Internet marketing tips for your small business.

What is Marketing Automation?

If you spend a fair amount of time on the interwebs, you’ve probably started to see some buzz about “marketing automation.” This post will give you a basic understanding on what it is and why marketers and sales teams are excited about it.


Before I jump in and answer the question “what is marketing automation?” let’s set the stage.

When you exercise any kind of marketing activity, such as visit a tradeshow, hold a webinar, run an ad or build SEO traffic, you’re going to attract contacts of all types. Some can be loosely considered leads, some might be referral partners, but only a small percentage are likely to be “sales-ready” leads. Naturally, your sales people (or you) are going to want to spend all of their time and energy courting these sales-ready leads.

But, what happens to everyone else?

What about the great people who thought your product or service was “interesting” but just aren’t in the right place to buy. Perhaps they won’t be reviewing new vendors until next year’s budget is set, or maybe they are just a little too early in their business growth to be ready for you. Or, maybe they just don’t have the need for your product or service right now.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is that most business yield very little or no marketing return on these potentially valuable contacts. You might add their business card to your CRM or add them to your (rarely sent) newsletter, but that’s about it. This is the case for all marketing and sales teams, regardless of industry, B2B or B2C.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Imagine how your marketing investments would multiply if you captured and courted EVERY LEAD that you generated, even the ones that don’t seem to be in the market for what you sell.

I use Chet Holmes’s Buyers Pyramid when identifying marketing campaigns for clients. In a nutshell, only about 3% of any potential marketing is buying right now. This means that campaigns that only target sales-ready leads are ignoring 97% of the market (facepalm!).

OK, now back to the point of this article: What is marketing automation?

Since we all know what to do with sales-ready leads, the question remains, what to do with all of the other leads and contacts that we collect?

My answer would be to warm them until they one day become sales-ready (and/or refer you to others in the mean time). Warm them by educating them, entertaining them, and building a brand relationship with them.

This is what marketing automation does. Because otherwise, it would be too expensive to scale this to more than a few dozen or few hundred people. Marketing automation tools (there are plenty of them) allow you to segment, personalize, score and repeatedly touch these leads by adding value to their lives.

Just as any relationship “warms up” over time, leads can be warmed automatically with just the right content being delivered to just the right person at just the right time.

I also want to point out that marketing automation can be used to keep a prospect engaged and interested during a long buying process. Sending helpful and valuable information in between meetings and decision points can keep a prospect from cooling off, going stale or being stolen away by a competitor.

Here’s an example of how you might use marketing automation with some of your non-sales-ready leads.

Let’s say you sponsor an industry conference. Or, as an alternative, you heavily promote an information webinar online. As a result of either, you end up with 100 people who seem interested in your product but not yet qualified or ready to buy.

These contacts are loaded into your marketing automation system (surprise, this process is “automated” too). All 100 leads have the same score, which may be zero, or you may assign them some arbitrary score since they attended the webinar, maybe ten points.

You’ve already scripted a process to send them five helpful articles (not all about your business, but articles that are valuable to them) over the next two months. Additionally, you’ve encouraged them to follow you on social media. The client feels like you, the salesperson (or brand in general) just keeps thinking about them every week or month. You’re starting to warm that relationship up. Again—you’re not just sending sales requests—you’re adding value to their lives somehow with content that is interesting, entertaining, surprising, helpful and, most importantly, relevant.

Bonus points if you can tailor the info you email them based on which pages of your website they have visited recently (yep, this is possible).

In addition to the articles, an email goes out to them announcing a follow up to that first webinar. A part two, if you will.

Each time one of these 100 leads clicks on a link, visits your website on their own, or likes a post on social media, their lead score is increasing. Perhaps you have decided to score them 10 points each time they visit your website on their own but only 5 points if they click on the article in each email. When a user replies to one of these emails with a question or comment, you add 25 points to their score.

At some point, that lead is going to reach a predetermined score. The sales person responsible for that contact is going to be notified—or a new sales person will be assigned—and that lead is now assumed “sales-ready.” It’s go time.

In the mean time, you’ve been adding new batches of leads. And your lead flow is increasing by the day. Your sales team is giving your marketing team lots of high fives these days.

Additional Thoughts

Let me take a moment to clear up a common misconception about marketing automation. The process isn’t replacing any part of your sales or marketing process, it’s simply magnifying everything you do.

Automation is not a substitute for providing value and compelling content to attract new buyers. In fact, it will only expose your lack of quality content and information when you try to design extensive campaigns. You likely already have the ideas and content that your prospects want, you’re just going to have to package them into usable assets.

And marketing automation is definitely not a substitute for strong sales skills and people. Again, its a multiplier ensuring you keep the client engaged and spend your time with the most likely-to-buy prospects.

Hopefully, your mind is racing with ideas on how you would engage your contacts and warm them into educated and open buyers for your sales team.

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