Best Practices for Marketing Automation from 11 Experts

Today’s guest post is from Sam Boush, President of Lead Lizard. He is an expert in marketing automation and lead management best practices.

Everyone loves a good “Best Practices” list! In that spirit, we’ve asked some of the big brains on the marketing automation scene for tips, tricks and best practices that will help marketers make it rain with their next marketing automation program or campaign.

Best Practice #1: You Can’t Automate A Process That Doesn’t Exist—Always Map Your Lead Flow

Imagine visiting London for the first time, hopping on “The Tube” and trying to find your way around without a map. You might eventually reach your destination, but not without making some detours along the way.

Marketing automation without a lead process is just like that… navigating without a map in the hopes of getting to the right place. With a solid lead management process in place you’ll not only get to your destination (the land of revenue), but according to Sirius Decisions, you’ll make 5 times the revenue when you do!

“This is likely the most single biggest differentiator we see in companies that are successful with marketing automation. They’ve taken the time to map out the lead management flow, captured all the trigger points that affect lead routing, and have one process for all leads that is used by everybody. What’s the alternative? You can’t automate a process that doesn’t exist.”

–Mairi Burns, VP Client Services, Dunthorpe Marketing Group

Best Practice #2: Deliver Targeted, Relevant Content When it Counts–Understand your Prospects’ Buying Cycle

Marketing automation makes it possible to deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time — but to take full advantage of the software, it’s important to understand your prospects’ buying cycle and deliver marketing that fits with their current stage. Customers are now the majority of the way through the buyer’s journey before connecting with sales, which is why it’s vital to engage your sales team as you define what key messages will help develop the conversation.

“The first step is understanding who’s involved in the buying cycle. What answers are they searching for as they journey toward a purchase? What is their typical sales cycle? Using that as a foundation, you can then map the conversation–delivering targeted, relevant content when and where it counts most.”

–Denise Barnes, President of Babcock & Jenkins

Best Practice #3: Hang out With Joe the Sales Guy, Sandra the Marketer, Bob the Analyst–Create Buyer Personas

Marketing personas are imaginary versions of your prospects, customers, influencers and users. Identifying and creating personas is a great early step when deploying marketing automation, and will guide marketing efforts within your marketing automation software.

“It’s critical to have some basic personas established when working with marketing automation. Joe the sales guy, Sandra the marketer, Bob the analyst are just a few examples. Once you have your targeted personas you are able to identify prospective customer segments, and understand and define interactions with these personas.”

Stefani Horton, Marketing Manager, GoodData

Best Practice #4: Don’t Shove Datasheets in Your Prospect’s Face–Craft the right message, at the right time

Content is all about what you say and when you say it. Too many campaigns make the mistake of launching into every detail of the product or service being offered, without first addressing why the prospect might be interested.

“If you were visiting a customer in person, you wouldn’t make a sale by shoving data sheets in his or her face the minute you walked through the door. You’d start by talking about the problem you can help solve.”

–Tehra Peace, Content Director, Lead Lizard

Likewise, a good email campaign should read like a story. Open with a problem, introduce your solution, and then explain why yours is the best choice.

Best Practice #5: Always Use the Deliverability Circle–Understand email reputation

Your email reputation is the hidden bedrock to running a successful marketing automation operation. You can have great content offers and compelling email copy, but if you keep sending emails to bad addresses, all of your hard work will end up in the Spam Box, not the Inbox. Reputation and deliverability are tied together and based on factors  you can control.

“I advise my clients to use the deliverability circle. First, choose your audience well—and know that audience. Then create compelling content people will want to continue to receive from you. When you acquire more leads, give them clear subscription management options. And before you repeat the cycle, clean your database so that only opted-in, de-duped, and non-spam trap emails are used.”

—Josh Hill, VP of Marketing, Alacra

Best Practice #6: Eliminate the Need for Extra Work in the Long Run–Label, Label, Label

Like purchasing a brand new device or a shiny new car, at first you are very careful not to cause any bumps or scratches. But as time goes on, it is easy to become more relaxed on maintenance and upkeep. Similarly with marketing automation, a common trend is to fill your application with data, emails, landing pages, etc. simply to get it all in the system.

Instead, by determining a master labeling system, you can keep the clutter organized for faster searching and a universal knowledge of which components go with which campaigns.

“Proper labels in marketing automation programs help to avoid errors and eliminates the need for extra work in the long run. Your co-workers will thank you for taking the time to get it right the first time”

Cari Baldwin, Founder, Bluebird Strategies

Best Practice #7: Design Your Forms to Appear Short—Always Capture Leads Effectively

To capture leads, you’ll have to constantly pull out all the marketing and sales tricks from your toolbox. A few tips:

“We recently created a custom contact form for a client. Designed to appear short (and easy to fill out) to prospects, it was still comprehensive enough to capture all the information necessary to nurture the lead. The key is to display fields dynamically if they’re only conditionally required, use hidden fields as much as reasonable, and do as much of the processing on the backend as possible.”

Anvi Bui, Marketo Expert, Lead Lizard

Best Practice #8: Data Should Drive Lead Scoring Conversations and Decisions–Keep it simple and Objective

When it comes to lead scoring—keeping it simple to start allows marketing to build a baseline for performance and easily optimize the scoring process based on feedback. When first starting out on a lead scoring program, Sales can often push for complexity too early. Marketers: resist!

“Creating a scoring model with objective data is ideal, especially in the beginning. Collect data from Marketing, CRM and even Finance whenever possible. Meetings with Sales are necessary, but data should drive the conversations and support decisions.”

Michael Fung, Iron-Point Marketing

Keeping the program simple is crucial to effective scoring and will have everyone happy with better qualified leads. You’ll thank yourself later.

Best Practice #9: Hand Leads to Sales on a Silver Platter–Align Marketing and Sales Using CRM

Many companies have been putting a lot of energy into sales and marketing alignment in recent years, with special focus on better reporting, lead scoring, and lead assignment and routing. Here are three tips to go above-and-beyond with sales and marketing alignment, using your CRM.

  • Call them to action! Create a custom field in your CRM layout to detail calls-to-action for marketing and sales. Using pick list fields with values such as “Sales Phone Follow Up in 3 Business Days,” will provide you with CTA metrics tied to sales efforts to help you decide what campaigns provide the highest ROI.
  • Keep your campaigns organized and accessible. One great way to do this is to provide reporting insights right on the campaign view using a custom URL field.
  • Arm reps for a follow-up. Send alerts to reps after a campaign with actionable information on the lead and the campaign they were involved in. It’s like handing leads to sales all dolled up on a silver platter and they LOVE it!

Melissa McCready, CRM Consultant

Best Practice #10: Validate that a Prospect’s Digital Behaviors Are What They Appear to Be–Add a Human Touch

Marketing automation is a very useful ‘always on’ lead generation and nurturing tool, but it’s not the instant recipe for handing over so-called ‘qualified’ leads to sales reps. Even when optimized with a reliable lead scoring model, a prospect’s digital behavior still needs to be verified.

“A real-time, relevant conversation between an actual person and a buyer helps to validate that a prospect’s digital behaviors are actually what they appear to be. Then you can correct a nurture flow as needed, accelerate a prospect to either a sales hand-off or, more often than not, further nurturing.”

Bryan Ehrenfreund, VP of Digital Strategies, Televerde

Best Practice #11: Nurture is a Framework for your Content, Not a Story with a Fixed Plot–Build a non-linear nurture

Build your nurture programs to be as dynamic as possible. Lead Nurturing isn’t a linear path anymore; you need your programs to be responsive to the needs of the individuals in them. Is someone in the early stages of nurture looking at pricing information? Route that lead to later touches automatically.  Did a lead in nurture recently attend an event? Include a personalized message in the next nurture email as a follow-up.

“Don’t force your leads into one or two tracks. Nurture is a framework for your content, not a story with a fixed plot. Each lead chooses his own adventure.”

—Josh Thorngren, Marketing Automation Manager, Lead Lizard