We’d all love for customer acquisition to be simple. But every marketer knows that’s not going to happen. Our prospects are everywhere, they’re doing a hundred different things and coming in from all angles and as hard as we try to guide them in, for most of us there’s no way to really get them all moving in the same direction.
But here’s the thing: that’s perfectly okay. We don’t need a magic bullet. We need to know the moments of truth, the inflection points where decisions get made. Because if we can find those, we can find the most common routes customers take to get to us. And with that, we can do anything.
So here’s how you can employ your marketing automation to start finding your customers where they’d like to be going anyway, and help them along that path a little faster, a little more efficiently.
Step 1: Research Everything
It should come as no surprise to you that our recommendation here is not “uh, I don’t know, why not make it up as you go along?” That’s not what smart marketers do. When we make a decision based on our gut, that’s because our gut has all the data we can cram into it. That way our intuition is powered by the best context we can give it, and we can get into the really deep insights we need to succeed.
There are two areas of research we want to concentrate on here.
Your audience here is everyone out there who might be interested in what you offer and might be a good fit as a customer. And that, obviously, varies based on your business and offerings. If you’re selling a product off a shelf, everyone’s a good fit; if you offer a service that involves a long relationship between yourself and your buyer, you’ll need to be a bit more selective.
But either way, the nuts and bolts of what you’re doing here remain mostly the same. We want to know what your audience is looking for when they find you. That means we need to find out their main topics of interest as they relate to your offering, the questions they have that you could be answering (or answering better) in the marketplace, and what opportunities exist for you to step into. It’s also really helpful to know what their content preferences are—if your audience hates having to sit through a five-minute video, you might want to concentrate on blogs or white papers instead.
So how do we get all this stuff? Well, one simple way is to just ask. You can interview your users, you can talk to people at conferences and tradeshows. You can interview the people in your organization who regularly interact with customers to see what they’re hearing, the questions they get asked the most. You can also look in industry forums or other places customers gather to see what they’re saying and asking for there.
Additionally, you should dig into the data. Look at what’s popular on search, look at what terms are being used most often on social media. Analyze clickstream data. Look into your own content and your competitors’ content, and see what’s working and what isn’t.
The surface-level data you garner from your audience research gives you a great glimpse into what your users are doing, but there’s an even deeper level you can delve into. Look at your website’s user tracking data. What’s generating the most traffic, and what’s dead on the vine? What’s getting the most engagement, and what are people totally ignoring? Look for opportunities to drive conversions, and also patterns in how your users are moving through the site. Those patterns show you the current user journey, and can reveal gaps and sticky spots you should avoid as well as the natural transitions you could emphasize to move prospects through the funnel faster.
There’s all kinds of places this data can come from. Your own analytics and web forms provide the ability to track users by name once they’ve provided it, and your CRM and sales databases can help as well. UX tools and user testing can show you where things run smoothly and where issues pop up. Keyword tracking shows what people are looking for and how they’re finding you.
Step 2: Blueprint and Document
Now that you have some data in your back pocket, it’s time to start planning out what your next move’s going to be. What are the first steps you need to take to advance your marketing automation, and what comes next? What’s urgent and what can wait? Your research allows you to create clarity for every action you’re going to take.
Write everything down, and map it all out. Make sure you and everyone involved in your team know where every marketing activity is going to happen, from promotion all the way to conversion.
Much like the research process, the more you know, the better. You need to document everything. That again: document EVERYTHING. You can’t miss a step, or else you will lack the visibility and clarity to know exactly what’s working and should be pushed harder, and what’s failing and needs to be fixed or axed.
On the content side, that includes:
- Promotional ads and emails
- Social posts
- Landing pages
- Supporting content (like videos and downloadables)
- Offers and deals
- Remarketing ads
- Thank you emails
- Re-engagement emails
- Offline activities
And you need to document every detail, including:
- The purpose of each touchpoint
- Any relevant audience information
- Targeting information
- Triggering events
- Calls to action
- The specifics around offers
- Triggered activities (including internal sales and marketing activities)
And if there’s anything else you’re doing that might touch a campaign...well, when in doubt, document it. It’s better to have information you don’t end up using than it is to lack context that you desperately need.
Step 3: Set Up and Implement
Now it’s time to get the campaign ready to roll out. We know where all the pieces are going to live, so let's build them out.
The things you’re doing as a business and a marketing team—things like persona development, product development, building out web content and generating traffic, advertising, and UX and conversion rate optimization—are all going to be informed by the work you’ve done thus far. And each of those pieces is going to be useful to your marketing automation in one way or another.
For example, let’s talk about your web content. When you’re creating it, you’re pulling from all kinds of sources, like your user and department interviews, search data and keyword tracking, competitive and content research, and social profiles. And once you have that content, it can serve within your buyer journey, interest-specific workflows, your lead scoring process, and more. Every part of your system can show you valuable insight into how people are interacting with you, and guide you toward why they’re acting the way they’re acting.
Once everything’s set up, throw the switch. Ready, set...
Step 4: Run, Review, React, Report
...Go. But if you’ve learned one thing so far, it’s probably that I’m not going to say here that you just set it and forget it. There’s more to running a campaign than just letting it go. Of course you do that, but while it’s running you have to be an active participant in the process still. You need to review the results as they come in, and look for places where things are working great and places where things aren’t going so well. You have to react to those results—if something’s performing better than you expected, there you have an opportunity to tweak things elsewhere to reflect what’s working, and maybe even to optimize in that high-performing area to make it even better. And if something isn’t doing as well as you’d hoped, fix it, or even simply kill it and use those resources elsewhere where they might be of more help. Then, finally, you have to compile your final results and report on them to start building data and the case for your next campaign.
If you’re not constantly adjusting and learning as you go, you simply aren’t going to be as successful, and this is all just a big waste of time. The work doesn’t end when you say “go.” It’s only just beginning.
So, why do all this work?
Putting all of this together makes it significantly more likely that you’ll have a successful campaign. You’ll know the purpose of every touchpoint and activity, meaning it all fits together in an intentional way rather than being a bunch of tactics thrown together based on gut feelings and intuition. You’ll know what to monitor and where every piece of the campaign lives, so you can see whether you’re succeeding as well as which parts need some help. And when it’s all said and done, you’ll have the data to determine what’s next—and be certain it’ll work.
Can marketing automation succeed without all this? Sure. But that’s luck, not smart marketing. It’s not repeatable, and it’s way harder to learn from your successes and mistakes when you can’t tell which is which. Do the necessary work at each step of the process—don’t cut corners. I promise, it’ll be worth it.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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