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8 Marketing Automation Best Practices

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Updated March 2, 2016 / Posted January 20, 2016 By Drew Robb     Feedback

Aligning marketing automation with a content strategy is just one recommended marketing automation best practice.

You know marketing automation is a hot area of enterprise software and you are familiar with the leading market automation companies. But how do you select the right marketing automation software for your business? And how do you increase its effectiveness?

Here we cover eight marketing automation best practices to get you started:

  • Address marketing automation's human element
  • Measure marketing automation success
  • Integrate marketing automation
  • Check out marketing automation vendors' ecosystems
  • Do not use one-size-fits-all marketing automation systems
  • Consider vertical-specific marketing automation applications
  • Align marketing automation with content
  • Please your sales teams

Marketing Automation's Human Element

Marketing automation can be a godsend for belabored sales and marketing personnel. It can eliminate tedious data entry, ensure communications go out on time across various channels, trigger specific marketing responses based on user behavior and more. Yet it is important to understand that marketing automation software supplements, but does not replace, one-on-one customer interaction.

Case in point: One of the companies featured in our marketing automation slideshow responded to a request for a media interview by adding my name to its subscribers list and sending a survey. Otherwise, it ignored the request. Another marketing automation company channeled the inquiry via an online form that went to a sales contact - but then didn't respond in any way.

Clearly, some companies rely on automation to do all the work and have forgotten the vital importance of the human element. Lesson learned: If someone asks a question, respond rapidly and answer their specific request. And don't buy a system that gets in the way of your ability to do so.

Measure Marketing Automation Success

Success in marketing automation isn't some nebulous affair. Conversion rate is a key measure of success, said Chris Lynch, senior director and head of Product Marketing for Oracle Marketing Cloud. If a marketing automation platform can't provide an improved conversion rate, it should be replaced.

"Modern marketers must focus on their conversion rates, which emphasizes quality over quantity," said Lynch. "When you have more of the right prospects, you are converting at a higher rate - and that's better than having a pile of leads that never convert."

Integrate Marketing Automation

It's all very well to have a series of systems to assist sales, marketing and customer retention. But if they don't talk to each other, little is gained. Those selecting a marketing automation system, therefore, should ask pointed questions about how vendors will be able to integrate with existing customer databases and applications.

"It's time to stop using Excel spreadsheets as the glue that holds your marketing operations together, manually collecting data from disparate systems," Lynch said. "Whether you are using marketing automation tools that are part of a larger suite or ones that are part of a partner ecosystem, this coming year is when you need to do the work to pull it all together. Modern marketers will be required to build cohesive marketing technology stacks to ensure future success."

Check Out Marketing Automation Ecosystem

Beyond integration, it is a good idea to review the partner list of prospective marketing automation vendors. Pardot, for example, is built on the Salesforce platform, while Silverpop has IBM to back it and Eloqua now belongs to Oracle. Those relationships provide an ecosystem of support or products that stretch well beyond the marketing arena. But other marketing automation vendors have taken the time to build strong relationships that give them tight integration with IT heavyweights.

"Don't just look at the features and functionalities of the platform," said Andy MacMillan, CEO of Act-On Software. "You also want to look at the breadth and depth of a vendor's partnerships and integrations."

One Size of Marketing Automation Does Not Fit All

Gartner analyst Chris Fletcher mentioned a growing trend toward segmentation for the marketing automation software market. Some marketing automation vendors focus on a specific segment of the market such as SMBs while others sell primarily to larger enterprises. Act-On and Infusionsoft go after the SMB market, for example, with the latter chasing small companies in particular.

"Find the right fit system for your business size and marketing needs," MacMillan said. "There are different systems in the market for small, mid-size and enterprise users."

Consider Vertical-Specific Marketing Automation Applications

Some companies even tailor their marketing automation solutions to industry verticals. There are many options in this regard, and buyers should pay more attention to marketing automation software designed for their own field.

"Marketing programs customized for the needs of an industry yield significantly higher results than those that are not," MacMillan said. "Do your due diligence before adopting a platform."

Align Marketing Automation with Content

Whatever automation is employed, it has to facilitate something of substance. Sending mindless messages to prospects is more likely to antagonize them than support sales. The key is to marry marketing offers with valuable content. Depending on the circumstances and the point within the sales cycle, that content might be a buying guide, a technical whitepaper, a case study, an email to take a free demo or a call to action to contact sales today.

But the automated messages must be appropriate to the individuals receiving them and match where they are in the sales cycle. Pay attention to details such as the existence of industry-specific templates for emails, forms and landing pages, as well as stock images that match the audience. The content has to align well with the intent of the marketing campaign in order for it to be automated successfully.

"Marketing automation is the engine, but it requires content to fuel the process," said MacMillan. "Have a content strategy in place to bring success to marketing automation."

Please the Sales Team

Buying marketing automation software to make life easier for management or buying simply to streamline marketing operations can lead to failure. While both play a part in any decision, any purchasing decision that focuses on one or the other is likely to lead to regret. Why?

The underlying reason for any purchase is to boost sales and revenue. While some marketing automation systems might churn out beautiful-looking reports for management, if the system slows down sales or creates redundant or lengthy workflows, it won't be used. Similarly, if the marketing automation system makes marketing tasks a breeze but gets in the way of the sales cycle, it can create an us-vs.-them environment between marketing and sales.

"As a marketer, it can be easy to forget that you have one very important customer sitting right in your own office - and that's your sales team," said Adam Blitzer, senior vice president and GM at Salesforce Pardot. "When you look at the big picture, it's the sales team that ultimately has the conversations with customers and closes deals. When you're selecting marketing automation technology, make sure you're aligned with your sales team."

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in Florida, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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