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Marketing automation: It's not about the software

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In Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's autobiography “It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life” (Berkley Trade, 2001), he chronicled his personal struggles in battling testicular cancer. To borrow his metaphor, companies implementing marketing automation solutions to aid their lead-generation efforts might also say, “It's not about the software.” Companies of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 100s, have been caught in the trap of making significant investments in marketing automation suites but have struggled to produce ROI because they stopped short of the full organizational commitment required to succeed. People and process, not just technology, are the key ingredients to an effective Sales 2.0 lead-generation-and-nurture strategy. If you are considering implementing marketing automation to support a Sales 2.0 lead-generation program, or if you are trying to leverage the investment you've already made, here are five key steps to organizing your people and processes to leverage the benefits of your technology: 1) Realign sales and marketing resources. From a marketing standpoint, new skills must be acquired, such as content creation; video production; landing page and microsite creation; and program management. Many traditional ways of selling, such as direct mail and cold calling, need to be dialed down or even eliminated. Customers are educating themselves via the Web; so, by the time your sales rep actually speaks with them, they believe they understand the products you and your competition are selling. They are looking for a sales pro who can add value or solve their business problem rather than someone who simply communicates product features. Many companies now hire fewer sales reps but many more senior, consultative sales professionals. This ensures putting your best foot forward once the “live” sales cycle begins. 2) Commit to content creation. Specific, relevant, highly targeted content is the most trusted form of advertising. Marketers often describe a Sales 2.0 engine as a content hog, one that demands involvement by a company's top subject experts in creating and fulfilling meaningful editorial calendars on an ongoing basis. Most companies underestimate the commitment that takes; and, as a result, their “monthly” campaigns may be sent out only a few times a year, dampening the impact of marketing automation. 3) Boldly differentiate your offering. When asked about their key differentiators, most companies sound almost identical to their competitors. You must boldly—and specifically—point out the reasons your company is the winner, and support those claims with interesting, relevant stories and case studies. Slice your database thinly, and speak specifically to the different buying personas in your target market. They each have different pain points and reasons for buying from you, so make sure to address them specifically. Since a prospect's first impression comes from a digital connection rather than a warm handshake, your company's digital sales call may determine whether you make it to the buyer's short list of vendors. 4) Integrate your sales team. Since the vast majority of sales cold calls go to voicemail and are never returned, sales needs marketing like never before. A prospect's digital behavior can now be easily captured by marketing automation software, and leads can be accurately scored for fit and interest. Sales teams must enthusiastically leverage this information and follow up in a manner that advances the conversation begun by the digital marketing programs. They cannot wait for a prospect to fill out a “contact me” form. The fish do not simply jump into the boat. A lead-nurturing staff may be needed to maintain engagement with prospects who are not immediate buyers. Companies that neglect these medium-to-longer-term prospects will lose sales. 5) Commit to list-building. The prospect list is a living (or dying) thing that erodes daily unless actively maintained. Contact database aggregation, scrubbing and maintenance must be a daily priority. Be sure to specifically articulate your ideal prospect profile and build a strong list of targets. Then slice it thinly, according to buying personas and vertical markets, so that you can deliver a specific message to targeted buyers that hits them squarely between the eyes. Marketing automation is a modern miracle that has completely upended the way marketing and sales conduct business. It is the new normal now, and a mandate for remaining competitive. Those who approach it realistically and execute it relentlessly will be prepared to compete in this new environment. Paul Rafferty is founding partner and CEO of b-to-b sales acceleration company Sales Engine International (www.salesengineintl.com). He can be reached at prafferty@salesengineintl.com.
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