B2B marketing automation: Best practices

By Stellan Björnesjö

Marketing automation is a fantastic tool for moving leads through your funnel and getting them to become customers. But like with any effective tactic, the road to success is lined with pitfalls. The purpose of this article is to help you discover them and provide you with best practice examples so that you can succeed where others have failed.

Many companies who begin implementing marketing automation quickly run into problems - they might find it hard to measure their results, or leads may not seem to be responding. Automation is a powerful tool - but you have to use it right to get good results. So what is considered best practice?

To make things easier, I've gathered a few pieces of advice I've learned during previous marketing automation implementations. These tips form the basis of a best practice that can guide you when you begin working with marketing automation, or start improving your current setup to begin nurturing your leads and engaging sales more effectively.

Realise what marketing automation involves

Before you start to work with marketing automation, you need to understand that it will create more work, not less. It's tempting to think that by automating specific repetitive tasks, your workload will drop. But to succeed with marketing automation, you need to be measuring and improving it continually. The companies that do automation best may even have people who work full-time only with marketing automation – although this might not be possible in every company. Still, it's essential to understand that automation isn't just a matter of "set it and forget it." It requires work and optimisation to be effective.

Focus your marketing automation on customers' needs – and add depth

Automation can improve your internal processes, but your focus should always be meeting customers' needs and solving their problems when it comes to customer-orientated automation. Once you've identified these problems, keep thinking – what else can you add to make their interaction with your company as easy as possible? An automated email that tells your customer it's time for their product to be serviced makes their life easier and helps them experience success with your product. But a good example of added depth would be a link at the bottom of the email where they can book a time for the service directly. Simple automation can solve customers' common problems, but you have an opportunity to set yourself apart in the individual elements of your automated processes.

Adapt your marketing automation after the length of your sales cycle

The length of your sales cycle should steer the complexity and length of your automation processes. There's no point in trying to convert website visitors through a blog, nurturing them with a long series of emails, and finally encouraging them to buy if you sell relatively inexpensive fast-moving consumer goods. Chances are your lead will have changed their mind or purchased the product somewhere else before they get halfway through. However, if you work with capital-intensive enterprise products or solutions which may have a sales cycle of months or years, using automation to keep regular contact with leads during this process is a good approach.

Measure your performance

Like with any initiative, you need to figure out how to measure the success (or failure) of your automation efforts. This isn't an entirely straightforward task – your usual KPIs, like new leads, conversion rates, or sessions, generally won't apply to people in the automation process, because they have already converted. A good KPI to use could be the time from a lead's first contact to the finished deal. The idea of automation is to nurture leads and bring them further down the funnel – so how much your automation shortens the buying journey could be a good indication of success.

Start small

Rolling out a well-designed automation process across your entire business in one go, aimed at salespeople, leads, and customers, is a worthy goal to have – but in most companies, it's probably not realistic. Automation requires adaptation in many different departments, and that doesn't happen overnight. Unfortunately, many companies still try to implement this approach and write off automation when it doesn't work. Instead, start small. Develop some simple automation workflows – alerts for salespeople when a qualified lead returns to the website, short nurturing journeys for leads, and delightful updates and alerts for customers. Try them out in a small segment of your market, measure the results and improve based on your findings. You can then use your learnings to expand automation further across the organisation.

Scrap the silos

Effective marketing automation involves you being able to measure your results and inform salespeople about qualified leads. This is a challenge if marketing and sales don't have a common platform to share this information. Without a place for these two sides of the business to collaborate, you run the risk of leads being neglected and results going undiscovered. Despite the name, marketing automation isn't just another project for the marketing department. It involves all parts of your business that have contact with leads and customers, including sales and aftersales. If you're still working in silos, you can still use automation – but you won't be truly great at it until you start collaborating.

Don't stop tweaking

Marketing automation can't just be something you set up once and forget. Not if you want to succeed with it, at least. It's a tool that has the potential to improve your business for the better, but not if you approach it as a long-term project to be finalised – instead, it has to become a part of the toolkit that you use in your daily work, just as you would use email or a CRM system. You can spend months doing preliminary investigations into what you can do with automation and what you need before starting – but it's better to start small with what you have and learn and improve as you go.

If you're interested in learning more about marketing automation, take a look at our in-depth marketing automation guide which explains the importance of marketing automation and when you should invest in it, and shows some examples of what you could automate.

Stellan Björnesjö
Online Strategist at Zooma since 2012. 15+ years of experience as a manager, business developer and specialist within online and e-commerce. Has a perpetual drive for knowledge, and knows what to do with it. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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