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Lead Nurturing and Marketing Automation: 15 Key Questions Answered (Question 6)

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Question 6: Do we need a CRM system to do lead nurturing?

The Short and Simple Answer

A good customer relationship management (CRM) system is critical in helping you get all the value possible from your investment in lead nurture and marketing automation. That said, if you have only 2-3 salespeople, few leads, and a small target market, you probably don't need a CRM system to do lead nurture.

If you have more salespeople, however, and you want to automatically distribute leads, achieve and maintain good sales and marketing alignment, and give many people the ability to view the sales pipeline, then you probably want a CRM system.

But companies with as few as three salespeople can get a lot of mileage out of a CRM system that's tied to a marketing automation platform.


To understand how that might be possible, here's...

The Longer and Less Simple Answer

The primary function of a marketing automation system is to track the behavior of your leads. You can see which emails they opened, which links they clicked on in those messages, which website pages they visited, and much, much more.

The CRM system, on the other hand, helps you to track what you do or don't do with those leads. You'll track your phone calls, private messages, and more. You can set call-back schedules, flag leads as closed, and highlight your best leads.

How Marketing Automation Enhances CRM

Approximately 80% of a lead's research is conducted before that lead ever talks with a salesperson. Try to sell before leads are ready, and they'll drop you like a hot potato.

A lead nurture process that's facilitated by the marketing automation software gives the lead enough information to become "sales-ready." Sales's job is to add the last pieces of information and dialog that only a one-on-one relationship can handle to get to "sold."

The marketing automation system tracks the lead's behavior and notifies the CRM system when a lead does something (reads an article, downloads a report, opens an email...). Your scoring system then assigns scores to various such behaviors. For example, an email open would get one point, whereas downloading a report would get 10 points. You assign more points to actions that are more relevant to making a sale.

The CRM system then allows the salespeople, before they make first contact with leads, to sort leads by score, filter out leads according to specific behaviors, and see exactly what Web pages the leads viewed or reports they read.

CRM Is for Sales, Marketing Automation Is for Marketers

Think of a marketing automation system as something of a black box that just a few system administrators will use to set-up campaigns, load data, and generate reports. The CRM, on the other hand, is an information repository and tracking information system that Sales, Customer Service, Sales management, Service, and possibly many others can refer to assess the current relationship with a lead or a customer.

The CRM system answers important sales-related questions that should also inform your marketing efforts:

  • Which lead score best converts to revenue?
  • Did Sales follow up on the leads that Marketing passed along?
  • When did they follow-up?
  • Who followed-up and who didn't?
  • Which content works best for Sales to close a deal?
  • Which territories need more "Sales-ready" leads to hit their quota?
  • Are we closing deals outside of our "Ideal Client" description?

A CRM system helps you to achieve and maintain Sales and Marketing alignment.

A Special Bonus of Using CRM With Marketing Automation

Sometimes a sale stalls or it's lost. With CRM and marketing automation, that need not be a total loss.

You simply use the CRM system to flag the lead's status (lost or otherwise). The CRM system lets the marketing automation system know about the status change. The marketing automation system moves the lead into a "special segment" and a special type of long-term nurture called "Recycling."

Recycling can get the company set up for the next sales cycle and even paint the contrast between what the prospect bought and what they could have had.

Tool You Can Use

Checklist for Evaluating CRM Systems: This checklist lists a variety of possible features of CRM systems. It doesn't actually compare the major CRM systems, but it gives you a quick way to compare up to three systems that you're currently evaluating.


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Sid Smith is lead copywriter and marketing automation specialist for Albertson Performance Group. Sid has written on topics ranging from flex circuits to motherhood, but gets a real kick out of putting together the puzzle pieces of complex marketing automation strategies. Reach him via sid.smith@apg7.com.

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  • by Julian Poulter Thu Jan 31, 2013 via web

    There is another way of approaching this question, with another question which is "Should CRM and Marketing Automation" be the in the same system??

    CRM itself is much more a strategy than just a system, but, are we causing ourselves problems of cost, complexity, data sync and administration by having to maintain two systems? CRM and Marketing Automation?

    Given a lot of talk about sales and marketing alignment and having a seamless sales (lead thru to sale) and buying (interest thru to sale) process, should we be thinking in terms of a single integrated product to manage the sales and marketing processes, and their associated automation etc?

  • by Alexis Karlin Thu Jan 31, 2013 via web

    Hi Sid,

    Great post comparing what should come first, CRM or Marketing Automation. We also took a step back and compare the difference between marketing automation and content management, to asses which one should be done first. If you have some thoughts, we would love your comments:
    http://bit.ly/117QK03

    Thank you,
    Alexis Karlin
    Digital Marketing & Operations Manager, Percussion Software

  • by Sid Smith Fri Feb 1, 2013 via web

    @Julian - Interesting idea. I wonder if that's what SalesForce was thinking with their investment in Hubspot. It seems that we're several years from a single system as you propose at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. That would be a huge undertaking by any vendor.

    @Alexis - I like to think of "content" in three separate, but interrelated ways. You use some content to attract leads to a landing page. Some content is used as "bait" to get people to opt-in. And, some content is used for lead nurturing once they opt in.

    So, think of it in terms of "What kind of content do we need to attract leads to a landing page?"; "What do we need to get them to opt in?"; and, "What do we need to move them through the buying process so that they're ready to buy?"

    To get people to a landing page, you can use "Inbound" (or "Content") marketing - tons of content that gets you SEO traffic. You can use PPC (Google Ads or equivalent). And, you can use direct mail if you take the time to put a good list together. The kind of content you use to attract leads is going to vary according to the approach you use. And, the volume of content you need will vary according to the approach as well.

    You may need one or several "offers" to entice people to opt in.

    And, depending on your customer buying process (long, short, complicated, easy), you might need anywhere from two or three good content pieces to dozens to nurture them through the buying process. (I like the buying process definition created by SeriusDecisions).

    Now, to answer your question: First comes the overall strategy you'll use to find, capture, and nurture leads. This defines the content strategy and content calendar. Finally, you add all of your content to the marketing automation platform. Marketing automation is not a strategy in and of itself. It's just a tool with which you implement your strategy.

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