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Are You Ready to Automate Marketing?

February 20, 2019, 11:00 AM

Your company may be active in digital marketing, perhaps distributing newsletters to an email list using such programs as Constant Contact or MailChimp. Perhaps you have Google ads producing web traffic. And now, you may be wondering who your web visitors are and what more could be done to turn them into customers.

Today, data gathering, analysis and measurement are strategically important. Automation is helping many departments gain efficiency, clarify new approaches and measure activity.

In a recent survey by the American Marketing Association, respondents indicated that what they need most from marketing professionals—beyond creativity—is marketing platform management.

My agency spoke with industry communications executives, researched platform providers, tested some programs and studied online reviews.

There are hundreds of platforms available and most will integrate key marketing functions with customer relationship management (CRM). If used as designed, one should be able to identify who is interested in what products and services and determine the best follow-up timing.

The platforms will provide various tools and templates for digital marketing campaigns and should make it easy to design email content, create lead forms and integrate with website pages. They also can help you report web and social analytics and funnel pertinent data into actionable data to help determine the next steps.

A picture of your interested prospects and the nature of their interests should emerge, thus, providing strategic information for further creation and delivery of content.

Some programs are so robust that it will take considerable time to learn and adapt. Additionally, if a company does not already have a plan to produce marketing content regularly, or a sales strategy to follow up with leads, any system will fall short in meeting its objective. Marketing automation requires continuous care and feeding, and a commitment of resources. The best will easily integrate with your CRM system or have a CRM embedded.

Systems used in our industry include Marketo and Pardot on the higher end, at $1,000 or more per month; and others, such as HubSpot, Infusionsoft and Active Campaign, in the $300 to $800 per month range, with actual pricing depending on the number of contacts you have and features embedded. Most require an annual commitment, and some may charge an onboarding fee. Sources of information and comparisons include Marketing Automation Insider and Capterra.

To monitor and track visitors, the visitors will need to complete a form. Once that occurs, most of the programs can draw upon IP data collected to show where else that visitor has been, and their interests and length of time involved with your site content.

Kelly Armbruster, Marketing Manager at Innovation Finance, said automation is a big part of their plans, and they are already seeing benefits of using Pardot. She selected this program because it was robust enough without having the steepest learning curve. It collects and stores IP addresses so that once a web visitor signs into a form, they can know where else the visitor has been on their site. This enables them to serve the content that the visitor has already expressed an interest in and nurture their interests.

"While it is important to have a clear understanding of how your company can use a marketing automation system, take it one step at a time. More in-depth applications will be learned along the way," Armbruster said.

Some key considerations in reviewing automation programs:

  1. Is your organization prepared to create content on a regular basis that can stimulate interest and trigger the capture of contact information?
  2. Who will be designated to launch and manage the program, and then to measure the return on investment?
  3. Do you already have a CRM that will integrate with the marketing software and are you ready to consolidate and centralize sales contact information?
  4. What functions are needed in your marketing platform versus tools you have and want to retain?
  5. Does the system provider offer support, training and integration with all of the marketing channels you already rely upon, such as your website software, social media channels and SEO/analytics?
  6. Are you clear on your marketing and sales goals as well as what will be measured?
  7. What commitment is required to use the service and will fees increase as your usage expands?

Once in place and working according to plan, the benefits can be appreciated by all. Michelle Speranza, Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer of Leaf, said: “Apart from the obvious time and work-saving benefits of letting the technology handle routine, repetitive tasks, for us the really compelling benefit of marketing automation is the fine-grained control it gives us to target and tailor our messaging across a wide variety of market segments and channels.

“It used to be that marketing was like speaking to a crowd, hoping your message would connect with at least part of your audience. Now, with the help of marketing automation, it’s more like speaking face to face, talking with customers, rather than at them. And we can take that conversation across the omnichannel with messaging that’s always highly relevant, consistent and channel-appropriate.”

One of the interesting features in automation programs is the ability to use tags programmed to create alerts and triggers that will notify a sales agent to act; or the tags can produce an automated response.

Even less expensive programs, such as ActiveCampaign, have some interesting features. It can fetch extensive contact data, like age, gender, location, interests and more just from a contact’s email address. Infusionsoft (rebranded recently as Keap) is noted in online reviews as being ideal for ecommerce and integrates with PayPal.

HubSpot is well-known and touted in online reviews for being mobile friendly and ideal for small businesses, but one source said to beware of price creep. Pardot may take longer to learn but is more robust and includes extensive tools for keyword research and competitor search engine optimization monitoring.

Discovering who visits your website remains a challenge that requires creativity and marketing expertise because the best way to uncover who is interested in your product or service is to attract them to your content and inspire them to provide at least an email address. There are new privacy laws preventing intrusive data capture by these systems.

The content you create for marketing automation should be considered valuable in some way. Whether blogs, social media posts, e-brochures, white papers or video tours, the content needs to be perceived as useful to your audience. Landing pages and forms need to be more visual, more creative and give someone a viable reason to offer up their contact information. And, any follow-up to them needs to be appropriate and well-timed.

No matter your program selection, the first steps need to include clearly identifying your market position, product, pricing and promotion plans. This is essential in any case to stimulate action by your desired audience.

“It’s important to get a deep understanding of current needs and a projection of future requirements that are as detailed as possible,” Speranza said. “Then, when considering candidates, evaluate not only how the various parts of the solution integrate with one another but also how it all fits into your business.”

While marketing professionals are taking on more of a technology management role, a study by Gartner Group reported recently in InformationWeek noted successful collaboration between marketing and IT departments is essential to produce desired business outcomes.

Deborah Reuben said that in her industry consulting she proposes tools that foster closer collaboration internally and with customers. “It should all start with mapping out what the customer’s desired outcome will look like,” she added.

While she is not a marketing consultant, Reuben is advising on CRMs as an integrated and foundational component of modern technology landscape. The leads developed in such programs require nurturing and continuous care and feeding. This is where tech-savvy marketing professionals are urgently needed.

Susan Carol
Chief Executive Officer | Susan Carol Creative
Susan Carol is CEO of Susan Carol Creative, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm based in Fredericksburg, VA. Since 1989, the agency has focused on the equipment leasing and finance industry.
Comments From Our Members

Jill Miller • View APN Profile
Thank you for your most insightful article. As a marketing technologist specializing in the equipment finance industry, I agree with all your insights. Outside of the fintech companies that dominate the small ticket B2B market, the majority of SMB brokers and lessors are slow to adopt marketing automation opting instead for telemarketing and manual email sends as the primary tool used by their origination teams. Leveraging all the tools available, including automation complimented with follow-up personalized phone calls, is essential for sustaining a competitive advantage in our very crowded marketplace. - Jill Miller, CLFP | MBA
4.4.2019 @ 6:40 PM
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