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Preparing for Marketing Automation: A 5-step Checklist

Matt Highsmith

Posted by Matt Highsmith - Jan 16, 2014

For many marketing organizations, a marketing automation project involves being shown a fully-functioning email marketing, lead nurturing and development system, with very little emphasis on what is truly needed to prepare for it.
Here are five basic requirements that should be fulfilled before embarking on a marketing automation implementation.

  1. Mapping out your current communication touch points to your subscribers, along with desired areas of expansion for the future, including any impacts to your current production process.

    Marketing automation is actually more about the efficient and timely distribution of content than it is about making life easier for the marketing team. If anything, it will require an increased effort from your marketing team (design, copywriting, approving). The good news is that content can certainly be re-purposed for use across lead generation campaigns, nurturing, web marketing and social media. However, the production process will likely be slightly different for each one.

    Some companies have been led to believe that marketing automation tools somehow automate the content creation process, when in reality they automate the communication and publishing process. This usually means that more content is needed (not less), so really plan out how that will affect your team and processes.

  2. Work with sales on identifying communication gaps in your lead funnel to determine opportunities to apply automation.

    Because most companies already do email marketing, marketing automation tools - with their fancy bells and whistles - practically sell themselves. This makes them easy to justify, but without a set of programs already defined, the implementation will fall short of executive expectations. For this reason, knowing exactly how you plan to utilize automated communications (and what communications problems/gaps will it address) is an important step that must be taken early in the planning process.

    If you are unsure of where to start, take a look at your inside sales representatives who do prospecting on behalf of your company. What emails are they sending in between calls? There’s no reason not to start with developing a program based on what they are already doing. That type of program could even be plain text or rich text, rather than HTML, providing a great first campaign for learning a new marketing automation tool.

    Work with your sales team to identify different buyer types and buying lifecycles, and discuss with them what types of information is helpful to the buying process at each stage, and for each type. A better understanding of these elements will be critical in automating the communication flow so that the right information is delivered at the right pace/time.

  3. Know your current metrics and KPIs inside and out

    Yes, your average open, click and conversion rates change with every mailing. Perhaps your database grows so incrementally that it seems absurd to review the numbers on a weekly basis. Even so, you should put the extra effort into knowing your key metrics by heart, as well as digging into the reasons why certain mailings may have had a high unsubscribe rate.

    When you move to a new system, an assumption is often made by executive approvers that your new marketing programs will outperform your old ones. This is not always the case. Ideally, by doing more programs which are based on subscriber behavior, rather than your marketing production calendar, overall performance should improve. If they don’t, you need to be prepared to explain why to your internal team, while also partnering with your provider to determine any discrepancies. 

  4. Work internally with marketing and sales to update and document your definitions for various lead stages.

    Map your planned programs to the movement of leads through the funnel. Educate yourself on lead scoring and how to apply it.  Some marketing executives are mistakenly led to believe that marketing automation can somehow replace the work of people who are on the phones calling to qualify prospects and generate sales leads. This is not recommended. By making sure that sales and marketing get on the same page about lead definitions, you can set realistic expectations about what a marketing automation tool can reasonably do for your organization.

    Also, having your lead definitions up to date and documented, you can get assistance from your platform provider on how to develop reporting that aligns with your marketing and sales stages.

  5. Reach out to and network with other marketers to hear their stories about implementing marketing automation. Ask what they would have done differently.

    There was a story going around in early 2012 about a company that tried to implement marketing automation and eventually failed (both the project and the company). The story and resulting comments were both eye-opening and informative. Regrettably, there are likely numerous examples of marketing automation projects failing to meet expectations.

    To avoid the same fate, simply reach out to connections on LinkedIn, Twitter, Business2Community and live events, if possible. Most marketers are happy to share their experiences and recommendations. Specifically, ask about their implementation timeline and what exactly was included. Did they simply get the ability to send emails set up? Did their implementation also include any lead nurturing or scoring programs? What, if any integrations with other systems took place?

    For better or for worse, marketing automation platforms do a much better job of selling the vision of lead nurturing, lead scoring, and performance analytics than they do at defining the legwork required in making it happen.

Also, if you are looking for a partner who is willing to get into the thick of your programs, don’t expect it from a marketing automation provider who puts out a lot of thought leadership content. They are more likely focused on new customer acquisition and marketing than the implementation side of things. That is not necessarily bad, because many organizations are able to benefit from that content and self-service their own implementation quite nicely. Unfortunately, many more organizations need a bit more help through the process, resulting in a prevalence of frustrated clients.

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