If the Managing Principal of your firm walked in your office tomorrow and said, “I think we ought to look into marketing automation,” what look might I find on your face? The look of a casual hiker who just bumped into a six foot brown bear? Or, the look of a calm, collected marketer that’s already done some due diligence on the topic and is ready to seize the opportunity to get an advocate for a much needed investment in your firm’s marketing approach? For most middle market A/E, consulting and accounting firms, I’m guessing the answer would be somewhere in the middle.
This month’s article intends to shed a little light on the technology as a lead-in to our 2-part webinar series on Marketing Automation.
A Little Background on Automation
After content marketing, marketing automation is probably the hottest topic in B2B marketing over the last 12 months. According to Google Trends, searches on the phrase have doubled in the past two years. But, believe it or not marketing automation software has been around for quite a long time. In fact, the technology first emerged in a significant way during the late 90’s dot-com explosion. But, up until recently, the cost of the technology made it pretty much prohibitive to most middle market firms and small businesses. The emergence and adoption of more affordable options such as Hubspot and ActOn has driven a groundswell of interest in the last 24 months.
Automation Drives to the Heart of Marketing
The essence of marketing is really about delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. This idea is, of course, not new. Marketing pundits like Seth Godin and Al Ries have been talking about it for decades in many different ways with many different constructs, but the concept, without automation, is really nothing more than an idea. Without automation, identifying the right people and delivering a relevant message to them at the right time is virtually impossible. Importantly, automation is also the essential tool for creating meaningful insights for both your marketers and your business developers from this process.
What Automation Is and Isn’t
To start, email marketing and marketing automation are not the same thing. An email marketing solution provides, at best, 5% of the functionality and analytics that a firm can derive from a marketing automation platform. But, to be clear, marketing automation will replace your email marketing software and render it obsolete. Simultaneously, marketing automation will not replace your CRM, but it will help you get a lot more value from it.
Ultimately, marketing automation is a tool to identify your firm’s ideal prospects from both the sea of people within your marketing database and the frequent visitors to your site, to get visibility into where those ideal prospects are in the buying cycle, and nurture them towards a conversation witih your business development personnel.
Marketing automation, along with CMS and CRM, should work together as an integrated business development system to attract, inform, engage and nurture potential clients for your firm. I’ve written about this a number of times in the past (see, The Collision of Marketing Technologies or Your Website as an Integrated System for more detail).
What Marketing Automation Does
At its core, a marketing automation program should offer you the following functionality:
- Email marketing and metrics.
- User tracking and micro analytics (of both known website visitors and anonymous ones).
- Lead scoring – The ability to score website visitors based on both demographics (who someone is) and behaviors (activities and actions performed by a user on your website or in your social channels).
- Lead nurturing – The ability to execute automated email programs in response to a user’s behavior on your site (or their lead score) and nurture them through the buying process.
- CRM integration – Any automation program should provide seamless integration into your CRM so useful information captured within your marketing programs becomes readily available and useful to your business development personnel within a system they use.
- Forms and landing pages – The ability to create custom forms and landing pages easily and “on-the-fly.”
- Progressive profiling – With marketing automation, no website visitor should have to share the same information twice. Progressive profiling lets you collect small bits of information from a user every time they return to your site to access different pieces of content. Done correctly, progressive profiling lets you get just the right information you need to identify your ideal prospects in your database.
- Performance measurement – Automation makes measuring the meaningful outcomes (leads, opportunities and revenue) of your marketing campaigns both realistic and achievable.
Are You Ready for Marketing Automation?
All of this is really powerful stuff, but how do you know if your firm is ready to think about investing in marketing automation technologies? While there are a lot of compelling reasons to implement this technology, these are not small investments so it’s important to be sure that your firm is ready to use a significant amount of the functionality before you jump in. I’d say any firm with some of the following characteristics is probably ready to consider an investment in marketing automation:
- Committed to content. Ideally, your firm should have a clearly defined content strategy that is structured to generate a steady stream of highly useful, educational content mapped against the needs and business challenges of your ideal clients.
- Meaningful site traffic and leads. The actual numbers likely vary from firm to firm, but any firm that feels as though it can’t follow up with the leads it generates in a mindful, intelligent way would probably derive value from automation.
- Structured sales processes. It’s really hard to derive all the value from automation in the absence of a clearly defined sales process. A firm that understands conceptually how it moves a new lead through the buying process to become a client will be much more successful, more quickly with automation.
- Analytical and data-driven. Some firms simply don’t believe that measuring marketing efforts is an important and meaningful activity. They see marketing and business development activities as highly relational efforts that are more like art and less like science. That said, any firm that has the intellectual curiosity to get better understanding of HOW clients become clients stands to gain value from automation.
What Options Exist
The 5 most recognized platforms tend to be Eloqua, Pardot, Marketo, Hubspot and ActOn. Generally speaking, the first three tend to be ideal for larger firms and the latter two tend to be more accessible for middle market firms. At Rattleback, we have used both Hubspot and ActOn both for our agency and for our clients.
This 2-part webinar series dives into marketing automation in more depth:
- May – An Introduction to Marketing Automation and the Integrated Web System
- June – Planning for Marketing Automation
If you’re looking for a little heavier reading on this topic, I’d suggest the Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation produced by Marketo.