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Marketing automation is only about timing – forget the rest…

marketing automation timing

What are the two most fundamental reasons for deploying marketing automation in your B2B company? Which marketing automation functionality are you actually going to use? Which ones can you leave for what it is? You’ll read it in this article.

Marketing automation: every marketer wants to “do something with it”. But what is that something, exactly? A lot of marketers, in my experience as a consultant, can’t see the forest for the trees. The number of marketing automation vendors has exploded over the last few years. The possibilities and functionalities seem endless.

This can lead to “analysis paralysis” amongst marketers. Which functionality do you need for your business case? The problem is that deciding on a software tool is hard if you haven’t actually used it.

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There are only two reasons to use marketing automation

Software suites, as a rule, are often complicated. The good news is that marketing automation is actually pretty simple, in principle. Look past all the features and functionality and you’re left with only two things.

A marketing automation platform should allow you to:

  1. Find out whenever a prospect’s timing is changing to your advantage.
  2. Build a relationship with prospects whose timing isn’t quite right yet.

The functionality that resolves around those two things should be the core of your platform. Everything else is icing on the cake. Meant to make our lives as marketers easier. Which is also important, but not as important when it comes to getting a return on your investment.

The good news is that #marketingautomation is actually pretty simple in principle… and is all about #timing! via @beckerhenrik Click To Tweet

Timing: which prospects are going to buy?

We’ve all heard it said that “sales is all about timing.” Completely true. You can’t force anyone to buy from you, if it’s not the right moment for them. Let’s make that practical for a second. Look at your database of contacts. How many prospects are in there? 2,000? 2 million?

Ask yourself this question: “What percentage of prospects in my database will making a purchasing decision within the next 90 days?” buying either from you, or from a competitor?

The prospects that are going to be making a purchasing decision are the ones with the right timing. Considering we’re talking about a B2B scenario here, this percentage is most likely very low. For the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s 1%. That means that 99% of your database will not be making a purchasing decision in the next 90 days.

Why? Because of timing

For whatever reason is behind it, these 99% of prospects are not going to be buying soon. No budget. Still under contract with a current vendor. Not a priority right now.

Or to put it another way: their timing is wrong.

Hoping or knowing?

Which leads to the question: what if a prospect’s timing changes? What if your prospect gets permission (and budget!) to change vendors? What if their current contract is set to expire and they’re out looking for a new solution?

If any of that happens: how will you know that’s the case?

Most companies hope that they’ll find out when a prospect’s timing changes. They’re betting on the prospect to pick up the phone and call them. Or that the sales reps were diligent enough to have set a scheduled check-in with the prospect.

But with marketing automation software at your disposal, you won’t have to hope – you can know.

So, let’s look at some of the actual functionality that can help you do this.

1. Be right there when they need you: Alerts & Tasks

It’s very well possible that you won’t hear back from a prospect after sales call, no matter how positive it was. They’re busy, their priorities change. But imagine that, after 3 weeks, you find out that this particular prospect looked at your pricing page for several minutes. That’d be a clear sign of buying intent.

With marketing automation you can set an alert for events like that happening. You can notify specific reps for prospect activity on your website. On whichever page is most important to you. You’ll also be able to shoot specific tasks into your CRM system, to ensure the assigned rep takes action.

I’m not a fan of completely automating follow-ups, by the way. Despite your best efforts to send the right follow up, a human will still be more sensitive to a prospect’s particular situation. But I am a fan of automating the possibility of following up.

2. Know where they’re at with Lead Scoring

Lead scoring is useful if you’re dealing with larger quantities of leads. It also helps to have a clear “customer journey”. Lead scoring allows you to assign points to certain actions and attributes of your prospects. Which is challenging if you don’t know where those actions fit in the prospect’s buying process. Hence the need for a customer journey.

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That said, lead scoring is a great way to keep tabs on how prospects are moving down the buying funnel . A prospect that suddenly starts collecting a lot of points for engagement is one you might want to shoot a message.

Often, you’ll also be able to assign tasks based on lead scores. Scoring on attributes, such as job title or company size, helps you qualify prospects. You can make sure sales only follows up with the right kind of prospects. An active lead doesn’t always make for a good lead!

These are two good ways of detecting when a prospect’s timing is changing. So, what do you do with the other 99% of your database?

Build a relationship with prospects whose timing is yet to change

Which marketing automation functionality helps you build a relationship with prospects whose timing isn’t right?

In fact, why even bother building a relationship with people that aren’t willing to buy right now? Why should you even care about them?

First of all, if they remain a part of your database you’ll have a chance to detect if their timing changes. If they’re not in your database, you’ll never know.

Second, by building a relationship, you can actually propel a prospect towards buying. If you’ve been a positive part of their lives up to that point, the chances are much higher they’ll end up buying from you.

1. Earn the right to their attention with Lead Nurturing

The ultimate goal of lead nurturing is to earn the right of communicating with your prospects. If you’re not adding value, you have no business in their lives. It was true before GDPR, but it’s even more true now.

Lead nurturing is all about relationship. You share useful, relevant content with your prospect at a fitting interval. Remember: these people are not looking to buy at this point. Your content should reflect that. Focus on being helpful and informative, without any direct intention of selling.

Your only goal is to make that sure than when the prospect’s timing changes, they’ll have a positive view of you. They’ll have seen and experienced your expertise and reputation in the industry.

So, what kind of content could you share? That’s dependent on your industry and your prospects’ preferences. The classical example of lead nurturing is an email drip. A series of emails that goes out to your prospects at a regular basis. In those emails, you could refer to other content, such as blog articles or videos or PDF downloads.

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A more advanced marketing automation technique is combining lead scoring with lead nurturing. If you know what your prospect’s thought process looks like when buying, you can map your content to their state of mind and be that much more relevant. Once buying intent becomes clear, it’s possible to give a prospect that final push with more sales related content.

2. Always talk to the right people with Segmentation

All the above mentioned techniques hinge on your ability to be relevant to your prospects. If you have different groups of prospective customers, it’s important to divide your database into different segments.

Every serious marketing automation tool will allow you to go very deep into segmentation using many data points in your database. On what you build your segmentation on, depends on what makes most sense for your business.

The goal is to be specifically relevant to each segment . You can send each segment different email-drips and content based on their particular reality, challenges and preferences.

3. CRM integration

A good integration with your CRM of choice gives you a whole wealth of extra data to work with. Whether that’s Salesforce, Dynamics CRM or something else. The more your marketing automation software “knows” about your current customers, the better. You can use that knowledge to recognize prospects as potential customers. Think of it as “lookalike audiences” in Facebook.

What about the other Marketing Automation features?

Marketing automation platforms are jam packed with cool stuff. Vendors are constantly competing with each other for a slice of the marketing technology pie, after all.

The truth is that none of the “cool stuff” is as important as the critical elements outlined in this article. Landing page builders, predictive analytics, chatbot integrations… it’s all great and saves us time, but it’s all nice to have.

When selecting a marketing automation tool what you should be focusing on is:

  1. How does this marketing automation tool help me recognize prospects whose timing is changing to my advantage?
  2. How does the tool help me build a relationship with those prospects whose timing is yet to change?

The rest is just icing on the cake.

Henrik Becker

About Henrik Becker

Henrik Becker takes B2B organisations by the hand to support them in a new, customer-centric way of doing digital marketing made possible by modern technology. As a freelance consultant, he does this by offering a combination of strategical insight, change management and subject matter expertise in marketing automation software. He has worked with mainly software companies, including internationally known market leaders Bullhorn and Wolters Kluwer.

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