I make no secret of my disdain for marketing automation. That might sound like an ironic statement for a tech marketer, but I believe the loss of true human interaction could drive the field off-course — and the American consumer agrees with me.
While tech and automation have synonymously created the field of marketing technology at an accelerating rate, 59% of American consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience, and 82% want more, not less, human interaction in the future, according to PwC.
In spite of the clamoring for more authenticity from the market, marketing automation continues to grow unabated (i.e., it reached $4.06 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow almost 10% in the next seven years). From my perspective, this trend could speak to how some marketers might feel they are in a position of no other alternative, but I believe there is a solution that combines the low cost of tech with human authenticity: virtual assistants.
Virtual assistants, often called VAs, can offer unique benefits for your marketing team at a fraction of the cost of a full-time marketing hire. Finding talented VAs can be challenging, as is true with any hiring decision, but a good VA will provide enormous benefits above and beyond a piece of software.
Why consider hiring a VA?
From my perspective, there are a number of reasons you might find a VA especially helpful in your marketing company. I've outlined some of these areas below, as well as a few suggestions for how you can ensure your VA is successful:
1. SEO administrative tasks: Evergreen marketing processes are prime for a VA and valuable to your business. Let's look at the example of administrative SEO tasks. Any SEO consultant will tell you that unlinked brand mentions are a gold mine and not too difficult to secure, but it does involve one thing marketers are short on: time.
Arming your VA with a basic outreach template and process documentation allows for the personalization that comes with a human behind the email while securing your business's valuable do-follow backlinks from articles that are predisposed to link to you.
2. Lead qualification: In my world of B2B software development marketing, marketing-qualified leads are the metric I live and die by. Our company, like most in our field, attracts a class of prospective clients that we'll call "early motivated entrepreneurs." These professionals have amazing ideas and want to bring those ideas to life, with the caveat that they often have no money. Even with the cheapest of developers, $2,000 doesn't go far with software.
As a marketing leader, I don't want our sales team spending valuable on-call hours with these unqualified leads. Hiring a VA with qualification messaging is a low-cost way to ensure that your sales team efficiently spends their time with vetted sales-qualified leads, thus improving both their ROI and the ROI of your marketing efforts. More importantly, by providing this human interaction via a VA, the early motivated entrepreneurs feel heard and respected with a human response. Remember, they might not have money now, but they could in the future.
3. Data scraping: Have you ever received one of those automated emails trying to sell you a list of "key decision makers in your industry"? Have you ever bought one of those lists? I have, and needless to say, they weren't helpful (think old data, wrong email addresses and incorrect titles). The motivation is correct; outbound is a fact of life for many marketers.
But I'll let you in on a secret: I believe a VA can help you find more accurate, better-quality data for a fraction of the cost of buying one list. Provide the ideal client parameters and arm your VA with verification tools, and you'll be presented with a list of verified emails prime for your outbound campaigns. Who said outbound had to be difficult?
Where to source VAs?
The VA you hire can live anywhere — the U.K., Portugal, the Philippines, etc. In my experience, even in countries where the first language isn't English, you can typically find a quality hire with the ability to speak fluent English. With strong documentation of your marketing processes, a VA from another country can still deliver strong results time and time again. An additional benefit, if you work with other locations overseas, is that your VAs might also be able to speak the language of those markets as well, which is worth considering.
I've found that freelancing websites, such as Upwork, are best for finding quality VA talent. A key point to note is that if you are making a long-term hire to augment your marketing team, build in a rigorous testing process. Given it's unlikely you will meet your VA in person, you want to be 100% sure they will be capable of delivering the marketing tasks you assign to them in a satisfactory fashion.
Ultimately, I believe a VA could be a perfect supplement to your marketing team. With tasks being a fraction less time-sensitive than sales, the time zone difference isn't a major factor (and can be mitigated by VAs working nightshifts, which is daytime for the continental U.S.). In my view, avoiding a blind adherence to technology positions your company to truly capitalize on what consumers are craving more than anything: authenticity and genuine human interaction.