Marketing automation—one of the new buzzwords in marketing—bridges the gap between lead generation and the sales force.

In the past, any lead was passed over to Sales, making the follow-up frustrating: Most of the time, sales reps wasted time on lousy leads.

The goal of marketing automation is to improve Sales and Marketing alignment by passing over only sales-ready leads.

But why would you be interested in marketing automation? In this article, I present three good reasons (and three bad ones) to adopt marketing automation.

Three Good Reasons

1. Fix follow-up failure

In the sales funnel, there is a big gap between generation of raw leads and personal follow-up by sales.

Lead generation is a well-understood area, but a "lead" is defined as any name you add to the database, regardless of whether the prospect is ready or qualified to talk to a salesperson.

Salespeople struggle with the follow-up because they don't know which leads to focus on. That is follow-up failure. Marketing thinks its job is done, and Sales tries to call the lead but doesn't follow up.

Marketing automation can help solve that issue with automated lead-nurturing campaigns, usually via email. A lead-scoring mechanism assigns a numeric value to indicate the sales-readiness of leads. The lead is handed over to Sales only when the lead's score reaches a certain value.

Moreover, the rep gets lots of extra information, such as the Web pages that the lead visited and real-time notifications of email clicks and website visits.

2. Make campaigns buyer-centric

The most common way to do lead nurturing today is to send out a newsletter. The newsletter often talks about your new clients, your new products, your new employees, and your [fill in the blank].

However, recipients are more interested in learning about possible solutions to their challenges. To address those needs, you need to be able to segment the leads and create relevant messages for each type of lead.

Marketing automation captures information about the roles of the leads, the buying phase that they are in, and their particular interests. Based on such extensive profiles, you can segment the database and design nurturing campaigns that are tailored to each prospect's needs. That will dramatically improve response rates to your campaigns; it will also do a much better job of moving leads forward in the buying cycle.

3. Make marketing's contribution to the pipeline measurable

Measuring marketing used to be quite hard. Today, with an increased focus on online marketing, there is more data to work with. Actually, there is so much data that it's hard to make sense of it.

Ultimately, you'd like to know which campaigns resulted in sales opportunities and at what cost. Measuring that is a real challenge.

Marketing-automation systems integrate with customer relationship management systems to link marketing campaigns to actual sales opportunities. They enable "closed loop reporting" by incorporating sales data into marketing reporting.

With the right setup, it is easy to tell which percentage of the sales opportunities is sourced by marketing and which percentage is influenced by marketing. For sure, that will improve marketing's reputation in the boardroom.

Three Bad Reasons

1. You saw a cool demo

Unfortunately, marketing-automation systems make great demos. The features are amazing, and most marketers who see a demo are wowed.

However, the systems by themselves do not understand your marketing goals. You have to know your goals and set up the system accordingly.

Before you see a demo, specify what you expect to accomplish with a marketing-automation system, because if you jump right into it... you may be disappointed with the results.

2. You want to generate more leads

A marketing-automation system does not generate leads; rather, it manages leads. Where lead generation focuses on adding new leads to the database, marketing automation focuses on following up with those leads.

Before you start with marketing automation, make sure you have plenty of leads in your database and a healthy flow of new leads.

3. You need more compelling content

Nurturing leads requires high-quality content that talks about the challenges that potential clients face. There is no shortcut for developing those materials. To create appealing content, you need good writers, not a marketing-automation system.

Although outsourcing content creation is possible, I usually recommend that you encourage your employees to write, or hire employees who enjoy writing. Content authenticity is important, and you don't get that from external resources.

Conclusion

Marketing automation can fill a gap in the sales funnel and thereby increase marketing's impact on the bottom line.

If you are aware of the good reasons to select a marketing-automation system, you're halfway toward making your marketing-automation project a success.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jep Castelein is the founder of LeadSloth (www.leadsloth.com), a marketing-automation consulting firm that focuses on making B2B marketing more effective and more accountable. Follow him on Twitter (@jepc), or contact him via jep@leadsloth.com.