So you’ve just deployed your new marketing automation system — or you’re thinking about doing so soon. Now what? For a small business, particularly one with just a handful of employees, going too fast can backfire. If you look at marketing automation as a strategy and start slowly rather than trying to learn every feature at once, you’ll find that marketing automation is one of the most powerful tools for a growing business. Here are some tips for maximizing marketing automation in your business without killing yourself in the process.

1. Get a strategy.

There are some key decisions that you’ll need to make before using the system. What content do you have to support the lead nurturing process? What sales and marketing metrics are most important to your business? Which processes can run automatically and which require the human touch? At what point during the nurturing process should marketing hand off the lead to sales? Put marketing and sales in the same room (quite easy if this is the same person) and determine the answers to these questions. Remember: you can always revise your strategy and tweak the system later.

2. Align with sales.

Marketing automation systems are an excellent way to align sales and marketing efforts and get everybody working toward a common goal. Think not about how many leads marketing generates, but how many of those leads are qualified, and how many of those leads result in a sale. How many marketing touches does the average prospect receive before they convert into a true sales opportunity? Marketing automation tracks all of this, and by looking regularly at the results, you can tweak your campaigns to focus on the most successful content and strategies.

3. Establish processes for lead nurturing.

To ensure that everyone’s on the same page, put together a working plan for how sales and marketing will use the marketing automation system. First, determine the criteria points that will trigger lead assignment to sales. These criteria will vary, but may include both profiling factors like a prospect?s job title and activity factors like downloading a particular piece of content or viewing a specific area of your website. A second rule might be that after sales receives a lead, they will follow-up within 48 hours. A third rule: If a lead turns cool, sales will return it to marketing to be placed in an automated nurturing program. [Hint: this all takes place within the handy marketing automation interface!]

4. Develop more than one nurturing track.

The concept of lead nurturing is to create a targeted campaign based on a prospect?s area of interest. If a prospect takes action on your website perhaps filling out a form? they’re automatically added to the nurturing group. Yet all prospects aren’t the same, right? If you have more than one product or service line, there’s an even stronger case to develop several nurturing programs for different purposes. It’s easy to create multiple nurturing tracks with targeted messaging. For example, a company may have an ROI-focused program designed for executive decision makers and a different program designed for end-users who are more concerned with ease of use and time savings. Another factor is buying readiness. Prospects who show high interest in your product may receive more frequent communication than casual researchers. You can also empower your sales reps to add people to nurturing tracks, if for instance a prospect asks them to check back in six months. With emails that allow for dynamic personalization, the nurturing messages can appear to come from the assigned sales rep.

5. Nurture lost deals.

Marketers often think that once a prospect goes to a competitor, that prospect is dead. Yet you spent a lot of time and resources developing and nurturing that lost lead, right? Maybe it’s not a bad idea to keep in touch, since they showed enough interest to proceed along your nurturing track. This is easy to do, if you have knowledge of the contract renewal dates of your competitor that acquired the customer. The sales rep can set up a nurturing campaign beginning with an e-mail saying that they wish them luck with their implementation, and that they’d love to keep in touch. Then, when that contract renewal date approaches, e-mail another piece of educational content to the lost prospect–and be sure to let them know about all the great new features that you’ve released since you last spoke. Within a marketing automation system, marketers or salespeople can easily set up a different ?lost opportunity? track for each competing solution, with content specific to that vendor.

 

6. Don’t panic about content, but get creative.

You’ve been getting up to speed on your marketing automation system for a few weeks now, and things are going well. But wait: the content well is running dry! Naturally, you may not have a lot of extra cash on hand to hire some writers or an agency. This is not a crisis. It’s easy and quite common to recycle content across a blog, white paper, webinar and other materials. Develop a core piece of thought leadership, and then tweak it as needed for each campaign. It’s also perfectly acceptable to use content that was not created by your firm. In a simple text e-mail, personalized from a sales rep, you can link to industry blogs or articles that might be useful to your audience. Just be sure to give credit where credit is due.

7. Measure the ROI of third-party tools.

There are a wealth of statistics that your marketing automation system can tell you about your marketing campaigns in terms of results and effectiveness. Yet marketing automation can also give you an ROI metric on third-party services. For instance, you can monitor what a Google AdWords lead does post-click, which gives you a much better read on the value of your Google investment. Using custom links, you can also track clicks on any link, even if it’s not a link to your own website. This can be helpful for tracking prospect engagement with third-party content or assets like your Facebook or Twitter page.

8. Incorporate social media.

The top marketing automation systems today have some form of social media integration. This allows you to pull a prospect or customer’s social media profile into your CRM system, giving you easy access to their profiles on sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter. It provides your sales team with more information about prospects and customers, so that they can tailor their pitches appropriately. A marketing automation system can also track leads generated from campaigns on your own social media accounts, which is critical since many companies are doing more social media marketing today.

The ultimate goal of marketing automation is to get your sales and marketing departments working together as a well-oiled, revenue-driving machine. To begin, outline your current process for lead generation and the sales handoff, and then outline your dream process. Look at the differences and start tackling one area at a time. Small successes will keep you motivated as you begin to build a system that takes full advantage of today’s new marketing technologies.