Content is a powerful tool, especially when paired with marketing automation (MA). There are hundreds of MA platforms, and the ten most popular boast over 83,000 clients.
The MA experts at SharpSpring shared that they see many businesses don’t use the tool to its fullest potential. They either don’t know how to use the functions, or how to properly integrate it with content marketing practices.
At Brandpoint, we help businesses create content that fuels their MA practices. In partnership with SharpSpring, Brandpoint president Scott Severson recently presented a webinar on how to avoid the most common MA pitfalls to ensure a more effective MA strategy.
[Scott Severson, Brandpoint President] We’re here today to talk about the DNA of effective marketing. We believe that the marriage of content and marketing automation is at that core of the DNA of effective marketing today. We know we’re not the only ones that think like this because marketing automation is exploding right now. As of this presentation, there are over 100,000 companies using marketing automation software.
Before we dig into the presentation, I want to share an experiment that caught our attention last fall. Leadpages is a software as a service company based right here in Minneapolis and they specialize in creating landing page and web app templates for lead generation. They recently conducted what I thought was a really innovative sales and marketing experiment.
Clay Collins, one of Lead Pages’ co-founders, made a bet that a content team of four people could out perform an 80 person sales team at a fraction of the cost. Sounds pretty attractive, right? So to do this, they employed two core tactics.
One, they tracked and invested in content much like you would a sales team. Performance was shared publicly on a sales board, and they invested more resources in their top performing content types and topics.
Two, they designed every piece of content to capture an email, and when I say every piece of content, I really mean every piece of content! They even made their blog available for download by entering an email. So they got really good and really disciplined about lead capture.
The results that they saw were pretty powerful. They saw quick payback on their investment and their cost per acquisition was five percent of a typical enterprise software as a service company. If that doesn’t make a case for content and marketing automation, I don’t know what does.
Now, I’m not advocating getting rid of your salespeople or anything like that. To me, the message in this was one of efficiency. It’s about how we can make our marketing more efficient and how can we help our sales people be more efficient through content. I think this case study makes a pretty strong argument for that.
The Lead Pages example I think really underscores a seismic shift that is happening in sales and marketing today. With quality content and marketing automation in your tool kit, marketing is playing a much bigger role in the sales process than it ever has before.
Today, marketing is handing your sales team a much more qualified sales-ready lead that has already interacted with your brand multiple times. This is why marketing automation is such a powerful tool. It allows us to better manage and track each customer’s interaction and that helps our sales people jump into the funnel in a much more meaningful place. They’d much rather interact with a client who is further down the funnel.
With all its promise, there are some misconceptions about what marketing automation is. I know this audience really gets this concept but when I ask companies today whether or not they’re using marketing automation, I still hear them say, oh yeah we use MailChimp or Constant Contact or some other email marketing software, and they call it marketing automation.
Now while automated emails obviously play an important role, marketing automation is different in several key ways than just being an email platform. For us, the most appealing aspects of marketing automation are that we can weigh different interactions and content types more heavily than others, and automatically give our prospects a grade or score based on their actions. That was really effective for us. We can gather valuable sales intelligence based on what content a prospect is engaging with. We can automate a content journey by providing prospects with supporting content based on their engagement, and we’re able to create our own custom landing pages and lead capture forms to help us much more effectively get prospects into our funnel, and the list goes on. You maybe have different reasons you like it, but these are a lot of the core ones that work for Brandpoint and that we hear from our customers.
Hopefully we’ve established that marketing automation is pretty awesome. There are two core pitfalls that we find are just all too common for thousands of organizations. If you only focus on the promise of marketing automation without putting the right team in place or investing in the required content, your program is not going to generate the results that you want. I know we have made that mistake early on, and I think we tend to get enamored with all the magical things that the software can do without looking at all of the structure and content that is required to power all of it. Let’s take a look at some different ways that you can avoid these common pitfalls.
1. Hire a pro
Unless you have a staff member on your team that has deep experience in configuring your specific marketing automation software and they understand your CRM at a deep level, self implementation is usually a recipe for disaster.
While at Brandpoint we know content marketing better than most, we are certainly not experts in software implementation, so we needed help. I know that SharpSpring has a really robust suite of tools and resources to guide you through the process. They also have over 200 approved agency partners that can provide hands on help when it comes to configuration and implementation.
At Brandpoint, we began to see much better results with our own marketing automation much more quickly when we worked with an implementation partner to get our program in place.
2. Build your team
Marketing automation, to quote Hillary Clinton, takes a village of people, so you have to build a capable team. What roles do you need in your organization to make your marketing automation work? Even for small to mid-size businesses, effective marketing automation really does take a team of people to both establish and run on an ongoing basis. From our perspective, we’ve boiled down the ideal marketing automation team into five core roles:
CRM software admin
This person is heavily involved in configuring the way your CRM and your marketing automation platform communicate. We found that this is really a key role. They’re also going to train your team on how to use these tools effectively, and assist with ongoing CRM maintenance and hygiene as your business needs change.
Marketing automation specialist
At first this may be a shared role between your implementation partner and your internal specialist who you put in place, who will help optimize your daily use of the software. After your initial configuration process concludes, the marketing automation specialist who is internal, will become your resource and your subject matter expert on using the software on a day-to-day basis.
One of the most important responsibilities that your sales leader has is to help ensure database quality. This is a huge issue because if we’re not using good list hygiene practices, you’re not going to be as effective as you could be. They’re also going to establish lead scoring criteria and thresholds that establish when a lead has been nurtured enough to be handed off to a salesperson. That answer is likely different for every organization depending on what your sales cycle looks like.
They’re also going to train your sellers on how to use the data from the software to better inform their sales strategies and they’re going to provide constant feedback to your marketing automation specialist to help that person further optimize both your strategy and the content that you’re using to power it.
The marketing leader is focused on establishing success metrics. Marketing automation is all about generating measurable results. Typically your marketing leader is going to establish what those benchmarks are. This person is also going to translate your marketing goals into automation strategies, and he or she will generally be the person who is in charge of creating buyer journeys that will help guide the strategy. Typically your marketing automation specialist is going to report to this position.
Finally, we need content to power all this. As we look at marketing automation, it requires a variety of content assets to be used at different stages along that buyers journey. You can either hire internal resources to help you produce all of this content that you’re going to need or you can hire a content agency (like Brandpoint, as an example) that specializes in developing content for marketing automation programs. To give you an idea of how this works for our own marketing at Brandpoint, we have a content team that works closely with our marketing automation specialist to create blogs, gated content and automated emails that support all of our campaigns.
Those are the five roles that every marketing automation program needs. Depending on the size of your organization and the complexity of your needs, the same person may be able to own one or more of these roles. They may be able to wear a couple of hats, but typically all of these roles need to be covered by somebody.
3. Understand your audience
After you’ve built your team, you have to identify who that audience is and map out exactly how do they go from being a prospect to a customer. As marketers we can only succeed when we deliver messages that are relevant to our audience. We can’t do that unless we know exactly who we’re talking to.
On the left hand column, this is where most people start. This represents one message to your entire audience. It might be relevant for some of the audience, but it’s probably not going to resonate with everybody in your database.
In the right hand column is what a well-defined audience looks like. It represents, in this case, five unique segments of your audience receiving five unique marketing messages. It may be daunting, if you’re not doing a ton of segmentation today, to go from just one big audience and one message, to getting hyper focused.
Start by breaking them into two segments, and then once you’ve got them into two, can you can you narrow it down and break them into into three segments? The goal is to be as segmented and as hyper focused as you possibly can. Don’t feel like you have to do that overnight—start by cutting in half if you can. Getting to that next level of message relevancy is absolutely worth it, but it’s not an easy overnight task, usually.
Ideally, this is what we’re working for—a true one-to-one communication between your brand and your customers. What I think makes marketing automation such a powerful tool is that it helps us take the efficiency of one-to-many communication—where we’re delivering one message to many people—and it combines that efficiency with the effectiveness of a one-to-one dialogue much like our salespeople have with our customers. In order to work your way down to that extremely sophisticated level of relevance and personalization, you have to know exactly who we’re talking to. That’s where buyer personas come in.
On the path to creating a more relevant message, clearly defining your personas are going to do the heavy lifting for you. Some details that we like to include for each of our buyer personas include their geo, demographics, psychographics, company size, details about what their role entails, key pain points and where there are problems, and finally what types of content are going to be useful to them. These important buyer personas help our writers understand both who they are writing for and how to best provide value to that audience. When we’re engaging with a client to develop content, persona development is always our starting point. We’ve developed several content assets that can help walk our clients through what that process works like.
Content heat map
I really love this image. It’s a simplification of visualizing how your content is going to resonate differently with different personas. As an example, people that are in your C suite persona: A message around saving money or creating immediate measurable value is probably going to resonate better with them. But if we look at your manager persona, as an example, they’re dealing with issues on a day-to-day basis. They want their pain points solved. They have an issue that they’re living with that a solution to that problem is going to resonate more with them than saving money would.
The point here is that for each of your personas, you’re likely going to have a unique set of messaging that is tailored to the psychographics and all of the other aspects of the persona. The key is, this is an evolutionary process. Using something like this is a great starting point to map out what that can look like and then test against it. It’s an evolutionary process to really hone in on what core messages are really going to best resonate with each of your personas.
Mapping the buyers journey
Once we understand those client personas, we can start to map out what that buyers journey looks like and what content assets are necessary for each step along the way. So as the customer journey progresses, we can leverage dynamic content based on the prospects behavior as they move down the funnel. I’ll touch on what content types are generally best for each stage in a second, but as you can see from this visual, content really does support each stage of the funnel from awareness to decision, and ultimately results in a much more qualified sales lead. In the context of marketing automation, we do believe that your content can become one of your most effective sales tools.
One of the ways that we’ve seen this in action is greater visibility and alignment between our marketing and our sales teams. Our sales people are able to quickly identify what messages are resonating with our prospects, and provide better feedback to the marketing team as they continue to optimize and tweak our messaging. It also helps us to identify and invest in the types of content that are more impactful on the journey.
With this added visibility that marketing automation provides, we’re able to see exactly the types of content that our prospects are engaging with so we can give our sales people a more valuable place to start the conversation.
As Spiderman’s uncle said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” We don’t want to be creepy about this because people don’t like to feel like they’re stalked online. If somebody visits a page on your website, we don’t want a salesperson to immediately call them and say, “we noticed you were just visiting this page.” That generally doesn’t work. You need to plan for your content development.
4. Plan for content development
Great content doesn’t just happen and you do need to have a plan for it. Marketing automation is about delivering the right content to the right people. You need a content strategy to power what that looks like.
If this audience falls in with statistics, according to the Content Marketing Institute, 37% of the B2B marketers on this call, and 40% of the B2C marketers on this call, will have a documented content marketing plan. If you’re in the percentage that doesn’t have a plan, this potentially leaves you investing time and money into marketing automation software without a good game plan for how you’re going to create the content required to power all of this.
Recent data from the Aberdeen Group confirms that content is playing a larger role in the sales process. With each customer touch point, there’s a different piece of content that nurtures that prospect along their journey and without a plan for doing that, it can easily spiral out of control.
Types of content for each stage of the funnel
For us, blogs do a lot of heavy lifting. They live at the top of the funnel. We use them both for a traffic generation tool, to answer high level questions, to establish trust and leadership, and then as we progress down the funnel, we make use of gated content for lead capture and for providing more valuable content to your audience.
Then downstream from that, we get into automated drips with supporting content. This is where the marketing automation software shines because the level of dynamic interaction would be impossible without good software in terms of making those decision-based triggers to send them different emails based on what they’re responding to.
As the prospect progresses down, we may get into a brand filter offer where we’ve engaged with them enough that we have a good idea of what they’re interested in and what their pain points are, so we may want to start introducing product solutions to them.
As we get to the bottom of the funnel, we may want to start looking at making an offer to them. This is where their lead score is usually going to progress to the point where it makes sense for a sales person to get involved. I think it’s really important to understand that even though I’ve presented this in a linear fashion here, it’s extremely dynamic. As you think about the different combinations of customer engagements and the content required to support it, you can see where it can quickly require a ton of content.
BrandpointHUB trial campaign
To see this in action, I’ll share a little bit about the simplest campaign that we’re running right now. It’s a campaign for our content marketing software BrandpointHUB. At any time you can go to our website and sign up for a free trial of our software.
During that trial period, we send out seven automated emails to nurture that trial towards converting and buying our software. The first email fires when you sign up and the last email goes out a day before the trial expires. Sounds pretty simple—it’s just seven emails.
There’s not a lot of work you need to do for that, but five of those seven emails contain at least one other piece of content. So that’s eight pieces of content within the emails themselves. We have two downloadable templates that we offer our sign ups, we promote three different e-books, we have a case study, we share some blog content and a product overview page. In total, that becomes 15 pieces of content for this one really short and simple campaign.
It doesn’t account for the testing and optimization process that we went through to land on what our current control is of these 15 pieces of content. There’s a lot of other emails and and associated content that led up to this point for this current control. Now that we have a control in place, we’re continually testing against it with new content. If you extrapolate that over multiple campaigns over multiple months, it becomes pretty clear how content development plays a huge part in whether or not your process is going to work for you.
I’ve shared a lot of information. Here’s something that I hope can put it into perspective. Gartner predicted that by 2020, in three short years, customers are going to manage 85 percent of their relationship with a company without ever talking to a human. That’s an amazing statistic to me. Let this serve as a call to arms. I believe the companies that are going to thrive in this content driven sales process that we are evolving to, are the ones that can incorporate the power of content with the intelligence of marketing automation into their strategy. I don’t know how you’re going to win if you’re not doing that in your organization.
To recap, marketing automation can be an incredibly powerful tool. We’ve found that to make your program work, you need a skilled team of people to implement it and maintain it and you need a ton of great content to power it. While that may seem like a big investment, especially if you’ve already invested in software, we truly believe that the right team and a high volume of quality content is what’s going to allow you to take full advantage of what that platform can do for your sales and for your business. Before we move into questions, I have a special offer as a thank you to all of you for attending this webinar and listening to me for 40 minutes. Between now and the end of May, all SharpSpring users that mention this webinar will receive a ten percent discount off their purchase of a custom content package from Brandpoint. Simply send us an email at [email protected] or submit a request online by visiting our website brandpoint.com mentions SharpSpring webinar and we’ll get you started. I want to thank you all so much for your time today. I hope you all got one nugget that can help make your marketing program more effective this year. Now we’d like to open it up to your questions.
If we only have the resources to create one content type out of everything that you mentioned—e-books, case studies, blogs—where would you recommend that someone focuses their efforts initially?
[Scott Severson] That’s a tough question without knowing what you have for demand generation in place, so I’ll make the assumption that you have a website that is well optimized and you’re driving traffic to that website. With that assumption, my suggestion would be to invest in some good gated content. One great piece of gated content that you can promote both on your website and on social would be my starting point to get people into your funnel. If you don’t have the traffic equation solved, the easiest place to start would be to start blogging on a regular basis and start getting that message out there, start building some traffic to your website. Blogs serve as great search fodder for your organic traffic and they’re the fuel that powers your social channels to share and nurture with your audience, socially.
[Bryan Tobin] In regards to the gated content example that you talked about, that works so well with SharpSpring because if we get people either clicking on emails and getting content through that method of a gated nature or filling out forms to get access to that content, we then have tracking that’s been established—we’ll know who that lead is, we’ll see all of their activity, and all of that can go to increment lead scoring, set them into other automation campaigns that we’ll set up. If we’re already driving traffic to the site, I have the same recommendation—go with gated content. If you’re looking to increase your traffic, I think blogs are the recommendation.
I have a website, I’m blogging, I have my social sites that I have content being distributed on. Now, I’m trying to organize that into a content strategy, where do I start and what do you recommend as a best practice?
[Scott Severson] We always recommend to our clients to begin with personas. If you don’t understand who your personas are, it’s going to be tough to develop a cogent strategy on how to communicate to them. When we’re doing a content strategy for clients, we look at a lot of different things. We look at who are their competitors, where are their search opportunities, etc. There’s a ton of things that we look at, but as it relates to where you start and to hone in on an effective strategy, it has to start with personas.
[Bryan Tobin] I give the same recommendation. It’s what we found to be the good starting point when working with other companies. If you don’t know who your audience is, how they find your brand and what unique about your service product offering is compelling to them, then no matter what marketing content we make, we’re not making it with any strategic goal in mind, so I 100 percent agree—persona identification. Even if it’s just splitting those into two groups initially will help because, for example, group A might have a USP of one and group B might have a USP of two and by sending that unique message to those different groups, it helps drive conversions, drive clicks, all that fun stuff that we talked about.
Should we be putting lead captures in front of all content, or what would be a good recommendation of a percentage distribution of what’s gated and what’s not gated?
[Scott Severson] It depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to increase site traffic, maybe you have a lower percentage of gated content just to get great content out there, share it and hope that people will find their way into our funnel. We’re of the mind set that if we have invested in creating a great piece of content, then we want to have some exchange for providing that content to our customers so we can continue that marketing conversation with them. In terms of a set percentage, I think it’s going to depend on the individual businesses and what their goals of their program are. I would err on gating in-depth content that you spend a lot of time and money producing to get people into the funnel so you can take advantage of the power of the software that you have to continue that marketing conversation.
[Bryan Tobin] I will say that with one of the use cases I’ve seen with using marketing technology is a limit on what we call ‘free content’ that you give to an audience. Using a simple form, and when they logged in, they’re tracked and we’ll have some sort of counter field that increments every time they look at some certain piece of content. They get five unique pieces of content to look at, and once they hit that five, we then use dynamic content to limit asset six. We give them the ability to get their feet wet with our brand and understand, and then we limit what they can see at a certain point by using the technology platform that’s powering the the intelligence of the content strategy.
[Scott Severson] Right, much like a newspaper model where you get ten articles free per month. So at Brandpoint, our blogs are open to the public and then we typically gate our white papers and e-books and the much more in-depth content pieces that we’ve produced.
[Bryan Tobin] And, from what you said, the top of the funnel content is more easily accessible, answering standard questions, getting an idea of the brand identity. But then as they go further through the funnel, that’s when we start gating the content because it starts becoming more real that these might be an actual lead who will want to use our services.
Scott, thank you so much, it was a fantastic presentation.
[Scott Severson] Thank you everybody for spending time with us and I hope this jogs some ideas on how you can make your marketing program better.