Marketing automation is one of the hottest topics around right now, and for good reason. For large established companies, automated tools are now almost a necessity to deal with similarly large, complex groups of customers and potential leads. And for small companies, automated tools offer the ability to squeeze every drop of value from their investment.
There is more to marketing automation than just the technical side, though. In order to truly streamline your digital marketing efforts, and to build better relationships between your sales and marketing teams, you should also follow a number of best practices. In this article, we’ll take a look at what these are, and how you can apply them.
Marketing automation tools are now capable of helping you with many aspects of your business, but excel in one area: lead generation and cultivation. Even the most basic ecommerce websites now track a huge number of key metrics about your site, and as a result, even the smallest companies will have reams of data for automated systems to work on.
It’s critical, however, to decide on which type of lead strategy you are going to follow before investing in marketing automation software. This is not necessarily because your lead strategy will inform which software you choose—most automated marketing tools will allow you to follow the strategy you desire—but because not having a narrow focus will mean that you are quickly overwhelmed with data.
So take a minute to think about what is important this year, month, or week, and train your marketing automation tools on this goal.
Second, be aware that not all marketing automation software is created equal, and the way that you use your software will depend on the platform you choose.
If you are a new business, it can be worth starting out with a relatively small, easily understood platform. This is not to say that larger, more complex, more expensive platforms do not offer a great ROI; they do. It’s just that the ROI of marketing automation platforms depends, to a large degree, on the skill and knowledge of the human operator using them.
Once you (and/or your staff) have mastered the basics, it will be time to move to a more powerful system. The best software out there at the moment will allow you to run multi-channel campaigns, segment your leads, and will run on the continuous delivery model, meaning changes to the software application are constantly made available to consumers.
At this point, if you’ve followed the best practices above, you’ll have a marketing automation system that is suitable for your needs, and that you can use securely. Most platforms will also provide documentation on getting started, and will provide a route to conducting your first automated campaign.
There are a number of aspects of using this software which are often overlooked, however. One is that you should not rely wholly on your marketing automation software to provide intelligence on your prospective customers. Instead, you should augment this software with good, old-fashioned market research.
In other words, while machine learning can deliver customized user experiences, machine learning platforms also need to be told what to look for in databases of customer information, and how to identify customers that might be of value for you. So make sure that you have the necessary human expertise in place to make your automatic systems work effectively.
Next, a quick word on security. This is a subject that often gets left out of discussions on marketing automation, but in reality, the two subjects are closely intertwined.
Marketing automation software has third-party access to many important subsidiary systems (email, etc.), and will therefore become a target for hackers. This kind of consolidation, in which business systems are linked to each other, is one of the reasons why cyberattacks are on the rise, and why a hack now happens every 39 seconds on average.
Protecting yourself, your company, and your data against cyberattacks is an ongoing, complex project, but when it comes to marketing automation the advice is clear—you need to choose a provider that takes security seriously, and is able to tell you how they will protect you.
Finally, don’t stop with basic email campaigns. The utility of an automated system to produce customer emails is so high that many managers get an automated marketing system, set it to run their email marketing campaigns, and then forget about it.
The best marketing automation software around today can do far more than this. The ultimate goal here is to take the customer and lead segmentation that we mentioned above, and use this to inform truly multi-channel campaigns. These can include email, social media, SMS text messaging, videos, and almost any other form of marketing that you are currently using.
Multi-channel campaigns are particularly effective for companies seeking to reach diverse audiences. Different generations are more susceptible to different forms of advertising—with Gen X preferring email communications, for instance, and Gen Z video ads—and if you are not using the maximum number of media available to you, you are wasting opportunities.
Marketing automation software, as with any complex tool you deploy in your business, requires a certain level of expertise to use effectively. So, it makes sense to invest a little time in learning how to do this.
While there is no harm in starting small, and exploring just how much you can do with tracking customer interactions on your website, at some point you’ll want to expand your automation, perhaps invest in a new system, and go truly multi-channel.
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Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed among other intriguing things to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.