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How can B2B marketers make marketing automation better?

6th Apr 2015
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Effective customer engagement begins with "respect and mutual understanding". In any personal or professional relationship, it's not only important to understand what makes a person tick, but also what they like and give them the right things at the right time. You also have to keep it fresh and engaging too. This philosophy should be carried through all aspects of communications, especially when automated.

Marketing automation has been around in various guises for decades, but how close is the marketing sector in the UK from fully integrating and benefiting from the technology available remains to be seen. The word 'automation' implies that the implementation of the communication is automated and that marketers can simply walk away, this approach could have a detrimental effect for a client. This perception belies the volume of work required by marketers to make this technology work effectively. It’s essential to change this mindset to enable marketers and brands to successfully utilise automation platforms.

Furthermore, increased focus on creativity within the process of utilisation is essential for growth and success – this applies not just at the implementation or programme development stage, but on a constant basis; monitoring campaign effectiveness against objectives and tweaking aspects where necessary for greater results.

How can marketers work with their internal sales team using automation tools to understand the customer

There needs to be less demarcation between sales and marketing, and a more unified participation throughout the whole marketing and sales process to understand the customer better. If sales were involved at the start of the process and could feed in detailed customer knowledge, this could add valuable insight to the marketing strategy. The old view that marketing's job is finished when they hand a lead over to the sales team no longer applies. Marketing needs to provide sales with ongoing, personalised content for customers to nurture long term advocacy. Sales teams need to also provide customer feedback to marketing efforts in order to help influence strategy and content. 

Marketing automation requires a significant buy-in from across the organisation, usually marketing, sales, and IT must all be on board to ensure that an automation solution is properly deployed. The good news is, more and more companies are utilising automated technologies and in time will slip into the background.

The single customer view has been the Holy Grail for marketing organisations, understanding who your customers are, what they do and what they want, allows you to accurately predict what they’ll want to buy, often before they realise they have a requirement. In the digital world, achieving this is now achievable. With a well-planned CRM solution, integrated with your inbound and outbound channels, today’s marketer can see exactly how their campaigns and activities affect the customer’s buying journey, from a customer retweeting a blog post, right the way the way through to revenue outcomes. The combined signals collected from social, search, email, webinars, direct mail, telemarketing and website behaviour build a rich profile, which can tell marketing departments about their consumers, from their preferred method of contact, to what business initiatives they are looking into right now.

The availability of Cloud-based marketing technologies and web services should make it infinitely easier to connect all the various data points and create a single customer view. Twitter, Salesforce, Adobe, Google, Marketo, amongst others offer a well-documented application program interface (API’s) that make integrating systems relatively straightforward.

However, the answer is more complicated, especially when you consider that not all customers are created equal and sales teams are structured and measured differently. Technology is only part of the solution, companies also require a strong manager to take ownership and provide the investment required. In the marketing automation programs, technology is only as strong as the people and processes that support it. In other words, a marketing automation platform deployed without sufficient planning, resource or creativity is unlikely to succeed.

Developing this data-driven single customer view is more than just possible, it is essential. We are seeing the traditional B2B sales funnel is being replaced by a complex arrangement of interlinked journeys where the consumer hops from channel to channel, swapping devices freely along their way, to buying products and solutions. Marketing to a customer in this landscape requires accurate, connected, demographic and behaviour signals. By providing deep levels of demographic and behavioural data about individual customers, technology makes it possible to market to individually or at the very least, as small cohorts of like-minded people.

How can marketers use automated technology to deliver personalised and relevant content

Putting on a customer hat, if I’ve read your blog article about Product X, and clicked your email about Product X, and RT’ed your Product X video on Twitter, I’d expect that when I meet your sales manager at an event, they start talking to me about Product X, simple right? But, when it is possible to run one-to-one campaigns to thousands of individual customers? How does a marketing team cope? Marketing automation platforms enable even a modest marketing team to deliver an extraordinary number of campaigns efficiently. For effective use of automation, marketers must keep their objectives and timelines manageable and realistic.

A key part of the process that supports marketing automation is how the marketing and sales organisations work with each other, towards a common set of predetermined goals and objectives, the number one objective is usually achieving a revenue target. Revenue starts with a healthy supply of quality, qualified marketing leads. With the right content, it takes no time to build an engagement program that will deliver personalised email, SMS and advertising messages to any users that meet the entry criteria.

Using the single customer view, and the connected demographic and behavioural signals, marketing are able to give each customer a ‘lead score’, with a higher score meaning a higher propensity to purchase. Customers can be scored based on who they are, and what they do. For example, attending a product webinar awards 10 points, being the CEO awards 5 points, not responding to an email campaign removes 20 points. And when the lead hits an agreed threshold, for example 200 points, the customer is handed from marketing to sales. As you can see, without a manual feedback process, this automated scoring could generate either lots of under-qualified or too few over-qualified leads. To ensure that the right quantity and quality of leads are generated, marketing should collaborate regularly with their sales colleagues, to refine the lead scoring triggers and thresholds so only ‘sales ready’ leads are handed over. These leads then need to be followed up by the sales team for greater effectiveness.

B2B marketers may never get to the stage with automation where the technology is working perfectly, because it will always be a work in progress. This is because the market, buyer behaviour, the technology platforms, amongst other factors, are constantly evolving. The challenge for marketers is to continue to evolve their processes and activities in parallel, to keep pace and reflect trends and preferences in communications and content to ensure the customer is at the heart of their business.

Key points:

  • It is essential to change the mindset of marketers and brands to sync programmatically to enable them to successfully utilise automation platforms.
  • There should be less demarcation between sales and marketing, and a more unified participation throughout the whole marketing and sales process.
  • Marketing automation platform deployed without sufficient planning, resource or creativity is unlikely to succeed.
  • For effective use of automation, marketers must keep their objectives and timelines realistic.
  • The creative challenge for marketers is to continue to evolve their processes and activities, to keep pace and reflect trends.

Drew Nicholson is CEO of OgilvyOne dnx.

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