While marketing automation is one of the best ways to reach your leads without breaking your back with effort, the success actually comes from what you do long before your marketing activities are automated.  Defining your marketing and lead processes first, understanding your buyer and her place in the buying cycle, and ensuring a solid handoff to sales requires time and planning to get it right.  Once all that is in place, you can then bring in marketing automation to automate the processes.

Start with What You Know (or Think) About Your Buyer

The phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” applies to sales and marketing. Without deeply knowing your buyer, who she is, what she wants, and where she is in the buying process, you can’t hope to hit the mark in what you offer.

Before you jump into sales and marketing tactics, it’s imperative that you record what you know (or believe) about your buyers’ motivations, concerns, and expectations. Where can you find out this information? You can talk to your sales team, since they have the most interaction with prospects, but also talk to your customer service team and management. Information like the following can be incredibly helpful:

  • Common objections buyers must overcome
  • Problems buyers are trying to solve
  • Barriers to decision making
  • Common traits

You can also glean insight into who your best and worst customers are, which will come in handy as well.

In addition to talking with your sales team, you must validate what you believe by interviewing prospects and customers. Ask them:

  • How they measure success
  • What led them to look for your product or service
  • What, if anything, kept them from making a decision
  • What concerns they had
  • Why they chose you over the competition

Use This Information to Build Buyer Personas

Armed with this amazing data, it’s time to create buyer personas that help you understand different types of buyers. Segment your buyers and include your ‘Ideal’ and ‘Worst’ customer in the list. Give each persona a personality (Marketing Mary, Director Don, etc.); the more details you provide, the easier it will be to label a given buyer as one specific persona.

Identify Criteria for Both Qualified and Unqualified Leads

Often sales and marketing staff put so much attention on what makes a qualified lead that they invest zero effort into defining what makes one unqualified, yet this is also important. It’s also critical to know exactly how sales and marketing define a qualified lead. Knowing, for example, that someone does not have the budget to buy your product should immediately disqualify them from moving down the sales funnel. On the other hand, someone who has downloaded your whitepaper or visited your website multiple times is someone you should put more effort into nurturing as you move toward marketing automation.

This is a critical step that is often overlooked. Marketing will define a lead and send what they think are valid leads to the sales team. The sales team, however, doesn’t consider those leads to be qualified. If you’ve heard “all marketing sends us is junk,” this is why. It’s imperative that the sales and marketing teams sit down together to define and agree upon what a qualified lead looks like.

Look at Your Marketing Supplies

You already have marketing collateral: your website, blog, email marketing, graphics, social media profiles, et cetera, so you won’t start from scratch once you start automating. You might continue what you’ve already been doing on some channels, or you might shift gears slightly to better target those ideal customers.

Now, among what you’re doing already, what can be a part of your marketing automation? Here are some examples:

  • Auto shares of your blog content on social media
  • Email campaigns
  • Retargeting ads
  • Social updates

As you set up automated processes, make sure to document them so you don’t forget what you’re doing, and so you can measure them. Tying in your analytics with campaigns will let you know which of your automated campaigns are reaping the most benefits from all the groundwork you laid beforehand.

Marketing automation is wonderful. The work you do before you automate is key to setting the course for sales success.

Brenda S. Stoltz
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Lindsey Sherman