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Getting started with Marketing Automation

In this article, the first one of a mini-series, we will cover where to start with MA. While there are some differences in how easy, intuitive or capable the solutions are, the prep work for a successful launch is similar. Let’s take a look at tech, processes and people.

In this article, the first one of a mini-series, we will cover where to start with Marketing Automation (MA). While there are some differences in how easy, intuitive or capable the solutions are, the prep work for a successful launch is similar. Let’s take a look at tech, processes and people.

Marketing Automation is, at the most basic level, the execution of pre-defined sequences, based on triggers/actions that can be used for both customer-facing and internal processes. It is minimising the need for manual repetitive and/or time-consuming tasks for you and your team. It improves your customisation capabilities, such as personalised emails, cross-channel journeys, targeted banner displays, post-purchase sms/push messaging etc. to help convert marketing prospects to loyal customers. MA is therefore designed to increase sales and maximize efficiency for companies with complex sales cycles by managing prospect interactions and marketing campaigns in and from one platform. Sounds excellent, right!

Before we get into it, let's look at some stats and figures to get you in the mood for MA. Did you know...?

  • The top 3 most used marketing automation techniques are email automation, profiling & targeting, and personalization through dynamic content

  • About 3/4 of companies implementing marketing automation report ROI within the first year (less than half however within the first six months)

  • 80% of marketers report an increase in leads due to marketing automation

  • Marketing automation boosts marketing team productivity by around 20% on average

  • Lack of expertise/know-how, as well as lack of human resources, are the most common reasons why companies are not using marketing automation yet

  • There are 300+ established MA/campaign management platforms to choose from!

Okay, now that we got all excited about MA, let's see what it takes to get started.

Set clear goals and expectations early on

Before you schedule demos with marketing automation vendors like Pardot, HubSpot or Marketo (a.k.a. the fun part), have a sit down within your organisation to clearly define your goals and expectations. Once you understand what MA can help you with, see which parts are applicable to your business ambitions. Be as specific and explicit as you can when you write down your list of objectives. For example, you could ask yourself,

  • What are you trying to achieve? 

  • What are the business objectives or challenges you are trying to address with MA?

  • What would be some measurable KPIs to show how well your MA setup is working?

  • Who is going to be in charge and/or what skillsets may we currently be missing?

Some common goals include increasing the number of leads in nurturing stages, improving your response rates & times, as well as lead scoring/grading related objectives from your handover to sales (MQL to SQL). Increasing sales is an obvious one, but you should also expect to improve your customer retention and satisfaction. Other specific goals could be increasing your email list by x number or improving email open rates, customer satisfaction or conversions (downloads etc.) by x percentage. Most MA technologies come with useful reporting, so you can always keep track of - and refine - your goals later.

Some of the expectations that need to be clear from the get-go are:

  • Marketing Automation takes time and effort to set up

  • Is neither a one-off project nor one-off cost

  • MA complements (but doesn't replace!) your marketing strategy

  • MA is dependent on a number of variables to be successful

  • MA is a cross-functional, ongoing initiative that requires resources, skills and attention

Get your team and assets organised before launch

Chances are you have your marketing material in folders. Maybe on your desktop, or hopefully in shared drives. Whitepapers, email templates, your favourite graphics and brand-approved logos etc., probably in a few different versions or revisions. Do yourself and your team a big favour by using consistent naming conventions and folder structures. Anticipate growth of your marketing asset library, anticipate growth of your team. The more organised your material is, the easier it is for you and others to navigate and utilise.

When you copy your material into your marketing automation tool of choice, it is critical to apply a logical setup. Maybe you have material for different markets and languages, different core businesses? Different file formats? Different owners maybe? You would be surprised how quickly your library can get out of hands when not managed properly.

As important as the marketing material itself it is also to manage the various permission levels for team members. Who needs access, who can make changes, who can add/edit/delete material? Many of those aspects are managed through various user roles right within your marketing platform. Dedicate some time and thought for getting a good foundation in place, knowing that it is easier to make changes later than to start from scratch.

It is worth mentioning here that marketing automation works best when you already have some great content to work with lined up (evergreen whitepapers, case studies, how-tos, industry reports, newsletters etc.). However, by forcing yourself to stay organised, you will also quickly notice if there are gaps in your customer journey touchpoints.

Needless to say, your automated email sequences need content to truly nurture and engage your leads. Refer to your customer journey map for content input and remember quality always tops quantity. 

Technology is (typically) not an issue

Alright, now that we have the foundations squared it is time to talk about technology. The good news is, with modern marketing automation platforms, you don’t really have to worry about the behind-the-scenes mechanics too much. Established players will have similar functionalities and capabilities. All common ones are cloud-based SaaS that will not take up any of your server space, bandwidth or other hardware resources. Many also have a variety of out-of-the-box integrations to make your life easier.

Having said that, when picking your MA solution, you will want to make sure the tool fits in nicely with your existing tech stack and platform setup, since the more you depend on 3rd party integrations or in-house hacks, the more vulnerable to disruptions your setup may become.

When you are narrowing down your options and start talking to vendors, make sure you fully understand the technical requirements on their end and present them to your IT team for input and follow up questions. Chances are, if you are using a Salesforce cloud for your sales and services, you might look into Marketing Cloud or Pardot. If your enterprise is Oracle or Adobe based, you might look for their components first. Compatibility, as well as a sense of familiarity, will influence your decision as much as bundled deals etc.

It is unlikely (and not recommended) that your Marketing Automation is an IT owned adventure. But in addition to involving IT in the requirements part of your vendor research, you will need their help later - for instance for placing JavaScript tracking code onto your page(s), implementing iframe code for your web forms, creating CNAME records for tracker domains, and implementing email authentication etc. Most MA technologies work very similar in that way and provide you with checklists and guides in chronological order that you can almost hand over to IT. But some basic technical understanding is priceless for your implementation.

Data, on the other hand, can be an issue

It is true that you are in full control of what lead and customer data you collect with your marketing platform. From obvious ones like form submissions to less obvious ones relating to IP ranges and locations.

What the average marketer typically has little influence on, however, is the existing customer data prior to your MA rollout. Familiarize yourself with the data and data quality in your CRM. Hopefully, your sales team made it a priority to keep customer details up to date. First Name, Last Name, Company, Email - check! Address, Industry, Job Title - maybe! The more complete the profiles are, the more segmentation and personalisation opportunities you have. The extent of your customer database will also depend on what type of business you run.

There are marketing platforms that are more tailored towards B2B vs B2C settings. With that, there may be differences in messaging capabilities (e.g. SMS and push notifications) as well as regulatory requirements, such as GDPR, that you need to understand before you commit to a vendor (for how to pick your vendor we're preparing a separate article).

Marketing Automation is a team effort - but who is on your team?

Make sure you have leadership buy-in and sponsors/allies up and down the food chain. Marketing automation is not something you just try with a few folks in your marketing department. If done right, it is as much of a game-changer for the entire organisation (Marketing, Sales, IT, CS etc.) as it is a commitment from the entire organisation. This is particularly true when your marketing automation is being integrated with your CRM, social media management, paid advertising, analytics, search engine optimisation, competitor analytics, customer service or any other digital areas of your operational setup.

Promote your ambitions early on, get people excited about your plans, show them how marketing automation can transform and improve their ways of working. Get people involved, then share the work and the fruits of your labour. Speaking of people, these are some of the roles you will likely need:

  • Marketing Automation Admin: Your MA lead is an advocate for your adopted platform, who develops best practices and training, works side by side with your business marketing managers and pushes everyone to use MA to its full potential. He/she has a strong background in lead generation programs, email marketing best practices, and inbound marketing, along with experience in marketing and sales alignment through continuous business process improvements. 

  • Content Manager: Your content manager is responsible for creating smart, compelling content that supports both strategic and tactical marketing and sales initiatives. This person works closely with design, lead generation, and product teams to generate content and collateral that drives impact and results. He/she should understand both content marketing strategy and the use of analytics to measure and continuously tweak your performance.

  • Designer: Yes, there are some out of the box drag-n-drop elements that come with your marketing platform, but your designer has the last say in what enters your marketing assets library or goes out to prospects. He/she is developing your unique brand tone, voice and visuals. If you’re lucky, they also know some basic HTML to help with your email templates and landing pages. 

  • Lead Nurture Specialist: He/she develops communications to the customer throughout the entire customer experience and works closely with your content manager, mapping the right content to the right place. This guy/gal understands your buyer personas and owns your customer journeys. He/she has an excellent overview of what is happening in your digital marketing, from ads to social, email and SEO, and manages to keep the user experience consistent across your channels. They are often also experts in conversion rate optimization and will help you with forms and CTA placements. He/she knows when and where your leads are ready to be engaged by sales. 

  • Analytics Role: He/she knows the right information to capture, analyze and report, and shares actionable insights and meaningful interpretations of marketing information with the rest of the organisation. The analyst and marketing automation manager work closely together to review data sets, test hypotheses and ensure the marketing automation and CRM systems are capturing useful information for your sales org.

The above team typically is an assembly of your digital marketing or growth team within your marketing organisation. The MA lead will need access to your CRM / sales admins and IT to ensure the machine runs smoothly.

Depending on your situation and platform selection, it may be necessary to look for talents with explicit experience with your platform of choice (an experienced HubSpot or Marketo admin will know MA in general terms, but start from scratch when presented with a new technology, such as Pardot or Marketing Cloud). 

Get in touch if you need help 

You may have a breakthrough product or service, but if your target consumers are unaware of it, your business may not achieve its fullest potential. Successful customer acquisition, conversion and retention are the results of a holistic marketing strategy, which marketing automation solutions are designed to not only support but scale up and elevate.

While you can implement MA in organisations of all sizes, we typically see companies start talking about it once their lead generation and nurturing can no longer effectively be managed manually. Who has the time or patience to draft up personalized responses to each contact, right? Who remembers important dates (like contract renewal) for an ever-growing user base? Who wants to manually invite contacts to your events?

Even a relatively small investment in Marketing Automation tends to bring solid returns which can seriously strengthen your business. You will not only be able to improve output (and accountability) of your marketing team but by replacing manual repetitive work with automated rules/campaigns, you can also free up yourself and your colleagues to focus on other tasks. And remember, Marketing Automation is not a strategy - it's merely a tactical tool helping you increase the efficiency of your marketing execution as part of your overall digital strategy.

Contact us if you have any questions and look out for more MA related articles.

Author: Martin Hennig of NoA Connect, Stockholm