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Advanced marketing automation concepts and optimization hacks

Marketing automation has come along way over the last 15 years. I first came across the concept of marketing automation through HubSpot and their obsessive promotion of inbound marketing. Today the marketing automation space is crowded with a number of players including Marketo, Pardot, Intercom, Mailchimp and many other email marketing solutions. There is ongoing innovation in this space and the platforms are getting more and more robust and complex.

While I was writing this post and ran some job searches on LinkedIn for "marketing automation". I saw tens of thousands of open positions in major cities around the world for "marketing operations manager", a position which didn't exist 20 years ago.

In this post I'm going to cover the concepts I feel are the most important for getting the best results from your marketing automation. These 7 concepts should stand the test of time and if you wrap your head around them you'll have an easier time mastering marketing automation.

If you're looking to improve the business operations of your company you might enjoy my post, The Business Operations Playbook: How to implement ops in your startup.

Leverage the full capabilities of your marketing automation platform

In order to stay competitive, the popular marketing automation companies have developed very robust platforms. A lot of the tool sets are common among the different platforms but each has it's own nuances and unique capabilities. A serious marketing operations manager will invest significant time learning whichever platform their company uses so the company can get as much value as possible.

Your marketing automation platform is a data sponge

HubSpot integrations list

Tools like HubSpot support dozens of useful integrations. These integrations can help you enrich your contacts and launch complex automation flows.

One of the most underused areas of the marketing automation platform is data collection. All the major marketing automation tools allow you to feed them data so that you can use the data for smarter triggers and email campaigns.

There are usually a few ways that data can be pushed into the platform including:

  • Native integration - For example between HubSpot and SalesForce, or Pardot and Salesforce.
  • Manual imports
  • Custom API integrations - Your engineers can help you create custom integrations between your systems. A common use case is a daily sync between the marketing automation platform and your database so both systems have fresh data.

Focus on pushing as much data as you can into your marketing automation platform so your marketers have as many data points as possible to use.

Map out the lead life cycle and layer your communication

There are many difference approaches to setting up automation campaigns but I recommend the lifecycle + layered approach.

The concept is simple. Your main focus is on the core lead life cycle while looking for opportunities to use data and context to increase conversion.

I've created the diagram below to help explain the approach. Your main focus will be on setting up campaign-specific flows, a pre-sales cycle flow and a sales cycle flow.

The campaign-specific flows will contain 1 - 3 emails relating specifically to the point of conversion. So lets say you have a free eBook relating to social media marketing that leads can download by entering in their email. Once a visitor becomes a lead by downloading the eBook you'll want to push them into a campaign-specific flow relating to the eBook "campaign". The emails in this campaign will reference social media and how your service can help them in this area. Once the lead has gone through the entire flow they will be pushed into the second flow, the pre-sales cycle flow.

The pre-sales cycle flow is a more generic, longer email flow for leads which finish their respective campaign-specific flows without becoming "sales qualified". This flow could contain a dozen or more emails and span many months. The main goal of this flow is to continue to engage the lead and keep your service top of mind. This campaign is used to market your service offering to the lead and to get the lead to become marketing qualified (marketing have determined that the lead is ready for sales). Sometimes a lead will move directly from their campaign-specific flow to the sales cycle flow which is the best case scenario for marketing since this usually indicates the lead is "hot" and interested in exploring the option of purchasing.

Once a lead is in the hands of sales the lead enters the sales cycle flow. Some companies prefer to limit the amount of communication to leads in this phase while others send very strategic messages and content to help move things along. Since a sales rep will be communicating to the lead over email and on the phone, you may want to limit the number of emails in this flow.

marketing automation advanced concepts

Once you've built out these core flows you can start exploring the option of creating opportunistic campaigns. Opportunistic campaigns are triggered when specific data points become available and can be used with clear context to improve the effectiveness of future communication with the lead.

Let's look at an example. Let's say that after our lead downloads our social media eBook he signs up to a free service we offer to marketing managers. The lead has now filled in two separate forms and we know that the lead manages a team of 5, belongs to a large marketing agency and struggles with content creation for their social media channels. All this information can now be used to trigger a hyper-focused email flow that shows exactly how our product solves this pain point. We can even include relevant success stories of companies which match the size and type of company of our lead.

The opportunistic campaign will have a significantly better chance of pushing the lead further down the funnel than the campaign-specific flow since the opportunistic campaign will have more context.

Treat each email in your flow like a newsletter

When you're creating dozens of emails as part of your marketing automation flows you can fall into the trap of creating the emails just for the sake of it. You should treat each email in each of your flows like you would a newsletter that is sent to your entire user base.

Each email should have a purchase, well written copy, a clear call-to-action and well designed for both web and mobile consumption. In the long-run tens of thousands of individuals may receive these emails so spend the time to make sure each email is professionally crafted.

I'd recommend using someone that isn't involved in the creation of the flows to help with QA. A fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference.

If you're not happy with an email and your gut is telling you that it will have little impact then strap it or get a second opinion.

Double and triple check your flows

Once you've set up your initial flows I recommend you spend a ton of time doing QA. This includes the following checks:

  • Per email
  • Subject
  • Copy
  • Does this email have a clear purpose?
  • Is there a call-to-action?
  • Does the buttons / links lead to the correct web page?
  • Do the links include utms?
  • Do the graphics load?
  • Is the email loading correctly on mobile devices (android and iOS)?
  • Per flow
  • Is the correct segment being targeted?
  • Is the logic behind each step in the flow correct?
  • What happens to a lead once he becomes qualified? Does he leave the flow?
  • Am I updating the relevant contact fields based on outcomes in my flows?

Marketing automation is a team sport

If you plan on doing marketing automation correctly you'll be forced to tie together many areas of marketing. Branding, content, product marketing, and voice are some of the areas that you'll need to take into consideration while building your marketing automation strategy and flows.

Marketing automation is a team sport and every member of the marketing team should be involved in the process. Once you have mapped out the general strategy and you have a few live flows in place, then the marketing team can be used strategically to help optimize and scale your marketing automation.

The marketing automation manager should have semi-frequent meetings with the head of marketing to make sure everyone involved is aligned. Every marketing campaign should be communicated to the marketing automation manager so when new automation flows are launched that there isn't a conflict.

There should be a general rule in every marketing department that there is no such thing as too much communication.

A/B test continuously

Once you've got your core flows in place and you're happy with the initial results it's time to start optimizing.

Every serious marketing automation platform supports A/B testing in one form or another. You should take advantage of this functionality by setting quarterly goals to optimize the conversion rate of specific flows through A/B testing.

If you're fortunate enough to have a conversion rate optimization (CRO) specialist or "growth hacker" in your team then give them this responsibility.

If your core flows have very poor performance before you start A/B testing then you may want to put A/B testing on hold and go back to the drawing board and rebuild your core flows. It's challenging to gauge how your initial flows should perform and each industry will be different. Try to avoid rebuilding your flows from scratch over and over again and accept a low benchmark which you'll work on optimizing. Having a few flows in place is better than nothing.

When it comes to A/B testing I'd recommend mixing your approach. The typical A/B testing methodology involves small, frequent changes which add up over time. This is a great approach but every now and then you should try a Hail Mary and completely change the structure of the flow or content of the email. A complete rewrite of an email will give you the best chance of a massive improvement in results.

Communicate the results of your flows back to customer success

Marketing automation is often used to communicate to contacts throughout their entire life cycle (visitor to renewed customer). This means that the marketing automation team is responsible for communicating news to existing users which can result in both positive and negative outcomes.

It is important that the marketing automation team is constantly communicating with the customer success team so that the support agents and account managers aren't blindsided.

This communication should happen both directly and indirectly. If you're using best-in-class tools then the customer success team should be able to easily see what has been sent to users and how those users engaged with that communication. It is the marketing automation managers responsibility to train the account managers so they know how to see the communication history for specific accounts.