Sales Testing Before Marketing Automation

There’s an article recently published by David Raab over at his Customer Experience Matrix blog, Three Ways To Dominate The Marketing Automation Industry. I agree with his assessments to simplify the usage of marketing automation systems. The solution for a new vendor to win and drive widespread adoption, as well as what we observe working with clients is well stated:

Rather, a new industry leader would have to remove the critical bottleneck to industry growth: the shortage of marketers with the skills needed to fully use marketing automation capabilities.

The systems themselves are complex and requires thinking around strategy and process. This kind of thinking goes beyond fancy graphics and crafty phrases. Ultimately, marketing automation is a content delivery system that has to provide a natural and desirable experience for an unready buyer to want more.

One of the gaps we see is that the exercise of designing marketing automation campaigns becomes intellectual rather than empirical. Often times, the marketer has never sold anything before to a real customer. Yet, there is typically a group of sales people that have sold customers and hold the keys to what can work to entice and nurture customers.

In addition to having software which can be simpler to drive, here is what a marketer seeking to use marketing automation can do to make their otherwise complex system work to get results:

  • Monitor the sales process. Sales people may not have the fancy tools, but their tactics and instincts hold value. They are reading the customer and adjusting to drive towards a sale. This includes follow-up and the give and take of building trust. Observing how they interact has to be a cornerstone to any campaigns produced by an automated approach. The personalization and human side have to be naturally incorporated.
  • Measure what is important. There are conversion points in the sales process. Reports and dashboards within a CRM system need to be carefully monitored and reviewed. Answering questions like, “Why does a customer buy?” or “What content works to get interest?” needs to be tested and answered. Have your salespeople work within a sales process framework and siphon the valuable assets which work into an automated approach.
  • Be a process fanatic. The marketer that can observe what is working and not working and capture the specific process steps will eventually be able to design marketing automation that works. Work alongside a salesperson for a week and interact around process. Turn the otherwise randomness into a process that has repeatability tested in reality.
  • Set up the salesperson. The salesperson is seeking to get attention and a meeting. They are at their best when they can engage on the phone or in person. This is the key event. The content, sequencing and nurturing strategies built into a marketing automation campaign should position the person to get the result. Design your automation to position the salesperson as someone of value and dilute their perception of trying to sell.

Ultimately, marketing automation will succeed not based on the software but on the strategies that are employed to win a customer. The software is merely an enabler. Instead of guessing on this, go where the information is. Shadow a salesperson and see what they do that is connecting at a human level and creating lead conversion through the sales funnel.

What are your thoughts?

Targeted And Personal

Are you able to provide a highly personal experience for everyone that is interested?

There was a time that we were only presented with options for the masses. The messages put on the airwaves, newspapers or magazines were about production. Outproduce the competition and you could get the attention needed for sales. Exactly who was looking at your message and when was secondary. We didn’t have the fine tune controls for it to matter. It was simply a numbers game.

In the digital age, we can measure what is happening and allow our messages to become more targeted and personal. The sales funnel may start with more mass approaches at the top, but they can get more personal the further down a person engages. Thus, a buyer may not know who you are. Your name and what you offer is mixed in with the thousands of other relentless messages they receive.

However, you might offer an invitation or a step which catches their attention. The well-placed advertisement should not be a selling pitch. That would ruin a first date with your customer. A step will do.

The Personal Step

The challenge is moving a mass message to a more personal encounter. If your funnel has been designed well, then each step of the way is a touchpoint that increases in trust. You get to know who the person that shed anonymity is and they get to know more about your value proposition. It’s a mutual and well-timed exchange of value. Here’s what is important in the progression:

  • Connection. Your message and the buyer’s thinking have to connect. Their distractions have to be overcome. Your message has to appeal within a short period of time and speak to a problem or strong desire quickly and potently.
  • Individualism. Each buyer may start with something generic, but by the time they engage your salesperson, there should be increased recognition and servicing around who they are as an individual. What one person cares about is typically completely different than what another is going to focus on.
  • High touch. There’s a time to let someone self-service and there is a time when they are ready for a conversation. Knowing the difference and ensuring the touch points match the ideal experience has to be managed by both systems and intentional thought.

If you treat every customer the same, then you may be ignored because your message risks irrelevance. You are selling rather than helping a person buy. There’s a big difference in the feel and experience for a buyer.

Where can your own process get more targeted and personal? 

Building Relationships Authentically

Building relationships with an audience requires authenticity.

One of the inevitable effects of democratizing tools for sales and marketing is the increase in the amount of noise. Because everyone can sign up for a Twitter account or send an email, we see a much larger amount of web spam. The thirst for trying to sell has turned otherwise reputable products into spam factories that use gimmicks and direct marketing tactics to get attention. It’s vanity. We don’t like being sold.

Just because it’s easier to get tools and get set up doesn’t mean you are in the game. People don’t respond to inauthenticity. It’s still about building relationships. Relationships take time and require trust. It is the same as the pre-web 2.0 days. However, the strategies and means have changed.

We work hard at our craft – helping companies build relationships with their audience. Here are some things we have learned about what that looks like today:

  • Focus on value exchange. The question to ask is “How do I provide extremely high value to strangers to earn their trust?” This is different for each market, however, it is a critical piece. Transactional consumer businesses may need to have periodic incentives. Many of the B2B businesses we work with need to provide helpful information for executives and decision makers. The key is to focus on what your prospective customer is looking for before they ever talk to you.
  • Tone down the hype. Everyone has seen amazing graphics, software and salesmen. Trying to compete on hype only builds mistrust. Instead try and be real. Use a human tone. Empathize with problems and talk about what really happens in your business and for your customers. We want stories, not hype.
  • Connect one-to-one. Every buyer is different. Treat them different and ensure your marketing systems can support engaging at an intimate and relevant level. The more personal you can make each touchpoint of communication, the more engaged true buyers will be. There’s a large difference between those that broadcast and those that try to connect personally.
  • Be consistent. You don’t have to be on every platform. In fact, this can be detrimental. It is much more management. But the mediums you do use, be sure to commit for the long haul. Much of success is perseverance. It also helps your audience to come to expect and anticipate communications.

From the outside looking in, I can understand people looking for shortcuts and avoiding the hard work. However, at the end of the day, human beings are relational, not scripted. Building relationships requires authenticity and careful thought. The mediums have their natural rules and constraints. If you can focus on these tips, then your opportunities for connection will arise. Your audience can decipher value from the noise.

Are You Addicted To Sales People?

If you had to sell without a sales force could you do it? What if you had to get rid of your entire sales team? Could you make selling work? I have seen businesses with older mindsets that seem to be addicted to headcount as a metric more than results. Owners or VP of Sales that get comfort from how many people they employ rather than having a sound strategy are pretty common.

This is not a call to eliminate the sales function or people. It is a spotlight on strategy and doing what makes sense. We don’t like being sold, yet we all buy. We buy via a process of education and building trust from a distance that is more convenient than in times past. We have less reliance on a relationship with a salesperson for understanding an industry and value proposition. You can position with this information online today. You can get found this way via search and social media.

The follow-up of unready buyers or nurturing semi-ready prospects via marketing automation can be less disruptive and empowering for someone thinking through the buying options you offer. They can think through the issues for buying what you have to offer without feeling pressure or interruption.

Much of the selling can be self-service and transformed into a buying process. So where does this leave you with headcount, a very intensive and expensive part of a sales process? Consider the following issues:

  • Closes per month. Are you considering closing 10 deals a month or a thousand? Work backwards. This is going to be largely a function of your inbound marketing effectiveness.  Think through time. How much sales time is required for the number of closes? If it is 10 deals at a couple of hours per deal, then you need about 20 man hours, less than a headcount.
  • Key events. What is the key event a salesperson fulfills? Is it a weekly follow-up call? Is it a product demo or consultation? Their activities can be set up around this. If other items can be automated in a personalized way, then think through setting up systems that would deliver a high and timely service to prospects in lieu of manual calling and emailing to get to the main event.
  • Conversion points. The stages of your sales process should have defined indicators. As buyers move through each stage, their status can be changed in your CRM system. Identify what causes the movement from one sales stage to another in the sales process. There should be logical areas for salespeople to focus on. Integrate the use of the tools and process you have identified that will help them move leads through conversion. Then cut out cycle times accordingly. There should be efficiency gains.

If you challenge yourself to do more with less, constraints have a beautiful way of forcing efficiency into our business operations. This, in turn, can increase profitability and lower costs while improving the customer experience.

Going with tradition just because it worked last decade is a waning strategy in light of the opportunities of today.

So, what can this thinking do for you?

Persistence In Your Inbound Marketing

Continual persistence in your marketing makes an impact over time.

One of the challenges of interrupting people to get attention is that a new event has to be created each time. You have to increase the glamour, noise and novelty each time. It is tiring and relentless. Your efforts are only as good as the last good ad, image or commercial. It is not persistent.

If you have your inbound marketing systems set up effectively then persistence is a key attribute of how you are found and what ready buyers experience. Whether they engage you today or six months from now, your inbound marketing serves as a persistent asset. Persistence means:

  • Content is growing and interrelated. The volume of content is growing on your platform and the cross-linking and presentation of other relevant content helps visitors to continually find resources.
  • A growing library of resources. You have guides, white papers, video and other resources that help people think about and solve problems. They are available 24/7 and can be easily accessed.
  • Marketing automation processes continually work. You are able to profile visitors and funnel them to appropriate follow-up and nurturing over time based on their preferences and profiles.
  • Your credibility continues to grow. Your networks and your past successes are part of the story that continually grows and points to your capabilities and trustworthiness. This is important for the stranger who is getting to know you.

Persistence is highly strategic for getting the highest return on investment in your work to promote and position your brand. Furthermore, it is critical to stand out from the noise.

A visitor has so many options and distractions. Finding depth of insight and valuable knowledge that helps them starts relationships. Your knowledge assets within your inbound marketing systems need to have long shelf life to account for timing and relevance for your future visitors.

How persistent is your marketing?

Using Marketing Automation Sites For Your Sales Process

Think through the steps your salesperson executes and automate.

Each company’s sales process is different. There are a sequence of steps and actions a salesperson typically takes to prospect, qualify and convert a lead to an opportunity. The early parts of a sales process traditionally were left to salespeople. However, if you look at how to use the time of a salesperson effectively, qualifying a lead is both rigorous and tedious.

Assuming you have an effective inbound marketing system, much of your lead qualification can be managed by your online website and systems. The job of the salesperson can be focused on the key selling events such as conducting demos, persuading the customer and helping them sign up for your service or product.

A great way to increase productivity and drive higher qualified leads is to automate. Here are some guidelines to making this happen:

  • Document the steps. Interview your salespeople and ask them about what they do early in the sales process. Thereafter, seek to capture the steps which can be automated by a system. Work in partnership testing and asking clarifying questions to see what would make sense for your salesperson. They are likely going to welcome tools that help them work with the customer.
  • Create buying steps. Present the steps in a personal and easy sequence that buyers would actually use. Your site logic needs to ask questions, gather information and distribute it within a database or via email. Get the questions answered which help to build a profile of your potential buyer.
  • Program logic to present the right information. Based on answers to questions you receive, your site needs to present the logical next question, form, document, page or email. This is automation in action. Program each step based on preceding conditions and logic.
  • Nurture your leads. If some people are not qualified because of criteria such as budget or timeframe, then ensure there is a process to nurture them over the coming weeks and months. This can be a set of predetermined emails, an e-course, a newsletter subscription or sales follow-up dates. The goal is to continue bringing value and help your brand be positioned for the right timing.
  • Enter the salesperson. Automation should lead to a personal touch. Manage the entrance and next steps for the prospective buyer with personal communications and a meeting with a salesperson. Set the stage so that the meeting has the right expectations of what the person can expect.

It is hard to make a one-size-fits-all model of automation for the sales process. We have customized many different shapes and sizes depending on a market, customer profile and how a sales team is structured. The key is to look for how the sales process can be optimized and bring the right strategies into play to make the experience personal.

It is work. It will provide a more predictable result and keep you from having to hire expensive salespeople that may be doing a lot of clerical work. Furthermore, you are making it convenient for prospects to engage and providing an easy way for them to think through your value proposition.

How does your sales process work and how could it be better?

The Art Of The Sales Follow-Up

Sales people are notorious for a lack of follow up and service to sales leads. This is especially true with manual environments without process, systems and structure.

In the old days, urgency and personality went a long way to attract any low hanging fruit. That was before the internet. The buyer has access to your competitor with a mouse click now. The convenience to get information on-demand means that we can educate ourselves and figure out what we need to be looking for. We can compare quickly and drive to a decision on who we want to do business and what we want to buy without a lot of help from a salesperson.

This is a frequent scenario. Car buyers walk in and tell the salesperson what they want at what price. Home buyers tell the Realtor what houses they want to see from Trulia. Information is not an asset that the salesperson holds exclusively.

However, the buyer is looking for service in the midst of the buying process. The sales follow-up in today’s economy needs to help the buyer. Consider the following to increase this important part of the sales funnel:

  • Be the concierge. Any personal touch points should be focused helping not selling. Noone likes to be sold. Offer assistance and help the buyer ask the right questions and get access to the right information.
  • Curate information. We live in a world where we depend on Google to help us find laser-focused results from the noise. Museums don’t carry every type of exhibit. The curators pick what is important, thematic and impactful. They have limited space. Likewise, present what is important and essential to service your prospective buyers.
  • Integrate marketing automation. Use marketing automation to nurture a lead with timely and relevant information. Watch their behaviors and digital body language within your CRM system and take action when their lead scores warrant or based on automated triggers.
  • Manage to the week. There are natural rhythms we follow. Use specific days to do your calls, emails, nurturing emails, etc. Be sensitive to people’s attention. Generally, there is a higher level of attention Tuesday through Thursday.

Following up is process. It constitutes the majority of the activities in a sales process. It requires strategies that make sense and help the buyer through their natural process. Incorporating systems, process and strategies that positions you as a valuable resource is critical for your opportunity to do business.

What are some ways you follow up that you find effective?

Automation Shaming The Conventional

 

Here’s a picture of how the world has changed. On the left you have a tankless water heater system. It provides on-demand hot water and is completely automated in load balancing the output of hot water between four different units.

On the right is the old school. The duct tape says it all. It’s a 300 gallon traditional water heater. This facility pays about $8,000 a month for hot water usage using the conventional. When it broke, the owner looked at his system and thought there must be a better way. He decided to automate. He pays less than $5K per month with four on-demand heaters and there is unlimited hot water. He never runs out. With all of the new equipment, labor and install, it took a little less than 8 months to recoup the investment.

No more duct taping the old system. It’s an eye sore. It worked, but there came a point where he had to make a decision. Does he keep patching the old or invest in the future with much less headaches and much greater efficiency and savings.

We all have this kind of decision in various parts of our business. I can recall spending over $50K for a PBX phone system for a large office space we owned less than a decade ago. That was what was available and conventional.

Today, $30/month does the same job with a cloud-based PBX system. Automation with convenience changed the game entirely.

You may not be dealing with hot water. It may be how you do marketing, sales or servicing your customer. Take a look around. Are you patching with duct tape? What would the savings and lack of hassle mean for you?

Don’t get used to the old. Eventually, everything becomes outdated and costly. Anyone want an old boiler?

 

Marketing Automation Strategy Is The Linchpin

Trying to make marketing automation work in  your sales process starts with the IT work. However, it is only the start of what really matters. Configuring a system and ensuring data flows in and out out of your CRM is a basic element of starting the work to help you see what is happening with your leads.

If this is where your interest lies, then you can simply connect a real-time analytics program. Marketing automation may be overkill.

The real work starts with strategy. The strategy for connecting with a buyer and wooing them gently through a sequence of

steps that provide high value and build trust is what makes marketing automation valuable. The strategy is the linchpin for success. Here are some of the strategic parts of a successful marketing automation system to perfect:

  • Landing page content. Your content has to serve people with inattention. They land on a specific page seeking information. They are not going to buy now. They are browsing. Ensure your content provokes thought and educates them. Invite them to go deeper. Your tone has to connect with your audience.
  • Call to action content. Again, there needs to be a compelling call to action that invites a next step. At the core, your strategy should be to provide a high level of value for helping your buyer understand how your market works, the questions to be asking and stories of past problems and successes. Package this in white papers, ebooks, webinars and multimedia.
  • Lead nurturing. The sequencing and timing of email communications, direct mail and sales calls needs to be coordinatedand triggered in a logical and personal sequence. Your touch points should seek to build a relationship and provide a high level of value and stay away from selling.
  • Sales engagement. The timing and the conversation your sales team will be in needs to be coordinated with your content. Avoid awkward connections and ensure your personal sales engagements continue to bring value. There should be a direct call to action such as a sales meeting. Sales should be a continuum to the marketing automation process.

The strategy is critical for success. How you set up various campaigns based on buyer profiles needs to be thoroughly designed and implemented.

Your metrics will provide the feedback for continually iterating on the content and programming of your system to deliver relevant leads.

Where are you finding challenges in marketing automation?

Social Media Is Metawork, Not Real Work

It’s easy to post a Facebook status or Tweet. It’s difficult to build something that means value with these easy tools. Social media is a powerful distribution channel to point to your real work. It is metawork; it is work which refers to your real work.

The real work is the value you provide day in and day out with your service or product offering. Social media augments your real daily work by helping people pay attention and keep up. It also creates another two-way channel of communication for interaction between you and your potential buyers and referral sources.

Don’t confuse building something with being a social media junkie. Talking about something and delivering something are two different things entirely. The goal should be to use the tools of your enterprise for what they are meant to do. Social media is another system which should be part of your overall business that you are building. It is an access point which needs to be nurtured and managed with care and creativity.

Your Story And Your Audience

If you have process transparency per our previous chapter, then telling your story in an ongoing and engaging manner becomes as much a part of your allure and brand as delivering the goods. Building something means there must be something which connects you to your audience in an ongoing way.

An audience is the greatest asset you can have for your business. They are following and paying attention. They are engaged with your story. It is what differentiates your offering. When you are embedded into your service or products, then you are irreplaceable in the mind of your customers. It is what makes the essence of your brand work.

David Allen (www.davidco.com), the productivity guru of the book and movement, Getting Things Done, built something that has an international audience. His story and approach is part of the message. He sells books, workshops, coaching and consulting to businesses and business people worldwide. His audience is tuned in and listening.

He makes use of social media as everyone does today, but his hub is his blog and newsletter. These connect with his large audience in a consistent way.

Furthermore, he has a forum which helps reinforce the methodology for the thousands of practitioners of his productivity approach.

Social media augments his core content which is published to his eager audience. He sends out Tweets and Facebook posts pointing back to events and his content to drive people further into his hub.

All the while, his story is continually being told in a personal way and magnified through social media and word-of-mouth evangelism by his audience. It is a great example of building something, nurturing an audience and amplifying the brand and message via social media. The core is always within the David Allen systems on his site.

Likewise, avoid getting into the social media business. It is a tool which needs to play its role in building your audience which engages your story on your own content systems. But be sure to use the full power of social media to build your brand and invite people into your story.

Using Twitter And Facebook

There are many books explaining the use of social media and online marketing strategies. The focus of this book is not on those topics, though you can find much about the topic at my company’s blog, http://blog.ascendworks.com. I do want to share some high level strategies that will help you use Twitter and Facebook practically. These are the two leading social media platforms as of this writing and the millions of users on these platforms make them important to your strategy for promoting your enterprise.

Where Your Audience Hangs Out

The audiences on Twitter and Facebook are different and find certain personas more appealing than others. I look at each platform as follows:

Twitter:

  • Business-to-Business (B2B) audience
  • Content focused
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Current events

Facebook:

  • Business-to-Consumer (B2C) audience
  • Relationship focused
  • Promotions and stories
  • Graphics and pictures attract

You may use both in your strategy. The crowds, conversations and demeanors are different. If you are a B2B business then you will want to focus heavily on Twitter. If you sell software to accounting firms, books to business executives or copywriting services to small businesses, Twitter is an ideal way to promote your work and your knowledge.

If you are a B2C business, then Facebook allows you to create a social aspect and grouping of your fans. Restaurants, sports teams and shoe companies fit in this realm. They may have promotions and coupons to promote on a Facebook page as well as continual customer stories and pictures which tell their story.

Keeping your social profile and posts updated creates brand awareness. Thus, be committed when picking your platform.

Of course, there are many other social media avenues such as LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Google Plus 1 and Yelp. It’s hard to have a number 2 position. The mass of users on the platform creates its value. Thus, the biggest games are with Twitter and Facebook. On the internet, it is merciless. One platform typically wins.

If you are in a niche industry, then take a look at them. My advice is to be sure you will remain committed. It takes time and focus to keep these systems up. It damages your brand when you let them go stale. The mix you choose should be tried and then measured for effectiveness based on the traffic it drives to your main site and blog as well as pure revenue.

The real work of what you do needs to be positioned on your hub – your platforms, rather than Twitter or Facebook’s. Use the latter two for driving attention to your information assets.