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Marketing Automation: Crawl, Walk, Run

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by: Will Schnabel (@wschnabel)
03 February 2011

From the moment they first touch a prospect to the time they (hopefully) retain a customer, there are countless ways companies can lose contact and allow prospects to fall out of the funnel. Marketing automation helps avoid this scenario by facilitating lead-nurturing programs that plug the leak and lead-scoring, routing and monitoring initiatives that close the gap from interest to conversion.

Yet many marketers, perhaps intimidated by the perceived complexity of today’s cutting-edge technologies, don’t take full advantage of marketing automation.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of falling victim to “paralysis by analysis,” think big but start simply. Here’s a primer for how you can crawl, walk and run your way to lead-management success.

CRAWL: Establish Online Conversations

As you get started, your focus should be on building a strong foundation from which you can send relevant messages that engage prospects.

Step 1: Take steps to improve deliverability

Your carefully crafted messages won’t have much impact if they don’t reach the inbox. So, take the time to clean up your list, confirming anyone you’ll be mailing to has given permission, eliminating duplicate files, and integrating data from various sources. Make sure to use your own dedicated IP address from which to send messages and authenticate outbound email using the standard protocols (DKIM, Domain Keys, SenderID, SPF). And remember to test your message templates for broken or nonstandard coding and for content ISPs might associate with spam.

Step 2: Capture data more efficiently

To build a healthy dialogue with prospects, you must first get to know them. Resist the temptation to overwhelm new leads by asking them a long list of questions on forms or at opt-in, and instead limit your queries to the basics regarding content, format and frequency. And make sure your emails, website, landing pages and forms maintain similar branding and messages.

Step 3: Develop personas and related content

Start thinking about your customers’ motivations, expectations and goals. Doing so enables you to take a more customer-centric view and develop a core definition of who you’re targeting and what the nature of the interaction with these audiences should look like. Create educational content and test offers to see what resonates mostly strongly with your prospects.

WALK: Integrate Campaigning

Now you’re at the stage when you can really start taking advantage of marketing automation.

Step 1: Use behavioral tracking by linking to your Web presence

Understanding your audience’s digital footprints, knowing where they came from and where they went, will help you send relevant communications and guide you on how to handle a lead (e.g. sales alert, nurture campaign, etc.). And by tracking this online behavior before a prospect has opted in to receive your messages, you can use this data to ensure that your very first communication is engaging.

Step 2: Build multitouch campaigns

Most prospects require multiple touches over an extended time period to nurture them from initial interest to conversion. For example, an effective lead nurturing program might entail following up an online registration with an immediate ebook, emailing five days later with a link to a demo, sending a Webinar evite two weeks after the initial contact, and offering a sales intro a month after the original registration.

Step 3: Send at the right time

What’s the best time to send email? Marketers have been agonizing over this question for years, but the answer is simple: When readers are most likely to be engaged. By using new email technology, such as Silverpop’s Send Time Optimization, that analyzes recipient behavior on a rolling basis and then predicts the ideal email delivery time for each address on a mailing list, you can send messages to each recipient based on when he or she is most likely to be checking email.

RUN: Automate the Dialogue and Process

Having mastered the basics, it’s time to add a layer of sophistication to your lead-management process that will increase efficiency and tighten up any remaining leaks in the funnel.

Step 1: Score leads using implicit and explicit info

Developing a lead scoring system for ranking the qualification of prospects according to their buying interest can increase the number of quality leads sent to sales. Using both explicit data (e.g. company size, industry segment, job title or geographic location) and implicit data (e.g. website visits, email clicks and opens, recency and frequency of actions) will give the best criteria on which to score.

Step 2: Develop lead-stage campaigns

All leads are not created equal, so develop different campaigns for long-term prospects, medium-term leads and short-term opportunities. Match the content and cadence to each as applicable, for example sending short-cycle leads more frequent communications with content such as testimonials and pricing comparisons.

Step 3: Align with sales

Integrate your marketing automation platform with your CRM system to give sales full visibility into marketing’s activities—and vice versa. And don’t forget to get salespeople’s input when designing your lead-scoring system—they are tremendous information resources, and their buy-in will help ease concerns about whether leads deemed “sales-ready” are actually worth their time.

Taking Flight: Watch Your Marketing Program Soar

Once your lead-management program is at the “run” stage, you can fine-tune your process to reach even higher ROI. Incorporating persona-based multichannel campaigns, multiple lead-scoring models and advanced revenue reporting are just a few of the more sophisticated tactics you can use to take it up a notch.

But first you have to learn how to crawl, walk and run. Bottom line: Start building a strong foundation now, and before you know it you’ll be reaping the benefits of advanced lead nurturing and driving more quality leads than ever.

For more tips and tactics on lead scoring, marketing automation, lead nurturing and more, visit Silverpop’s resources page.


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