6 Success Factors for Adopting Marketing Automation

Are you getting ready to implement marketing automation? Congratulations! Marketing automation is not rocket science, but it does take strategy, planning, and preparation to make it work well and meet your company’s expectations.

As the Professional Services partner manager and marketing strategist at Act-On, I’ve worked with hundreds of companies that implemented marketing automation. I’ve seen companies that made the transition easily, and others who struggled. I can tell you, the ones who have the smoothest implementation and earliest success with marketing automation generally start as simply as possible, and most of them do these six things to get ready to implement marketing automation.

Six readiness factors for implementing marketing automation

#1: Get your website in order

Your website should be:

  • Current
  • Updated with interesting, SEO-optimized content (text and images) at least monthly
  • Built on a usable, agile, platform you can expand and grow on
  • Easy to navigate, user-friendly
  • Quick to load
  • Well-branded
  • SEO-optimized on the back end as well as on the page

In addition, you should have attractive, downloadable content (such as eBooks, infographics, videos, etc.) on your site, and lead capture forms, including a Contact Us form so people have an easy, direct way to get in contact with you.

#2: Have a messaging strategy and good content

Marketing automation requires quality content, and plenty of it. If you don’t have content, give yourself a budget for content strategy and content creation and build this library while you get started with marketing automation. It’s almost impossible to overstate how important content will be to your success. Remember: One great piece of content can act as a pillar that builds your brand. One bad piece of content wastes resources and slows brand momentum.

One reason why it’s worth the trouble to build that one great piece of content is that you can re-use and scale content from foundational content pillars to build a comprehensive library. One good eBook, for example, could become a webinar, a podcast, four blog posts, and two infographics. You could advertise it on third-party websites, link to it on social media, and send it out in an email newsletter. You can adjust the messaging on various pieces so they are tuned to buyers at different stages of the buyer’s journey. This gives you an entire program that’s consistent across channels.

As you build content, have in mind which pieces you will gate – that is, which ones you will ask people to fill out a form to access. These pieces should be strong enough, and compelling enough that the people you attract to your website will be happy to give you their contact information in trade for access.

Your marketing program needs these basics to plan your strategies and create your content:

A solid messaging strategy

  • Know your value proposition and what problem your product or service solves.
  • Understand your audience, their personas, and their needs, from their point of view. This informs your message, so you can build content that speaks to your audience.
  • Understand the best-fit companies for your product or service. This tells you who to say it to, so you can build targeted audience segments and prioritize how you invest in each.
  • Have consistent messaging for every persona at every stage. Here’s an example, so you can see what I mean:
    • The early stage buyer may be just realizing they have a problem or a need; help them define the issue with general, big-picture content: “How X Affects Your Business”
    • The mid-stage buyer may be scoping the extent of the problem, and beginning to explore solutions: “Three Ways to Solve the Problem of X”
    • The late-stage buyer is getting ready to pick a specific vendor and make a decision: “How Our Company Solves Your Problem with X”

Know your audience so you can tailor your content to:

  • Each funnel stage: top, middle, bottom; or as we say at Act-On – attract, capture, nurture, convert, and expand
  • Each different persona (e.g., influencer, decision maker, user of the product/service)
  • Each different channel (e.g., social for inbound, email for outbound)

Develop content on topics such as thought leadership in your industry, problem analysis, how-tos, trends, research, etc., in formats such as newsletters, articles, infographics, listicles (as articles or infographics), white papers, eBooks, case studies, blogs, webcasts, webinars, advertorials, etc.

#3: Prepare your list

List management is critical to the success of your automated marketing campaigns. Here are some tips on what you need to get started right.

You must have a large list

The definition of “large” varies by business size, industry, and sales cycle. For a small business with a long sales cycle, this might mean 3,000 to 10,000 names. A similarly sized small business with a short sales cycle might define a large list as 25,000. A large company with a relatively short sales cycle could have millions of names.

List hygiene is essential for keeping your sender reputation sparkling from the start

  • Cleanse your list of spam traps, duplicates, non-deliverables, etc.
  • Validate email addresses on your list

Segment your list by factors such as

  • Engaged and unengaged (do they click through your emails?)
  • Geography
  • Common needs or pains
  • Position in the sales funnel (new to your list? Or almost ready to buy?)

Keep in mind that it’s critical to keep adding fresh names to your list. Even a very clean list will degrade, as much as 25% per year according to some sources. This means you should have an ongoing program of lead generation to build your list. You can leverage marketing automation to capture new leads with your lead generation programs, while you’re building your list. In this case, you simply need patience.

#4: Prepare your lead generation strategy

What have you been doing until now to generate net new leads or nurture existing customers? If you have an established process, automate that first, then move to new campaigns.

If you don’t have an established process, here is the goal: You want to continuously drive traffic to your sales funnel. This will build your list and give your sales team fresh leads.

Adopting marketing automation will be easier and more successful by following the six tips outlined in this blog article.

Here’s where your content comes into play. Use content to attract new leads, and then use more of it – gated, this time, so they fill out a form to get it – to find out who these people are, and get their permission to market to them. Then use more content to guide them through the sales process. You can automate most of these steps, so you can manage a larger number of leads than when you were marketing manually.

Lead gen is both an art and a science. Here are some things to consider. This list assumes you’ve done the homework in #2, and you know what your messaging is and who your buyers are.

  • Set your budget and prioritize efforts by highest long-term return
  • Have multi-channel lead gen programs to drive net new customers and to retain existing customers. Then, when you set up your automated workflow, have multi-step programs to drive customers in those segments through the buy cycle. These could be drip programs (a series of emails, sent at a specific cadence) or nurture programs (a type of drip program in which the lead is progressively educated on a specific solution)
  • Review the content you created in Step 2. Which pieces can you use in your multi-step programs? In what order?
  • Determine which digital channels you will use to reach leads: email, social, pay-per-click, digital ads, webinars, online reviews. Most marketers use multiple channels and test to see which campaigns and which channels work best
  • Determine which broadcast and other traditional channels should be part of your marketing mix: print, outdoor, direct, radio, TV, events, referrals

Tip: Typically, your existing customers offer the highest potential for generating revenue – at the lowest cost. Leverage them for repeat buying; market to them for upsells; and help them become your ambassadors and advocates as referrals and for testimonials.

Although this group is the most profitable on your list, most companies don’t dedicate nearly enough focus or resources to retaining customers or expanding marketing programs to customers. This is a particularly smart place to gain competitive advantage with marketing automation.

#5: Set appropriate expectations

Deploying marketing automation will not make leads fall like rain. It’s a fabulous tool, but – it is just a tool, incomplete without a workflow to automate and content to deploy.

Many factors influence success in marketing automation, among them a large contact list, a clear understanding of your target audience, engaging messaging that motivates that audience, quality content, captivating subject lines, and strong calls to action, all mapped to your long-term strategy for reaching long-term goals.

Experienced marketing automation users can often jump right in with Act-On and be sending out emails within days. Basic CRM connections can be set up quickly as well. Most marketers who have not been hands-on with marketing automation will take longer to get familiar with the platform. Set up the basics first (such as user profiles, email templates, your media library, etc.) and then begin by creating simple program workflows. It won’t take long – probably a few weeks – to work through the platform’s capabilities and figure out which features will deliver the most value for your unique business. If this is your first entry into using marketing automation, monitor results and adjust subject lines, offers, design and calls to action as necessary. Give it time to mature.

Let execs know what to expect

One of the top roadblocks to success we have learned is lack of leadership buy-in and lack of patience to allow your strategies and the system to work for you. If you’re a team of one, and you don’t have at least 10 hours a week to dedicate to marketing automation (this includes email marketing), get help. Act-On Professional Services can help you get started, and create a plan of action you can follow, as well as content you can use. You can enlist assistance as needed. This may be a discussion point at your executive planning meetings.

#6: Use outside resources strategically

Although most marketing automation platforms try to be as user-friendly as possible, all will require a certain level of expertise to execute. Retaining outside resources may be the most efficient path to getting started, then implementing and building well-designed and architected automated marketing campaigns, which your own team can run and maintain.

Many very successful companies utilize this approach because it is extremely cost effective. The powerful advantage of having ability to outsource for help is – you can pull the right levers when you need them. Whether it’s the need for content creation – like infographics, eBooks, white papers, case studies – or getting your account and automated workflows set up FOR YOU, so all you have to do is populate them – there are experts who can help.

As noted in this Forbes story: “At much less than the cost of one full-time executive, you get an entire team of experts, and can expect cheaper ad costs and software costs.” Pick an agency with experience in your vertical, and you could find yourself learning valuable lessons and avoiding newbie mistakes.

In conclusion…

Marketing automation is sometimes sold as a turn-key solution. That’s only true if you’ve already had experience with marketing technology, and you’ve already marshaled your resources (programs, content, personas, etc.). For most of us, it’s a slower process with repeated learning experiences as we grasp new ways of doing things. These six keys are a solid path to follow so you approach automated marketing with a practical understanding of its requirements, and you can set realistic expectations. It’s like learning anything new; before very long, you’ll be inspired, things will begin to flow – and looking back, it will seem easy.