If marketing automation isn’t part of your engagement strategy, you’re missing out on one of the most effective ways to connect with prospects. But you’re also not alone. In the US, only 10 percent of companies with revenues of less than $500 million use email marketing, and less than half of those use advanced features in their platform. In the UK, even fewer companies are using marketing automation tools like Marketo, Eloqua, Pardot and HubSpot—which means there is a huge, untapped opportunity for you to separate your brand from your competitors.
Understand Why A Prospect Gave You Their Email Address
Let’s assume that you have your lead capture process in place. Somewhere on your site you have a page that includes a piece of content so useful and valuable you gated it behind a lead capture form. Your site visitors have provided you with an email address in exchange for access to that content, which you’ll use to re-engage them later.
By creating a marketing automation workflow that continually drips content with a similar focus directly into your prospect’s inbox, you can repeatedly bring them back to the site and move them through your sales funnel.
Defining a workflow—and then using it to trigger follow-ups based on user behaviour—can provide your prospects with interactions that feel more personalized, and are more likely to drive engagement with your brand.
Billy McNair, director of eCRM technology with US-based marketing agency BKV, told us, “Every email address in your list has a honeymoon period. It’s tempting to bombard them with every message you have while they’re being receptive, but it’s far more important to give them the journey they were expecting when they subscribed, otherwise you’ll lose them.”
And that’s a good warning. If your prospect downloaded your ebook on sales, you should deliver content that focuses on sales, but includes links to other content. You can use clicks on these related (or even unrelated) topics to build a profile of what your prospect wants to read. We’ll return to this kind of personalisation in a moment.
Nurturing and Personalisation
Not every email in your CRM or marketing automation platform is going to convert. Just think of all the times you’ve entered an email address in a lead capture form, just because you were interested in the content it unlocked. As a writer and researcher, I do it all the time for products and services I’m never going to buy (sorry, marketers).
The goal is to nurture your audience from being a simple lead on a lead capture form, through being a marketing qualified lead (MQL), to sales qualified lead (SQL), to opportunity and finally customer. Not all leads take the same path to conversion, and that can lead to confusion in what content you should provide. Understanding the needs of the prospect as they learn more about the kinds of solutions offered for their specific challenges increases the chances of keeping them in your funnel. Delivering the right content will show that you understand those challenges. We’ll talk about how lead scoring works in another blog, but the gist of it is that you have criteria that must be met before a prospect becomes a lead, and then becomes an opportunity. Lead scoring is whether the customer is behaving in a way that meets these criteria, and you use it to determine which marketing channels you use, and which messages they receive.
Personalisation of the buyer journey removes friction points along the way. Each click should answer a question and provide links to more information that will answer their next question. And that page should provide links that answer the next question, and so on until you’ve nurtured your prospect from knowing that he has a problem to solve, to knowing your brand solves it better than any other.
Customers are using the internet and subscription emails from service providers to investigate their options more frequently, and in greater depth, than ever before. As an organization that has a vested interest in presenting the information a certain way, you may have relied on sales professionals in the past. That is increasingly becoming a path more consumers are choosing not to take, especially at the top of the funnel.
A recent report from Accenture revealed that compared to 10 years ago:
- 70% of consumers believe they make much more informed purchasing decisions
- 66% of consumers consider more brands in their decision-making process
- 50% of consumers rely on word of mouth about other people’s experiences
Matt Chollet, president of Agency Squared, concurs with Accenture’s analysis. “Most of our prospects know what they want already, or at least think they do,” he said. “By the time they hit our website or talk to a new business rep.”
Whatever information you want to share with them, chances are they’ve already discovered that information for themselves. Finding content that leads them to the next thing they need or want to understand in their process relies on personalisation, which relies on you knowing your customer as a person.
There’s a person behind every email address. A real, living human being who almost ran out of petrol on the way to work this morning, or who took their kids to their first fair over the weekend, or just celebrated a birthday, or got some terrible news, or has holiday plans for next summer. Your audience is human, and that affects how they feel about your brand in any given moment. Consider your prospect’s pesky human emotions are like data points on a chart as they engage with your brand. The more of them you’re aware of, the more accurate your impression of what’s going on with them will be.
This chart has more than 20 data points. The dotted line is the linear trend line. Even though the data line has many highs and lows, the trend line is a gentle upward slope. If these data points described how the prospect feels about your brand, you’d understand they were slowly warming up.
Now let’s add a red trend line, and just use the two data points—at the very beginning and end.
It’s a more significant increase, and doesn’t show the various ups and downs. It doesn’t give you the real story of the person behind the email address, and even suggests that they started their journey feeling more positively about your brand, and by the end they were much warmer. With fewer data points you miss when your prospects feel like your brand isn’t connecting with them.
Building a profile of the people behind every email address—something HubSpot calls progressive profiling—can help you deliver content that is hyper-relevant, timely and valuable to your prospects.
“The holy grail is to get that one-to-one customer experience. If you can gather customer intelligence and tie that into your messaging, you’ll be closer to achieving that,” said McNair.
Emails you send to your prospects early in your relationship—when the prospect is still curious about what you offer and receptive to your marketing—are the most critical. These emails boast some of the highest click-through and engagement rates, and make this the best opportunity you have to create trust and loyalty.
Marketing Automation and Behavioural Triggers
Here’s where we note that there are different kinds of email marketing:
Drip campaigns are a simple set of emails which are triggered once, at the beginning. Following that initial trigger, emails are sent based on a schedule determined by the campaign, which keeps going until there are no more emails left in the series. Think of a cadence aimed at new users of a product after they register it. The brand sends a tip of the week email about getting the most out of the product, regardless of how the customer is using it or their level of expertise.
“Drip campaigns are brilliant for keeping your brand front of mind and relevant to those prospects that haven’t been nurtured to the point of a Sales Qualified Lead yet. Keeping quality content in front of those prospects allows you to bring value to a prospect, and not put you in the uncomfortable position of asking for anything in return.” – Matt Chollet
Behaviour-triggered email cadences are conditional, and should be designed like a flow chart. They require a little understanding of Boolean algebra. Sorry. But if you read choose-your-own adventure books as a kid, you’re probably already familiar with it, even if you didn’t know what it’s called.
If you’re split-testing emails then you’re already using Boolean algebra, else you’re doing something different. This is how you make your triggers work. IF the prospect takes one action THEN send an email, ELSE do some other thing.
Dr. Dave Chaffey of SmartInsights in Leeds created this flow chart for how to summarise the waves in a cadence. As you can see, those recipients who open the email and subscribe go into a loyalty email campaign, while those that open the email but don’t subscribe, or abandon the subscription page, receive an additional incentive in a different email. Unsubscribers receive no further communications, but recipients who didn’t open the email are presented to other channels like telesales or direct response marketing.
By using triggers you can create whole campaigns and then “set and forget” them. As long as you make sure the materials and emails are up to date periodically, it’s a campaign that can run against that specific interaction until your party dies from dysentery or your wagon tips over while floating down river.
“Behaviour triggers are our team’s top converters, as we use actionable data based on real-time behaviour to determine when we make the leap from delivering quality content to asking our prospect for a meeting. Timing is everything here, but when you get the timing right, those meetings start rolling in.” – Matt Chollet
Don’t Forget Your Existing Customers
Take any mobile phone provider. They run acquisition campaigns almost all the time, offering a new phone and monthly service for the bargain price of £49 per month. But what happens if you’re already a customer? It usually turns out that those prices are for new customers only. So what if you’ve been loyal a customer for years and your bill has done nothing but point itself skywards while your mobile has send itself tumbling to the floor one too many times—those prices are for new customers.
Why would you stay with a company that treats you like that?
Truth is, a lot of organizations pursue prospects by showering them with amazing offers and valuable information. Until they become customers, that is—and then something gets dropped in the handover between sales, marketing and account management.
You’ve probably read that it’s both cheaper and easier to retain existing customers than go out and find new ones, but that doesn’t stop businesses from falling back on the comfort of a strong acquisitions program.
“Business reviews invariably focus on acquisition of new customers, because the reality is that it takes a lot to retain existing customers,” McNair said. “Too many organizations fail to show they value their customer relationships and build on them.”
So much time and care is put into campaigns to acquire the customer, that it’s jarring when suddenly the communication stops. And the customer always notices.
At worst, this is a recipe for losing customers that puts your organization in a place where it has to focus on acquisitions, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. At best, you just let your customer know that your interest in them only went as far as your ability to sell them stuff.
If you just want to sell them stuff that’s fine, but you’re not going to be the only brand they talk to when it’s time to renew.