How to pick the right-sized Marketing Automation platform for your business

Few organizations have the resources to fully staff up for a comprehensive marketing automation initiative, and even those that do, frequently reach out to specialists for in-depth guidance. This blog post is the first in a series that aims to help marketers set relevant priorities, recruit expert guidance, and establish winning automation campaigns. In a future post, I will cover the criteria that are necessary to write a Request For Proposal (RFP) when making a vendor selection.

Naturally, a core component of any marketing automation initiative is the selection of the marketing automation platform itself. This can be a daunting challenge. Each of the platforms possess different strengths, and reflect the dyed-in-the-wool assumptions that their developers brought to the creative process. Naturally, it’s advantageous to discern these biases before selecting the platform. Experience is the best teacher, and for that reason, it is useful to connect with people who have worked directly with the solutions you may be short-listing. User groups, for example, are a great place to join in discussions and solicit unbiased opinions. Marketing automation consultants can also serve as a valuable source of information as they frequently have deep operational knowledge of the leading platforms.

A Quick Review of What Marketing Automation Actually is:

As a first step, I want to briefly define what marketing automation is, and what it is not. Many people think that marketing automation has to do with sending a lot of emails. Although that’s certainly part of it, automation takes things a step further by enabling an interpretation of how those emails are responded to. In short, these platforms ask, what did the recipients do with the emails? They add value by providing a guidance system that allows for near real-time evaluation of tactics, and can quickly put a lens on which selling propositions proved of interest, and those that missed the mark. Systems can be further configured to escalate the relevance messaging by monitoring, and responding to, prospect actions. It is the presence of these feedback mechanisms that allow marketing automation to deliver results that blow past standard mass-batch email tactics. This is different from basic email campaigns, which deploy emails to unsegmented audiences and lack interpretive capabilities. Although there is nothing wrong with such methods, they do not tap into the full equity that may be available in a prospect base.

The Three Tenets of Marketing Automation

A marketing automation platform is defined by, and offers the following three capabilities:

1. The ability to segment and channel prospects according to areas of interest
2. A means of monitoring prospect inputs
3. The capacity to analyze data and build for improved campaign performance

Combined, these three functions can effectively align your sales department with the leads that are most likely to convert to customers. As an added bonus, additional efficiencies can be realized by shifting manual tasks to ones that are automated.

Assessing Your Company's Readiness for a Marketing Automation Program:

In general, anyone who delivers news through a digital channel can make use of marketing automation. The prerequisites include; a database of email addresses, a content strategy, and a platform to facilitate deployment. As with most large-scale projects, it is best to define the end goal first and work back from that point.

Setting Objectives:

Sometimes, it’s easy to miss big things – such as the fundamental reason for an initiative. Here it’s important to establish consensus across the board about what a marketing automation campaign is intended to achieve. It’s surprising how frequently simple questions can reveal significant misalignments.

Types of Goals Frequently Associated With Marketing Automation Campaigns:

• Increase quarterly sales revenues
• Establish impact of campaign initiatives by tracking Return On Investment (ROI)
• Increase database of potential customers
• Build brand awareness
• Establish ROI for Search Engine Marketing expenditures
• Increase attendance for corporate events

Measuring Results:

The type of goal will usually dictate what is being measured. Depending on the objective, some success metrics are easier to quantify than others. Brand awareness is notoriously difficult to measure, whereas sales objectives are usually easier to benchmark. It’s also important to determine the point where you sample the data – keep in mind that success can be claimed at any stage of the buyer journey, starting with a conversion on a landing page right through to an analysis of customer lifetime value. There are no right or wrong answers here, it is just a matter of how you want to define it.

Watch On Demand:

How to source the best Marketing Automation Platform for your business

Tell Me About Your Sales Department...

This is one of my favourite questions when meeting with a new client. Although frequently overlooked by digital marketers, it’s the first thing that I want to hear about. As marvellous as it is, advanced marketing technology counts for very little if it’s out-of-step with the people who close the deals and write the contracts.

One of the key things that I try to get an idea about is how busy the sales department is in relation to the amount of incoming sales leads that are being generated. Although much is said about ROI, very little is said about achieving an optimal balance between sales capacity and demand generated by marketing. Yet, this is where profitability actually resides. When a system is in place that filters for the highest quality leads and matches them to optimal sales capacity, healthy revenues are bound to follow.

A marketing automation program works best when it is attracting and filtering enough prospects to keep sales representatives profitably engaged. Traffic alone is not sufficient as a flood of low quality leads can waste premium sales time and reflect badly on the marketing department’s ability to attract the right type of buyer. On the other hand, setting the bar too high leaves the sales department under utilized.

Scoring to the Rescue

So how do we strike the right balance between sales activity, and marketing generated demand? The answer, in terms of marketing automation platforms, is provided by scoring. Most marketing platforms have the ability to monitor a prospect’s behaviour and assign a score to represent aggregated activity. Such interactions may include, email opens, clicks on links, file downloads and website visits. Scoring thresholds can then be set, and tied, to triggers that notify the sales department when prospects are especially active.

When shopping for a marketing automation platform, it is essential to choose one that can adequately meet your needs as far as scoring evaluation is concerned. During this process, you will want to consider the types of prospect activities that are predictive of buying behaviour. This will help you develop a workable model when it comes time to configure the platform. You may also want to consider whether or not you will be dividing prospects according to product lines. Some platforms allow marketers to establish separate scoring silos along the lines of corporate divisions. This can also prove useful when setting up rules to assign leads to sales representatives.

How Grading Can Help Maximize Sales Resources

While scoring is a great way to gain insights into how motivated your prospects are, grading is a means to turn the table and ask how interested you are in them. Quality sales time is a hot commodity, so this represents your opportunity to stand guard over this valuable resource. Grading, however, can come at a tradeoff in that it requires a series of questions to be asked. Usually, these involve information about a prospect’s company, job title, annual sales and other pertinent disclosures. People are naturally reluctant to share such information at the beginning of a relationship, so asking these kinds of questions can reduce form conversions and slow database population over the long term. When setting up grading, a company has to ask how much of a trade-off they are willing to make to gain a rich profile of their sales leads. Once again, it is important not to be assumptive here. A quick conversation with the sales team can establish whether or not it is useful to know the state or province of a prospect. If call-backs are part of the sales process, then geography could be key to timing a phone call. If emails are the primary means of response, then knowing the location may be less relevant.

Content Strategy

If you are reading this, you probably already a savvy marketer, so I won’t go too deeply into content. More of a reminder than anything, I’ll note that it is essential to focus on benefits and let prospects know what is in store for them if they fill out a form, or click on a link. As mentioned earlier, marketing automation technology has the ability to monitor prospect actions and provide an experience that is response driven. Automation actions can in turn channel increasingly targeted material to prospects, or fast-track them in the sales process.

Account Based Marketing (ABM), as an Approach, Not a Module

Another critical point of alignment between marketing and sales involves understanding which companies should be accorded special treatment. Although sales representatives have always practiced account based marketing on an individual basis, the concept has been scaled up the past few years and interfaced with technology to give it extra muscle. For those not familiar with the term, account based marketing is essentially the practice of identifying a select group of companies, or people, who you want to sell to, and tailoring your marketing materials accordingly. Marketing automation’s ability to customize assets with variable data can be highly useful here as names, images and text can be formulated to speak directly to key prospects.

Having a solid ABM program in place is also a great way to align with your sales department and demonstrate that you are putting your marketing team’s energies behind the accounts that they believe will have the greatest payoff. Although a number of marketing automation platforms have developed ABM modules to facilitate this business model, the majority of the higher-end solutions can be configured to meet ABM program requirements. An experienced consultant who is versed on the workings of the popular platforms should be able to advise on which ones lend themselves to ABM initiatives.

Putting Your Marketing Automation Plan in Motion

After you’ve considered the benefits of marketing automation, and have achieved alignment with your sales team, it’s time to make the plan a reality. If you have a platform already in place, then perhaps it is time to push the limits and see how it can be further leveraged. If you are new to marketing automation, then you may want to enlist the help of a marketing automation consultant to review your objectives and determine which platform would best speak to your company’s requirements.

As you have probably gathered, there is a lot of ground to cover when developing a marketing automation program. The rewards, however, are worthwhile as such initiatives provide compelling prospect experiences, while simultaneously freeing up your time to craft even more effective campaigns. To reduce learning curves and expedite campaigns it can be helpful to partner with an experienced marketing automation professional. In my upcoming blog post, I will review how to formulate a comprehensive RFP when seeking a qualified marketing automation consultant.

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Jeff Stiles is a marketing automation specialist, and digital marketing enthusiast. His favourite colour is #00a3e0, formerly Pantone 299 C.