Marketing Automation: How to Talk 1-on-1 With Your Prospects


Late last summer, I was having lunch with my friend Chris. He’s a world-class SEO guy who literally tests out dozens of different tools, platforms and software packages a month looking for the true gems that can give his clients a leg up on the competition.

So when he started telling me about one of the most mind-blowing tools he’s come across—SharpSpring—I paid close attention.

SharpSpring brings marketing automation, long affordable only to companies with deep pockets, to small and mid-size businesses.

Headshot - RickCarlsonI too was blown away by the software and am happy to be able to interview SharpSpring’s CEO, Rick Carlson, this month for our readers.

Rick shares his insights into the world of marketing automation, interesting ways of how both B2B and B2C companies are using it to improve conversions and revenue, and has set up the most amazing card trick you’ve ever played online.

For our readers who may not be familiar with marketing automation, can you give us a brief description of what it is?

People new to or unfamiliar with marketing automation often believe it’s simply a tool for automating repetitive marketing tasks.  They make the mistake of thinking the benefit of marketing automation comes from time and/or cost savings.  

Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Instead, the true benefit of marketing automation, in the broadest sense, is that it allows businesses to:

  • identify more qualified leads
  • increase the conversion of these leads
  • and increase the resulting revenues

A fully baked marketing automation service is really a suite of tools that supports these objectives.

The tools generally include anonymous web visitor identification, comprehensive end-to-end analytics (not Google Analytics), lead scoring, behavior tracking, email automation, and dynamic forms.  

CRM, GoToMeeting and WebEx integration are just few other examples of typical features found in many marketing automation suites.  Adoption of marketing automation technology is growing at an ever increasing pace—and now by smaller companies as the prices have become far more affordable.

So this is quite different from the email/autoresponder tools that many businesses are familiar with, yes?

Definitely. If used properly, marketing automation can all but guarantee that the prospect gets the right marketing message at exactly the right time.  

This is entirely different from traditional and relatively basic email delivery services like Mailchimp or Constant Contact, which are basically limited to sending non-targeted email “blasts” in a linear fashion.  

In contrast, marketing automation tools allow for behavioral-based targeting and communication.  Using marketing automation, a B2B company can automatically send a new prospect (one that’s just beginning their education process) very high-level information.  

Another lead that is ready to buy can be sent purchase-oriented materials while simultaneously sending a notification to the sales team to contact the lead that’s ready to buy.  

Leads looking at one product on a website can be sent information on that product, while leads looking at another product can be sent that information, and this can be done automatically and without having to ask the lead anything.  All this leads to higher conversions and more revenue.

Let’s dig in a little deeper now and see how a company can put a marketing automation system to good use. Can you share a few examples of things a B2C and B2B company can do with a marketing automation system to boost conversions and revenue?

In general, B2B companies use sales teams to sell larger ticket items to their markets. Because each deal is worth so much and the cost of hiring and maintaining a sales team is so high, it is critical to identify and convert every lead that comes to a company.

Marketing automation includes several tools that can help B2B marketers identify leads and convert them to sales.

Anonymous web visitor identification allows companies to identify web leads that would otherwise go unnoticed. Since more than 97 percent of visitors don’t fill out a form on a typical site, the ability to identify these visitors provides a substantial increase to lead volume.

Once leads are identified, marketing automation can identify the leads that are more engaged, so that the sales team can be focus on the leads that have the best chance of closing.  

This is known as “lead scoring” and can be based on criteria such as page visits, content that the lead has downloaded, the type of company the lead belongs to, and a host of other criteria.

Salespeople can be notified via email or even a text when a lead that is deemed “very hot” has visited the site. The better marketing automation tools can even provide the lead’s phone number, email addresses, and social connections to help the sales team close deals more easily.  

B2C companies generally apply the same tactics I just described for B2B companies, but with much greater emphasis on segmentation.  

As another generalization, B2C companies tend to deal in much smaller revenue transactions and forego a sales team in favor of a web shopping cart. In this case, the benefits of marketing automation are equally impactful, but the emphasis is placed on automatic customer segmentation and communication.  

One of our marketing firm partners recently used SharpSpring to segment 100,000 customers for on online college apparel retailer who wanted to capitalize on the FSU’s National Championship run. (Note: I am a Florida Gator, so this example pains me a bit!)

The agency used marketing automation to track users on the site, then created “dynamic lists” based on user behavior, and sent highly targeted emails to visitors that were interested in specific product categories.  

Web visitors who visited pages with baby items on them but didn’t buy received an email focusing on baby items and a coupon.  

Visitors that purchased scarves or cold weather items could be sent an email with a matching flannel blanket, and people who purchased swimwear could be sent a special offer on a cooler and beach umbrella.  

Marketing automation makes all of this easy. Technologies that were really only affordable for companies like Amazon are within reach for even the smallest of business for just a couple of hundred dollars a month.

To sum up (and I may be plagiarizing here because I cannot remember where I heard this) marketing automation allows marketers to “stop running campaigns and start having conversations.”     

That’s an interesting concept of not running campaigns and start having conversations. Can you share some other ways companies are using marketing automation to essentially have one-on-one conversations with prospects and what kind of results are they seeing?  

Marketing automation is structured around conditional logic and behavior-based triggers. If a visitor performs a behavior that is setup as a trigger, a series of automated events is initiated.

There is no limit to how many triggers are setup within a trigger, so you can become very specific about what actions are automated based on what activity is occurring.

This allows you to tailor very specific messages to very specific actions and replicate the natural communication process of responding to observations.

For example (and this a simple example), a lawn service company sees a visitor come to their website and visits a few blogs post about weed management. The lawn service company then sends them an email with an e-book about 10 tips to contain weeds.

The visitor downloads that e-book, and a week later he or she visit the pricing page.

The lawn service company is notified by the marketing automation platform of the lead’s return visit, and now knows the visitor is considering hiring the company, so they can send him or her an introductory discount via email, and potentially even prompt their sales staff to call the lead based on the lead showing these strong buying signals. 

All this happens automatically.

The visitor receives the information that is relevant to him or her without being overwhelmed with spam, and the lawn service company has an efficient funnel for driving new business. It’s a win-win.

Companies are seeing tremendous success with this. In fact, a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute found 55 percent of marketers are allocating more budget to content marketing.

Since content marketing fuels marketing automation, this is a strong indicator of more growth for marketing automation. 

At that level of personalization do you find people getting creeped out or upset about privacy issues?

No. Absolutely not.  

Marketing automation should not be confused with mass emailing; in fact, they are generally the opposites of one another. 

When marketing automation is implemented correctly, users see it as extremely helpful.  The key is that marketing automation delivers relevant information that the lead is actually looking for, and thus he or she views the information as valuable. 

Study after study shows this type of highly personalized and targeted communication to be much higher converting than traditional and largely untargeted email blasts.  That is because the communication is helpful and brings the lead further along the sales funnel in a natural, organic way.

I assume a large percentage of the Crazy Egg readers have heard of a company called Constant Contact.

Well, I’d submit that Constant Contact is the problem.  By this, I do not mean the company, of course, but rather the concept of constantly contacting someone with irrelevant information in an effort to stay top of mind.

Basic email service providers are limited to sending out mass emails and treating everyone the same because they do not include the tracking and behavior-based email capability that can segment users automatically and send the info that each user wants.  

There is another word for this type of untargeted and irrelevant email: spam. 

In contrast, I think most people appreciate going to Amazon and having them suggest similar or complementary products to the product that they just added to their shopping cart.  It is viewed positively because it is relevant and useful. 

Marketing automation is now putting this type of technology in the hands of even the smallest businesses, and consumers are better served by it.

The Card Trick:

Rick has set up a pretty incredible “card trick” that showcases the personalization of marketing automation. You can play it here.

Then come back and let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Adam Kreitman

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