Whilst every business is undoubtedly unique, it’s amazing how similar the challenges we all face actually are, and nowhere is this more obvious than the sales and marketing department.
Ask any Head of Marketing what challenges they’re facing and, almost uniformly, they’ll tell you that…
- … there just aren’t enough qualified leads coming through the funnel or enough hours in the day to generate more
- … there’s just too much noise and their message isn’t being heard
- … they can’t keep on top of the ever-changing tools and technology
- … there’s too much data and not enough actionable insight
- … proving ROI is really challenging – and, as a result, they’ve having to fight for every pound of their budget
If this sounds familiar, rest assured you aren’t alone.
It used to be so easy. You had a powerful, value focused message that you communicated to your customers.
But then inbound came along, and suddenly everyone was putting out interesting content to drive customer attention, and your message became lost in the crowd.
Today, there are over 50 billion indexed pages on Google – your message isn’t a needle in a haystack, it’s a needle in a haystack, located on a planet made entirely of haystacks!
So, how do you ensure your message is heard by the right prospect at the right time, and tick off all of the above challenges whilst you’re at it?
Automation is key!
Simply put, no lone human, no matter how dedicated/smart/multi-talented, can manage all of the above challenges without a healthy dose of assistance from a Marketing Automation Platform (MAP).
Marketing automation is technology that manages marketing & communication processes and multifunctional campaigns across multiple channels, automatically.
MAPs are often associated with inbound marketing, and if you’re familiar with the likes of Hubspot, then you might think that that’s all Marketing Automation does. But in reality, it’s a far broader technology.
At its best, marketing automation is a combination of inbound and outbound activity, comprised of tactics (often technology driven) which in turn are driven by an overarching sales strategy.
It’s that strategy part that’s most important.
Without a clear direction for what you want to achieve, marketing automation becomes just another distraction – eating into your time without any tangible benefits.
This guide is here to prevent that from happening. It highlights four key areas that you need to consider before making your investment in marketing automation
Consideration 1 – content
It doesn’t matter how great your marketing automation software is if you don’t have your content strategy already in place, so a considered approach to your content is an absolute must.
Plan out your content before committing to an annual MAP license and place a strong focus on value adding content, rather than just sending out sales messaging.
Content isn’t simply a question of banging out a blog post. You need to understand how that content relates to the recipient’s needs, what stage of the buying cycle they’re at, and what channels are most effective at achieving your desired outcomes.
Whilst email is undoubtably going to be a core component of your content strategy (both as a delivery channel for other content, and as the message in its own right), you should think outside of the box in terms of what constitutes content.
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
Content comes in many form – from webinars and live events all the way through to podcasts, white papers and spreadsheets. By knowing your audience, and understanding their challenges and worldview, you can craft content that resonates with them and their needs.
Use the content funnel below to apportion the right content to the right stage of the buying cycle, and use your MAP to deliver it.
To help you get to grips with an effective content strategy, we recommend swotting up on our eight step guide to creating a killer content campaign.
Technical execution of content delivery
Marketing automation is all about delivering the right content, to the right person, at the right time. The ability to craft and deliver that content should therefore be a primary factor when selecting your MAP
Any reputable MAP will have a native Content Management System (CMS) built in – and you’ll use the CMS to build content assets such emails, landing pages, webpages and lead capture forms.
Let’s be honest here. Your marketing team will be spending a lot of time within your tool’s CMS, so user experience is critical.
Questions you should be asking your MAP provider before buying into marketing automation should be along the lines of:
- Do I need to know HTML to build my pages/emails, or do you have a drag and drop page/email builder?
- Is the email editor as good as/better than Mailchimp’s?
- Is the page builder as easy to use as Unbounce/Wordpress, and does it work alongside these tools?
- What are the training assets/knowledge base like?
- Is everything drag and drop?
- How easy is it to inject dynamic content into my pages/emails?
- Can I build plain text email as well as beautifully designed HTML emails? (you’ll be surprised at how many solutions don’t allow you to build in plain text)
- Can I self-host landing pages, or do they need to sit on your domain?
- How do I craft/deliver my content in a personalised fashion?
Of course, no amount of questioning beats real life experience, so if you’re on a demo, ask if you can take the reins, or better still, get a free trial and have a go at building your own content. This will give you a great feel for just how simple the solution is to use, but don’t be shy about taking your provider up on the offer of free training. After all, this is something you should also be evaluating.
Next steps. Plan out your content creation and delivery strategy using a content calendar (there’s a great free template available here, courtesy of our friends at ContentCal) and aim to have at least a portion of your content in place before investing in a MAP.
Consideration 2 – data
The quality of your data is critical to the success of your marketing automation strategy. Your prospect data must always be fresh, and for that reason we advise steering clear of bought lead lists which are invariably stale before you’ve even purchased them.
In an ideal world, all lead data would be opted in and inbound. Prospects hungry for the latest industry report, white paper or online webinar should willingly hand over their contact details in exchange for your lead magnet or sign up to your news letter, and all’s right with the world.
First there’s the problem of noise.
There’s just so much of it, getting your lead magnet in front of the right prospect organically is nigh on impossible these days.
You’re also going to come up against alias emails; email addresses that prospects only ever use to access gated content, and let’s be honest, we’ve all got a couple of those tucked away. Recent privacy features introduced via Apple’s IOS 15 updates also mean that users are now being actively encouraged to submit disposable emails when they sign up to your lead magnet or App.
So, what’s the best approach to data?
At Kulea we recommend promoting your inbound content through paid channels in order to maximise your chances of getting your content seen by the right people.
This hybrid approach works your content harder and accelerates your organic strategy.
On top of this we recommend pro-actively employing prospecting tools to feed your B2B marketing automation platform.
Solutions such as Prospect.io, GetProspect and Hunter.io enrich data from what is arguably the most powerful and up to date CRM on the planet, Linkedin, before sending that prospect data across to your MAP for email nurturing (with your awesome value adding content).
When you combine prospecting with paid, interesting things start to happen
One of the core services we provide for our clients at Kulea is the management of their sales stack – which includes prospecting and integration between different platforms.
We’ve found that the best way to build awareness at the top of the funnel is to run your cold outreach campaigns in parallel with custom audience advertising on your social channels (we recommend Facebook and Instagram as they provide far better value than LinkedIn, which can cost 10x the price).
By repurposing your prospecting data for paid targeting, you’re increasing the number of touch points available to you and maximising your brand awareness
But what if your prospecting tools don’t talk to your MAP or Facebook?
Don’t worry, if it’s anything near half decent, it’ll have a Zapier integration available for you that allows you to plug and play with 3,000 plus third party martech applications.
More about that in consideration 4!
Next steps. Make sure you know where your historic contact data has come from (by completing a data audit) and run all your existing contact data through a third party data cleansing tool like NeverBounce.com. This will help you remove invalid contacts, and give you a starting place to go hunting for their replacements.
Once you’ve gotten to grips with your existing contact data, your next step is to plan out your future data strategy. Where will your data be coming from and how do you intend to use it to gain maximum brand exposure?
Now check to make sure everything you have planned is GDPR compliant!
Consideration 3 – Insight and action
MAPs throw out a lot of data, to the point where it can be overwhelming for the modern marketer. Ironically though, data overload is often cited by our customers as a reason for embarking on their automation journey.
It’s important to understand the context of the sort of data our Heads of Marketing have previously been exposed to.
We’ve all used Google Analytics’s anonymous dashboards to tell us that X is up, Y is down, and Z is flat lining. But as useful as all that anonymous data is, without the ability to tie it back to an individual, it’s just benchmarking.
Marketing automation provides the missing link between your analytics data and your marketing activity. By associating events such as page views, email link clicks and asset downloads, with known contacts in your MAP, a response mechanism is created.
That response mechanism enables you to track and respond to your customer’s online body language in real time through the use of automated conversion paths and journeys.
A journey in this context is simply a sequence of triggers and steps that a prospect will pass through before they convert.
Journeys should take the pain out of all your data, automating responses so that events are translated into actions, however, all journey planners are not built the same.
Let’s take a look at the beast that is Eloqua’s journey builder. If the following screen grab sends a shudder down your spine, then you’re not alone.
To be fair to Eloqua, it’s firmly positioned as an enterprise solution and we’ve deliberately chosen a complex journey to reinforce our point, but through necessity, their automation engine is highly complex.
SME solutions such as Kulea make complex automations considerably easier to implement though the use of a more linear canvas. See an example of our own drag and drop journey builder below
The objective when selecting your MAP is not to avoid complexity, but to select an appropriate level of complexity for your business needs.
If you’re serving multiple sites/languages/products and services, with a multidisciplinary marketing team to support you, then an enterprise level journey solution is probably the right fit for your business. However, be cautious of over-engineering requirements.
You should always future proof your investment, and we’d advise buying into a solution that can grow alongside your business (see consideration 4!).
Signing up to enterprise level complexity on the off chance you might need some of the advanced features in the future however is a one-way ticket to an under-utilised and expensive MAP.
Next steps. Plan out your automation requirements using flow chart software such as Lucid charts or even Google slides, and map your automated sequences back to your content strategy. Try to use the language of conditional logic when planning – it often helps to write down what you’re looking to achieve in sentences that use terms like If, Then, And, Or and Else.
E.g. If a contact clicks link A Or link B, wait 15 minutes and Then send them our guide to Z.
Consideration 4 – integration
Here at Team Kulea we are massive advocates of Best of Breed martech stacks.
A best-of-breed martech stack lets you pick and choose the products that most closely match your business needs across categories, and if those needs later change, you can replace the parts of your martech stack that are no longer optimal, while keeping the ones that are
Best of breed has been facilitated by the growth of third-party middle-man solutions such as Zapier, which allows you to connect over 3,000 applications with just the click of a button.
Integrations go far beyond marketing technology however, enabling you to link up your internal comms channels (Slack, Google contacts, Skype etc), your accountancy software, your HR software etc, into one seamless business process.
In addition to plug and play Zapier connections, future proof MAPs should also have open Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) in place, that allow transfer of data directly between your applications.
There’s a place for both these approaches within your marketing technology, but as a general rule, API integrations come with an upfront cost (both financial and development time) but are relatively low cost to run once built.
Middle man connectors such as Zapier are easier to implement and integrate, but if you’re planning on enterprise levels of data transfer (think thousands of updates a day) they can be pricier in the long run as they charge a fee for every piece of data that is transferred.
Start with Zapier, and build your own best of breed stack.
Even with the cost of individual subscriptions for Marketing Automation, CRMS and CRM, you’ll find the total cost to be a fraction of the single solution offerings out there, and you’ll end up with a far more flexible solution that you can build up, or break down, on demand.
If your MAP doesn’t have API’s or Zapier connections, we’d consider this a big red flag that the solution you’re looking at isn’t future proof. Walk away!
Next steps. Go on, bite the bullet and set yourself up with a free Zapier account.
You can then set yourself up with simple automated integrations, like connecting your CRM to your email provider or CMS. Zapier is the perfect way to dip you toe into the world of automation, allowing you to test some of the ‘If this then that’ statements you prepared as part of your insight and action prep.
So there you have it – four primary considerations you need to think about BEFORE embarking on your Marketing Automation mission – content, Data, Insight/action and Integration, combined with some nifty next steps to get the ball rolling.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
Next in this series we delve deeper into the benefits and risks of Best of Breed Versus Single Stack solutions.
Note, a version of this article was first published as a guest post for 1973.agency, but has since been updated.