Content Cycle (Photo credit: raphaelle_ridarch)
Whether you’re in a large-scale enterprise, a small business, or a sole-proprietorship, we are all faced with a similar challenge in today’s changing markets; the shift from the “selling process” to the “buying process”. In the not too distant past, prospects needed to touch base with an organization’s sales department much sooner in the process to get the information they needed to make their buying decision. It provided the sales teams the opportunity to “persuade” prospects with why the product or service you offered was the best for their particular situation. However, in today’s world of digital natives and savvy consumers, the power has changed. Today, consumers can find as much information as they feel necessary to make their buying decision or ask targeted specific questions. It is more likely that they will put more credibility into other sources of information, instead of the well-trained and knowledgeable staff in your organization. Right or wrong, Joe, their recently met social network friend, is a trusted resource on what you have to offer.
In today’s marketing, that means adapting to this new model of business and integrating proven traditional marketing techniques with new digital tools and channels to get your message out. Instead of broadcasting your message, you’ll spend time planning how to make your information available to your prospects, when, where and how they want to consume it. You’ll be working diligently to provide valuable content to help them before, during and after the buying decision. I hear you, it’s a common refrain; how am I supposed to do all of this at the same time as run my business? It’s a good question and where marketing automation comes into the mix.
By definition; Marketing Automation is the process of automating repetitive tasks that are normally done manually, requiring time and resources that could be better used elsewhere. One of the goals of using automation, specifically in marketing is to streamline sales and marketing processes to improve efficiency and reduce potential human error. It’s main goal is to use techniques to improve the overall customer experience, to move closer to a meaningful discussion, ideally in person.
Automated Marketing Programs:
The outcome of most marketing efforts is to generate leads, whether that is a new prospect or up selling to existing clients to other offerings or more enhanced services. When implementing an automated marketing program your goal should be to improve the engagement from the inquiry stage to the close of the deal with your prospect (imagine Marketing and Sales living together in harmony). Complete marketing automation programs provide you with the ability to create digital and behavioral consumer profiles that allow you to market to a very specific niche of consumers. A full program will consist of content creation, lead generation, email messaging creation, comprehensive and unique landing pages, drip or nurture marketing campaigns for each segment you identify. Sounds like a lot and it is (most you are already doing, if not all), but by using an automation system the time required to complete each of these tasks is reduced significantly. It will allow you to have a meaningful conversation with your prospects about what matters most to them in the buying process.
Goal is to get Face to Face
By way of example (as noted in an earlier blog post How not to sell an $18,000 Car), recently we bought a second vehicle for our home. We did our research, narrowed our choices to one known brand (used) and one unknown brand (new). All we needed was a test drive to make our final decision. We used the new brand’s online tools to price the vehicle, compare it to other brands and finally to arrange a test drive, all along sharing critical information with the brand. Five dealerships later, we finally got the test drive in the model we wanted. Had the organization as a whole, instead of independent dealerships, had an effective program in place, we should have been in and out and very satisfied within a couple of days, not the weeks it actually took which almost cost them the sale.
“By publishing content that shows buyers your understand their problems and can show them how to solve them, you build credibility” Ardath Albee, author of EMarketing Strategies for Complex Sales.
Let’s imagine how the marketing automation process works (this is true for any product/service).
- Create content to attract prospects to your organization (Blog, Ebook, Whitepaper, Newsletter, Imagery and Video) and share that content with your networks.
- Capture the leads driven by your content (using a sCRM system). Establish the quality of the lead and where they may be in the buying cycle/consumer journey.
- Nurture your lead(s) – provide additional content that helps the prospect know more about the solutions to their particular issues, show value and thought leadership (blog, additional resources in Ebook, video, podcasts). Monitor the feedback and tweak your messaging to better serve the prospect. This is accomplished by creating compelling email marketing campaigns, not one offs, but a series, spread out over time.
- Convert the consumer of your information to a consumer of your product or service. This is achieved by having generated a better understanding of the prospect and their pain points and demonstrating you can provide the solution).
- Deliver your product/service and provide outstanding service. Provide content on best practices. For example, you own a beauty salon, and to provide added service you’ve created a series of How to videos on your website so that your customer can maintain their look in between visits. You also recognize, that some will be leery of trimming their own bangs, or worse aren’t and shouldn’t. To show greater value, you offer a touch up in between scheduled visits. You now generated the loyalty and opportunity to offer more products or services.
- Up sell your customers. They’ve signed on to your basic package, love your product and your service. It’s time to share additional information to show how moving up the product scale can save them what matters most (and to most of us it’s time or money). Demonstrating the value proposition of moving to an enhanced service is huge. For example, if you are a Hootsuite user, you know the free version is very useful. However, the power in the Pro plan is immense and may help advance your business at a very low and effective price point, including having two of you able to post, monitor and respond to your various social channels.
- Get Referrals! You’ve earned your customers respect, trust and vote of confidence. They now turn to your first and foremost when they have a question. Sorry Joe, but you’ve been replaced. You may now reap the rewards of the fields you sowed, by cultivating new leads from your current customers. You’ve shown they matter to you, you’ve tweaked your messaging and reacted positively to both negative and positive product/service feedback from your customers. They are brand champions and would be pleased to share your company with their personal and guarded networks.
If you think about it, you’ve all likely experienced marketing automation at work. Have you downloaded an Ebook about your favorite hobby, watched an instructional webcast or signed up for a newsletter on great Italian recipes. If you have, you’ll recall receiving a thank you email, a follow up message about other activities, a call to subscribe to the paid version that provides greater details, etc.; marketing automation at it’s best.
There are many excellent all-in-one marketing automation systems on the market that seamlessly connect to CRM systems. They vary in scale and price depending on the size of your organization, your prospect list and so forth. On average you can expect to invest a dollar figure between $300 and $1,000 per month. I’ve been fortunate enough to have used an all-in-one and test drove many others in the past and they are worth their weight in gold. I understand that not everyone may have this commitment in their current budgets. It’s okay if you don’t, you can do this on a limited budget. To do so, all it takes is more planning, a front to end strategy, a piecemeal of tools, and an investment in time (as not all the processes will be seamlessly integrated). So for example (please note all suggestions are just that, are available at no or low cost and should be researched to meet your organizational goals):
- Using a blogging platform (WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, TypePad) and create the content you are going to share;.
- Promote your content via email on an email system (MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, etc) and through your social sharing channels (Twitter, G+, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc)
- Create a unique landing page for your content to capture the leads that are generated from your content (for example a child page on your website or using Premise if on WordPress).
- Integrate your email list into a CRM system, ideally one that provides for social integration (Nimble, SugarCRM, SalesForce, etc)
- Create and nurture an email campaign within the email system you’ve chosen and provide a thank you, an automated follow up within a given period of time, an offer for more content, a free review, etc..
- Monitor your social channels with a social management tool such as Hootsuite, TweetDeck, etc. Use the information from listening to your networks to tweak your offerings and create additional content to resolve their issues. Also use tools such as Google Analytics to monitor your engagement, where and who is consuming and sharing your content to more efficiently use your channels to get your message out to your network (prospects, customers, advocates, influencers, etc).
- Engage with your prospect to get additional information, invite them to connect with you on a webinar, or to contact you directly to answer any lingering questions.
- Close the sale; service; rinse and repeat.
Your ultimate goal:
Imagine an Internet that is uniquely your own. You see only the content that interests you, and you can browse in peace without salespeople getting in your face until the moment you’re ready to buy. After your purchase, you receive automated answers to questions you haven’t even yet asked, and when you visit your vendor’s website for more information or training, forms already include your contact information, as if they’ve been expecting you.
David Diamond (source: Automation vs. You – posted in CMS Wire).
David’s piece is about the oncoming clash on marketing automation making our life easier against the issue of your privacy. It’s a compelling and thought-provoking read.
No matter the size of your business. You can do this and you’ll be glad you did.
A version of this post appears in Beyond the Square Small Business Magazine‘s inaugural edition.