Marketing automation platforms inspire virtually limitless ideas. That’s both a feature and a bug. The possibilities can be both motivating and paralyzing.
For me, B2B marketing automation began about twelve or thirteen years ago. It started with Pardot. Then Marketo. Then Eloqua. Then back to Marketo. And, full circle, back to Pardot. What I learned through all of that switching is don’t switch—all the marketing automation platforms are fundamentally the same, so it’s just not worth it. I also learned which capabilities are absolutely core with measurable and clear benefits and which ones are nice to have, superfluous or downright resource-robbing with little upside.
This post focuses on the core B2B lead/demand-gen marketing automation functions I’ve seen deliver predictable and consistent ROI. It’s platform agnostic. All of the major players will let you accomplish these fundamentals.
Marketing Automation Data Design Prerequisite
There is a prerequisite to this that needs mentioning. Before you collect a lead, you should have defined your data strategy along with the key data points that are critical to your success. I have another post in the works on data design, focusing on why and how to define the fields that make up a lead at each stage of the funnel.
Marketing Automation: Collect a Marketing Generated Lead
I use a specialized conversion optimization platform for the mechanics of content, testing and forms. Whether you use external forms or your marketing automation platform’s internal forms is of little consequence for the purpose of this post. Both will deliver a lead to your MAP within seconds of the form submission. At that point you have the lead’s explicitly submitted data augmented with any systemic, appended and/or inferred data (the extent of your appended data is dependent on many specific privacy/data collection/compliance variables).
Marketing Automation: Satisfy User Expectations
First and foremost—before you start manipulating data in your MAP—make sure your user’s expectations are met or exceeded. A common example of accidentally missing user expectations is technical… if you have a synchronous script that holds up their ‘thank you’ page or fulfillment email, make it asynchronous, so they don’t wait for your tardy process. And test, test, test, so you’re sure that all use cases are performing as expected. That said, let’s get to work on that lead…
Marketing Automation: Quick Lead Score
An immediate first round of lead scoring should be triggered by the creation of the lead record. The initial record may or may not have previously tracked anonymous behavioral data married up to it. In cases where there is deeper-funnel data to work with, initial scoring may go further. But for the sake of the basics, let’s assume that we have a super-simple lead record of name, email, phone and company. Have your MAP lookup the company and compare that profile with your target profile (company size, revenue, industry). If you need to bolt on a third-party tool for this, do it. It’s worth it. Depending on your sales process and infrastructure, escalate quality leads by incrementing their objective score. Since you should also know what asset converted them—and hopefully the relative funnel value of that asset—you can also increment or decrement their behavioral/experiential score. Both of these escalations may be as simple as moving the lead to a list or lists, and/or assigning the lead to an actual rep. How you handle escalations depends on your sales process.
Marketing Automation: Surface Leads to Sales
True inbound leads—those that raise their hand asking for contact—should be flagged as such and surfaced for sales follow-up within five minutes of form submission. If your martech stack includes a CRM, you’ll want to route your hot lead through your MAP and over to your CRM fast. Prioritize those hot lead syncs so you don’t end up in a situation with hot-lead notifications that beat the lead record into the CRM. Then you have sales trying to follow up without a lead record (not a good way for marketing to impress sales).
Non-inbound leads that reach objective or behavioral score thresholds, per the Quick Score above, should also be surfaced to sales. These have less urgency than inbounds, but, since they are active, engaged and qualified, time does remain an important axis for follow-up. You want to catch them when they still remember your content.
Marketing Automation: Quick Lead Nurture
Now that your lead has had a great user experience, is in your MAP, scored and sync’d to your CRM, it’s time to move them into a basic nurture campaign. “Basic” is relative, but let’s assume that means unsegmented—everyone gets the same stream. (Of course, segmented is better. Specificity makes your content more relevant which increases engagement and inbounds. But, that’s for another post.)
Moving them into nurture means starting the clock on their aging and getting them into the cadence. I have found that a 5-7 day initial waiting period before the first email is sent works well. From there, your cadence depends on your capacity to produce great content. In my experience, quality content can be sent to a house list every two weeks without unsubscribe consequences. I have layered one-off emails (webinar invitations; newsletters) atop that cadence without negative consequences as well.
All of this touch volume depends on consistently producing quality content that’s perceived as valuable and useful to the audience. Without that perceived value proposition, save your money and headaches—don’t even buy a marketing automation platform.
Each of my “basics” above could branch into endlessly complex, feature-thick holes of martech geekdom. In all candor, I’ve dug plenty of those—some of which were even worth it. But, most of the time, they’re not worth it. And keeping the basics, basic will make your B2B marketing automation predictable, productive and reliable.