15 Tips for Marketing Automation Success

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Carlos Hidalgo on Marketing AutomationThis past Monday, OMI lead instructor Carlos Hidalgo taught our Marketing Automation Crash Course. His three, 30-minute classes covered the fundamental how-tos and best practices of successful demand generation, lead management, and marketing automation. Our students flooded Carlos with great questions on marketing automation! Here are our 15 favorite questions and answers from the course—a nifty FAQ on marketing automation success.

1. What kinds of staffing, in terms of job titles, should a company have in order to successfully implement Marketing Automation?

In mid-market to larger organizations, you will often find a role that takes over the day-to-day operation, management, and implementation of a marketing automation function.  This role of marketing operations is on the rise.  When you look at the growth of groups like MOCCA (Marketing Operations Cross Company Alliance) you can see the value of this operational role and how effective it can be.  That being said, I think it is less about job title more about skill set.  This is the first time in the history of B2B marketing in which marketers are responsible for purchasing and managing their own technology. You need a marketing technologist: someone who not only understands technology but technology in the context of what you are trying to accomplish from a demand generation and lead management perspective.  They are becoming more plentiful out there with trainings like these and with the work that a lot of the automation vendors have been doing to educate their customers.

2. The marketing automation talent pool is shallow at the moment, is it necessary to search for people with specific experience in Marketo or HubSpot? Or is a generalist good enough?

I think a generalist is good enough.  I would put less focus on what tools they know and make sure understand how B2B buyers buy today and what the role of a marketer should be today.  Do they understand process, what a campaign is, taking a theme of content and delivering that to a buyer at a specific stage and how that is relevant?  Do they understand content marketing, buyer 2.0, metrics of analytics?  You can teach the technology, and all of the vendors have training programs.  It is much harder to teach knowledge and skillset than it is to teach someone how to use a tool and a marketing automation solution.

3. How does an organization police itself to ensure both sales and marketing are living up to what they’ve agreed to in service level agreements?  It seems like there are a lot of potential failure points when implementing a marketing automation strategy. 

It is best to start small and simple and benchmark your success along the way.   There is no need to adopt a marketing automation system and choose 25 nurture streams at once.  Start with one, get proficient on it and then move forward.

SLAs are built to keep both organizations on track.  When your top decision makers come together and recognize that SLAs are built to better service and align around the customer, you will generate more revenue.  The discussion of who didn’t live up to a particular expectation goes away, and the SLA exists simply to understand which needs are being met.  Change the mindset and the alignment becomes easier, and you see less failure.

4. What happens to SLA agreements when the VP of Sales or Operations changes during a marketing automation implementation?

If the SLAs are not already a part of your company’s culture then you must immediately integrate them into your DNA.  While you look for a replacement VP, find other counterparts to rely on (so if you are in sales, marketing and if you are in marketing, sales) and teach them the importance of your SLAs.  This won’t be too difficult if your SLAs were developed with a collaborative effort.  If SLAs came down from directors and were simply implemented by the rest of the team, it will be a bit harder.  Get representation from every level from the beginning, so that if someone does depart you won’t feel as big an impact by the vacancy.  I even advocate seeking rep involvement at the marketing and sales SLA level, as well as the involvement of your entry level Marketing Managers.  This way, SLAs become part of the fabric of your organization at every level.

5. Would you advocate marketing automation for companies of all sizes, or is there a threshold at which it becomes attractive?

The size of your company matters less than your company’s goals and marketing maturity.  On paper, a company with $400 million in revenue and hundreds of employees is a perfect candidate for marketing automation.  If their marketing strategy for last year included only two emails, however, any automation would have very little impact and would likely cripple the organization.  On the other hand, a 15-person organization with a defined process and clear understanding of their buyer’s goals is a great candidate for marketing automation.  It is about maturity, what you are trying to do, what your goals are, and what audience you want to reach.

6. What is a realistic timeframe between pulling the trigger on a MA solution and being able to show management that things are happening?

This will vary depending on your average sales lifecycle.  If you have a long eighteen-month cycle, you can quickly show some initial engagement metrics (opens, clicks, shares) but data on pipeline contribution to revenue will take a longer time.  If you are a transaction-oriented company with a short cycle, less time will pass before you can show the impact you can have on pipeline and revenue.  Your CEO is less interested in engagement metrics and would rather see the revenue driven by marketing campaigns that are enabled by automation.

7. Should sales have a say in a marketing automation program?  They comment on campaigns but have no marketing experience!

Yes.  Some of your sales people don’t have marketing experience, but they do have a unique view to your customer.  Marketing is not there to serve sales, sales is not there to serve marketing, but you are both there to serve the customer.  Your marketing automation program must be developed in a collaborative fashion.  This does not mean that you’ll take every piece of input they provide and bring those into your campaign, but they have to be at the table.

8. How much time should I anticipate to get my lead management process developed and implemented?

We have seen companies develop a foundational lead management approach and process in as little as nine months.  We have seen large enterprises take over three years.  A lot of it depends on the complexity of your organization, how mature you are in the lead management maturity curve, and then understanding and getting everyone behind the initiative.  These steps alone, or the change management aspect, can take over six months in larger companies and are often not accounted for in planning.

9. How frequently should our prospects hear from us via email?

Your prospects will let you know.  We did a case study where potential buyers were receiving over 100 emails a year from a particular security vendor, and as a result they all began deleting actual security warnings.  The damage to the company was detrimental.  A rule of thumb would be once every couple of weeks, but if your buyer is very engaged, is showing from a digital body language perspective that they like the content you are putting in front of them, then don’t be afraid to expand on this.  Be sure to not get caught in the email only trap.   Use live events, telephone, direct mail, and social, as part of your multi-channel mix.

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10. What is the average length of a nurture cycle for cold leads?  How many emails should be included in a welcome cycle?

It depends on whether or not you have done this before.  A client who has never gone into a nurture strategy may have a simple four-step nurture program at first.  On the other hand, we have built campaigns with over twenty different steps if a prospect were to run through each one.  It also depends on how much you have to say. No matter what the length of your nurture cycle, make sure that what you are saying at every step of the way is relevant and applies to where your audience is in their buying cycle.

11. Does it ever make sense to include product-focused emails in a nurture cycle for new or cold leads? 

Three weeks ago I attended a major event in our industry, and since that point I have received six different emails from vendors asking me to sit through a demo. I have responded to none.  While sales people are very eager to drive the product, what they have to understand is that today’s buyer does not want to be force fed product.  This is Buyer 2.0.  Empathize with me first, tell me that you understand my problem, you understand my challenges, and then we can discuss product and solutions or services.

12. As a general rule, how long do you think it should take to nurture cold leads to warm?

There are so many factors that play into this.  Ask yourself three questions: First of all, is your content relevant and up-to-date?  A lot of companies are out there communicating noise and buyers don’t understand what you are trying to say. Also consider the kind of reputation and brand promise your company has…does it resonate with your potential buyer?  Finally, what kind of sales cycle do you have?  The longer your sales cycle the longer it will take to move your customers.  Your content, customers, brand, and sales cycle will all define how long it should take for nurturing to show any contribution towards pipeline.

13. How do you decide which segments to start with when developing first trigger campaigns?

Go for the one that is most profitable.  One of the most frequently missed opportunities when companies start nurturing is in their own customer base.  Even though they have already provided you with some revenue, your existing customers are a huge target for potential revenue.  Figure out what segment will be most profitable for you and start there.  If you have multiple solution sets towards multiple SMB, mid-market, enterprise, figure out which will have the biggest impact and start there.  Learn from it and move to the next one.

14. How do I secure the support of my senior management team if I am the newest member of the organization? 

Talk about revenue.  Senior management is focused on contribution to revenue and increasing their overall margin.  Do some research and figure out what you are spending on marketing programs today.  Then find out how many leads you are generating, or what the cost of the sales process is.  Next, go into your CRM system and pull a lead aging report to determine how many marketing generated leads sit in the funnel without being followed up on.  Take the cost of the sales process and multiply it by your lead decay.  This will answer the question of what does it costs your company to not do marketing automation?  Now you have a business case based on revenue lost by your company.

15. What do you think the marketing automation landscape will look like over the next year or two?

We know that Eloqua filed for its IPO so we should have our first publicly traded company!  We will see some more acquisition and mergers in the next year, and ultimately will be left with a few companies standing.  New vendors will continue to arrive on the scene and will service a small pocket here and there.  I think the biggest changes will come as we move towards enabling social media and exploring B2C opportunity as well as B2B.   There are some monster vertical opportunities waiting for marketing automation, including healthcare, retail, and manufacturing.

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