7 steps to making marketing automation a reality

Katie Jameson of Act-On provides seven practical steps to getting started with marketing automation

Marketing automation has become a business’ central nervous system, serving as a strategic priority for many organisations as they optimise their sales and marketing programmes. The software enables companies to carry out and automate their marketing activities more effectively and across multiple digital channels by bringing together all the elements to work as one integrated system.

So if you don’t have a marketing automation platform in place yet, chances are your digital marketing and sales processes currently feel a little disjointed and cumbersome – which is why 61% of companies are planning to spend more on marketing this year.

When – not if – you implement marketing automation, you’re bringing core systems together to holistically understand a customer’s behaviour and respond to it across multiple channels. At the same time, your marketing team gains insight into a level of personalisation based on that individual’s previous interactions with the business, browsing data, and even other data brought in from third parties. Marketers who leverage these capabilities of marketing automation actually see a 451% increase in qualified leads, delivering 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.

Cue the big question: How do you successfully get started with marketing automation?

1. Build the business case

Understand your objectives and make sure they align with those of the business.

A large part of this first step is simply understanding what marketing automation does and how it benefits your business. Many companie recognise that they need marketing automation, though that’s about the extent of it. Understanding what marketing automation can accomplish as the core integrated system greatly helps shape this business case as you apply how it can benefit your clearly established objectives. Marketing automation can...

  • Increase your sales
  • Reduce your costs
  • Improve your customer experience and loyalty
  • Obtain better measurements and data.

2. Get buy-in from stakeholders

You need senior management and heads of departments to understand and engage with what you’re doing and to support it.

This most obviously relates to the board and CFO, though marketing automation extends beyond the marketing department. It’s important to gain support from the head of IT and CTO/CIO, as well as the head of sales, to win over the leadership that controls the budget. Together, the CTO (or CIO) and CMO (and/or CRO) work together to ensure that the chosen vendor meets the requirements of the organisation from both a technical and internal user perspective, in addition to providing an optimal experience for customers and prospects. 

3. Understand the customer journey

Set objectives and establish metrics for each step along the buyer’s path.

Customer centricity is the foundation of a marketing automation-based approach, though remember that technology alone cannot put the customer at the heart of the business. Every department needs to align around the customer journey, enabling the brand as a whole to build long-lasting relationships with your customers. When the customer journey is clearly defined, your marketing team is able to measure the engagement with that customer throughout the lifecycle. What’s more, they develop a nurture model for strategic planning that covers initial consideration, active engagement and pre-purchase, the event of purchase, and post-purchase. At each stage of the journey, objectives are set and metrics established to measure whether they are being achieved.

4. Change the culture

It’s time for every company team member to understand and believe in the fact that the customer is now the focus of the business.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the introduction of marketing automation goes hand-in-hand with major organisational and operational considerations. Specifically, it sets up greater alignment between sales and marketing functions, moulded to reflect the changes in consumer expectations as they want to research products and services online in much greater depth than ever before. By keeping the emphasis on the totality of the purchase journey rather than the component channels, marketing is able to follow individual customers and build an understanding of their needs at each touchpoint. This translates to higher quality leads for the sales team. Sales will be better informed of where in the consideration process the prospect is which helps nurture them further along the journey.

5. Choose your platform

Evaluate the product roadmap, understand the support available, and consider additional technologies you need to integrate (both now and in the future).

Not all marketing automation platforms are created equal and different vendors are much better fitted for certain businesses, depending on their industry, size, resources, and objectives. It’s worth repeating, the important element here is understanding your customers and their journey to purchase. Once you establish what you are aiming to achieve, you can choose the most appropriate marketing automation platform to help you meet your goals.

Key questions to ask potential vendors include:

  • Scalability: Will the technology scale to meet your needs in the future?
  • Training: How much training will be needed across the organisation? How much support is available?
  • Reporting: Will your chosen platform produce reports that everyone in the business will understand?
  • Integration: How easy is it to integrate your platform with the other martech products that you use or may want to use?
  • Future-proofing: What does the vendor’s roadmap for its platform look like, and does it match your company’s goals and ambitions?

6. Develop your capabilities and skill sets:

Choose whether a centre of excellence or widespread training and adoption suits you best.

There are two widely accepted approaches to building the skills and capabilities required by a customer-centric, marketing automation-based approach. The first is to establish a centre of excellence where a small number of highly trained people support the operational workload on the chosen marketing automation platform. This makes it easy to maintain consistency as well as simplifying governance and compliance; however, the drawback is that marketers can become frustrated by having to rely too heavily on the centre of excellence and it can cause a bottleneck for their initiatives.

The alternative is to train the marketing team to collectively use the platform, but this can be challenging for very large organisations, or for those where marketers are used to executing all of their marketing activities through agencies. Because it relies on everyone following the guidelines, it can result in the need for periodic governance checks to maintain quality and avoid possible compliance failures.

7. Improve your data capabilities

Establish best practices around the collection, cleaning, storage, and use of data.

Without data, marketing automation would grind to a halt and any impurities in the data will have a detrimental effect on how the marketing automation platform works. With that said, companies are most likely collecting data in different ways and various systems before they implement this technology, storing it in multiple formats across databases. This is why it’s important for an audit of internal and external data sources once marketing automation is adopted it helps make sure the right data is going to and from the right places at both a platform and departmental level).

Implementing marketing automation is an in-depth process, though it revolutionises how businesses perform their sales and marketing tasks, which quickly leads to business growth and better customer experiences. In this new digital era, marketers should expect from their chosen vendors (and not just for marketing automation):

  • Individualised personalisation, which leverages data from everywhere and supports adaptive marketing
  • Fast time-to-value, with a focus on marketing ROI with guidance and support at every step
  • Customer-centric philosophy that has a value-based approach focused on when you engage customers

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