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Marketing automation is one of the new buzzwords making the rounds in sales and marketing circles, but what exactly is it? If you've ever received emails and viewed coordinated social media posts about an upcoming promotion or purchased a product and subsequently received information about after sale support in your inbox, then you've been a target of a marketing automation campaign.

 

In simple terms, marketing automation is a series of technologies and software platforms that enable businesses to "automate" repetitive marketing tasks across multiple channels, such as email, social media and web. Companies such as Marketo provide the platform, support and consultants to assist in making these decisions based on industry best practices.

 

In the past, actions such as emailing prospective customers, publishing social media posts and posting new content online had to be manually executed one at a time. Those activities can now be coordinated ahead of time and scheduled to occur automatically through marketing automation technologies. Many B2B and B2C companies utilize these tools to streamline and target their marketing efforts.

 

How can marketing automation help your business?

 

Prior to the rise of the internet and ecommerce, anyone wanting to learn more about a product or service had to visit a store or reach out directly to a sales rep for that information. Over the past 15 years, prospects have increasingly done more and more of their research online prior to engaging a company directly for additional information.  Since this research can be done largely anonymously, by the time a sales lead reaches the sales team, the prospect is likely very close to making a purchasing decision. This trend indicates two things:

 

1) The majority of the sales cycle is now occurring prior to the customer engaging the sales team.

 

2) Older methods of distributing mass amounts of general, impersonal information to prospects have become outdated as prospects actively seek more detailed and specific information relevant to their needs.

 

Marketing automation allows companies to personalize their communications and nurture prospective customers along the buying continuum. You can now send prospects a series of emails customized to their specific interests and linking to relevant content online. Prospects are more likely to read and take action when communications are personalized and relevant. Automating these tasks allows your team to focus more on the quality of the communications rather than the actual distribution thereof.

 

For many companies, a marketing automation campaign does not end with a successful sale. They continue to engage with customers after the sale to make sure they are satisfied with their purchase and inquire if they need any after sale support in hopes of building loyalty and fostering future sales.

 

Marketing departments are no longer getting a free pass when measuring their stewardship of marketing budgets. They must demonstrate a strong return on investment for their marketing dollars. Because of the integrated nature of marketing automation campaigns, they allow for accurate tracking of customers from identification to quote to sale and beyond, providing an unprecedented level of data.  This information often proves invaluable when evaluating campaigns and developing future strategies. 

 

What are its limitations?

 

Like any computer program, it will only work as well as it has been programmed to do so. A flawed campaign will not magically right itself. Because so many tasks are programmed to occur automatically, errors in the flow of data or routing of prospects may go undetected unless your team constantly monitors the campaign. In short, the campaign will run exactly as programmed, for better or worse.

 

You will need a sufficient quantity of prospects and customers in order to justify the cost and time involved in running an automated campaign. Without a sufficient flow of prospects and customers, you will end up doing more work and spending more money executing an automated campaign than you would running a manual one.  Sufficient volume will vary based on your business type.

 

What else should you know?

 

Make sure you have something of value to say. Communicating simply because you can is never a good idea. Without targeted and engaging content, your communications will come across as impersonal and intrusive.

 

Give yourself plenty of lead time to plan, set-up and test before you launch your program. Marketing automation can greatly extend the reach of your team; however, it will require continuous maintenance and optimization in order to run effectively.

 

  Possessing an understanding of processes, strengths and limitations can help you decide how to most effectively utilize marketing automation for your business. When used correctly, these programs streamline workflows, increase efficiency and expand revenues. Consider the best solution for your business.

Businesses must develop a dynamic sales strategy that can adapt to diverse customer needs. The ability to tailor a sales strategy to unique scenarios can help businesses convey how an offering can add value to customers with complex needs. Businesses should develop a flexible sales framework that can accommodate need variation across several dimensions of buyer behavior. The factors that should be accounted for in an adaptive sales strategy are detailed below.

 

Buying Objective

 

Customers can vary significantly in the objectives that they want to accomplish by making a purchase. Some businesses may plan to utilize an offering to earn a competitive advantage over a rival firm. Other purchases can be made in hopes of attracting a new market segment or a major buyer. Certain customers have well-defined buying objectives while other customers may be uncertain about what their true needs are. Businesses should be prepared to demonstrate how their offerings can add value to customers who might have a wide range of buying objectives.

 

Value Chain Involvement

 

The value chain is important for all enterprises, but customers who function as intermediaries or suppliers for other businesses are likely to prioritize the impact of the value chain when making a purchasing decision. Business-to-business (B2B) customers often involve their key suppliers and customers in a purchasing decision to ensure that a proposal can add value. A sales strategy should account for the disparate needs of individual value chain participants who might be impacted by the new purchase. Involving other members of the value chain can also lead to opportunities for cross-selling additional products. Involving key partners of the value chain in the purchasing decision, therefore, should be perceived as an opportunity for sales growth.

 

People Involved

 

Many sales strategies are fundamentally flawed because they focus on companies, rather than the people who make the decisions. Companies are not lifeless entities, but people working together for a common purpose. Therefore, sales strategies should account for the human factors that influence every purchasing decision. Key influencers who advise a decision maker should be offered personal meetings and opportunities to voice their concerns. Sales agents should nurture a strong interpersonal relationship with stakeholders who are involved in the purchasing team. Accounting for the people involved in the purchasing decision can lead to more sales in the real world.

 

Organizational Characteristics

 

B2B customers that market products at different stages in their lifecycles can exhibit distinct buying behaviors. Small and medium-sized businesses often emphasize cost and close relationships as their primary buying motives. Large corporate buyers may have tomes of organizational rules that must be abided by when making a purchase. Startups tend to be more willing to take significant risks while established businesses often seek to avoid risk unless their market dominance is threatened. Sales strategies should be capable of adapting to the organizational characteristics of a customer's business to explain how a proposed offering can add value.

 

Risk Environment

 

The risk tolerance of prospective buyers should be inferred before making a final proposal. Customers who demonstrate limited risk tolerance should be presented with a plan that will minimize initial resource commitments and account for potential losses. Entrepreneurial buyers should be shown the potential payoff that risk exposure could entail. Sales strategies should also mitigate personal career risks that leading decision makers could face by accepting a proposal. The most effective way for sales strategies to manage the risk environment is to be candid about the risks and potential rewards associated with the proposed offer.

 

Adapting to Each Situation

 

Earning a sale requires businesses to demonstrate how an offering could add value for the specific problems that a customer is experiencing. Businesses should adapt their sales strategies to account for the unique situation of each customer. The people involved in the purchasing decision should be the focus of sales efforts. Influencers and the individual motives of a decision maker must be satisfied before businesses will agree to make a purchase. Sales strategies that adapt to the unique situation of each customer can lead to enhanced sales performance and long-term sustainability.

 

The Role Marketing Automation Plays

 

When done properly marketing automation connects your sales team to your marketing department. Investing the proper amount of time and resources into your marketing automation platform will greatly decrease the guess work involved with determining buyer behaviors. Technology continues to change the way buyers consume information and lead nurturing has become a vital part of any successful marketing strategy. This is especially true when it comes to building relationships with potential buyers across multiple channels, even if they are not currently looking to purchase a product or service at that exact moment. If you’re in need of a more thorough explanation of lead nurturing I’d suggest downloading Marketo’s Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing.