B2B Marketing Automation Basics

So what exactly is marketing automation and why is it a game changer for B2Bs? Let's find out.
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Last year, we wrote about the importance of lead nurturing for industrials. As a premise, it makes perfect sense. The industrial buying cycle takes time — often months — and it can be extremely effective to touch base with customers at key moments in the lengthy buying cycle, helping them complete their customer journey by reminding them periodically that your company is the best one to work with.

At a certain point, though, it becomes impossible to make this sort of customer contact in person every time a customer needs a little encouragement. On the one hand, you likely have too few salespeople. And, on the other, everyone secretly hopes to have the problem of too many potential customers.

How, then, do you intervene effectively with more customers, more often? A solution that is finding a lot of traction in B2B marketing is marketing automation.

Defining Marketing Automation

You’re probably wondering: What is marketing automation and how exactly can it help with the B2B lead nurturing process? For those of you who haven’t run across the term before, marketing automation is not software that will do marketing for you. Rather, it’s a powerful tool that can facilitate better integrated marketing by automating some of the basic online marketing functions and making lead data readily available and actionable.

If you’ve done any research on the subject, you’ve probably inferred that it has a strong basis in email marketing. This is not incorrect. In its most primitive form, marketing automation is a way to organize and begin to automate your email marketing. Unfortunately, this also sounds like a quick way to get your company flagged for spam and put on an email blacklist.

While marketing automation makes ample use of email, its potential is much greater. Truth be told, it is emerging as an entire field in digital marketing. Reductively, marketing automation can be defined as a term for software platforms that capture website visitors’ information and preserve it in a cloud-based marketing database, making leads available for ongoing marketing.

With over 200 marketing automation platforms on the market as of 2014, many of which have arrived in the market via different origins (e.g., starting off as inbound marketing platforms or social media publishing tools), it’s difficult to summarize what marketing automation is. They all approach it somewhat differently.

So rather than trying to capture them all in one overarching definition, here is a list of the main benefits that industrial B2Bs can expect from accessible, leading marketing automation platforms such as Act-On, CallidusCloud, HubSpot, Marketo, OutMarket, and Pardot, all of which seem to be approaching the field with the same general ideas.

The Main B2B Marketing Automation Benefits

Lead Intelligence

With a marketing automation system, a record is created for every prospect who fills out a form on your website. You can see how often they visit your site, which pages they go to, and which promotions they click on. You can even assign them a “lead score” based on these activities in order to qualify the leads for sales.

This level of individual customer intelligences lets you know how leads found you and which aspects of your marketing program they’ve engaged with. Charting their interactions in a timeline, you can begin to aggregate and analyze their customer journeys in a B2B marketing automation database and use this information to make your marketing efforts more effective.

More importantly, access to this sort of data gives marketing a very deliberate way to qualify leads for sales via lead scoring. The results speak for themselves: According to the Lenskold and Pedowitz Group, 68% of successful marketers attribute revenue growth to lead scoring. Moreover, the availability of detailed customer intelligence prior to any sales outreach lets salespeople make more informed first contacts.

Lead Nurturing

For B2B marketing automation to work, the most important piece of information to capture is a lead’s email address. With it, you can use your chosen platform to run integrated marketing campaigns that will nurture prospects into qualified leads.

Using a prospect’s email address as a record locator, you can track interactions between that lead and your company’s online marketing assets. Based on their particular customer journey (recorded in your marketing automation database), you can then serve them specific landing pages, forms, or email messages with content relevant to their place in the industrial buying cycle.

Per DemandGen’s 2014 Lead Nurturing Benchmark Report, nurturing programs like this can increase sales opportunities for B2Bs by an average of 20%.

Reporting & Analytics

As mentioned above, marketing automation systems record all lead activity in individual profiles and can aggregate this information in various reports that can be used to plan more effective marketing on both the strategic and tactical levels.

For example, you can use a marketing automation platform’s reporting tools to segment data by customer, individual communication (e.g., email, landing page, social post), or campaign (either channel specific or cross-channel). You can also create general reports to visualize how prospects become leads and then customers, describing a complete marketing-to-sales conversion funnel.

B2B Marketing Automation Features to Look for

Now that we’ve reviewed the basic benefits of marketing automation platforms, you’re probably wondering what sorts of features leaders in the field are offering in order to distinguish themselves from competitors. Here are a few to look for.

Real-Time Alerts

Receive an email or text whenever a customer takes a specific action or when a known prospect visits your site.

Competitor Monitoring

Track competitors’ online marketing efforts across channels to see how your company measures up.

RSS Emails

Automatically deliver emails about new blog articles or other subscription-based content to your email list.

Webinar Integrations

Promote WebEx or GoToWebinar webinars, enrolling webinar contacts into marketing automation workflows.

A/B Testing

Test email subject lines, forms, and landing pages to see which convert best. Automatically use the ones that do.

These are just a few of the non-standard features to look for when comparing today’s marketing automation platforms. To learn more about which vendors offer these options and more, check out this article about innovative marketing automation features.

Implementing B2B Marketing Automation

With over 200 vendors to choose from, selecting a marketing automation platform that will fit your current needs is a daunting task. And it’s entirely possible that your company may not be ready to implement marketing automation, as much as the thought appeals. Many companies have tried only to make some fundamental mistakes since they simply weren’t organizationally ready.

To find out if your company is prepped to reap the benefits of marketing automation, or if you need help developing a plan for implementation, contact us at Industrial Strength Marketing. We’ve done the research, know the platforms, and have set up marketing automation programs for numerous industrial companies.

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About the Author

Jake Gerli


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