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How to start with marketing and sales automation

Rutger van der Pol
Rutger van der Pol
Co-founder The Sales Strategist
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Automation mini-guide part 2: A roadmap for making your first workflow automations

I would like to share with you some insights on marketing and sales automation, and the change it can bring to our sales process and the way we interact with prospects and customers. Automation is a broad term that can be applied to many different domains, in this Mini-Guide we focus specifically on workflow automation and sequences in the execution of marketing and sales. In this second part of the series, we look at how you can actually start with automating marketing and sales. You can find all parts of this Automation Mini-Guide here:

Map out the process you want to automate

The first step is to identify the processes to be automated and to clearly define how the parts to be automated relate to the higher-level process. It is important to keep a close eye on whether the part to be automated lends itself well to automation, and whether it fits in with the functionalities of the tools in your tech stack. In the following parts of this Automation Mini-Guide, we will discuss both points in more detail.

Consider how the process you want to automate is currently performed by your marketing or sales team. Let’s take the handling of inbound leads as an example; in a nutshell, the following actions need to be taken: information about the lead needs to be collected (contact details and data for qualification and segmentation), the lead needs to be assigned to one of the SDRs, one or more messages need to be sent, and at the end a certain conversion needs to take place, for example scheduling a meeting with the assigned SDR.

Find out which actions are currently performed manually and in what order. This is also a good time to check how the different people in your sales team are aligned, chances are they don’t all perform the same actions in exactly the same way. Look for your own team’s best practices and take them as a starting point for your workflow automation. Now comes the tricky part: work out the entire automation in advance: what triggers it, what conditions are important before or during the workflow, what information and what content do you need for it, and who will take care of any manual follow-up steps at any given time? By working this out in advance, the implementation will ultimately be much more streamlined and you will also be able to test in advance whether the new automation works with any marketing or sales workflows that have previously been created.

Define the conditions for triggering and exiting

We have already discussed triggers as part of automations. Triggers are the criteria that determine when a workflow starts. There are several triggers on which we can base an automation, some of them are:

  • Contact actions: Most outbound automation actions are triggered by the behaviour of the contact itself: a conversation with a chatbot or the submission of a form are direct behavioural triggers. On the other hand, workflows can also be triggered by more indirect behavioural triggers, such as lead scoring. By basing actions on behaviour, you are better able to reach contacts with the right content at the right time when they are ready to engage with you – increasing the relevance of your touchpoints.
  • Website tracking: if a known contact in the CRM visits certain webpages, it is possible to make this trigger automations. Sending outbound communications based on this can be quite intrusive, however, so we recommend this type of trigger more for customising contact properties or applying tags to a contact in the CRM, for example that they are interested in certain use cases of your product. Your next communication with this contact can be made more relevant by personalising the content to focus on the topics they have shown interest in.
  • Manual property updates: workflows can also be triggered based on manual updates that are made in the CRM. For instance, changes to opportunity stages or updates to properties on contacts or opportunities can be used to trigger workflows.
  • Date based: workflows based on date can be activated based on a specific date of an event, such as a webinar, or based on a date registered in a contact property, such as their birthday.

In addition to a trigger, exit criteria can also be configured for a workflow. This means that criteria can be defined for when a contact should be removed from the workflow, and the next automatic activities will no longer be performed for that contact. This can be as simple as that they no longer meet the enrollment criteria of the workflow trigger, or conditions that are linked to the purpose of your workflow, for example that they have booked a meeting with an SDR or made another conversion. It is also possible to set no exit criteria and let the workflow end only after the last programmed activity has been completed.

Collect and/or create the required content

Once the steps of the workflow are clear, you can map out what content is needed for it. This could be a few emails that need to be delivered to the contact, or it could be larger pieces of content that are needed for the automated nurturing of your leads. You can often repurpose a lot of existing content, especially when it comes to automated sales emails; chances are your sales team already has templates for the situation you want to automate.

When interacting with your contacts in an automated way, you can use different features to make your touchpoints more personal and relevant. You can use data in your CRM to personalise parts of an email, at the simplest level by entering their name in the salutation. But you can also use the tags mentioned earlier (e.g. what use case is a contact interested in) to replace larger sections of content to specifically focus on that topic. This way, you communicate in a very natural way, but on exactly the topics that your lead is interested in.

Identify which human actions still need to be done

Although much can be automated, not all sales activities can be taken over by your automation tools. Especially in B2B sales, it is important to speak to your buyers in person. The moment an inbound lead is assigned to an SDR after proper segmentation and/or nurturing and a meeting is booked via your meeting tool, the lead is transferred from automation to your SDR. It is very important that this person knows exactly what happened previously in the workflow, what information the lead has already received and for what reason it finally arrived at that human touchpoint. This way, there is no gap between the experience your lead had when he received automated content and now when he talks to a human in your sales team.

This is often a matter of coordination between the marketing and sales teams. In many organisations, it is the marketing team (or marketing operations) that maintains the CRM and automation tools. They create the workflows and will therefore also create the content that is delivered by these workflows. It is very important that they do not do this in isolation, but that they actively involve and inform the sales team about what is being automated within the marketing and sales process. This way you avoid discrepancies between how contacts are approached by different departments or in different parts of the buyer journey.

Configure and test, optimise and test

Once everything is designed and prepared, you can create the automation in your automation tool. At this point, this should be a simple task that doesn’t take too much time, although you may well run into unforeseen obstacles while creating the workflow. Make sure you test everything at least once, and if you have different segmentations within your workflow, make sure you go through all of them. A runaway automation can easily send thousands of mails at once if there is a mistake in the configuration. Assuming you have everything set up properly, this will not happen and you can confidently turn on your workflow.

However, you will need to monitor the workflow closely in the beginning to make sure that everything is going well. Usually after a week, or sometimes a month, you will have collected enough data to assess how the workflow is working. Is the workflow doing what it should? Are expectations about lead behaviour being met? Is the conversion rate of the workflow satisfactory? Based on the data, you can make further adjustments and expand the workflow. Make sure you retest each adjustment before implementing it and continue to monitor the data to further optimise.

Automation Mini-Guide

You can find all parts of this Automation Mini-Guide here:

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