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Contacting a clueless prospect is now a rare occurrence. Because of the information resources at their disposal, customers in nearly every industry have developed a taste for self-directed learning. They no longer view sales representatives as their main source of information about products or the marketplace.

In response to this paradigm shift, digital marketing has become a cornerstone of many businesses and an engine for lead generation programs. But increasingly powerful marketing teams have led to inconsistent alignment with Sales -- not for lack of trying, but rather for lack of intuitive systems that connect the two departments. 

Ultimately, the customer suffers from this divide, because in one way or another she interacts with both Marketing and Sales during her purchasing journey.

Intriguingly, marketing automation -- perhaps the most powerful tool marketers have at their disposal -- may be the proverbial bridge between Marketing and Sales. In truth, these systems may even benefit Sales more than their intended comrades in Marketing.

Let’s examine the details. Here are five reasons why sales teams should love marketing automation -- and can take lessons when looking for sales automation solutions themselves.

1) Be around at the right time.

Talking to a sales representative is rarely the top priority for a prospect doing research, so timing has to be impeccable if you want your outreach to be seen as beneficial and relevant.

Marketing automation can positively frame sales outreach, because it updates a prospect's profile based on their online activity. For example, when someone downloads a form or requests information from your website, the automation software will note that behavior. Depending on your technical set-up, it can alert sales representatives that the time to strike has arrived.

These behavioral-based alerts help decrease lead response time, or the amount of time it takes an organization to follow up with inbound leads after they convert on your website. Studies indicate lead response time is critical to successfully contacting online leads -- in some cases a quick reply can make outreach up to seven times more successful.

2) Close the loop with Marketing.

Effectively aligning Sales and Marketing is critical to creating a holistic customer experience. This keeps the level of service consistent and better fulfills the expectations of your prospects. Essentially, your whole operation becomes streamlined and more effective.

This can be difficult for both parties, because each department believes they have the supreme understanding of the customer. Often, Marketing commands quantitative data on search, web, and social behaviors, while Sales offers qualitative insights derived from longstanding relationships and one-to-one conversations.

Marketing automation creates a longitudinal view of the prospect’s activity and ships it to Sales. If your system has a multi-touch attribution model, Sales will be able to see a comprehensive record of every interaction a prospect has had with your brand and use that information as context for upcoming inbound sales calls.

This system gives sales teams insight into the buyer’s journey. It also helps Marketing trust that sales reps will have a clear understanding of which points to discuss in the conversation. After a while, Sales can give Marketing feedback on which campaigns and tactics are producing the most qualified leads, and which need work.

In the end, automation helps Marketing get more efficient and enables Sales to contribute to strategy in a significant way.

3) Cut through the noise.

Not everyone that visits a website is a ready to converse with a salesperson, and not everyone that downloads a form is a qualified lead. In fact, most leads are passed to Sales far too quickly.

Then the conversation between Sales and the prospect is all wrong, and distrust bubbles up between the departments. The salespeople don’t know how to close. Marketing isn’t doing anything related to ROI and revenue.

This goes back to alignment. Sales and Marketing shouldn’t be thought of as two distinct entities, but rather two pieces of a larger process -- the customer journey. The answer to this conundrum is better qualification, which marketing automation provides with lead scoring. A competent automation system will include this feature, which increases a prospect's score based on their behavior.

Scoring leads assigns priority to different accounts and helps segment real opportunities from the mass of other download and information requests that occur on your website. This strategy not only saves your sales team time, but also increases their chances of success by only targeting engaged prospects. Beyond scoring, segmenting leads by their latest activity can be another effective method for assigning priority to prospects.

4) Build meaningful relationships earlier.

Don’t take this new paradigm of customer self-service as an indication that buyers don’t want to feel valued. Indeed, it’s one of the paradoxes of the new customer-business model: Customers very rarely want to hear from Sales, but when they do, you had better be armed with an inexhaustible understanding of their preferences. They would also like to speak to someone with whom they’re familiar.

We already examined how marketing automation helps with the preferences problem, but it can also help sales representatives begin building relationships with prospects earlier in their journey. Through trigger-based actions, automation systems can send content and email offers based on a prospect’s actions.

Instead of immediately receiving an ill-advised phone call from a sales rep, the prospect instead receives an email with a relevant offer from the sales rep's email address, which is then followed by a nurturing campaign. Marketing is the orchestrator behind this drip campaign symphony, but that doesn’t decrease the personalization of the email communication. As long as the information is relevant and valuable, prospects will tune in.

Triggered-based emails also familiarize the prospect with receiving information from a sales rep, which positions the sales rep as an educational resource. This is an especially important strategy for capitalizing on emerging demand in B2B markets.

5) Integrate the entire customer experience.

Of course, other departments are incredibly valuable (where would any of us be without developers or IT?), but syncing up Marketing and Sales should be a mission-critical priority for any business. At the heart of nearly every point discussed above lies the implication that the systems Sales and Marketing use should be linked together.

Both CRMs and marketing automation systems are beginning to resemble operating systems for each department, so having information easily flow between them helps align your two main sources for generating new customers. This type of interoperability is especially important when comparing marketing automation vendors for your business. If you need to develop custom workarounds to move data between departments, you might want to consider a different solution.

Despite its technical underpinnings and substantial content distribution power, marketing automation benefits Sales just as much as its namesake department. Maybe it should be renamed Smarketing automation.

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Originally published Feb 13, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated February 11 2017

Topics:

Sales Automation