25 tips to transform your marketing automation from lead scoring and nurturing to a revenue growth toolset beyond capturing and nurturing leads.

ThinkstockPhotos-79302983-878436-edited.jpgYou’re probably familiar with the typical implementation of marketing automation. You might even be part of the 19% of B2B companies which SalesStaff recently reported use the tools – and if so, perhaps you’re among the elite 37% of that group which they found actually leveraged some of the personalization capability which is at the core of today’s marketing automation.

Most commonly, marketing automation is used to automate steps in the process of converting website visitors to contacts and nurturing contacts to leads until they’re ready to be handed off to sales.  This allows companies to scale lead generation and nurturing – particularly the “early stage” leads that are common among internet enabled buyers. Online forms, workflows, automated emails, analytics, activity tracking and lead scoring are the tools often used for this.

In more advanced cases, information which is collected directly (e.g. through form responses), indirectly (e.g. through IP address) and inferred (e.g. by observing frequency and duration of visits and types of content being consumed) is used to customize the contact’s experience.

Beyond simple personalization, “smart” content allows every web page and email experience to be customized according to a prospect’s persona, stage in buying journey, specific interests and degree of engagement.  Essentially any attribute which can be identified, observed or calculated can be used to customize the visitors experience. If/then branching logic can further refine the automation to contextually match the buyer’s experience to their requirements and preferences.

The Sales Hand-off

The creators and early adopters of marketing automation were naturally tech savvy companies. Their employees were comfortable multi-screening and accustomed to accessing and digging into cloud data, social media profiles and other online resources.

So when a lead reached a sales ready stage, the sales rep to whom it was assigned not only had access to the prospects history, behaviors and insights, but they dug into the details and incorporated them into their sales approach.  Needless to say, sales was more effective when reps were informed and respectful of the knowledge which prospects had acquired through their research.

Now ‘mainstream’, marketing automation is attracting the next wave of adopters. These are typically “marketing” folks who recognize the potential of marketing automation to help them improve and scale lead generation.  But organizational structure, even echoed in the name of the tool itself, means that the valuable insights marketing collects generally lie fallow beyond the sales handoff.

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In many companies the sales reps to whom the leads are assigned either don’t have access to the extensive data marketing has accumulated, or aren’t expected/haven’t been coached on how to leverage them in their sales follow up.  As a result, too often a hard won and carefully nurtured lead is squandered through clumsy sales contact. Sometimes it’s not even style, but simple mechanics.

Docurated’s recent report on the state of sales enablement suggests that sales reps often don’t even know where to find the right content to help advance and close deals, and “that they only think about enablement when they absolutely have to.”

These challenges are widely recognized, and organizations have worked to bridge the sales & marketing silos. SLAs between the groups help.  Notable successes, though, are found among companies where tech savvy inside sales teams manage the leads as they transition from marketing to sales.  That’s a pretty small subset of B2B companies.  

Isn’t there a way to improve the process for many more?

The answer is “yes.” But the tools to do so are hiding behind a deceptive name.  

Marketing automation has potential to help well beyond the traditional limits of the marketing department’s mandate.  Doing so will not only improve top line results, but substantially improve sales & marketing alignment.

Sounds like an implausibly rosy scenario?  Let’s dig into the details of how you can make it work.  To do that we’ll start with a premise – that if every sales rep had the access and perspective to leverage marketing’s accumulated insights, they’d be far more effective.

Yet we know that sometimes they don’t, and other times they’re resistant to spending the time required to tease those insights from marketing’s data.  Why just wish?  Using automation you can be a resource, figuratively sitting on the rep’s shoulder, whispering hints as they work a lead.  You should:

  • proactively push those insights out along with the details in a lead notification
  • provide contextual suggestions
  • customize notifications to sales management to facilitate appropriate coaching
  • extend the process to sales channel when appropriate

All of this is entirely within the capability of the marketing automation tool you’re already running or considering.  Obviously the devil is always in the details, and your product/service, market, target buyers, sales reps and other details will impact how you can execute this.  But keep in mind that ‘headtrash’ will be a greater hurdle than specific idiosyncrasies of your industry!

To get you thinking about what’s possible, here’s a list of 25 examples to help you unlock the latent potential of the tools you already have.

Include the following info with the lead notification to the rep:

  1. What search term they found you with (if the keywords are unknown, extrapolate from the words for which their entry page ranks)
  2. What buyer persona you believe they are
  3. What buying journey they will likely follow
  4. Which product pages they viewed (to provide some bracket context)
  5. A list of content they’ve downloaded/read (not just the first and/or last)

Provide the following insights:

  1. Based on the persona and journey, remind the rep of the kinds of questions the prospect is likely wrestling with
  2. Provide bullet points of common decision criteria for that persona
  3. Explain where you infer they are in their buying journey, what the next steps are likely to be, and how long it’s likely to be before they’re ready to order
  4. Highlight the business case that is likely to resonate with the lead (vs. features)
  5. Identify other buying roles that will likely be involved in the process based on journey research

Suggest the following to help the rep engage naturally:

  1. Provides links to email templates that have been developed for buyers of this type at this stage
  2. Recommend case studies, webinars, documents and other content that match the persona and stage of journey – and suggest how the rep could introduce it and why the prospect might be interested
  3. List questions for the rep to ask (including how to sequence and phrase them) that sales management knows will help to advance discussions – and provide interpretive guidance for processing the prospect’s responses
  4. Highlight how the current prospect situation maps against the company’s “sales process”
  5. What next steps they might reasonably expect to help them create a series of “yeses”

Engage sales management with these approaches:

  1. Loop the sales manager in with a digest of key details (e.g. industry, persona, journey stage, business size & product) so they can easily recall other examples (won and lost) to provide coaching tips
  2. Based on rep strengths and weaknesses, involve management based on criteria (e.g. a decision stage lead with a rep that struggles to close vs. an awareness lead with a rep that’s great at discovery) to optimize management resources
  3. Provide more frequent/extensive detail for target accounts/industries
  4. Notify sales management when certain thresholds of unread/unclicked internal emails are hit for specific reps (ignoring the coaching and suggestions)
  5. Update management on average duration between when you feed reps info and when they actually log some activity in the contact record

Keep the rep engaged:

  1. In addition to standard site revisit alerts, provide specific prompts for key behaviors (e.g. visit to pricing page, multiple visits over a short duration)
  2. Prompt the rep to “follow up” but provide contextually relevant suggestions so that they don’t simply revert to lame “touching base” approaches
  3. As new content is available that matches persona/journey, prompt the rep to share it specifically for that lead (beyond just general FYI)
  4. Include links to the contact CRM record in every mail so they can easily jump in to review
  5. Use text message notifications to get their attention when priority is high

Start…and then improve

Caught you….you’re rattling off all the reasons this won’t work in your case.  Maybe you’re right.  But what’s the downside?  Compared to empowered sales, increased revenue and improved sales & marketing alignment?

The reality is that field sales reps in traditional industries are busy, stubborn and resistant to change.  So you have a choice:  to reinforce stereotypes and compromise company performance by banging the drum of CRM adoption and sales enablement engagement; or push the dots really close together for them in a way that’s intuitive and welcomed by most.

Great companies create frameworks which empower smart, motivated employees.  Marketing automation provides an often unrecognized way to naturally anchor field sales activity to the framework that you’ve built and refined.

Like so many aspects of business, including the initial adoption of digital marketing, your success in applying technology to your top line growth is really only limited by your organizational creativity.

Get creative with your “top line growth” automation, then continuously measure and adjust as you already do on the marketing side.

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