Marketers, consider this your wake up call. Now, more than ever, buyers have more control over the sales cycle. Many prospects are anywhere from 54% to 80% of the way through the buying cycle (PDF) before they're even comfortable inviting a sales rep into their evaluation process.

Marketers must therefore evolve with the buying cycle and find some new ways to own the early part of the sales process. How? Well, by incorporating recipient behaviors into their marketing strategy.

Change can be a bit scary. But considering that the goal of every marketing department is to deliver awesome experiences that encourage consumers to partner with and develop relationships with your brand, focusing on recipient behaviors should already be second nature, especially as data collection processes have improved over time.

For those marketers still using old-school processes that may not be incorporating buyer behavior, marketing automation technologies can help you make that transition. Marketing automation is commonly viewed as a time-saving, efficiency tool for marketers. But automation also enables greater possibilities when you use buyer data.

Here are a few steps in the journey toward a buyer-centric automation strategy, which I like to call "behavioral marketing automation."

Segmenting, and Sending Messages, Based on Behavior

The first step of behavioral marketing automation is to determine which target audiences exhibit similar characteristics. Upon identifying clusters, you can send those groups relevant messages based on shared characteristics. Harnessing other factors related to context, like timeframe, can also boost the marketing relevance of your messages.

Though a simple drip nurture program—sending something periodically to everyone not ready yet to buy—is always a good place to start with automation, shifting your marketing automation into a second, more focused (and so more appealing) behavior-driven gear can really afford you greater influence over the sales cycle.

Driving Immediate Behavioral Messages

Once you've established your initial segments and clusters, you're ready to take things to the next level: letting contact behaviors take the wheel on an ongoing basis. Establish programs that automatically send a contact a message based on an action the person did—or did not—take. Doing so allows for your message to be delivered when your brand is top of mind for the recipient, while communicating to them on their terms rather than yours.

Why Behavioral Marketing, in the First Place?

Consider that virtually all email marketers are confronting lower response rates and, as a result, they're being forced to step back and reassess how they're interacting with customers and prospects. Ask yourself: Are you marketing to a segment of thousands, with one generalized message? Or are you delivering relevant, targeted messages to individuals? If you're doing the former, you're most likely pushing many potential buyers away.

Let's say a potential buyer visits your website and spends a significant amount of time on a particular product page. Are you going to send a follow-up newsletter a month later—the same message you would have sent anyone who visited your site? Or are you going to respond with an email that is relevant to that user's behavior?

If you want to capitalize on a prospect's attention, and drive sales by presenting an informed brand, targeted behavioral messages are going to be your best response.

Sending individualized, targeted messages can seem like a daunting task, but with the Web tracking capabilities of modern marketing automation, this strategy has never been easier to execute. Moreover, why would you want to miss an opportunity to provide potential buyers with what they want, precisely when they want it?

Why Dynamic Content?

Dynamic content is not merely a powerful way to boost email engagement, conversions, and revenue; it's also a great way for you to hit the marketing jackpot once you combine it with behavioral data.

Integrating dynamic content into your organization's website—using content blocks or areas that are tailored for the individual visitor, based on the values in your behavioral marketing database, to serve up relevant photos, text, and videos—will encourage site visitors to take action.

Keeping Score

Also important is a scoring system that allows you take certain demographic attributes and behaviors that indicate engagement or interest and assign them point values, allowing you to rank contacts depending on the objective you're trying to achieve. You can then combine the powers of marketing automation with your scoring platform to serve up timely, relevant content to these contacts.

You have many data points to capture—Web data, email data, social data, mobile data, purchase data. If you're savvy, you're capturing that data across channels and platforms in a centralized marketing database, and then acting on it by delivering relevant and timely communications with an automation platform.

It's time for marketers to move beyond marketing to people as a group. By addressing an individual person's needs and wants, you'll deliver campaigns that greatly increase customer and prospect engagement and ultimately drive sales, which should truly be the end goal for any marketer.

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Marketing Automation: The Need for a Behavior-Based Program

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image of Ellen  Valentine

Ellen Valentine is evangelist at Silverpop, where she focuses on coaching and mentoring clients. She has more than 20 years of experience as vice-president of marketing/CMO for various technology companies, with expertise in launching new products, evaluating product and market positions, designing go-to-market strategy, and managing digital marketing initiatives.

Twitter: @EllenValentine

LinkedIn: Ellen Valentine