As consumers who make purchases online, we’ve come to expect certain experiences from the stores and service providers we engage with. Those experiences include messages that welcome us to their world after we sign up for a newsletter or make a purchase; wish us a happy birthday with a special offer; encourage us to review products and services; invite us to check out their latest and greatest stuff; and remind us it’s time to come back for that overdue service. These are all examples of marketing automation.
Aside from the overabundance of emails we have to sift through on a daily basis, most of us don’t mind hearing from companies we’ve done business with in the past. After all, we made a purchase from them for a reason and we appreciate being communicated with about something that’s relevant to us. Even when we don’t plan to make a repeat purchase for a while, those every-once-in-a-while messages remind us that they’re still there and we can visit them whenever we’re ready. (Those every-other-day emails are something entirely different, but that’s a blog for another day).
Why marketers like it
Marketers who use marketing automation have obvious reasons for loving it.
It gives them the opportunity to offer personalized experiences and build solid relationships with their customers, which keeps them loyal and engaged, and likely to come back for more.
It allows their staff to take on more challenges and be more creative in their roles. Marketing automation may be “automated”, but it’s definitely not a set-it-and-forget-it model. People are needed for a variety of tasks that happen behind the scenes, including strategy, planning, writing, design, project management, and ongoing analysis.
With its robust reporting capabilities, it allows marketers to see what’s working and what’s not, and adjust accordingly. It also provides valuable information about prospective customers, including lead scoring, that’s useful for determining the stages of their marketing funnel.
In many cases, it has the ability to integrate with outside CRM platforms. And some include CRMs as part of their own system.
Its role in the B2B world
While marketing automation is firmly planted in the B2C world, businesses who sell to other businesses are now starting to use it, too. Our experience tells us this can be tricky for some organizations—especially those who have long depended on sales people to be the primary lead generators.
Sales reps, for good reason, believe they know their customers better than anyone.
They spend the most time talking on the phone, over email, or in person with customers learning about their business and their needs. When they’re seeking out or nurturing prospects, they ask the marketing team to create materials like brochures or direct mail that might help them engage with someone or open up a door. But that might be the extent of their relationship.
The marketing team, meanwhile, goes about their business of running ads to get new leads, sending emails and updating the website to communicate product features and benefits, and creating content for SEO. In a perfect world, they’re asking for input from the sales team to ensure their work is in line with the needs of their customers.
Much like today’s B2C consumers, B2B buyers want to do their own research before reaching out to a seller. They want to know how a product will make their business run more smoothly or save them money. If it’s a service they’re in need of, they want to understand how a potential provider might approach their particular problem—whether it’s through a blog, a case study or some other form of thought leadership. They may even need help pitching the idea of onboarding a new product or service to their internal colleagues.
This is where marketing automation comes in. It becomes the customer nurturer and early-stage lead finder that sales reps once had to be. By serving up relevant content based on behavior, marketing automation leaves sales people more time to focus on sales-ready leads that have been prioritized with lead scoring.
For the marketing team, automation provides an end-to-end picture of the customer journey for the benefit of crafting campaigns. It allows them to track leads acquired through all channels to find out where they’re coming from. And it gives them the data needed to consistently focus on metrics that have the most impact on behavior. As a result, campaigns can be extended and expanded beyond their typical scope with new tactics or components that can be easily rolled out for quick results.
How we’re using it for our own marketing
Our first foray into B2B marketing began the day we opened our doors, almost 20 years ago. As a small fish in a big pond, we knew that marketing ourselves was part of the running-your-own-business package. We’ve been doing it ever since, but as you might expect, everything about it has changed.
Of those changes, one of the biggest is our partnership with SharpSpring, a top-notch marketing automation platform with a unique business model that works with agencies like ours. In addition to using it for our own marketing, we can purchase licenses on behalf of our clients and use it for their initiatives, when appropriate.
For our own marketing, we set up personas of our best clients so we can tailor our messages accordingly:
- We set up lead scoring so we can determine our approach based on how they interact with our content
- We’ve run several lead generation campaigns to find new prospects
- We set up several communications initiatives to stay in touch with our current and past clients
- We’re using the CRM functions of SharpSpring to build a database of all our contacts
- And that’s just the beginning of what it can do.
A real-world example
When it comes to client utilization, we recently had a big success. A manufacturing client asked us to generate leads for a small, niche audience—some we had contact information for and some we didn’t.
Due to the specialty nature of the product and complexity of the situation, there was a clear need for educational materials, so we knew that creating targeted content would be the best way to engage with the audience. We also knew that using SharpSpring would be the perfect way to manage it. As is often true, our client wasn’t in a position to fully update their website to meet the needs of the campaign. Plus, we wanted to have the ability to interact with prospects on a more personal level due to the unique details of the campaign and the length of the sales cycle for some of the bigger-ticket items.
As a result, we built a microsite that served as the hub for the campaign. Not only did it house all the relevant information related to the initiative (white papers, videos, Q&A, product specs), it allowed us to collect and track leads that came from various sources, and set up automatic communications based on behaviors. Triggers included simple actions like notifications to our client when a prospect filled out a form, and more complex actions like a follow-up email to a lead based on a pre-determined time period and engagement path.
It quickly became clear to us that we were on the right track. Leads started coming in immediately after the first email was deployed and the first letter packages were dropped in the mail. In addition, our client was diligent in updating their website home page and digital ads, as well as keeping their social media channels updated—all of which helped drive traffic to the microsite—and all of which were trackable and actionable.
The campaign is still running and still bringing in a good number of leads on a weekly basis. We attribute the success of this project to several factors
- The research we conducted upfront
- The urgency of the messaging and calls to action
- The quality and relevancy of the content to the audience
- The positive working relationship we have with our client
- AND the ability to pull it together with one slick marketing automation tool