Marketing automation is a growing religion. These days it’s hard to avoid being bombarded by phrases like “going inbound instead of outbound” and “fishing with dynamite”. But if your daily routine revolves mostly around selling, there’s a good chance you feel confused about the whole approach with its mind-numbing jargon and seemingly impersonal style.
Not only will the idea of machines replacing marketing jobs rub you up the wrong way, but collisions of terminology probably also leave you feeling stuck. Where exactly do marketing automation, closely-related inbound marketing and online lead generation meet?
In this post I’m going to put on my sales guy’s hat and explain what all this means and why marketing automation is relevant for salespeople.
Let’s start by defining marketing automation. According to this detailed study the number of B2B organisations using marketing automation has grown eleven-fold since 2011; a penetration not dissimilar to customer relationship management (CRM) in the early days.
Some people see marketing automation as being simply about scheduling and monitoring email campaigns you send. But that’s not the full picture. The core of marketing automation is monitoring all your online channel activities, and sending emails is just one part of it.
According to Wikipedia, marketing automation enables marketing departments and organizations to better market on multiple online channels at once and automate repetitive tasks. Sure enough this correctly defines what a marketing automation tool does, but it still doesn’t give the full picture for a sales guy trying to get to the heart of the matter.
Marketing automation is about companies changing their entire lead generation and nurturing strategy. Instead of putting in many hours to manually keep nurturing processes going, they let a marketing automation platform do the job. But for that you need content and that’s where inbound marketing comes in.
You can’t talk about marketing automation without understanding something about inbound marketing first, because it’s the philosophy underpinning marketing automation. The term, originally coined by Hubspot, describes marketing that lets or invites visitors in (inbound). Outbound, on the other hand, goes in search of a prospect’s attention.
A typical example of an inbound marketing transaction is someone filling in an online contact form after reading some great free content on your website. Whereas outbound marketing is about “sending the message out”, typical examples of which would be attending trade shows and cold calling, which is the oldest trick in the book.
Online lead generation in a nutshell is sparking a customer’s interest online. When that person shows they’re interested they become a lead – which can be understood as a sales opportunity. Marketing automation and inbound marketing are central tenets of online lead generation and your company website should be understood as a lead generation machine.
Firstly, there are the leads you get from website visitors who identify themselves. Everyday examples would be someone filling in a contact form or leaving an email address. Typically around 2% of website visitors leave their contact details. The idea of inbound marketing is to increase this number by attracting people with great blog content and urging them to download whitepapers or subscribe to your blog. This is the bread and butter of marketing automation platforms.
The second – and most overlooked – part of online lead generation is identifying website visitors who don’t leave their contact details, but who nevertheless exhibit identical behaviour to the people above. While marketing automation tools focus on trying to increase the number of visitors who leave contact details (2%), the majority of website visitors are ignored. That’s where the likes of Leadfeeder comes in.
The buying process has radically changed – lengthening dramatically – and potential buyers spend longer researching vendors online and gathering information about potential suppliers before actually revealing themselves. That means it’s vital to know who’s browsing your website so you can step into the buying process and impact buying decisions.
According to one evangelist, “marketing automation yields more leads with less effort and inbound leads can be taken forward without further qualification.”
What this means in reality is an improved sales hit-rate and juicy opportunities at the top of the sales funnel – enough to blow any salesperson’s mind. So it’s not hard to see why marketing automation uptake has grown 1100% in the last 5 years.
But what are the practicalities of marketing automation and can you go ahead and just buy it?
The answer’s yes – you can buy a marketing automation tool – but the landscape is complex as this image shows, and you need to buy into the philosophy not just a tool. To make it even more difficult, many tools say they have “marketing automation capability” although their core functionality is elsewhere.
It’s worthwhile finding out what other costs there are besides the monthly license fee and if picking just one marketing automation tool is really the best approach.
The truth is that before selecting a tool for marketing automation, there are some things you need to do first. The selection of tool is in fact a secondary thing, yet of course needs attention.
The essential prerequisite is that you must commit time and resources to implementing the methodology behind marketing automation.
Here are some examples of things you should consider when implementing an inbound marketing strategy for your business:
Not to mention the content you need to create and update to keep the ball rolling.
Chances are that if you want to make a splash you’ll need to hire someone to get things moving. Many companies bring in a consultant for preparing the strategy and getting everyone on board with the new content philosophy. In fact, some marketing automation providers require formal onboarding in addition to the monthly license.
If your marketing strategy is to go digital big-time, then it might be worth considering a single tool for (almost) everything. This is especially true if your digital marketing toolstack is flat and you can basically start from scratch.
But there’s also another type of approach that you can take which is perhaps more feasible for the majority of companies in terms of budget and benefits.
There are some things that are big showstoppers for rushing into an all-encompassing marketing automation solution.
The first is that most sales and marketing organizations have already started their journey in terms of digital tools. Try to think of one company that doesn’t have a CRM. As a salesperson you might even feel that the last thing you need is “another change of procedures and new monolite tool to learn.”
Another thing worth thinking about is the trend for interconnectivity between digital marketing tools. Interconnectivity is something that any marketing/sales technology provider is striving to improve.
For those who buy these services, this practically means that you can choose the best of the tools according to your needs and integrate them. If you’re in favor of harnessing your existing tools and complementing them with best-of-breed marketing tools, where should you start searching and what type tools do you actually need?
One way to begin is to divide the marketing technology landscape into 6 capability clusters as done in this study.
Interconnectivity allows you to pick a tool or multiple tools from these capability clusters, integrate them with your existing toolstack and ways of working, and hey presto you’re orchestrating your digital marketing strategy implementation.
Let me take off my sales person’s hat for a while and provide some concrete examples of tools we use at Leadfeeder.
Our toolstack is quite lean and in the case of several tools the free subscription is good enough for our current needs. Connecting different state-of-the-art tools allows us to be agile. This has been especially important in a growing startup environment as we experiment with different ways of working and change priorities. The interconnectivity of tools has allowed us to add marketing functionality with close to zero effort.
Our marketing/sales toolstack includes some of the following tools, grouped by 6 capability clusters.
Advertising and commercial:
Marketing automation is here to stay and for doing a better job in sales it’s important to understand what these marketing terms mean and what impact they have.
But before considering a move towards “one tool to rule them all”, it’s important to get your digital marketing activities lined up with your sales goals and see what parts can be made automatic and more efficient with simple tricks. And also remember to connect the different tech tools you’re using.
One simple approach for getting started is bringing sales and marketing together and putting more emphasis on some of the aforementioned inbound marketing activities already: landing pages and lead capture forms, lead nurturing/autoresponders, email marketing/email blasts, social media updates/monitoring, SEO tools and optimization, personalization and CRM.
To pick a tool for these, you can have a look at the tools we use or get inspiration from these helpful lists:
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