Marketing Automation: why high-tech still needs high-touch to succeed

May 28, 2014 17:30:47 PM

Faced with static or shrinking budgets, B2B marketers are under pressure to achieve ever greater reach and results with their demand generation programmes. That means working smarter and leaner, which has driven the automation of many marketing processes such as segmentation and campaign management.

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With the right planning and execution, an automated campaign can actively enhance the customer journey by delivering timely and relevant content. But taken to its extreme, an unqualified suspect could feasibly be morphed into a qualified prospect without ever having spoken to a live human being. So how can marketing, and the wider commercial organisation, ensure that efficiency of contact isn’t achieved at the expense of a meaningful and lasting relationship with their prospects?

Automated for the people

According to marketing guru Dr Jeffrey Lant’s “Rule of Seven”, it takes on average seven contacts from a seller until the buyer feels comfortable enough to do business. This means time-pressed business people are inundated with messaging from would be vendors.

To stand out from all of the white noise and really resonate with their target audience, marketers must ensure their campaign and assets are truly relevant to a prospect’s needs and stage of his journey.

Saying the right thing, in the right way, to the right person, at the right time is key to maximising conversions.

With the need for such laser-like precision, it’s no wonder that marketing automation has found favour among the B2B community for delivering highly personalised, content-based demand generation strategies. Not only does it give marketers greater control over prospects along the pipeline, but it also offers unparalleled visibility into each prospect interaction. This intelligence can drive the prospect journey, and by being able to correlate revenue to specific lead generation activities can help confirm which tools and tactics
are working better than others.

The automated distribution of content, triggered by a prospect’s behaviour (or “digital body language”), is particularly apt when targeting decision-makers who want to be advised on a potential purchase and are resistant to being “sold to”.

Content might include downloadable assets, such as white papers or case studies; videos and podcasts; email and the web, including dedicated micro-sites; and registration to real-world or virtual events, such as webinars. Offering content that is educational, rather than salesy, helps position a vendor as a credible and trusted source of industry expertise and insight.

Automation can help to increase conversion rates by ensuring that early-stage prospects are properly nurtured, stemming the funnel leakage that competitors will be only too pleased to mop up. Its strength also lies in accelerating progress from enquiry to sales-accepted lead, effectively shortening the sales cycle.

Bringing process discipline and measurability to marketing, automation responds to the universal need to demonstrate return on investment. The result is increased predictability of activities, enabling marketers to explicitly prove their worth in generating qualified sales opportunities. This may go some way to resolving the disconnect between sales and marketing that is still conspicuous in far too many organisations.

As with every new marketing phenomenon, automation is not a magic bullet. If relied upon in isolation, it has a number of limitations. It operates on logic – a system of rules it uses to determine what communication is sent to the prospect next – but it can’t always gauge where a buyer is in the decision-making process.

Automation may be reactive (triggered by a request for information) or speculative (inferring that prospects with similar profiles will have similar interests) but it isn’t anticipatory. A contentbased strategy relies heavily on the quality and relevance of the campaign’s assets, which may grow stale over time, and sometimes prospects don’t necessarily want more information but more understanding. And while automation can help you decide how interesting a prospect is to you, it doesn’t give a foolproof indication of how interesting you are to your prospect!

Perhaps its ability to facilitate the entire customer journey is also automation’s Achilles heel. For example, you send out an email with a link to the prospect and he visits your website. Based on his perceived interest, you then send him an invitation to an event, to which he doesn’t respond, but he does subsequently download the webinar. You follow up by sending him a white paper… and so it goes on. A multitude of touches, but none of them human. What’s needed is some real-world interaction and the integration of telemarketing offers an effective solution.

Telemarketing makes it personal

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Telemarketing is a well-established practice, and while the basic tools haven’t substantially changed throughout the years, the techniques have been considerably refined over time. As a versatile, two way medium, telemarketing isn’t just a vehicle to deliver a message but equally an opportunity to ask questions and, crucially, increase understanding that will deepen the relationship.

Telemarketing builds on the strengths of automation in that it uses a structured, efficient and easily repeatable model. But its other key strength lies in humanisation: it enables a richer, more natural exchange between two people, second only to a face-to-face meeting. And because the interaction is in real time, there is less chance of the misunderstandings that can occur with latent communications.

While a website or piece of direct mail delivers a consistent representation of your brand or offer to every reader, it can’t adapt its tone based on the recipient’s frame of mind. An experienced telemarketing agent, on the other hand, can gauge the mood of the prospect at the other end of the line and ask searching questions to determine their needs and how the offering might fit.

An agent can maximise a call by offering to post a case study, email a white paper or direct a prospect to the relevant page of a website.

In this way, he creates additional value beyond the basic fulfilment that could be achieved through automation and self-service. His willingness to help creates rapport and cements the relationship with the prospect. The telemarketing agent becomes an ambassador for your brand.

While valuable to the prospect, a content-based strategy always carries the risk of missing the mark, especially when you only get one shot at the creative. However, the addition of telemarketing can bolster the effectiveness of any campaign and reduce uncertainty in future creative executions.

Want to know whether your last direct mailer or case study went down well with its readers? Still guessing whether a prospect is coming to an upcoming event? Just ask. Telemarketing is an ideal way of gaining feedback and can enable running repairs to be made to an online campaign that isn’t delivering the goods, to rapidly reverse its fortunes.

Perhaps one of the most important roles telemarketing can play is in creating greater alignment between sales and marketing, who often relate to one another as adversaries rather than allies. Sales frequently accuse marketing of generating insufficient quantity and quality of leads, while marketing counter-claim that a large proportion of leads are not followed up promptly or enthusiastically enough – or at all.

The cost to attract, hire, train, motivate and retain a sales force is staggering. The remit of sales is to convert high value prospects into customers. But a typical sales professional is only actively engaged in the actual business of selling for around 25-35% of the time, with much of the balance spent on lead generation or qualification.

Often, this is because lead scoring can mean a prospect is passed to sales without a crucial piece of qualification. He may have taken a number of required actions, e.g. email click-through, white paper download, webinar attendance, but his “interest” doesn’t translate into intent. His project may actually be two years from fruition, or he may be an influencer but not a decision-maker. A telemarketing call could swiftly establish the missing element of budget, authority, need or timeline.

Many organisations still harbour common misperceptions about telemarketing, believing in-depth inside knowledge of the business is vital to maintaining credibility with a prospect on the phone. However, a good telemarketer is an expert at communication and not the specific field or product that he or she is promoting.

To engage a prospect, you need to be smart, listen, ask appropriate questions and steer the conversation – but those abilities aren’t exclusive to an experienced, technically competent sales executive.

It’s possible to simultaneously identify, qualify and quantify a sales lead in a single targeted call, freeing up your expensive sales force to focus on the directly incentivised task of closing deals.

The last word in the marketing conversation?

The art of marketing – defining and positioning the offer and executing the creative – will always rely on human input. Automation, however, brings a scientific approach that enables marketers to streamline the targeting, timing and content of activity to respond to prospects’ actions and requirements.

Marketing automation enables innovative and incredibly efficient ways of increasing the frequency and relevance of contact, but marketers run the risk of devaluing both their content and their prospect interactions by relying exclusively on a self-service model.

While cutting-edge marketing applications are enabling unprecedented levels of personalisation, a phone call is inherently personal. With the surge of interest in social media, industry gurus are predicting the end of marketing rhetoric in favour of real conversation with prospects. Telemarketing is, in essence, part of that conversation.

Successful relationship-building is founded on age-old common sense principles. High tech is nothing without high touch, and the addition of telemarketing has been repeatedly proven to increase the potency of other automatically served forms of messaging, evidenced by the volume and quality of leads that are produced. And if “telemarketing” still has outmoded and misplaced connotations of cold calling and hard selling, perhaps a brand refresh as “telenurturing” is long overdue…?

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