In my last blog post, I wrote a post about marketing automation and how few companies out there are fully taking advantage of it. I know that we have all experienced poor marketing automation, and instead of waxing on about horror stories, I wanted to talk about how it can be done. Implementing marketing automation correctly strengthens your knowledge of your audiences, their needs and how you can fulfill those needs. It moves your customers right into the buckets that they want to be in, and this primes them for conversion when the time is right.
1. Start with Profiles
There is no easy way to say this: building profiles of your prospects and customers takes time. Determining your customer in a real-world way requires thinking, data mining and some strategy to work effectively. In building profiles, I like to gather information from a few sources:
- Define user behaviour based on who reads what pages/posts most, and learn how Google identifies your users (demographics)
- Gather any data you have in your Customer Relationship Management software (CRM), email marketing campaigns, retargeting ads or PPC, and even social media interactions with your customers
- Define who of them is using the conversion points on a website currently. If there are form fills, responses, questionnaires or other conversions points, what’s getting used and by whom? Keep a list of those well converting pages and save it for later
- What devices are being used to access the site, and how might this point to who they are? Also, how is the experience different? Does the data suggest some people are more satisfied than others?
- What types of buyers are researching and visiting your site? Are they looking for the premium offer or are they needing the best rate? Define them based on their type.
Once you’ve gathered this information, you begin to see how your current customers come from several groupings of people, and they may overlap in one way or another depending on the data. This is a very good thing.
2. Cluster Your Customers
Once you’ve got a sense of the people who have visited your site, where they come from, where they enter and where they leave, you can begin to divide and subdivide them into clusters. Generally, it’s good to cluster based on their priorities. What are they after? Are they price conscious buyers who would dive in for a discount coupon? Would they jump for a juicy ebook or whitepaper? Would they rather sit down for an informative webinar? Once you’ve figured out who might want what content, you can start creating and managing the paths they take and think about the message(s) that will reach them best.
3. Clarify Engagement Points
So, we’ve got a loose handle on our people and what they want. Now we need to figure out user paths—the paths to sales and the paths through your content. For this, it’s generally good to go back to your sales lifecycle to determine the length of time it takes for a prospect to become a customer. Map out your current touchpoints to see where and when the engagement between you and your customer happens. Also, bring it back to your clusters. The path to conversion may be slightly different as you move from one cluster to another. Make sure that while you are clarifying these paths that you are thinking about how content could simplify the engagement. Ask these questions:
- Is there a way to provide content that could correspond with a customer’s touch point?
- Are there dips in time that could be improved with a personal message? Where could it be inserted?
- Immediately after purchase
- As a check-in on your purchase down the road
- At the time of a product replacement
- Can we improve the lifecycle of sales once the customer comes on board? Could we use content to make it shorter?
- Could we use content to retain customers between purchases better?
- What lead nurturing can we do with our content?
Here are just a few of the limitless content possibilities for your prospects and customers:
- Pop-up email
- Landing page (or campaign page—also called a squeeze page)
- Discount offer
- Product gallery window
- Quiz, questionnaire, self assessment
- Webinar signup (make sure you know how to run a webinar)
- Whitepaper offer
Try cross referencing the list you create with the touch points your sales team has with customers. See what might work and discuss it with sales. This is the point where marketers need to give sales the authority here. Automation is nothing more than using information and marketing practices to better connect customers and providers. Ultimately, customers have the power and sales knows how best to reach them when they’re ready.
4. Break Out Your Campaigns
Now you have your audiences, their clusters and the paths to success. The next step is to decide how you want to break out the various campaigns and tailor the message according to those clusters’ needs.
Normally, most companies will have one or more types of the following campaigns, depending on the size and complexity of their audience:
- Drip Campaigns – known for being an effective way to nurture leads on the path to purchase. Messages are tailored to meeting key issues at various stages of the buying process.
- Onboarding Campaigns – effective way to capture new subscribers and prospects who are at the early stages of their research. Software companies (premium) and discount resellers (bargain) both use versions of the onboarding by offering trial versions and free samples of their products.
- Promotions, discounts and recommendations – we’ve all seen examples of this done well and done poorly. If a customer buys a product, recommendations for additional products is a strategic add-on. As with most promotions or discounts online, it’s imperative that they are targeted. Broad-based discounts don’t often lead to high conversions.
5. The Medium and the Messages: Personalization
You’ve asked all the right questions about your customers, and now you have an idea of what kinds of content will work at specific points in the sales cycle. This is great work!
Now comes the really hard part for most people: Getting the messages right. Try creating draft versions of the key messages for the content pieces you identified in Step 3. It doesn’t have to be final-ready-to-go quality, it just has to say something that a customer would read and recognize.
For the landing pages that already have good conversions happening (you made a list in Step 1), keep what’s in place for now. If the message doesn’t work with the new user path, leave it. There will be time to explore it later.
Now you have a schematic for your customers and how they interact with your brand, website and content. You’ve got the key touch points outlined for your clusters, and the corresponding messaging that you can implement for each campaign.
Now the fun begins. Build out each of these areas in your marketing automation solution. This is the beginning of the structure of your marketing automation and personalization platform. Working these paths, content and messages might feel like you’re shoehorning a lot of stuff into one place, but it will make sense once it’s complete, and it is essential in reaching and maintaining relationships with your prospects and customers. Most email automation solutions have some version of inputting user paths and conditions (“if, then” scenarios). Enter them in and select the type of content that will coincide with that path.
7. Refine and Test
I know, you’ve just put a ton of work into this thing—even small websites with niche products/services struggle with the workload in setting up automation structure and schedules.
But now you can begin refining sections of content and launching areas piece by piece. You can take as long as necessary to get the images and written content for your pages, prompts and content assets. Don’t release an offer until you have the content ready for primetime. There are few things more irritating that signing up for something and not getting it. Don’t be that site.
This is an excellent opportunity to bring in A/B testing and running a testing program with your campaign launches. Break it up so you’re not killing yourself with workload. This is your opportunity to start building a very effective email list, and A/B testing can help you refine factors that can improve conversions. At the same time, A/B testing can be brought in at any time after you’ve launched, so if getting something up is more important than refinement, go for it.
8. Tweak, Release, Monitor (Repeat)
The world’s best marketing automation experts advise that in the world where the customer holds the power, it’s up to us to keep up with their expectations. And those little rascals can change rapidly and dramatically. Set up your system, stay comfortable with it, and refine it consistently. Remember, these are relationships with real people who are keeping your business alive. They deserve your attention, and they will respond when you get things right. I’ve seen examples of companies and organizations boosting conversions and leads by hundreds of percent by staying flexible. Additionally, sales and email list entries multiply with continued work, so don’t think automation is a short-run campaign either. For many companies, it remains a core effort in their wheelhouse, which doesn’t surprise any marketer worth their salt. Email remains one of the the most successful marketing media when compared to direct marketing and social media (paid still rules the roost). The lifetime value of your customer should be driven by your marketing successes. Automation makes this possible.
I see marketing automation as the ibuprofen of digital marketing: your customer’s time-release painkiller. People come with an ache, sign up for some relief, and they get what they need to be comfortable and move forward—ultimately to purchase. Research data indicates that automation and personalization are a growing expectation, along with load times, multichannel access to deep product information and clarity of message. With that in mind, why wouldn’t you automate and personalize your marketing?