Successfully automating your digital marketing strategy requires striking a balance between personalization and systematic efficiency. Here’s how to do it right.

Companies invest in digital marketing to boost brand visibility and expand their online audience. However, some are surprised to discover that as monthly traffic increases, their ROI actually goes down. How can this be?

The problem is that while a higher volume of website visitors does theoretically translate to more sales opportunities, it also makes the process of qualifying and nurturing prospects much more difficult.

Marketing automation has emerged as a direct response to this issue, allowing companies to manage larger audiences with fewer resources.

However, many of today’s automated tools are so advanced and flexible that figuring out how and when to implement them across your existing marketing and sales infrastructure can actually be a barrier to success.

If you’re considering investing in automation, here are five things you should do in advance to ensure you’re building your marketing program on a solid foundation.

1. Start with a Clean Slate

Before introducing automation into your organization, you should conduct a thorough audit of your existing data and processes. Is your current database a mess, full of duplicate contacts and incomplete information? Does it represent multiple former data capture approaches and/or qualification standards?

Automation effectively amplifies whatever is fed into it. If you start out with messy, inconsistent, or inaccurate data, you’ll end up with a whole slew of problems that will ultimately hinder your progression towards marketing automation maturity.

2. Align Your Sales and Marketing Strategies

Marketing automation only drives results when it’s directly informed by the needs of your sales team. When defining automated parameters — and your content/messaging strategy as a whole — marketing and sales need to work in close collaboration to ensure the handoff between these two processes goes smoothly.

An effective handoff requires a cohesive view of how marketing feeds into sales. What are the qualifying criteria for a sales-ready lead? Are leads being assigned to specific pathways and/or sales teams based on how they interact with your website? How are early-stage prospects being guided down the funnel? How are leads that didn’t end up becoming customers being recycled back into the process?

Marketing automation functions optimally only when a company’s entire revenue engine is aligned and functioning seamlessly.

3. Define Your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Now that your sales and marketing processes are synced up, automation — with the help of advanced data analytics tools — allows you to effectively record a prospect’s entire journey, from your initial contact with them to the point of sale. You can now determine which KPIs you’re going to be recording and how frequently you’ll be reporting on them in advance.

In other words, instead of only focusing on traditional marketing KPIs, such as views, opens, clicks, and downloads, you can start measuring (and even predicting) more meaningful metrics like revenue, profits, seasonal fluctuations in demand, etc.

4. Implement Your Lead Capture System

In order to maximize your number of sales opportunities, you need to ensure that no prospective buyer goes neglected — a common problem in traditional, non-automated marketing programs.

When your automated processes are fed by an organized lead capture system, you know that every lead will be contacted at the right moment and with the right content, based on their demonstrated actions and interest.

5. Develop a Personalized Lead Nurturing Strategy

The best automated lead nurturing is segmented by demonstrated behavior. In other words, your approach and messaging should correlate with a prospect’s position in the sales funnel. This is determined by how they interact with your website and/or downloadable collateral.

Sustainable lead generation and nurturing requires a great deal of content. You need to be able to engage each buyer persona at each stage of the funnel, presenting a clear, personalized path to conversion.

Your automation should also be flexible and responsive. For example, email workflows should react to specific actions taken by the contact — i.e., if someone opens and downloads the resource you send in an automated follow-up email, you follow-up again with X; if not, you do Y instead.

If, at any point, someone responds directly, your process needs to adapt accordingly. If they request more information, transfer them to a salesperson for a more personal conversation; if they ask to be removed from the list, move them into a more passive lead nurturing cycle, like an email newsletter list, until enough time has passed that you can reach out again.

At the end of the day, marketing automation only works when it’s implemented in a way that doesn’t feel automated. This is, admittedly, a tricky thing to do; however, considering the exponential returns that a properly designed, automated lead capture, qualification, and nurturing process can deliver, I’d argue that the ends more than justify the means.

Author Remy Bernstein

As L&T’s COO, Remy directs all internal and client operations for L&T. Since joining the team in the the summer of 2014, Remy has overseen the precipitous growth of the company’s full-time staff and client base. He works directly with every member of the L&T team to implement and operationalize new processes, manage client accounts, and produce exemplary content every day. A graduate of Kenyon College, Remy previously worked in the editorial departments at Publishers Weekly and Standard & Poor’s. He specializes in content quality management and scalable business strategies, and relies on his extensive journalism background to supervise dozens of branded digital publications.

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