For centuries, businesses have always sought to do things faster, easier and cheaper. While in past decades automation primarily focused on bettering production lines, the rise of information technology and the ubiquity of the internet has created an unprecedented opportunity to automate business marketing.
A surprising number of marketing processes can be more efficiently handled by an algorithm than a human. Yet, many companies are failing to tap into this avenue of cutting cost and streamlining workflows. It’s not that difficult though as long as your marketing automation plan is well-thought-out. Here are some tips on how to do that.
1. Start with Automation Strategy
Going about any business activity without developing a carefully planned strategy is leaving your success to chance. So before you dive headlong into automating your marketing processes, take a step back and ask some fundamental questions.
For example, what is it you seek to achieve? What segment of the market do you want to reach? What metrics will you use to determine whether your marketing automation is successful? The more detailed and planned your automation strategy is, the more likely you are to succeed.
2. Marketing (and Not Technology) Should Own and Drive Marketing Automation
Automation means converting manual processes into technology-based algorithm-run ones. As seasoned technology professionals would attest, IT teams end up bearing the bulk of the burden whenever there’s a business project that is heavily dependent on technology. Some marketing managers may see this as a convenient way to let someone else worry about getting things to work but this can be a catastrophic mistake.
While IT professionals can provide the technical know-how needed to make automation work, the marketing team are the process experts and are in the best position to know whether the automation is an improvement over the existing manual process. Marketing should therefore own, drive and coordinate the entire process.
3. Good Relevant Data
Automation is all about generating certain outputs after receiving a set of data inputs. A core principle of computing is GIGO — Garbage In Garbage Out. Ultimately, no technology system can provide a quality output if the input data is of low quality.
Ergo, making sure you have the right data is vital for the success of marketing automation. The data you’ll need will depend on what specific aspects of the marketing process you intend to automate.
4. Get a Realistic Estimate of the Costs
No organization has infinite resources so even your marketing automation has to be done within a predefined budget. For the cost of automation to get the buy-in and approval of senior management, it should be much lower than the expected savings and the anticipated rise in sales revenue.
You’ll have to work closely with the IT department and where applicable, the third-party vendor and/or software developer. Most times, the vendor or developer will provide a quote for the software contract so that cost will be fairly straightforward.
However, you should perform a more comprehensive assessment of total expenditure including the cost of any new hardware and software required (e.g. remote support tools), training of marketing employees on how to use the new system, and the need to hire new employees in case the company doesn’t have the required skills internally to run the system.
5. Get C-Suite Buy-in
You’ll need an accurate realistic budget when you are making the marketing automation pitch to the company’s leadership. No department works in isolation and the marketing unit is no exception. Your quest for automation is unlikely to pay off unless you have all key stakeholders on board. For that to happen, the drive toward marketing automation should have (and be seen to have) the support of top executives starting from the CEO.
That will ensure your project runs into minimal resistance since few employees would want to appear to antagonize something that the top leadership is determined to see through. That being said, C-suite buy-in is not automatic. Your pitch should be persuasive and clearly demonstrate tangible value over the medium to long-term.
6. Focus on the Smaller, Simpler Processes First
Marketing is a complex process with numerous moving parts that have to work in sync. The sheer scale of the entire marketing workflow can be overwhelming and may make it difficult to know exactly where you should start. Instead of trying to ‘boil the ocean’, start by addressing the quick and easy wins. Look at the small but significant challenges to the customer’s current experience and seek to automate as much as possible to fix the issue.
It could be as simple as having a welcoming video for first-time visitors on your website. When you start with and conquer the simple problems, you get the confidence and experience needed to tackle the more complex ones. Note that you might not be able to automate the entire marketing cycle; some aspects may have to remain manual for practical or cost reasons.
7. Train Employees
Your marketing team is already used to doing things a certain way. It’s not going to be easy to get them to adopt a new method. As with any change in an organization, expect some degree of resistance, reluctance, and skepticism.
You can minimize the time and effort it takes to get marketing staff to adapt to the new process if your automation project is accompanied by a robust training program. Don’t make the mistake of assuming workers will figure things out as they go along. Make sure all marketing employees know what they are expected to do before the new system goes live.
8. Monitor Performance from the Start
The whole point of marketing automation is to improve the marketing process. From the get-go, you have to look at marketing performance metrics powered by the automated process then compare with similar metrics when you were using the manual method. Senior executives will certainly want to see this data so they can be certain that the automation was worth it.
Proving value early is also vital in catching flaws quickly and taking appropriate measures to close any gaps. For turnkey or proprietary software provided by a third party, the installation will usually come with a months-long grace period where the vendor provides support services at no extra cost. It’s therefore in your best interest to escalate to external support any serious problems encountered within this window.
9. Fail Quickly
The rationale for moving from manual to automated processes is reasonable and logical. That doesn’t, however, mean that all automation will work or prove value for money. Whereas hardly any project will demonstrate a healthy ROI from day one, you must give yourself a realistic timeline within which you can make a judgment on whether the automation is really moving the business’ marketing efforts forward or backward.
If after several weeks or months of use the project isn’t showing the improvements you expected, don’t throw good money after bad. Cut your losses before they spiral out of control. Start looking at a more viable automation alternative.
Some marketing managers will make the mistake of sticking with an ineffective solution because they are too embarrassed to admit to the company’s leadership that things did not turn out as they had thought they would. It is certainly a difficult conversation to have especially because the business has spent a good chunk of cash to get the new system rolling.
However, you are more likely to retain senior management’s confidence if you demonstrate a propensity to take corrective measures quickly even if it’s at the risk of temporarily damaging your reputation. After all, your management aptitude is best tested and proven during the most during difficult of times.
When you embark on a marketing automation project, success is never guaranteed. But following these tips can significantly increase your chances of making it work.