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Marketing Automation: For Midmarket Companies, It's All About the Leads

Marketers today are continuously and intensely bombarded with new approaches, methodologies, and technologies that change how they do their jobs and the results they can achieve. The value of techniques such as "inbound marketing" and various automation capabilities, and social networking can certainly improve the chances of significant - and even long term - revenue growth and profitability improvement. The question is: Where should a midmarket business focus its energies, and which enhancements to its marketing mix will provide the greatest return.

Marketing automation has gotten a great deal of attention in recent years. As is the case where technology and software tools are at the core of new approaches to a business function or set of tasks, the definition will serve the best interests of the party (vendor) that presents it. Generally, however, marketing automation leverages a number of varied, but integrated, capabilities designed to make marketing processes more efficient and effective. The outcomes include:

  • The creation of more, better quality leads;
  • Streamlined processes that lower costs;
  • Targeted campaign management that address specific sales cycle stages with the right customer interactions and content;
  • Improved alignment between marketing and sales, which enables better lead qualification and more effective marketing support for sales efforts.

The benefits of marketing automation are really attractive. So where do you begin?

What's New Is Old

Businesses should keep in mind that applying new approaches to marketing does not mean leaving the status quo behind. In fact, when it comes to the foundational goals of marketing campaigns - the generation of good quality leads, their conversion to sales, and the nurturing needed to achieve those conversions and also produce additional sales in the future - there is little that will change as marketing continues to automate.

Good marketing will continue to be anchored in comprehensive, sustainable marketing processes which includes the basic but very important steps marketers have used for decades. Marketing automation approaches and tools can build on these processes by making them more effective and enabling continuous improvement:

  • Identify and Characterize Target Segments - Knowing which market segments and sub-segments afford you your best revenue and growth opportunities is the critical first step.
  • Create Buyer Personas - Knowing who the decision makers are - not only their roles within the customer organization, but the professional and personal factors that may impact how and when they make a purchasing decision.
  • Build Your Value Proposition - This is a clear, concise articulation of the unique value you bring to your target segments and buyers. It's not about what you do - it's about what you specifically do for them.
  • Define and Coordinate Marketing and Sales Processes - This is where you determine the steps in the sales process, lead qualification techniques to determine where a lead is in that process, what content and other assets should be applied and when and how it should be delivered, and aligning marketing with sales to support its process and lead nurturing.
  • Build and Optimize Marketing Campaigns - This is where marketing automation, inbound marketing, and other tools and assets are exercised to acquire and nurture leads. Because these tools are data-driven, they can provide the feedback on all campaign elements that enables the optimization of emails, website landing pages, offers, and so on to improve campaign effectiveness.
  • Lead Conversion and Marketing ROI Reporting - All processes require continuous monitoring and evaluation, and your marketing process is no exception. CRM systems and ROI calculation tools can be used to collect and analyze lead intelligence from sales, measure overall process impact and results, and provide the basis for continuous improvement in process and sales efficiency and performance. This "feedback loop" is a critical benefit of implementing marketing automation.

The good news, therefore, is that you marketing automation presents you with an opportunity to build upon, and significantly improve, the existing processes you use today. Marketing has not changed ; how you implement the process of winning new customers can, and in ways that can cost-effectively improve marketing and sales performance.

The Real Value of Social Media

The overall approach to the marketing process may not have changed, but how you approach your relationships with customers, partners, and other relevant parties has. As illustrated in the diagram below, your approach to how you market your products and/or services can make the difference between success and failure in the new world of social networking.

Traditionally, an unhappy customer would become an "enemy", using their own ensuing behaviors and those of the people they could influence to negatively impact your brand, image, and ultimately your bottom line. That is true today, of course, but your effective use of social media can be used to turn these customers into "best friends".Why?< Because social network participants value efforts to "make things right" and will use your responsiveness to promote you positively when you address their concerns.

A more "social" approach to your markets will mean your world will become less insular and more open and collaborative. Everyone with whom you interact becomes a potential "partner" for product creation and development as well as marketing strategy and creation.

But social media leverage also presents you with the opportunity to leverage these partnering relationships to improve the number and quality of your leads and raise the probability of conversion to sales. Many organizations choose inbound marketing as their path.

Make Your Home Page Nothing More Than a Brochure

Traditional "outbound marketing" focuses primarily on generating large numbers of leads. Outreach typically takes the form of advertising, direct mail, and other methods and channels, and has been measured and valued based on the number of pairs of eyes or ears which each method reaches. Unfortunately, while every effort is made to target specific audiences based on demographics, product needs, or other criteria, outbound marketing has been used more to blanket an audience than to be laser-focused on specific individuals. Outbound marketing can therefore be both inefficient and expensive, with conversion percentages often in the low single digits.

Inbound marketing is about bringing "warm" qualified leads into your sales funnel. It is designed to draw people to you - not the other way around. There are many techniques used to implement inbound marketing initiatives, but all emphasize leveraging relevant, well-targeted content that provides immediate value to carefully chosen audiences that makes these audiences want to know more. Blogs, regular social media interactions by knowledgeable, respected individuals in your organizations, and strong SEO techniques that bring the right people to your well-suited content are some content examples.

Once prospects are identified and make their interest known, leading them to the right page on your website where they can get what they need and respond to the a "call to action" relevant to their circumstances and issues is the next step. If you do this correctly, few will visit your website through the homepage (unless you want them to). They will go to directly to what is important to them, making the process interesting, efficient, and valuable. You will more likely to generate leads, and those leads will be of greater quality and more likely to close.

Marketing Automation for the Midmarket: Focus on Leads for Now, But Leave Room for Growth

Marketing automation, including its application to inbound marketing and social networking, is about bring customers to YOU. Through collaboration with your target audiences, you can give them more control and power, making them strong partners and advocates. It also makes it easier for you to "be found" by those who are most likely to become and remain customers. And marketing - in all its traditional forms - still matters.

For midmarket companies, however, deciding how to move toward a more inbound, automated marketing presence can be difficult. The comprehensive process described earlier in this blog can be found in various forms in most large enterprises, but may have proven to be impractical for smaller organizations that may not have the resources (human and monetary) to support such a process. Sales and marketing may not be distinguished as clearly in a smaller organization, making the need for stronger alignment irrelevant.

Kusnetzky Group research has shown that while overall process and stronger sales/marketing alignment may be high priorities for large enterprises, midmarket businesses place greater emphasis on the more tactical need of getting more and better leads in the door. For many midmarket companies, marketing and sales may be virtually indistinguishable, with senior management directly involved in the lead generation process (or at least watching it very closely). The tools and methodologies they employ will focus more on leveraging inbound marketing to get those leads, and to some extent working the lead nurturing cycle with appropriate interaction and content. Very often, smaller organizations with limited resources will outsource content creation in order to get it done quickly.

As a midmarket company, you should first and foremost choose marketing automation solutions that support the generation of sufficient numbers of qualified leads. Since your success will mean you will not always be the size you are, your choice of vendors and tools should therefore also serve you as you grow. You will:

  • Add steps to your marketing processes along the way;
  • Evolve to a point where a more effective alignment of marketing and sales functions will be needed;
  • Grow the sophistication of your marketing programs and content, and therefore the need for greater automation;
  • Leverage program performance and effectiveness data as input to the continuous improvement of your marketing processes and programs.
  • Need to integrate your backend solutions with new marketing automation tools.

IBM is a vendor that provides the support the social networking and marketing automation requirements of both midmarket companies and the larger enterprises they will become.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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