So you decided to invest in marketing automation. What happens next? Marketing automation systems offer a veritable multitude of capabilities, including email marketing, social media tracking, prospect tracking and nurturing, and marketing analytics. Those features open up a world of possibilities for your marketing campaigns, but they can also make the task of getting started seem daunting.

Here are five ways to jump-start your marketing automation strategy without getting overwhelmed.

1. Basic Lead Generation

Decide on a marketing campaign, or start with one you already have (e.g., paid search, email promotion). Within your system, create a landing page that offers valuable content behind a registration form. That approach will drive prospects to interact with your brand, and it will help you begin to build your database. Decide what a "good lead" looks like, and develop a system to score your leads.

Leads can be scored on activities such as form submissions, pageviews, file downloads, and email clicks. Once your "good-lead" criteria are set, marketing automation allows you to automatically assign leads to a sales rep or keep the leads in your database for nurturing, depending on how well they meet your scoring qualifications.

2. Lead Nurturing for Early-Stage Leads

Lead nurturing, also known as drip marketing, continually "drips" valuable content to leads who are not yet qualified. Personalized email messages are sent over time to encourage prospects to engage with your brand. Doing so frees up time for your sales team to focus on closing hot leads rather than educating early-stage prospects.

Having relevant information is key. So before you get started, decide how to segment your nurturing tracks. For example, you might choose to target people based on their product of interest or area of concern. You can determine that information by observing a prospect's past actions, such as which whitepaper she downloaded or which pages she viewed on your site. Next, determine what content will be most valuable to each type of prospect, and set up a series of relevant messages to send to them, with pauses between emails.

Here is an example of what a drip marketing campaign might look like:

  • When a conversion occurs, send an automated email containing a link to the content requested.
  • One week later, send a related whitepaper.
  • Three weeks later, send a link to a topical post from your company blog.
  • Send a personalized reconnect message if the lead does not respond to previous drips.

When a lead shows additional interest by responding to a message or interacting with your content, you can automatically assign the lead to Sales for follow-up.

3. webinars

Webinars are an increasingly popular aspect of digital marketing, so it's essential to understand how your marketing automation platform can help support your webinar efforts.

Conducting an event campaign with a marketing automation system consists of four simple steps:

  1. Managing event setup and registration
  2. Promoting the event
  3. Post-event scoring and lead-segmenting
  4. Following-up

Let's take a closer look at the four steps:

  • Setup and registration. Many marketing automation platforms integrate seamlessly with webinar applications such as WebEx and GoToWebinar, allowing you to track registration within your system for easier promotion and follow-up.
  • Promotion. You can easily promote a webinar to the leads in your database via email, or you can schedule social postings to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
  • Scoring and segmentation. Because marketing automation and the webinar platform will be continuously syncing, you'll be able to send reminder messages, based on registration status, increase or decrease a prospect's score based on attendance (or not), and segment a prospect for drip-nurturing based on topic of interest.
  • Following up. Sales can be notified to follow up when a prospect signs up for a webinar. You can also target your follow-up emails based on whether a prospect attended the webinar.

4. Cold-Lead Recycling

Sales reps are interested only in hot leads. Often, if a lead is not ready to buy, Sales abandons the lead. Another challenge is that sales reps are only human and can make only so many calls in a day. If you're lucky enough to have a large volume of leads, sales reps might miss some valuable prospects amid the bunch. Since you invested marketing dollars in those leads, don't let them die in your database.

Established companies have a database full of old, cold leads, and a percentage of those leads can come back to life.

Set up a cold-lead drip campaign to follow up with leads who were unresponsive or who may have purchased a competitor's product. Targeting those leads can, over time, re-engage cold prospects with your product.

5. Sales Drip

We've talked about pre-Sales leads and dead leads, but what about the ones in between? Since many sales reps live and breathe in the customer relationship management (CRM) tool, many marketing automation systems integrate with those systems. That means... Marketing can control the content, but Sales can add people from the CRM to drip campaign lists. Rather than a salesperson checking in periodically over the next six months, she can just select the "Six Month Nurturing Track" from a drop-down menu, for example. All messages sent to leads will appear to come directly from the assigned rep despite the automation behind the scenes.

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Implementing a marketing automation system is a sizable task, but gradually moving through these five basic campaigns can help make the job more manageable. By starting with the most basic campaigns and moving toward targeted programs, you'll progressively learn how marketing automation can unify sales and marketing efforts and generate more qualified leads.

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image of Adam Blitzer

Adam Blitzer is a co-founder and VP & GM of Pardot, a company.

LinkedIn: Adam Blitzer