Need to Engage and Connect With Prospects and Customers? Marketing Automation to the Rescue (Maybe)

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Today, a suitable marketing automation platform is available to meet just about any company’s requirements and budget. These platforms often include systems for managing digital assets, allocating resources and tracking marketing expenditures, automating Imagecampaigns (online and offline), measuring marketing activity and demand generation, and managing Web content and leads.Many companies invest in marketing automation platforms as a way to make their marketing organizations more efficient. Though marketing automation can achieve that objective, two key benefits of these systems is that they help you connect better with prospects and improve the opportunity to engage prospects and customers.

What Marketing Automation Isn’t

Marketing automation isn’t magic. Success requires taking a methodical and disciplined
approach to segmenting, defining the customer-buying process, establishing agreed-upon
definitions of stages, creating personas, establishing common metrics, and committing to
faithfully using the system

.Marketing automation allows you to tailor your content and interactions to enhance how you connect with and engage prospects and customers. As a result, you can positively affect the conversion rate and sales cycle. And, in these tough times, who wouldn’t want to see higher and faster conversions?

Take a Customer-Centric Approach to Configuration

Such benefits alone present a good business case for marketing automation. But for a system to “be all that it can be,” it must be properly configured and deployed. Proper configuration and alignment require and enable stronger alignment between Sales and Marketing.

Many companies configure their systems around how they might sell and evaluate an opportunity (e.g., whether they’ve identified a budget, project, or need). However, before you deploy, take an outside-in view and configure the system around how your customer finds, evaluates, selects, and buys products in your category.

For your investment and that approach to pay off, Sales and Marketing need to agree on how the customer buys, the buying stages, and what constitutes a qualified opportunity, in terms of both fit (segment, budget, size, etc.) and buying behaviors. This approach allows you to use fit and behavior to create a lead-scoring schema.

Create and Measure Four Customer Interactions

Marketing and sales teams are typically proficient in connecting at the beginning and end of the conversation, but the real challenge is managing the middle of the conversation. The middle conversation is when prospects and customers are in the “in-between”—between initial contact and interest, on the one hand, and the short list and final selection, on the other.
A properly configured and deployed marketing automation system enables you to manage the middle. How? It makes it possible to cost-effectively sustain a dialogue with qualified
opportunities until they are ready to buy while enabling you to monitor the interaction between those opportunities and your organization.

You’ll want to set performance targets for these four kinds of interactions, and then use your marketing automation system to create, measure, and monitor them:

• Connections
• Conversations
• Engagement
• Consideration

Think of connections as those contacts with whom you have established communication and rapport and who have agreed to be “touched” by your organization. A connection doesn’t necessarily result in a conversation. Connections are just that: two entities that have a link between them.Think of how many people you may have in your LinkedIn network that you are connected with but don’t necessarily have conversations with. Conversations suggest an exchange—the sharing of ideas, opinions, or observations. Consider how many people you “talk” with on a variety of 3 topics on any given day. Though some of those people might be interesting, they may not necessarily be the right people—or they may not be ready to move the relationship forward.

Ultimately your marketing efforts aim to create engagement, and you want your marketing automation system to support those efforts. Engagement consists of interactions that indicate the strength of the relationship.

Finally, you want to produce and measure consideration because it is the precursor to conversion. Consideration simply refers to those prospects and customers who are actively “shopping” for the products and services you offer and are considering your offer among the options.

If You Build It, They Will Come

The premise of marketing automation is that it will help Marketing increase the number of
business opportunities for your company, deliver sales-worthy and ready leads to Sales, improve your visibility into the pipeline, and enable your marketing organization to focus on efforts that will drive the highest conversion rate and the lowest cost.

The value proposition is that marketing automation will shorten your sales cycle and help
improve your forecast accuracy.And it’s all possible with this one caveat: Marketing automation is only as good as the effort you make in using it. To use it properly and realize the kinds of results you want will likely require changing processes, addressing Marketing and Sales alignment, and improving skills.

Research suggests that when marketing and sales processes, skills, and systems are aligned, an organization can see a five-fold improvement in revenue. If you are willing to make the necessary investments, you can realize the benefits of implementing a marketing automation platform.

4 Steps to Improve the Value of Marketing

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Ted Levitt, author of The Marketing Imagination, writes, “The role of marketing is to create and keep customers.” A marketing plan is a valuable instrument in helping Marketing plot a course of action for how it will go about creating and keeping customers.

Now that 2012 is less than 50 days away, you are likely tackling your marketing plan and budget. The pressure for marketing organizations to justify their spending, prove their programs’ contribution to the organization, and demonstrate value is only increasing.

A study this summer by Forbes Insights found that being able to measure marketing is “not taking a backseat” and that proving “how budgets are used remains a strong priority.”

Given the current economic climate, it is important to make every investment count. The issues of alignment and accountability are inextricably linked. Without alignment between Marketing and the business, it’s impossible to quantify the value Marketing is providing to the business, let alone focus on the right metrics to establish progress toward helping the organization achieve its goals.

And without the ability to demonstrate value, the budgeting process becomes a game of guesswork because there is no link between expenditures and desired results.

This past summer, a study with more than 4,000 top marketers by The CMO Survey found that marketing spending is expected to increase—with the caveat that Marketing be able to measure its impact.

An initial step every marketing organization can make, regardless of whether it has sophisticated data systems or measurement tools, is to develop a customer-centric, metrics-based marketing plan.

Such a plan serves as the foundation for improving marketing accountability. If developed properly, it will provide you with guidance on how to measure Marketing’s effectiveness and value.

These three steps can help ensure you are properly aligned with your organization and help you secure your marketing budget:

  1. Secure clearly defined business outcomes.
  2. Establish outcome-based marketing objectives.
  3. Develop performance-based programs.

1. Secure Defined Business outcomes

One of the most important steps you can take to help Marketing be more successful is to ensure you are aligned with the organization’s business outcomes.

An organization needs clearly defined business outcomes to be successful. Business outcomes need to be quantified so it’s clear what change is required. Since Marketing doesn’t market to buckets of revenue, marketing organizations that work from a revenue target are operating blind when it comes to business outcomes.

When you are working with your leadership team to clarify the business outcomes, be sure you secure the following information:

  • How many “customer deals” does the organization need?
  • How many of those deals will come from current customers buying current products?
  • How many of those deals will come from current customers buying new products?
  • How many of those deals will come from new customers, and where are those new customers located? In the same verticals and geographies we’ve always done business with? In new verticals and geographies.

Once the business outcomes are defined, you want to clarify what the organization expects Marketing to do with regard to those business outcomes and how Marketing’s effectiveness and contribution will be measured.

Keep in mind that the business outcomes are how the organization will measure success at the end of the time horizon. They are specific and quantifiable, for example:

  • X% of Tier 1 current customers will adopt WIDGET X, resulting in $ of revenue.
  • Acquire X number of net new customers in ABC segment to increase market share by Y%.
  • Marketing is expected to contribute 100% to X% of Tier 1 current customers’ product adoption of WIDGET X.
  • Marketing is expected to contribute 100% of the net new customer qualified opportunities in ABC segment.2. Establish outcome-based marketing objectivesThe business outcomes serve as the foundation for your marketing objectives, and each marketing objective should align directly to at least one of the business outcomes.

    Measurable marketing objectives articulate how Marketing will move the business closer to reaching the business outcomes. The objectives should be measurable and time-bound.

    For example:

  • Increase preference for ABC product among top share determiners in XYZ markets from A to B by end of 2Q.
  • Generate X number of qualified leads within six months of product launch at $Y/lead. Outcome-based measurable marketing objectives facilitate metrics development. The example showsshare of preference, qualified leads, and cost/lead-related metrics.Frame your objectives to reflect Marketing’s three core responsibilities: finding, retaining, and growing the value of customers. Those responsibilities directly relate to what most organizations are trying to improve as a result of revenue and sales: increased market share, customer lifetime value, and customer/brand equity.

Once you craft the objectives, secure agreement from the leadership team that accomplishing those objectives will constitute success. It is essential to secure this agreement before tackling the strategic and program-development elements of your plan. Without the agreement, you may be in for a significant rework.

3. Develop performance-based programs

A study by Forbes Insights suggests that marketers need to determine the overall success of a marketing program prior to implementation and then measure performance against those targets.

That exercise refers to program performance target-setting. Difficulty in setting performance targets is one of the most common challenges marketers face.

Long gone are the days when we can list something as generic as public relations or advertising. And the days where we could use output-based targets, such as a monthly email campaign to prospects or one webinar per month, have also gone by the wayside.

Today, marketers need to set outcome-based targets for their programs. So instead of a performance target of one webinar per month, an outcome-based target might be generating some number of Stage 1 phone appointments.

What are performance targets, and what does setting one entail?

A performance target is basically a stake in the ground that indicates what the program needs to achieve to be deemed successful. The selected measures and targets must be relevant to the objectives and outcomes.

The value of performance targets is that they help drive performance improvement, bring focus, enable course adjustments, and assess effectiveness.

Having baseline data is very helpful when setting program performance targets. A program’s past performance doesn’t necessarily indicate its future performance, but understanding what has been achieved, at what cost, and in what time frame can be useful information.

To establish the performance target, you need to clarify what result or action constitutes success. The closer success can be behaviorally defined, the better.

Once you know what behavior you want to motivate, then set a numerical range of performance (i.e., rather than setting a hard target of X, consider using a range, such as from X to Y). It will be important to attribute the action/behavior to the program and to verify the results.

Be accountable for the money

Organizations give Marketing money to invest on their behalf. The leadership team expects Marketing to use those funds to develop and execute strategies that will result in consideration and preference for the organization’s products and services.

Over time, they want us to achieve results better, faster, and less expensively. If Marketing is unable to meet that expectation, the leadership team will reallocate its investment.

When you tie investments back to outcomes and performance, you stand a better chance of securing your budget. The three steps suggested in this article enable Marketing to communicate how it is investing its resources to provide business value.

To be effective, Marketing needs to ensure alignment to business outcomes and to develop outcome- based marketing objectives and performance-based targets for its programs, tactics, and activities.