Automating your marketing processes – where to start?


Marketing automations

If this blog post piqued your interest, you’ve probably reached a point in which you spend more time managing data files and troubleshooting errors than marketing the cause you love. You may need to gain a better understanding of your audiences, tailor your campaigns more effectively, bring more qualified leads, and ideally save time while at it. Your data might even be scattered in various systems or Excel files created by different teams. And your creativity is stifled by the limitations of your current system and the repetitive tasks required by each campaign.  

If some of the statements above or all of them sound familiar, it’s time to switch to a marketing automation system. But where do you start?

Below you’ll find a series of steps that will walk you through the prep work and the set-up of a system. But before going through these steps, make sure you:

• Revisit or establish your marketing objectives
• Define your audience segments and buyer personas
• Craft a content strategy that addresses the goals and challenges of your personas
• Design the customer journey for each persona 

In doing so, you will ease the implementation process of your marketing automation system and reduce the chance of having to make difficult database adjustments on the long term. 

1. Analyse and structure the data you already have

Analysing the existing data is generally part of the segmentation and buyer persona exercise or can feed back into and improve your persona profiles. 

As mentioned above, chances are that you already have some contact data from previous events and other business interactions. With the knowledge gained from defining your segments and persons, you can now identify the data that will be key in tailoring conversations with your target audience (eg job title, industry, organisation type, organisation size, challenges, topics of interest, events attended). Make sure you bring all of this data together and look for patterns and commonalities that will help you cluster your contacts. 

Later on, this step will help you build user-friendly lead generation forms (eg with dropdowns instead of open fields), which in turn will segment your database. In addition, the amount and nature of your existing data you will have an impact on the type of system you will choose. 

2. Figure out what data you need at each stage of the customer journey

When designing the customer journey for your personas, the following questions will arise: 

• How will you know that you’ve attracted the right persona?
• How will you know that your persona is moving along the customer journey? 

Thus, knowing the type of data that indicates an effective customer journey will help you collect the right (amount of) data, structure your database and build your processes accordingly. 

3. Define the criteria for choosing the system that works for your organisation

Because there are a plethora of systems out there, it helps to define your criteria and set boundaries for your research. Examples of criteria include: 

• Monthly/yearly budget you can allocate
• Number of contacts you already have
Database growth rate you’re aiming for and expect
Number and type of users who will need access in your organisation
Type of support the software company provides (and how much you estimate you’ll need depending on the staff that is available on your end)
Functionalities for data privacy regulations like European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)
Integration with other software you use
Automation options
Reporting functionalities
Scaling options (pricing tiers for different contact bundles and functionalities; proof that it can adapt to organisational growth so that you don’t need to switch systems too soon)

More functionalities doesn’t necessarily mean that the system is better for your organisation. Having a list of needs and objectives and looking at the system’s scaling opportunities will help you make a cost-effective choice. 

4. Test and pick your system

Now that you have your research criteria in mind, this step will become more accessible. Make test accounts for the most promising systems, watch demos, talk to sales and look at scores on websites like G2, Capterra and GetApp

I also recommend creating an Excel file in which you can list pricing, key functionalities, pros and cons and review scores so you can easily filter and compare the systems you’re testing. To make the testing more practical and ensure all the functionalities you need are available, you can also prepare a dummy list of contacts and a few scenarios for the automations you wish to have in the future. 

5. Align the system framework with your strategy

Now that you’ve got your new system, it’s time to build its backbone. Having clarity about your organisation’s strategy, objectives and customer journey will help you prepare your system’s framework for the data import. Here are some elements to think of at this stage:

• Create the contact fields and tags identified in steps 1 and 2 so you can easily identify your segments and personas
• Define your funnel stages
• Design the bridge between marketing and sales (aka at which point is a lead ready for sales communications?)
Define your pipeline stages (if applicable)
Structure your lists based on communication types like events, newsletter subscribers, blog subscribers
Create your email templates
Figure out how you will integrate the functionalities and processes for data privacy compliance

6. Import the data and structure it accordingly

Considering that you have already prepared the system framework, the data import should now go without a hitch. When preparing your files, make sure you know the data formatting requirements so that it’s all imported without errors. I also recommend clearly marking each file and the contacts associated with it so that you can keep track of the import sources (eg. system through which the data was initially collected; the team who initially collected the data; event/date attended). This will make your search, identification and tailoring easier in the future. 

7. Integrate your marketing system with other software

To avoid any manual syncing between your marketing system and other software, you can integrate them and ensure the data is shared seamlessly back and forth. Most of the marketing automation systems out there provide native integrations through an API (Application Programming Interface). Plus, you will already know from step 3 whether your system provides native integrations with your other applications. In some cases, the integration only requires following a few intuitive steps and filling out the API keys from your other systems, while for others, you might need to hire a developer. 

If a native integration is not available, you could choose to use a third party connector like Zapier, which requires a paid subscription above a certain number of workflows (called zaps). Zapier helps connect thousands of apps in a wide range of ways but it is advised to check beforehand if the exact workflows you need are available between your systems of choice. 

Software you might want to integrate with your marketing system are: content management system, sales system, online calendar (eg Calendly), event registration system, learning management system etc.

8. Build your lead generation forms

With the insights from step 2 ‘Figure out what data you need at each stage of the customer journey’, you can now start creating your lead generation forms – most likely by just having to drag and drop the fields already created in step 5 – and then embed them into your landing pages. 

Generally, at the top of the funnel you can deliver shorter forms (eg email, first name, last name) and as leads move down the funnel and you build a relationship of trust, you can progressively ask for more data and ensure an increasingly tailored experience. 

9. Ask for consent to: store and process data; send marketing and sales emails 

You are most likely familiar with regulations like GDPR or CCPA – these are key for your marketing processes. It is recommended that you consult a legal adviser to ensure that your data collection, storing and processing comply with all the regulations of the countries in which you operate. 

I believe that asking for your contacts’ explicit consent for all of the above is not only a legal matter but also one of trust and integrity. Telling people how their data will be used, what content they can expect from you and how they can request for access to, modifications or removal of their data is key to building lasting relationships of respect. 

Plus, I personally prefer to have a small database of people who really want to hear from me rather than a large list of people who remove or unsubscribe from my emails upon receipt. 

10. Design your automated workflows

With your system in place, you’re now ready to start creating your automations. Below are a few examples you might want to consider:

System set-up automations: the workflows that will ensure your database gets segmented and your processes keep running without you having to constantly check them.

• Mark leads with the corresponding persona tag depending on demographics and behaviour
• Assign your contacts to a certain list or segment when they’ve signed up to your newsletters, downloaded a resource or attended an event
Change the lifecycle stage to marketing qualified lead or sales qualified lead based on the persona tag and activity recorded (downloaded certain resources, attended certain events, asked for a demo or a chat with sales, read case studies, checked the pricing page multiple times)
Change the lifecycle stage to customer when a deal is won or a purchase has been registered through the integration with your ecommerce or event registration app
Assign leads to a sales rep or team when a certain form (with a certain field) is submitted
Define lead scoring: the relative points associated with the actions taken by your leads and what the cumulative scores will mean for your organisation at different funnel stages
Remove hard bounces and unsubscribes once they are marked as such by your system.

Nurturing automations: the workflows that actively help you move your leads along the customer journey. Make sure you set clear goals for them (eg. contacts exit the workflow once a ‘talk to sales’ form is submitted) and only send emails to people who’ve given explicit consent to receive emails from you. Here are a few examples:

• Send an automatic email with the resource for which a form has been submitted and follow up with related or more in-depth content
• Send confirmation and reminder emails to webinar subscribers and follow up with a whitepaper that explores the topic in more detail
Create email series per persona or segment, providing useful and inspiring resources (blogs, whitepapers, ebooks) that address their specific goals and challenges
Based on combined activities such as multiple downloads of resources, attendance of several events, high engagement with marketing emails or multiple views of pricing and product pages, create an email series that nurtures potential sales qualified leads with content that explains how your product/service solves their problems, case studies, testimonials, content that addresses common objections and concerns etc
Send an email inquiring if you can help answer any questions when someone has abandoned the registration or purchase process
Create a series of emails for new customers (thank you for your purchase; resources on how to maximise the use of a product; inspiring content to help them in their jobs; feedback forms on the product experience or customer service).

Need support in implementing a marketing automation system or setting up your workflows? Get in touch now.

Published on 31 March 2021 by Laura Tufis.