B-to-B Insights: Au-to-mate!
Up until the dawn of the Internet, I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about B-to-B marketing communications. Since the Web's advent, new B-to-B marketing methods have proliferated, some of which I know almost nothing about.
Marketing automation is at the top of the list. I knew it was a hot trend, had some vague notion of what it entailed, but my understanding was foggy at best. So I turned to my long-time colleague M.H. "Mac" McIntosh, president of sales lead agency AcquireB2B, to learn about marketing automation and its value.
"We define marketing automation as the use of technology to generate, nurture, score and qualify leads, and drive sales, using customized, multi-touch marketing communications tailored for each contact's profile, level of interest, behavior, or place in the buying process," says McIntosh.
Marketing automation software automatically delivers communications that you create—from email marketing messages to tweets—to prospects based on who they are and where they are in the buying process. Often, the communication is triggered by an action taken by the prospect, such as downloading a whitepaper, registering for a webinar or filling out a contact form. According to digital marketing publication ClickZ, 25 percent of Fortune 500 B-to-B companies have implemented a marketing automation platform. SiriusDecisions says that number will rise to 50 percent by 2015.
Marketing automation software that is either server-based or hosted in the cloud controls the delivery of these targeted marketing communications. According to Pardot's "Marketing Automation Success Kit" whitepaper, "Marketing automation makes processes more efficient by automating repetitive marketing and sales cycles. Marketers can manage all prospect interactions, as well as all online marketing campaigns. Leads can be tracked and nurtured from the first touchpoint to the close of the sale."
More Bang for the Marketing Buck
Once geared only toward large enterprises, marketing automation software is now affordable to small and medium-size businesses (SMBs). Many of these marketing automation systems can be integrated with popular customer relationship management (CRM) software packages, including Salesforce.com, Netsuite and Microsoft Dynamics.
"The primary benefits of marketing automation are 1) it allows marketers to accomplish more, usually at a lower cost, than they can get done manually, and 2) it facilitates continuous improvement by allowing marketers to track and measure the results of their campaigns, then make necessary adjustments in near real-time," says McIntosh.
According to McIntosh, marketing automation systems produce superior response. One company found that while just 7 percent to 17 percent of their marketing communications were generated by the marketing automation system, those automated communications were responsible for between 40 percent and 60 percent of their sales.
He says that while B-to-B marketers recognize the value of marketing automation, many of those with systems installed don't fully take advantage of them. "In my opinion, 90 percent of B-to-B marketers that have marketing automation systems still batch and blast solo email campaigns rather than use automated, action-triggered email sequences."
As an example of marketing automation in action, McIntosh recalls a time when he started to download a whitepaper but was interrupted and never completed the action. The next day, he received an email with a link giving him another opportunity to get the whitepaper.
A typical marketing automation sequence might be: 1) watch a video offering a free e-book, 2) download the e-book, 3) attend a webinar, 4) take a demo, 5) accept a free trial offer. McIntosh notes that while automated marketing sequences follow a series of logical steps, you should always allow the prospect the option of jumping ahead to the last step, whether it's a trial offer or purchase.
Nurture Your Leads AND Be Social!
With marketing automation systems, lead nurturing can be built into the campaign, and this aspect of marketing is often missing in standalone campaigns. "Pre-Internet, there was a study showing that if 100 people respond to an ad, 17 buy; but if you follow up those 100 leads, 45 will buy," says McIntosh.
The greatest danger of implementing a marketing automation system is over-communicating with prospects; being a pest instead of a help. For email marketing sequences, McIntosh finds the optimal frequency is every two weeks. If you increase the frequency to weekly, or reduce it to monthly or quarterly, your opt-out rates will increase and your clicks and conversions will decline, as counterintuitive as that may sound.
Today, some marketing automation systems can include social media in the marketing communications mix. For instance, if a prospect makes an inquiry through LinkedIn, the system can respond with a LinkedIn message.
Some commercial marketing automation software packages are limited to email marketing automation, while others cover all online and offline marketing communications. For one of McIntosh's clients, when a prospect is qualified and becomes an accepted sales lead, the marketing automation system triggers the sending of a 3D direct mail package. It consists of a box containing a sheaf of testimonials held together by a paper clip in the shape of an ear that says, "Hear what our customers are saying …"
McIntosh has a formula he calls the "four rights" for marketing automation success: Use marketing automation to send the right offer and content to the right people at the right time, using the right media. Of course, the software can only automate what the marketer tells it to automate. The marketer must create the content, offers, copy, graphics and timing of the campaign to be automated.
According to Pardot, key steps in planning and implementing a marketing automation system include: determining important data to collect on forms, outlining targeted lead nurturing tracks, developing email designs, brainstorming rules and actions that can be automated, and determining your success metrics.
"Marketing automation helps you get more productivity out of your marketing department and allows SMBs to execute marketing programs that once only the big guys could do," says McIntosh, citing a marketer he knows who has 150 different campaigns running on marketing software.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.