Most channel prosunderstand the importance of marketing, but few have the time, skill, and self-discipline to do it well or consistently. If "marketing automation" sounds like the answer to this problem, there's bad news and good news.
Bad news: You're still going to need to find or hire the time, skill, and self-discipline. Good news: Automation allows those good efforts to be largely front-loaded. Figure out the lead nurturing process; load it with contextual, automatically personalized emails, good content, and perhaps leads; and watch it go. Better good news: The smart user learns which lead sources, keywords, lists, offers, and web copy work best, and then tweaks, repeats, and optimizes—getting more bang for the marketing and advertising buck.
The multichannel complexity of today's marketing function adds more pressure to automate. "The typical partner has tried MailChimp or Constant Contact," says Michelle Etherton, communications manager and senior writer at The Partner Marketing Group, of Hill City, S.D., which provides partner training and marketing programs for technology vendors and MSPs. "They've grown a little bit beyond email. They're also marketing online, using pay-per-click, going to events, putting on webinars, trying to get a presence in the social arena, and there's no way to pull it all together."
Make a Shopping List
Those looking for SaaS automation solutions have a daunting array of choices. Etherton advises marketers to make a list of all the channels they use and the gaps they see in their tools and skill sets. "If they're CRM users, they may be looking for lead capture and management," she suggests. If there's no graphic design talent on your team, you want an email and landing-page builder that lets you drag and drop pictures and copy into attractive templates.
If you're offering road shows or local events, look for invitation and registration functions, and perhaps project management.
If you want to know who is praising or panning your business, your competition's business, or the industry in general, you’ll want the social listening and responding piece. B2B buyers increasingly go to user-generated review sites like G2Crowd.com, which has a Facebook and LinkedIn presence as well. And if you incentivize satisfied customers to post on your behalf, you generate leads among their friends and contacts.
If you're not using CRM yet, you should be. Look for a marketing solution with a good side order of contact management. And if you work in an ecosystem with its own marketing SaaS, look there first. Says Laurie McCabe, partner at market research firm SMB Group Inc.: "Say you're an Intacct VAR. That's a financial solution but they're a big Salesforce partner. It would be natural for you to look to Pardot," Salesforce's recently acquired marketing automation solution (see below).
The Hard Parts
Just like any marketing effort, marketing automation requires thoughtful planning, good offers, and good content. In the B2B realm, where successful sales efforts may require 20 or more customer touches, marketers must still plan the flow and the pace of emails, texts, phone calls, and calls for appointments. In fact, the last and most important touch—appointment setting—is precisely where many automation solutions fail, according to Terry Hedden, CEO of Marketopia, a St. Petersburg, Fla., company that creates content and conducts automation-driven marketing campaigns for vendors and MSPs.
"Everyone knows that multitouch is the way to get a lead, but people skimp on the follow-up," says Hedden. "They don't set appointments. We combine marketing, lead scoring, and human phone calling to produce 10 to 25 net-new appointments per month."