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When B2B companies introduce marketing automation, what are the 5 key areas to consider?

Demographics are shifting B2B buyer behavior. With increasingly self-guided research and buying processes, the pressure on deep-tech companies to ramp up and personalize their content marketing is growing significantly. Marketing teams relying purely on manual processes are struggling to keep up with the explosion of touchpoints and channels, as well as with the level of content individualization modern buyers demand. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that more and more B2B companies have introduced or are planning to introduce marketing automation.

The introduction of marketing automation is more than just choosing the right software. Companies mustn’t treat it like a siloed marketing or IT project, but rather like a company-wide change process. As it involves a lot of effort, change and investment, we recommend deep-tech companies in particular to consider the following top 5 things when introducing marketing automation:

1. Always start with a strategy

Often, the introduction of marketing automation is initiated by the marketing department – usually triggered by pressing needs from the marketing or sales teams. When starting the discovery phase, there is a risk that the scope of the project is narrowly defined and the focus moves on to software selection too quickly. If marketing automation is supposed to create maximum impact, the approach should be holistic, with a company-wide initiative involving all important stakeholders from key departments, especially those involved with client interaction and customer experience.

Everything should start with a common goal and a defined strategy as to why marketing automation should be introduced. Buy-in from senior management is imperative. Defining clear goals everyone can commit to will help tremendously at all stages of the process — for example, the selection of the right tool, the setup of internal processes or the allocation of the right amount of resources. Ideally, you want to create a business case including a forecast on the economic impact of the use of marketing automation and the associated cost to calculate the ROI.

2. Gather customer insight

Marketing automation allows marketing and sales to become more customer-centric. As part of the strategy development process, it is therefore key to gather as much information on the customer’s needs, preferences and pain points where possible. This data needs to be structured and available to inform the strategy. Structured data (e.g. CRM, ERP) are the prerequisite for the creation and analysis of hypotheses for specific use cases, the possible selection of target groups, and for the use of a tailored automated dialogue. This is complemented by unstructured behavioral data for the personalization of customer dialogue.

To determine how marketing automation can improve marketing and sales processes and thus communication throughout the entire customer lifecycle, it is necessary to define the customer experience. To do this, the customer journey and the customer life cycle must be examined and mapped out. The main point here is to find out what the customer expects in each phase and at each touchpoint. This analysis will build the base for future optimization and automation processes.

Ideally, this phase also includes some market research, direct customer interviews, CRM analysis, and other forms of customer information gathering. Some questions to answer are:

  • How and where do clients search for information?
  • What are their pain and gain points?
  • What do they need to do their job?
  • What kind of content do they appreciate/not appreciate?
  • What are some things that block their journey, and what things are helpful?
  • What format do they need their content in?

3. Create robust content setup

Marketing automation is powered by content. To really benefit from the automated setup you will need good, relevant, and personalized content — and a lot of it. Unfortunately, a common mistake in the industry is that companies spend a lot of money on the marketing automation software and maintenance, leaving very little left to create exciting content.

So, before you introduce and roll-out marketing automation across all your global entities and offices, make sure you have a robust content creation setup. A strategy for content production is a necessary step to ensure the system has enough new content moving forward. Businesses will need to determine the volume and rate of production, as well as putting systems in place to monitor content effectiveness with customers to evaluate which content is delivering.

Content quality is key as it needs to be usable in all geos, channels and across various formats. This requires a very skilled team that not only understands the technology, product offering, competitors, and business model of your company, but also market trends and changing buyer behaviors. Plus, they need a certain level of knowledge about the different marketing channels and target audiences as well as the capability to understand and interpret marketing data.

Often, B2B companies still struggle with content production. This is mainly because the technical subject matter experts are a bottleneck, and approval processes are arduous. Also, a lot of B2B communication is still very product- and features-centric whereas your customers are more interested in content that helps them to solve problems in the buying process or the daily use of that technology. Inhouse marketing teams sometimes struggle to make this shift to customer-centric messaging and marketing approaches which is why working with external experts can be extremely valuable.

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4. Align Marketing and Sales

For marketing automation to create impact, aligning marketing and sales departments is vital. Ideally, this is done through a written agreement which contains all aspects —  from the definitions of terms over the buyer personas and customer journey to a definition of lead workflows. The document should also contain a joint vision of why this is done and what the shared goals are.

It is important to understand where the pain points of marketing and sales are. Is it a low closing rate? Does the organization not generate enough leads? Or the wrong leads? Are there ambitious growth goals? What about customer retention and cross-selling?

To successfully implement marketing automation, everyone must have a common understanding of what it is and what it is for. Therefore, jointly defining what a lead is, what conversion rates you’d expect, how to score and qualify leads, and how leads are handed over and managed and how revenue attribution works — just to name a few examples – is key. On top of all these processes and documentation, the marketing and sales team must closely work together and meet on a regular basis. Information and knowledge sharing are key to make marketing automation a success.

5. Define software requirements to select the right marketing automation tool

The implementation of marketing automation is quite often heavily driven by the question of which tool is best. But focusing too much on this aspect can be misleading as the company-specific software requirements need to be defined as part of a proper strategy before selecting a specific software.

To find out what functionality and scope the software should provide, a cross-functional working group is needed to analyze all relevant business processes, especially those influencing customer experience. Based on the findings, they can then define what processes will likely have the most positive impact on the customer experience and which processes require the most manual work. This gives a very good indicator to come up with a concept on which processes need to be automated first and what functionalities are required to do so.

Another important aspect to consider here is the compatibility with the existing IT and software landscape. Marketing automation only makes sense if you can create a globally consistent data base that is connected to the CRM system so you can follow leads throughout their whole customer lifecycle – from their first touchpoint up to deal closure and beyond.

The linchpin when selecting a tool is customer experience, to which the processes must be aligned or to which they should contribute. Setting requirements for a marketing automation solution and putting them in writing is an important step for successful tool selection. Important aspects to check during the selection process are things like compatibility, data protection, scalability, usability, service, longevity, and price.

Start small and be agile

If you consider these 5 things, chances are high that your marketing automation implementation will be a success. However, there is one last thing I would like to bring up: B2B marketing often tends to be perfectionistic and detail-oriented. While it is worth thoroughly thinking through the strategy when implementing marketing automation, when starting with the first campaigns, it is advisable to switch to a more agile approach. Instead of creating “the perfect campaign”, start with a “minimum viable pilot campaign”, test it with your audience, learn and scale once you know what works.

The same applies to internal teams. Start with a small group of people that is open for change and sees the opportunities rather than the risks and challenges. For the pilot programs, best choose popular use cases that promise quick wins. Once there are successes to celebrate and data to prove the worth of marketing automation, the use of the software and the related processes can be rolled out further within the company.