For marketers and agency leaders who want to stay ahead of the competition, the evolution of marketing automation platforms will present opportunities that were unimaginable just a few years ago. But diving into it without a plan isn’t smart — it’ll lead to more headaches than marketing miracles. Instead, start with a strategy.
Automation platforms are the tool, not the strategy
Lead generation is the top priority for most CMOs that I talk to, so it’s not surprising that marketing automation software has gained such traction within the industry. It has the potential to make lead generation easier and more efficient than ever. But the success of any lead generation tactic has always depended upon the effectiveness of the strategy behind it.
That’s still the case.
In fact, strategy may even be more important now that a sizable part of the marketing process can be automated. Yet many of the clients I work with tend to focus (sometimes obsessively) on specific tools or features they’re missing rather than on how their marketing automation platforms fit within their marketing strategies. I’ve had an agency client try out three different platforms before deciding that each was insufficient when the reality is that any of them would have been fine.
Rather than looking at marketing automation software as a comprehensive marketing solution, we have to view it as just one mechanism for reaching customers. If we can remember that it’s only one piece of our overall strategy, we’ll be best equipped to use it most effectively. With that in mind, here are six steps for getting the most out of an investment in marketing automation.
- Begin with the end in mind. Today, only 10% of marketers are confident in their ability to execute comprehensive marketing automation programs as part of a larger marketing strategy, per a Forrester study (paywall). That’s not because of the software; it’s because of the strategy. A sound marketing strategy should be anchored by clear goals. Those could include thought leadership, lead generation, gaining website traffic or something else. Without establishing these goals, you won’t be able to get anywhere — even with the best marketing automation software.
- Get specific. Marketing automation isn’t a tactic in and of itself. It’s a mechanism to help you amplify the effectiveness of your marketing tactics, and you should be clear about what those tactics are. Are you going to be sending out newsletters or an email nurture campaign, or are you going to focus on collecting inbound leads by providing access to gated content? Be clear from the beginning, because all of your subsequent decisions will be based on maximizing these tactics.
- Create the right content. Based on the goals you set and the tactics you want to use, you’ll need to begin developing the assets that will support your marketing automation program. These could include white papers, blog posts, emails, webinars, video or any other form of content, but you’ll want to be sure you have them before they’re needed, or else your efforts will backfire.
- Shop around. Once you have a detailed plan in place, it’s time to pick the right marketing automation tool for the job. Luckily, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. Look for the platforms that have the specific tools you need to accomplish the goals you’ve laid out, and compare them with one another. You may be tempted to explore platforms that are loaded with extra features, but unless you have a plan for implementing those in the future, they won’t help you. Stick to what you need.
- Narrow down your choices. Once you’ve cut your list of options to two platforms, spend some time testing each of them. Make sure whoever will be responsible for using the tool on a daily basis is able to provide input. Some marketing automation platforms are fairly easy to use, while others seem to require a Ph.D.
- Allow time for onboarding. Before launching your marketing automation campaign, give your team two or three months to dive into the platform you purchase and figure out how to use it correctly. Even if you find they’re struggling to use it, be patient. It takes a lot of time to master most marketing automation platforms. Stick to the one you choose for at least a year before considering a switch.
If you implement marketing automation correctly, you can expect to see positive results relatively quickly. In fact, in 2015, 64 precent of marketer s surveyed by Regalix said they saw the benefits of a marketing automation program within six months of its implementation. Don’t rush into it, though, especially if you don’t have any previous marketing automation experience. Take the time to build a sound strategy, then master the platform you invest in. The results will inevitably follow.
This article first appeared on Forbes.