This post describes the characteristics, mindsets and behaviors a professional services firm needs to adopt to make marketing automation work.
Deployed correctly, marketing automation (also sometimes referenced as “MAT”) is a very useful technology for a professional services firm. That said, it may not make sense for every firm. Over the years, we’ve come across firms spending $1000’s each month for systems they hardly use. And, we’ve seen firms with robust thought leadership programs scraping by with practically no technology at all.
Here, at Rattleback, we’ve used a variety of systems. At the agency, we’ve used both Hubspot (in the past) and Act-On (at present). We’ve helped clients get more from their investments in Marketo, Pardot and Eloqua. And, we’ve evaluated 10s of other systems as part of our marketing reviews and digital marketing work. If those experiences have taught me one thing, it’s that marketing automation is not a requirement for success. That said, in the right situation it can dramatically improve the outcomes a firm gets from its thought leadership marketing. And, it’s critical if you want to get serious about measuring ROI.
So, what is the right situation? Should you invest in automation? Primarily it depends on the unique characteristics of your firm, the mindset of your marketing team, and the behaviors you’re willing to adopt inside your practice. In this post, we’ll take a look at each.
2 Characteristics of a MAT-Ready Firm
For the most part, the nature of your firm is largely irrelevant. An architecture or engineering firm can draw value from marketing automation juas as well as a management consulting or accounting firm. That said, there are some important characteristics of a firm’s marketing approach that will make the investment more successful.
#1 – Inbound > Outbound
Believe it or not, you don’t need a marketing automation system to drive inbound leads. Automation is just going to help you do a lot more with the leads you generate. Good content, search optimized on a blog will drive traffic. As long as you have something in place to convert the traffic to enable follow-on marketing you’re good to go.
Now, it goes without saying that for marketing automation to make sense, the firm needs to be commited to content marketing. Beyond that, the technology will create more value if that content initiative is already showing some success — meaning the firm’s content is delivering traffic to the site and leads are being generated. Ideally, the firm is already generating a reasonable flow of inbound leads and that number exceeds the “names on the list” that represent most outbound lead databases.
#2 – Believe in Email
In a way, marketing automation is like email marketing on steroids. It does everything that traditional email marketing systems do while adding layers of value-added functionality. Some firm marketers simply don’t believe that email marketing is a valued use of their time. They’re producing web-based content as part of their thought leadership strategy but they’re not convinced that it makes sense to deliver it to potential clients via email. For a firm like this, the marketing automation system is going to take some behavior changes to be successful. By contrast, a firm that already believes in email marketing can jump right into the things they’re already doing and see improvements quickly.
2 Needed Mindsets for MAT to Work
Beyond characteristics, for marketing automation to be successful, it’s important for a firm to be interested in approaching its marketing in a few ways.
#1 – Issues-Based Marketing
First and foremost, a firm needs to be focused on marketing to potential clients based on the issues that interest them most. With marketing automation, this means not just asking them what interests them through a “newsletter preferences” form, but actually seeking to understand what interests them based on their digital behaviors. This is hugely helpful. Over the years, we’ve found fewer than 10% of subscribers to a firm’s newsletter will actually tell you what interests them. But, with automation you can build segments based on behaviors — you can market to people based on what they’ve demonstrated interest in.
#2 – Measurement-Driven Marketers
Over the years, I’ve found some firms just don’t believe marketing can be measured. So, they don’t try. Some marketers are afraid of being measured. So, they resist trying. Now, no system of marketing measurement is ever going to be perfect. But, at Rattleback, we tend to believe you need to embrace the need to measure. You have to jump in with both feet and commit to it. And, marketing automation systems can get you much further down the path of measurement than any other technology available. And, they can make it much easier to do so. So, to get the most from a marketing automation system a firm must believe that marketing can be measured. And, more importantly, the marketers themselves need to believe it’s their job to measure what they’re doing and to prove the ROI of their efforts.
3 Behaviors You Need to Adopt
Finally, to be successful with marketing automation a firm must be willing to adopt some new behaviors within their marketing and business development teams. Most importantly, this means they must be willing to do something with the information the system provides them.
#1 – Lead Scoring
Lead scoring is a key feature of marketing automation systems that allows you to assign points to potential clients based on their demographics (who they are) and their behaviors (what they do). It can be hugely helpful in prioritizing the scarce business development resources firms often have. But, all too often, firms adopt a “set it and forget it” mindset to lead scoring. They establish scoring rules during the start-up phase with little thought and plans to come back later. But, they never do. Getting lead scoring right requires taking the time to really think about the firm’s ideal prospects. If one client could walk through the door today, what would they look like? From there, you need to identify the demogaphics and desired behaviors that you could use to identify them on your site. After that, we recommend modifying lead scoring models 1-2x year so you can become more effective and efficient in your efforts.
#2 – Proactive Outreach
The scoring models in the system will enable you to prioritize high value prospects based on their digital behaviors. But, that’s only really valuable if you’re willing, as a firm, to conduct periodic, proactive outreach to those highly engaged prospects. Now, this does not mean calling every person that downloads an eBook (I’m looking at you software companies). But, it does mean finding a happy balance between being over-eager and doing nothing. This is really the magic of lead scoring. Over time, your objective is identify that moment when a personal inquiry from a principal or business development leader makes sense. What are the key transitional points in your clients’ buying process? Are there digital behaviors that mirror those transitions? Can you identify them and bake them into your lead scoring model? And, once you have you need to create the space and resources to do proactive outreach to those prospects at those pivotal moments.
#3 – Data-Driven Decision-Making
Finally, it’s important that a firm be willing to study and understand the data the system provides and use it to inform marketing and business decisions. We’ve found that a prospect’s lead score is not just indicative of what they’re doing on a website. It also tends to be an indicator of how effective the firm (our client) has been at shaping how their client thinks about an issue or topic. The higher a prospect’s lead score, the more likely it is that the firm has substantively influenced how their potential client thinks about the issue at hand. It’s an indicator of how much the firm has affected the buying process. And, often, it’s an indicator of how likely the firm is to close an opportunity should one present itself. In short, a project opportunity you’re working on that is sponsored by a prospect with a high lead score is more likely to close than one sponsored by someone who’s not engaged. It’s common sense. But, the data gives you a trackable metric you can use to make decisions. Ultimately, the data in the system can be used to shape go/no go decisions, to identify which marketing channels are most/least effective, and to prove ROI in virtually everything you do.
Marketing Automation: Yes or No?
In short, if your firm is already generating a reasonable flow of inbound leads, markets with email, is intent on measuring the ROI of your efforts, and is willing to adopt some new weekly and monthly behaviors, marketing automation will be a tremendous investment. That said, you can still get value from just 1-2 things on this list. If you’re simply willing to use the lead scoring tools to do some targeted, proactive outreach, you will see some ROI from you efforts.
Characteristics aside, if your firm is not willing to adopt some of these mindsets and behaviors, then you might want to step back and think a bit before you jump in. You might just be better off funneling those dollars right back into your firm’s thought leadership marketing efforts for the time-being.