If you poured black coffee into the top of a funnel and it came out the bottom as a mocha latte crowned with whipped cream, you’d be amazed. What an awesome invention! Needless to say, that’s not how a funnel works, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that unless you fill the sales funnel with quality leads, you won’t end up with many closed deals.
The New-Fangled Funnel
Today’s sales funnel may not make lattes, but it has evolved. First off, customers are no longer being pushed down the funnel, but rather pulled, or perhaps a better word is “guided.” B2B customers rely heavily on online information and complete 50-70% of the buying process before contacting a seller. This growing influence of digital communication channels on B2B purchasing decisions has led approximately 88% of B2B companies to adopt content marketing strategies to engage customers at the appropriate point in their buying journey.
This buying journey is not straightforward, but is more like a meandering pathway, along which prospects are influenced by a variety of information sources. They may also wander off this path and come back at a different point, which means that marketers must keep track of where potential buyers are, what they need at each stage in the journey and then maintain engagement with relevant content. It can be exhausting keeping up with these people (caffeine is sounding good, right?)!
Many would also argue that these changes have led to a “sales and marketing funnel.” In the past, marketing was typically in charge of the top half of the funnel, while sales was responsible for the bottom half, with functions rarely overlapping in the middle. However, when sales and marketing collaborate, both groups have the ability to improve effectiveness and efficiency. Marketing can acquire more insight into potential customers, while sales reps can learn more about how marketing produces leads and contribute to the process, improving lead generation and quality.
Enter Marketing Automation
Thankfully there is a tool that can help you fill this new-fangled funnel, keep wandering customers on track, and create sales and marketing harmony – marketing automation. This software platform is gaining ground in the B2B sector because it can help marketers:
- Create and deliver timely and valuable content based on customer needs.
- Accelerate the lead qualifying process through lead scoring and nurturing.
- Target potential buyers through personalized content.
- Integrate sales and marketing functions.
Let’s start at the very top of the funnel, which is actually slightly above the opening. Potential buyers are searching for information, and your job is to create and deliver content that generates awareness, educates and attracts customers to your website for further interaction. Once there, the goal is to get these “suspects” to identify themselves by providing contact information to receive additional content, such as white papers, research reports or webinars. This information activates the marketing automation software and initiates the journey.
At this stage, content creation is a result of listening: What do your target customers need? What problems can you help them solve? What advice can you provide? Where are they looking for information?
Once you’ve identified contacts or “prospects,” marketing automation begins its job of classifying leads. Contacts who meet the predefined criteria, as determined by both sales and marketing, begin to receive the appropriate nurturing from marketing, or go directly to sales for follow-up.
Here’s the tricky part: How do you identify those prospects that offer the highest probability of becoming a customer? Qualifying leads can vary from company to company, depending on the product, the length of the sales cycle and buyer behaviors. The first step is outlining the characteristics of a high-quality lead for your particular organization, which again, should include input from sales.
By using predefined characteristics, capturing buyer behavior and tracking interests, marketing automation can help you nurture leads and build relationships with highly personalized content.
Maximizing Your Investment
While marketing automation offers many benefits, it’s not a magic wand. Successful implementation takes time and effort, including pre-planning. Creating a flow-chart or outline of the automation process is highly recommended. When the system is transparent and all parties know how leads are scored and nurtured, how long sales has to follow up, and what happens to leads that bounce back, marketing automation can work at peak efficiency.
When used properly, marketing automation can help you generate and classify more quality leads, gather valuable customer intel, nurture buyers with the right content at the right time, build relationships and ultimately, increase sales. Yet, many companies confess they are not taking full advantage of their marketing automation systems. In that case, consulting with an implementation specialist may help you maximize your investment and start reaping the rewards sooner. Perhaps we could discuss this over a latte?
To determine if marketing automation is right for you or to help you make the most of your system, call us for a free 30-minute discussion with a certified Pardot Consultant. We can help you put all the pieces of a successful marketing strategy together, including web design, content strategy and development, and marketing automation.
(To download the complete whitepaper on this topic, click here.)