Marketing Automation Is a Must for DMers

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The direct marketer's toolbox is bursting at the seams. As quickly as fresh ideas surface, we test them, improve upon them and even discard them. One of the most promising, emerging technologies is Web-based marketing automation. Direct marketers use this new suite of tools and processes to successfully supplement traditional marketing activities.


Marketing automation offers the business-to-business marketer several benefits: speed, cost savings, improved results tracking, reduced effort and the ability to repeat successful marketing campaigns. Adding a Web-response vehicle also is beneficial to prospects. They can quickly satisfy their need for information via self-service electronic fulfillment options, and they only have to provide pertinent information once since this information is automatically entered into the marketing database.


First, a definition of marketing automation: Industry analysts call it a combination of software, custom database structures and processes that allow marketing professionals to become more efficient at their jobs and more effective in how they target, deliver and determine the success of their marketing programs. Marketing automation systems manage the marketing activity from concept through execution, evaluation and reporting.


With the advent of new marketing automation systems, direct marketers have applications designed solely to respond to their needs and environment. The programs also integrate with other key corporate customer information systems such as sale force automation, customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning to efficiently deliver qualified leads to the sales force and track sales results to marketing activities. The Internet also plays a large role in the efficacy of marketing automation. A Web site is an ideal way of developing mutually beneficial relationships with prospects and customers.


Prior to marketing automation, a standard direct marketing activity consisted of sending out a direct mail piece with a business reply card and a phone number, then hoping for a 2 percent response rate. You might even capture prospect information in a marketing database for future marketing efforts, then pass the lead on to the sales force.


Now, with Web-based marketing automation tools, an integrated direct marketing campaign might begin with the standard direct mail piece and response media but would add options designed to drive prospects to a Web site (up to 50 percent of the respondents will select Web today).


This capability allows you to capture responses and automatically store them in your marketing database. Depending upon the information a prospect provides, you can instantly fire off a customized response to the prospect to begin establishing a relationship based on what you learned. If you have developed a proprietary permission-based e-mail list, you also can promote your offer via e-mail - or test direct mail vs. e-mail. Finally, to boost your response rate, an outbound calling effort to non-respondents can be added to more fully integrate your direct marketing campaign.


Marketing automation is a powerful way to move toward true one-to-one marketing interaction with your prospects and customers. How? Use the initial contact -be it Web, mail, e-mail, fax or phone - to capture qualifying information as well as e-mail addresses and always include an opt-in or opt-out option. Consult your sales force to ensure you are gathering information meaningful to them and clearly designed to prioritize their follow-up activities. This initial data should be enough to identify characteristics about your prospects and customers and differentiate between them according to position, authority and need and, ultimately, value.


Then, aided by marketing automation tools, the next stage of direct marketing begins. Based upon responses from the prospect, identify who you should have further dialogue with. The type of medium you elect to use for your next marketing touch depends upon the qualification level as well as the preference of the prospect. The least expensive media is the Internet, but the opportunity might warrant an outbound call, another contact by mail or even a face-to-face meeting with a sales rep. Regardless of the method, your marketing automation system will identify a set of actions, defined by target populations, for your next marketing activity.


Automated marketing events can be triggered by a number of factors: time intervals, a prospect's needs and/or value, development of additional products or offers, and so forth. You now can begin a series of automated drip irrigation marketing activities, customized by population, each one building upon the other. Don't jeopardize your budding relationship by requesting a flood of information initially. Instead, build the relationship little by little, asking just what you need to cultivate the prospect and migrate him to the next level.


Regardless of the type of interaction, your prospects will expect you to remember what they told you last time. The better you become at listening, retaining, processing and customizing your responses, the more successful you will be at relationship building. This is accomplished by feeding the results of all interactions into your centralized marketing database and relying upon this historical data to determine your next customized communication.


To learn from and improve upon each marketing campaign, you need to be able to measure the results and report this information to the organization. Again, marketing automation systems allow you to track results by individual marketing source and roll that information into program and overall integrated campaign results. By interfacing with your sales force automation systems, you can eventually track sales-to-marketing efforts.


One word of caution here: In a complex sales environment where high-ticket considered purchases involve multiple decision-makers, it's rare to tie an individual prospect to a sale. Rather, tie individuals to business sites, and tie sites to sales for a more accurate ROI picture.


Marketing automation's impact on the way a direct marketer builds relationships with prospects and customers will continue to grow. As with every great new idea, any new marketing technology should be evaluated for its usefulness to your marketing objectives.

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