Is My Company Ready for Marketing Automation?

Josh Hill
Josh Hill



i-am-readyWait! Don’t sign that marketing automation contract …yet.

If you’re a CEO, you may have heard about inbound marketing or marketing automation from your marketing team. They seem excited, but you’re skeptical.

A marketing automation tool is a big monthly cost and you already do email marketing. The Marketing VP is suggesting a roll out plan that involves more training for the team and additional FTEs with titles like “Marketing Operations Manager” and “Marketing Analytics Ninja.”

Sales isn’t saying they want marketing automation, but they are asking for more information on what leads are doing on your site, at events, and during webinars. Salespeople want to send out 50 or 100 “personalized” emails to their territory. Whatever tool you have now is a deterrent because of the time or expertise involved. And you know how most salespeople operate -- they're focused on money, not database work.

Your CFO is running around trying to put revenue forecasts together from CRM opportunity data, conversations with Sales VPs, and your financial system. Sometimes, that forecast is spot on, often it is not. That variability makes conversations with the board difficult.

Would marketing automation solve these problems?

Possibly, but only if you are ready to take on the challenge.

I suggest that unless you have the following pieces in place, you don’t sign a contract for marketing automation today.

  • Your leads come only from client referrals.
  • Your market is 50 firms and maybe 500 people.
  • You have zero to little content to share with prospects.
  • Your website visitors are less than 5,000 uniques/month.
  • You don’t have a large database of leads that opted in to hear from you. (Under 10,000 records).
  • You cannot, or will not, put the time into making the tool a great system.

If you want to dig deeper, there are several lessons on marketing automation to examine. Automation is not just a tool; it forces your team to rethink the way they market. When I implemented my first system, I spent six months preparing our CRM and lead lifecycle to take advantage of the power and new methods available to us. And that was on top of a two-year journey to build demand generation. Marketing automation is not an instant cure; it is a process of continual improvement.

Inbound Marketing Comes First

There are already tons of articles on inbound marketing that explain how to build up a natural online presence in your niche. Inbound marketing is about creating compelling content that demonstrates your expertise to your audience.

On the internet, content is like location in real estate. You stake out your position and dominate the SERPs for your chosen space. If you're starting from zero, organic traffic may take a few months to build up to the point where you have leads making regular requests or sending in their email addresses. But this content -- "TOFU" or "top of the funnel" content -- helps you build a subscriber base for your funnel by educating them through helpful content.

“Okay, great, so once that happens, I’m ready for automation?”

Probably not. Your blog may get traffic, but how many people are converting to email contacts? If you are getting 10 or 20 per day, then consider marketing automation. If it’s more like 10 or 20 a month, marketing automation is not for you -- not just yet.

Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)

Now that you have a few people signed up and following you, it’s time to keep them engaged. And not just engrossed with your amazing content -- no, now you need them to start considering you as someone who can help them solve their problem. How do you educate them beyond the problem you solve, into how you might be a fit for their company?

Content, content, content.

Not just any content -- deep content. Start sending leads personalized emails with longer form content such as whitepapers, in-depth webinars, and invitations to special events. If you do not have this content yet, start working on it.

This process of engaging your MOFU leads is called lead nurturing. Lead nurturing leverages content and sales contacts to help guide the lead to see your firm as a contender for solving a problem. If you find that you have thousands of leads, but few sales, perhaps it is time to re-consider your approach.

Approach 1:

Sales cherry picks leads from the database by asking Marketing for a list of people from your CRM. Marketing may send over 200 people who match the buyer persona, but Sales calls 50 of them, 10 respond, 5 meet, and 1 buys.

Approach 2:

Marketing emails deep content to leads that's related to the content they demonstrate an interest in. When a new industry paper comes out, they send that over to the right buyer personas. If your firm is rated highly or wins an award, a fun infographic is sent out to people who are likely to care. Marketing watches for leads in the target audience that engage: people that open emails, click on links, visit site pages, download papers, or attend events.

As the contact becomes more engaged, Marketing sends more focused content, such as demo videos, live demo offers, and consultations. Marketing pushes the engaged leads over to the right salesperson when the lead has taken enough actions to indicate that they are nearer to buying.

Sales now calls 50 people who want help, 30 respond, 18 meet, and 7 sales result.

Which approach sounds better to you?

Marketing automation sees the biggest ROI in the middle and bottom of the funnel, where automated contacts and notes to Sales can speed things along and help you reach more leads with less effort. As many have said, content is fuel for marketing automation.

At the same time, a dearth of leads will make marketing automation an expensive tool. So make sure you have a steady lead flow at the top of the funnel to make it worth your while.

Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)

A number of surveys of B2B buyers confirm that about 60% of the B2B buying process is now entirely online and without the need for a sales rep. If you don’t believe that, think about how you buy a product now. You likely research it online, check a review site, and maybe ask a friend. Once you understand how the product works, technical specs, potential issues, and the pricing model, you call up a sales person (or click "buy").

At the bottom of the funnel (BOFU) is when the buyer seeks details such as pricing, technical specs, and social proof. If your website or content offers cannot answer these questions easily, the lead is going to drop you off the short list.

Once leads start asking these questions, your marketing team can start providing case studies, reviews, and technical details focused on your solution. The buyer will be receptive because they are closer to making a decision.

At this point, the buyer is also more receptive to a phone call from Sales. Marketing can push over these “sales ready” leads with a full history of lead behavior. A salesperson can look at the record, see that Sally is viewing the case study about IBM, and has downloaded technical specs on Solution X-3000. Sally also attended three webinars: Solution X-3000 and Cisco; How to Solve X; and Solution X-3000 Demo.

At this point, your marketing team might back off a bit and let Sales share additional content in a personal way until a final decision has been made.

This is helpful, but I don’t think my company is ready for marketing automation. What should I do?

As CEO, you get to ask the tough questions of your team. Marketing may be clamoring for marketing automation, but you see that the firm is not ready. Rick Burnes recently asked, “Is Marketing Automation Worth the Hassle?” I say yes, but only if you can answer the questions he poses, along with a few of the deeper questions I pose here:

1) How is your sales funnel?

Ask your team to build a weekly and monthly sales funnel report, describing:

  • Traffic to Website
  • Email Sign Ups
  • Leads Passed to Sales
  • Unqualified Leads
  • Opted In Leads
  • Counts of Leads That Meet Your Buyer Personas
  • Meetings
  • Opportunities Open and Created
  • Opportunities Closed/Won and Closed Lost

Having this data is always a good idea and you can start tracking the ROI of content, website, and lead improvements even before marketing automation. Your Marketing decision maker can then be a great position to demonstrate the lift associated with what he or she is doing.

2) What are your existing tools? How are they performing?

  • CRM Health: duplicates, record counts, workflow.
  • Email Platform: Is this syncing to CRM? Are you able to track behaviors easily?
  • Website and Website Design: Is your site set up to take advantage of SEO? Is your website designed to funnel people to content offers? Can marketing easily modify and create offers? Can you test page designs easily?

3) Make sure your house is in order before you make big renovations.

How are we creating content? Are we creating enough?

  • Ask marketing how many blog posts, papers, webinars, and events they are doing.
  • Build an editorial calendar.
  • What keywords are you ranking for? What do you want to rank for?
  • How often can you create content?

Once you understand where your firm is now, you can develop a plan to make the journey to inbound marketing and revenue marketing. Part of that journey will include marketing automation -- but only at the right moment.

Remember, marketing automation is your opportunity to rethink the way your firm markets by matching your content and process to the new buyer journey. Take the time to understand your current marketing, how your buyer wants to be marketed to, and how you will build a system to make that happen.

Think you're ready to take the next steps with marketing automation? Feel free to relay your thoughts, questions, and/or concerns about automation below.

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