All sales and marketing tools make big promises—more leads, more engagement, higher click-through rate, better sales—but none more so than marketing automation.
For those who aren’t familiar, marketing automation tools are exactly what they sound like—tools that automate certain marketing practices. These tools not only perform day-to-day marketing functions like email, social media, and website updates but they also provide valuable insights into the types of campaigns and content that resonate with their audience.
In an ideal world, marketing automation can help you engage with your prospects and customers efficiently and effectively. But, as many of us know, marketing automation can be complicated. In fact, only 14% of B2B marketers report their use of marketing automation as “good” or better (source).
So, what’s holding marketers back? According to Ascend2, the biggest inhibitor of successful marketing automation implementation is a lack of effective strategy (source). If this sounds like you, keep reading.
Here are three ways to get the most out of marketing automation platforms:
1. Map your content to your buyer’s journey.
The ultimate goal of any modern marketing strategy is to send highly relevant content to an audience ready to consume it. Your marketing automation platform is the vehicle that makes this possible.
Yet, a common misconception about marketing automation is that you can just set it and forget it. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Even though marketing automation does simplify certain marketing processes, segmentation and content must still be carefully planned.
To see the most success with your marketing automation platform, we recommend mapping your content to your buyer’s journey. If timed and executed effectively, content can push your prospects through your sales funnel until they become a customer.
If you’re not sure what type of content to push or when to push it, think about your buyer’s journey. It usually has three stages—the awareness, consideration, and decision stages.
Conduct interviews with your current clients and ask them which kinds of content were the most helpful during their buying process. Do the same with your sales team. Ask them the kinds of content they use most often during their interactions with prospects. This will help you identify content gaps and how you can develop content to better help the sales process along.
Here’s a rundown of what we’ve seen to be most effective:
Buyer Journey Stage: Awareness
During the awareness stage, the buyer may or may not be aware they have a problem and therefore aren’t necessarily looking for a product or solution. Instead, they’re looking for general guides or resources that can help them do their job or learn a skill. As a marketer, it’s your job to gently shine a light on the problems or pain points that your product can solve. Here are the content types that do this best:
- Vendor-neutral blog posts related to common search query terms and keywords
- Industry-specific infographics, tool kits, videos, or free guides
- Whitepapers, checklists, how-to’s, or webinars
Buyer Stage: Consideration
During the consideration stage of the buyer’s cycle the buyer is aware of a problem and is actively looking for a solution. The content you serve during this phase of the buyer’s journey should recommend your product as a solution to the prospect’s most pressing issues. Here are the types of content that work best during this phase:
- Vendor or product-specific webinars
- Customer testimonials or case studies
- Data sheets, work samples, or product demos
Buyer Stage: Decision
During the decision-making phase of the buying journey, your prospect recognizes your product as a potential solution to their problem and is ready to make a purchase. At this point your buyer may be considering your company or your competitors and actively seeking pricing information or speaking to sales reps. During this stage, these types of content tend to work best:
- Custom implementation plans
- Goal-specific content proposals
- Free trials, live demos, or estimates
Unless you’re a brand new company, you already have some of these assets to work with. But before you put together another eBook or even type one more email, take a step back and determine the most important questions your prospects are asking and figure out whether or not your content is answering them.
When you use this approach for content development, you’re left with a content plan that will better power your marketing automation program and move your prospects more efficiently through your buyer’s funnel.
For a more comprehensive guide to content mapping check out 3 Ways to Drive Sales with Content Marketing.
2. Implement a lead scoring strategy to use in conjunction with your marketing automation platform.
According to Sharpspring, organizations that use lead scoring experience a 77% increase in lead generation ROI (source).
If you’re new to marketing or lead generation, lead scoring is a process where marketers or marketing automation platforms assign a number to a prospect, based on how likely they are to make a purchase. Your scoring methodology can be based on a number of factors including behavior, firmographics, and online and offline attributes.
Most companies use demographic information (things like company size, perceived budget or job title) to weigh the lead-scoring process. However, also scoring your leads based on the content they’ve read can drastically improve your marketing automation strategy.
Let’s say you’ve defined a sales-qualified lead as having a lead score of 40 and, based on your existing criteria, a prospect is already at 10. Here’s an example of how you could use content assets and interactions to further calculate sales-readiness:
- Opened an email and clicked on a blog in that email (+5)
- Registered for a workshop event (+3)
- Attended workshop event (+10)
- Downloaded the slides from the workshop (+7)
- Downloaded an unrelated ebook from your website (+10)
By traditional measures, the lead score stays at 10. But when you start to attribute lead scores to your content, you’ve accelerated that lead through the buyer’s cycle and they’re ready for a serious sales conversation.
To do this, use insights from your marketing automation platform to identify which content assets resonate your prospects. Find patterns among your most and least successful content and use that information to fine tune your marketing automation process.
Pay special attention to where in the buyer’s journey that content is more or less impactful. For example, if you see a higher conversion rate when eBooks are introduced during the consideration stage, give leads a higher score when they download an ebook later in the funnel.
Using content to influence lead scoring provides a more comprehensive lead score than focusing on simple demographics alone.
3. Use the right channels with your marketing automation platform
According to Act-On and Gleanster research, 71% of B2B companies use email for customer acquisition and 68% use it for customer retention. Email is by far the most popular and effective marketing automation channel. In fact, email marketing and marketing automation have almost become synonymous.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the only channel worth pursuing when you look to implement or improve your marketing automation strategy. Most marketing automation platforms have advanced capabilities that allow you to automate many different marketing channels.
Work with your marketing automation provider and any analytics you’ve collected to determine what channels will work best for your organization.
Key Takeaways to Get More Out of Your Marketing Automation Platform
As you can see, marketing automation is not the simple tool that its name may imply. To make the most of marketing automation, it should be paired with high-quality content, advanced lead scoring, and appropriate channels.
Combining these tools for the purpose of marketing automation will allow you to have more meaningful interactions with your audience, better customer retention, a shorter sales cycle and ultimately a healthier bottom line.
Marketing automation is certainly not easy, but if done properly it won’t just impact your business – it will transform it.
Nels Gilbertson-Urtel is the content marketing manager at Brandpoint, a full-service content marketing agency based in Minneapolis, MN. He enjoys contributing to the Brandpoint Blog and eating inappropriate amounts of Honeycrisp apples.