your processes need to change to fit your new software and those changes will take time.

Re-consider Past Strategies

What strategies have worked in the past? How can marketing automation improve on them?

When I was given the task of bringing marketing automation, in the form of Salesfusion, on board at QGate, I read a piece of advice that really stuck with me.  It was to consider a past campaign from our pre-marketing automation days and think about how marketing automation would have been used to carry it out.

I made my list after a program had already been chosen and paid for, but it was still a helpful exercise for planning our marketing automation strategy.

If we had been able to use MA in earlier campaigns, I could have dripped content out to prospects on a regular basis.  I could have set up nurture campaigns that would have guided leads down the sales funnel based on their interactions with our messaging.  I could have created my own landing pages rather than relying on more technically minded people to do that for me.  By making this list (which was much longer than just these three points) I determined where I needed to invest time in setting up future campaigns with marketing automation for support.

Crafting a strategy is the first part of planning for marketing automation success.  You need a roadmap of where you want prospects to go before you can start drawing them in.

Imagine selling tickets on a bus tour where you don’t have the stops mapped out yet.  You may be able to get some adventurous people on board (not me, I like itineraries and schedules), but they are going to lose interest if you have to pull up every mile to figure out where to take them next.  Once you know where you want to take your customers, you need to make sure you can persuade them to get on the bus in the first place.  This is where content comes in.

2. High-Quality Content

Create engaging content for your customers

Content is a fun way for your customers to engage with your brand

Industry expert Pamela Vaughn of HubSpot put it this way: “…you need to make sure you’re not using marketing automation alone, and you’re executing a plan to continually grow the top of your funnel alongside your marketing automation efforts.”

Marketing automation is about reaching the right people at the right time to create solid and more invested leads.  There is absolutely no use in reaching these people if you have nothing to give them.  Content is essential to achieving this goal.  If you can’t draw people into the top of your sales funnel then why would they engage with your company further into their buying process?

Make Content Work for You

Are you providing content for all customer stages?

In addition to putting people in the top of your funnel, content and marketing automation work together to draw people through the sales cycle.  You can move prospects along by providing them with relevant information for their stage in the buying process.

Here at QGate, we try to produce several pieces of content for each stage of the buying process, early, medium and late.  How prospects interact with content aimed at each stage helps us assess where they are in the sales cycle.  This assessment, in turn, shows how sales-ready they are.  If they only engage with early level content, they are most likely not ready for a sales call that can seem off-putting or pressuring.

Having a large amount of high-quality content increases engagement as there is more for the prospects to engage with.  If you only have one blog post and a whitepaper on a product, you have fewer chances to catch their interest and drop them into the top of your funnel.

If you have lots of content, great!  You are all set to launch into a multi-channel campaign with marketing automation by your side.  If you are lacking in content there is nothing to stop you from choosing a marketing automation product right now, but you will want to be aware of the uphill battle you may face without good content backing you up.

Create content that helps you achieve your goals

Figure out your business goals and design content that will help you reach themThe content you create should help you realise your marketing goals in line with the strategy you created.  If one of your goals was to move people past the Awareness stage in your sales cycle, make sure you have content that is aimed toward that end.  If you are losing people halfway down your funnel, think about the content you could create to keep them interested in your product and your company.

To provide another transport themed analogy, marketing automation without content is like a car without gas.  Sure it looks pretty and is capable of a lot, but it won’t get you where you need to go.  By producing lots of high-quality content of interest to your potential customers, you will have something to send them using your shiny new software.

If you’re on the marketing side, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues in the sales department questions about the particulars of your company’s sales cycle.  They might know exactly where you lose leads and you will never know that you need to counter that loss unless you know about it.  Involving sales in your marketing automation implementation is the best way of making sure the process, and your future campaigns run smoothly.

3. Departmental Coordination

Don't leave out colleagues who could help

The ‘marketing’ in ‘marketing automation’ is a bit misleading.  Marketers will be using the software to push content to its intended audiences, but features such as lead scoring and nurturing benefit sales as well.  Because sales’ interests are so closely tied to the workings of the software, marketing and sales need to be on the same page where marketing automation is concerned.

Work together from the beginning

This alignment starts from the very beginning.  When creating your marketing strategy, it is important to understand where sales would enter the picture.  Understanding this handoff is crucial to understanding the customer’s journey.  Sales can provide insights into your existing customers’ journeys through the sales cycle.  This will help you predict what future prospects’ behaviour will look like and allow you to plan your strategy and set up your system accordingly.

As mentioned, creating a marketing strategy helps to pinpoint the features you need from marketing automation software.  It is the same with sales.  By including them in the planning you will know what features are most important to the sales department.

Don’t think of sales and marketing as opposite ends of the sales funnel.  Marketing automation allows the two departments to work on the same team with similar, if not identical, goals.

Make sure both teams are on board from top to bottom

Make sure the heads of relevant departments are all on the same page

This begins with getting leaders of both sales and marketing on board with marketing automation software early in the process.  You want to make sure that marketing and sales align their objectives.  This way the MA software will make the most impact on how you manage your leads and get them sales-ready.

Involving sales in the process as much as possible will increase user adoption and improve your system.  They will use the system because they had a hand in deciding how it should be set up and used.  Their adoption of the system will improve it as they help marketing refine and hone processes to improve how your company engages customers.  I recommend that you discuss your strategy with sales as much as possible to get the best results.

4.  An End Goal

Your goals should range from small to large

Or at least good benchmarks.

This will help you create reporting functions and know what metrics to track and know what results you really want to achieve with marketing automation.

Make your objectives SMART

Many people want marketing automation to ‘increase revenue’ or ‘increase lead generation’.  By how much?  By when?  Make sure that your objectives are SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and timed) in order to get the most out of your system.

In a survey published on Software Advice, 40% of respondents stated that ‘improved lead management’ was a top reason for evaluating marketing automation software.  A survey from Marketing Charts found that commonly cited objectives of marketing automation were ‘improved marketing productivity’ (45%), ‘increasing sales revenue’ (44%), ‘increasing lead generation’ (42%) and ‘improving lead nurturing’ (41%).  What do these phrases even mean from a practical standpoint?

Almost all marketing automation programs will claim they can deliver these increases and improvements.  It is up to you to decide what specific results you hope to attain before you can accurately assess how a marketing automation program will deliver results.

Think about how you’ll measure results

The benefits of defining concrete goals are not limited to your business strategy.  By recording specific objectives with timeframes, you will be able to set your marketing program up to follow up.

For example, imagine one of your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for success with marketing automation is an increased open rate of X% for emails within 9 months of implementation.  Knowing this, you can set your system up to optimise and monitor your open rate.  This can include A/B testing subject lines, organising nurture campaigns to send content certain prospects may find more interesting, and setting up custom reports and alerts so your team is automatically sent analytics on your progress in this area.

Your strategy is the start of this process; it shows you where you want to go.  Your metrics let you know when you get there.  The question then remains, where do you go from there?

5.  A Plan for Training and Continuing Education

Make sure you factor in time and resources for marketing automation training and education

Marketing automation can be a comprehensive piece of software.  The amount of planning and work that goes into setting up campaigns in these programs means that education and training are important.  Relevant people on marketing and sales teams will need training on how it works, and you should make sure your technical support team trains as well.

Budget time to learn the ropes

The education does not end when you roll out the product.  Once trained, users should continue learning as much as possible about marketing automation.  This can include industry news as well as particular product information.  Education is not a one-time-only event, it is an ongoing process.

When Kim Ann King of Marketing Profs began working with marketing automation software she spent 5-10 hours a week doing research for two months.  This research included webinars, forums and user groups.  She then spent 5-10 more hours a week using the software to create templates, configure settings and upload lists.

You should always be trying to see what else you can get out of your product, and it is important to make sure you are scheduling the time to do that.

Take advantage of all the resources offered to you

Check with the software company you are thinking of buying from.  Do they have any resources to help you?  Marketing automation providers like Salesfusion and others publish webinars, blog posts and best practices regularly to help keep your skills sharp.

If your proposed product provider doesn’t offer resources, look to the web at large for best practices and tips and tricks.  I would argue that if a company doesn’t provide resources like these for their users you may want to find a company that does.

Make things easier for your co-workers

Work with your team and co-workers to further education and experience with marketing automation

Once you have explored your new software and sent out some campaigns be sure to write your company’s best practices based on experience and your continued research.  These new processes should connect back to your initial strategy.  You can use these as a reference for both new and existing staff working with the marketing automation program.

Be sure to update your processes as trends and program features change.  As you are dedicated to continuing your technical education (right?) you will be aware of these changes, but your staff may not be.  Be sure to put all your resources in one place for your staff to use.  You may also want to consider regular meetings on best practices as you become more comfortable with the software.

You can consider  investing in marketing automation before you have these 5 things in place; there is nothing stopping you.  If you have already invested and have missed a few things, it’s not too late.  The important thing is that you consider all 5 of these points in order to make the most of your new software and enhance your marketing strategy.

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