How to Successfully Launch Your First Marketing Automation Program

Editor's Note: Today's post comes courtesy of Zach Watson, content manager at TechnologyAdvice. He covers gamification, healthcare IT, business intelligence, and other emerging technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

For marketing departments accustomed to smaller, fragmented software applications, implementing marketing automation software can be a daunting task. Properly integrating marketing automation into your organization requires a certain set of criteria, including:

  • Understanding what marketing automaton can and can’t do
  • Having a copious amount of leads to nurture
  • Having the necessary talent to operate the system to its full potential
  • Having enough content to fuel your nurturing campaigns

If you meet these standards then it’s likely you’ve already investigated solutions and perhaps even chosen a platform. But selecting a capable tool is only the beginning. Automation software touches numerous channels and presents marketers with a broad range of capabilities, so narrowing down the expansive strategies to actionable tactics should be the first order of business.

Luckily, there are several core undertakings that all marketers should complete when they begin to use marketing automation software. By segmenting your database from the start, setting up a scalable campaign creation workflow, and implementing clear lines of communication with sales, you’ll lay a strong foundation on which you can build successful marketing campaigns and optimize your business processes.

It all begins with your database.

Create Accurate Segmentations

Before you begin developing your automation campaigns, you should take the time to fastidiously segment the customer data you’re storing in your marketing automation platform. Because the real goal of marketing automation platforms — and really marketers at large for that matter — is to create personalized marketing for each customer, you have to spend time on the front end organizing your customers into appropriate segments.

On an operational level, this task isn’t all that complex. Most marketing automation platforms use lists (which are essentially customer segments) as reference points to deliver content. It’s the responsibility of the marketer to create lists that reflect the differences in your customers.

Common strategies for segmentation include dividing leads based on where they entered your system, e.g. through a webinar or landing page. A more detailed approach will use where these customers are in their buying journey and which of their pain points your product or service addresses. The behavioral analytics included in your automation platform are often the best data sources for deciphering how to segment.

The real value of segmentation becomes apparent once you start deploying campaigns. By empathizing with your customers and only sending them content that’s relevant to their interests, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of converting them from prospects into customers.

Take an Agile Approach to Creating Campaigns

Once your customer information is properly organized, you can begin creating drip campaigns. Depending on the buying cycle in your industry, these email autoresponders could span a couple of weeks or they could extend to several months.

Since marketing automation features a number of moving parts, it’s best to get one campaign up and running as quickly as possible. Once you launch your initial campaign for one segment, you’ll be able to move on to another campaign while your first initiative runs in the background. While it’s important to monitor campaigns for opportunities to improve, approaching the campaign creation process with an Agile outlook can reduce the period between implementing your new software and seeing results.

Starting with a single campaign also allows you to approach the project with more detail, learn the myriad of minor functions on offer, and set baselines for performance. Build your first campaign where your business is strongest, whether that’s a specific marketing channel or a certain customer segment.

Work with Sales on Lead Standards

Marketing automation software helps create a more holistic journey for customers by building a better link between your marketing and sales departments. Sales can access the behavioral data marketers have build up in the automation system, and marketing can better tie their efforts to revenue.

This relationship helps keep the entire buying experience relevant for the customer, but marketing has to get sales involved in the automation process early for it all to work. Sorting out lead scoring and defining a “marketing qualified lead” are the building blocks to a successful marketing/sales partnership.

Collaborating with sales on how to score leads will not only result in more accurate scoring criteria, but also reduce tension between the two departments about when a lead should be sent to sales versus when a lead should be further nurtured. The numerical aspect of a lead score adds a quantitative element to this strategy that helps eliminate any vagueness around each department’s expectations.

Like all digital marketing, experimentation will be necessary to truly nail down lead scores, but sales department input is invaluable for deciding which type of behavior truly signals buyer intent.

In many respects, marketing automation embodies the advancement of digital marketing, and the possibilities it presents in terms of data consolidation, cross channel campaigns, and improving the buyer experience are undeniably exciting. However, certain steps must be taken before marketers can start to turn some of these possibilities into reality.

Developing strong protocols for segmentation, campaign creation, and lead scoring will place your marketing automation program in a much stronger starting position.

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