A phased strategic approach for small to mid-sized companies

While marketing automation (MA) systems and workflows are a regular part of most enterprise marketing departments, many small to mid-market companies have been slow to adopt MA. The reason most companies give for stalling is not the cost of these systems, but how daunting even the simplest automated campaign implementations appear.

Break Marketing Automation Implementation into Steps

The good news is you can take a phased budget and workload approach to marketing automation to reduce risk and stay sane in the process.

Option 1: Marketing Automation Lite

If you have never tried MA and have a small sales team, you can start with an easy campaign such as a monthly email newsletter. Using an inexpensive email system such as MailChimp with WordPress landing pages, you can easily interact with your existing opt-in subscriber list and test different concepts.

These lite systems now have simple workflow tools, basic signup forms, and e-commerce integrations so you can even set up a starter drip email campaign.

Just be sure to cleanse your in-house mailing list BEFORE sending your first email. We like BriteVerify for list cleansing, with prices starting at just $0.01 per email.

A con to starting with a lite automation system is you’ll have to eventually transfer lists and engagement data to a full-featured system, and you’ll have to re-create forms and web landing pages. But if you want to watch your budget and test without an annual commitment, it’s is a good way to start. If you are a small company with under twenty employees, a system such as MailChimp or Infusionsoft may meet all your needs.

If you have a sales team larger than five people and already have a CRM, such as Salesforce or Sugar, you probably want to jump right to a full-featured MA solution, such as Pardot, Act-On, Marketo, or Hubspot.

Step 1: Define Your MA Strategy & Workflows

You don’t need to be paying for the tool while you figure out how MA will support business goals. Spending time before your MA purchase to map out requirements and flowcharts will ensure you select the best system and save time during the implementation phase.

Step 2: Develop A Content Library First

Too many companies buy a MA system but don’t have quality content to load into the workflows, so they end up blasting out sales offers, discounts and sales right out of the gate. Sales offers should be the last step of the workflow once you have engagement, not the first.

Build at least one quarter’s worth of quality content upfront, because if you have a small marketing team, you won’t be able to create content in parallel with MA setup. See recommendations on the ideal size of your first content library.


Step 3: Negotiate Your MA Purchase

Each of these systems has features and pricing differences, so anticipate spending 20-30 hours researching, watching demos, and negotiating with account managers. MA vendors are competitive, so don’t accept the first bid. Most MA companies want you to sign up for a one-year contract, but first-time buyers can usually negotiate a one-quarter plan, especially towards the end of the month when sales reps need to meet their quotas.

Step 4: Assign Lead Scoring Criteria

In their hurry to get the first campaign out, many marketing teams treat lead scoring as an afterthought. If you do this, you’ll lose out on valuable engagement metrics associated with your first campaign. Don’t simply accept the default values in the system. Make sure to review the numbers and adjust the values to meet your particular business and sales goals.

For example, you may want to score case study downloads higher than product sales sheet downloads.

Step 5: Connect Your MA System to Your CRM

If you have a sales CRM, such as Salesforce, now is the ideal time to connect the systems based on the requirements developed in Step 1. Many companies wait until after the first MA campaigns are sent, thus losing valuable data that should be captured in the CRM.

Step 6: Establish Your Company as a Safe Sender

Before sending the first email, become an authenticated and trusted sender. Work with your internal IT personnel (whoever controls domain and email hosting) to update your DNS settings to set up SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail). The SPF record authorizes specific mail servers to send email on your behalf and DKIM is an authentication protocol. Your MA support team will have specific settings for you to update at the DNS level. With these steps complete, you become an authorized email sender of your domain and less likely to have your emails flagged as spam.

Step 7: List Building, Cleansing & Segmenting

Loading a clean list and choosing the best segmentation criteria are extremely critical steps.

Once MA setup is complete, cleanse your distribution list before uploading in the MA system. Use a third-party cleansing vendor, such as BriteVerify. Remove the “hard bounces” from the cleansed list and upload the remaining. Allow the soft bounces from the purged list in the distribution list until you’ve sent 1-2 emails. Continue to regularly update your lists by removing spam complaints, hard bounces, and routine soft bounces from your list after each distribution.

Quarterly, segment inactive records from your main distribution list. Inactive records include folks who have not opened your email over the course of 3-6 months. Remove the inactive contacts from your main list to achieve better engagement and deliverability rates.

Do not purchase a list, as even quality list companies have incorrect email address rates of 20%. If more than 10% of your emails bounce during a campaign, most marketing automation companies will suspend your account for noncompliance with spam rules.

Step 8: Setup Forms & Email Workflows

Forms are an essential foundation element of your MA tool. From customer intelligence to lead nurturing, forms allow you to learn more about prospects, which campaigns are working, and which content resonates with their audience.

Determine the forms needed for each campaign and use these forms to gather more information about prospects, behavior patterns, etc. Use forms for gated assets (e-books, white papers), specific sales engagements (demo requests), webinar signups, and information requests.

Establish a form workflow that includes an auto email to the contact after form completion. Send a “Thank You” and additional helpful information, an internal email alert when the form is submitted, and an appropriate website redirect upon submission of the form online.

Use every opportunity to engage the visitor and anticipate their needs with targeted helpful information.

When you get the basics down, you can move to advanced progressive forms that ask for more information each time the visitor engages and updates your CRM with the information and lead score.

Step 9: Run Your First Campaign

You’ve loaded your cleansed list, email assets, content and forms. You’re now ready to run your first campaign!

For any campaign, content is key. A nurture campaign should ideally be set up with four pieces of content that will be useful to the personas in your target lists. Each campaign should be distributed to a specifically-targeted list and include a clear call to action or information share.

Sophisticated campaigns include:

  • Behavior-based campaigns that distribute additional content based on prior interest
  • Funnel campaigns to distribute content to prospects based on their current funnel placement
  • Persona campaigns based on their company or job title

Analyze the results of each campaign and make necessary adjustments which could include frequency, content topic, or the specific distribution day, and time.

Step 10: Analyze the Data

Hopefully you determined the metrics important to your organization back in Step 1. Double check your MA is set up to collect and analyze these metrics and adjust as needed.

Measure the data monthly if your campaigns function on a monthly basis (develop a timeline based on the campaign flow). Suggested metrics include:

  • Email click rates based on deliveries (not sends)
  • Engagements with form submissions by type (“Contact Us,” “Demo,” “White Paper,” etc.)
  • With sophisticated tools, measure campaigns based on form submissions related to specific emails, social interaction, etc.

Most MA systems have online dashboard reporting, although there are big differences in the report detail between the less expensive baseline systems and, for example, Marketo. Be sure to evaluate reporting and analytics before you commit to a system long-term.

Implementing MA is Worth the Pain

While daunting at first, breaking marketing automation implementation into chunks makes the effort far easier. Start small, testing simple workflows and campaigns at first. Within six months you’ll start to see the rewards for your efforts with more qualified leads and successful nurturing of those leads who are not quite ready to purchase.

This post was originally published on the Clarity Quest Marketing blog.