By Elizabeth Harr
There is much discussion in professional services circles around the adoption of marketing automation (MA) tools — and while it’s not a brand-new concept, there is a mixed bag of support for whether and how it can fit into an organization’s broader growth strategy.
At its most basic level, MA means using advanced software platforms to automate ongoing marketing processes. Firms can use it to reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of both routine and complex marketing tasks — and also to personalize and scale their marketing efforts. Before you try to implement it at your firm, however, it’s helpful to consider which related strategies will work best.
Because an organization can use MA technology to accomplish a variety of strategic goals, a good first step is to decide which strategies are the best fit for your firm’s needs. Here are the 10 strategies most closely aligned with the needs and capabilities of VAR firms.
- Increase new leads. Even in a business development environment driven by channel partners, it still pays to boost your visibility among your own referral sources, other teaming partners, and qualified leads. Your MA system will help you accomplish these goals quite efficiently — generally, through the consistent use of search engine optimization (SEO), social media activity, and posting guest blogs. You also can easily configure the technology to automatically measure success and track sourcing across platforms.
- Qualify new leads with greater efficiency. As you acquire new prospects, some will be qualified — while others, not so much. MA systems allow you to interact with these two categories of leads more strategically, starting with the type of content you share with them. By targeting your content well, qualified prospects will naturally be drawn to it because it better meets their needs. Most MA systems that include customer relationship management (CRM) functionality also let you set up criteria to automatically score your leads.
- Segment your prospects. If you maintain a large prospect database, it can be a complex challenge to target and personalize your message to address the needs of various types of leads. MA systems typically include tools to help you automatically segment your prospect database according to demographic and behavioral criteria. Based on that segmentation, you can personalize your marketing messages and channels.
- Nurture leads into opportunities. VAR organizations’ offerings are generally not impulse purchases, so it can easily take months before potential customers decide to buy your services. Luckily, MA solutions are very effective at managing “drip” campaigns — a series of “touches” that use targeted content to nurture leads until they are finally ready to buy. As a result, you’re able to automate much of the middle part of your sales funnel. You can easily program in advance the timing and content of these touches to get the results you need without as much day-to-day involvement.
- Identify sales-ready opportunities. At some point, many of the leads you’re nurturing will need your services. If you’ve been using your ongoing interactions to help these leads understand how you can help, your firm will naturally be on that proverbial short list. You also can set your MA system to periodically send out free consultation offers (or other strategic messages) to probe for interest.
- Make your expertise more visible. A significant part of your success depends on making sure your leads know about your valuable expertise. MA systems are ideal tools for doing so — by educating the right prospects at the right time with relevant blog posts, webinars, and videos, as well as targeted public speaking and social media activities.
- Increase client retention. Maintaining ongoing client relationships can be difficult — especially when you don’t need to regularly interact with your customers in order to provide your set of services. Another retention challenge is many past clients may not know your current offerings and areas of expertise and may decide to give to another firm work that you could handle easily. Again, MA systems can help you avoid losing touch with old clients by automating many of your ongoing interactions.
- Track and optimize your marketing investment. MA platforms can answer that eternal marketing question: Which of your marketing efforts are working best? The platforms’ ability to integrate across marketing channels lets you not only track and optimize your strategies, but also improve your marketing ROI.
- Increase the productivity of your marketing team. MA systems have earned a reputation for dramatically boosting the productivity of marketing teams, while also eliminating a great deal of the drudgery. They generally involve an initial set-up (which may be somewhat laborious) — but after that, your productivity gains build day after day.
Reduce non-billable hours. Your potential clients want to get to know the people at your firm with whom they’ll be working. By using an MA system to screen, qualify and nurture prospects before they start interacting with your billable professionals, you’ll avoid spending a lot of non-billable hours on business development.
A Larger Role
Before long, marketing automation will likely be seen as a standard marketing tool for many businesses. When properly implemented, it can personalize your marketing messages to individual prospects and also help you scale your strategy as your needs change.
Naturally, the technology has a few basic requirements to function properly. To maximize your results, you must begin with a solid understanding of your target audiences’ needs and preferences — and your firm’s strengths and weaknesses in addressing them. However, after you’re up and running, a well-planned and executed marketing automation strategy will generate the type of measurable results, month after month, that may have once seemed elusive.
About The Author
Elizabeth Harr is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, management, communications, and alliance development. Elizabeth cofounded a Microsoft solutions provider company and grew it into a thriving organization that became known for its expertise in Microsoft customer relationship management.