Going Digital: Automating Sales and Marketing

Which should you automate first: the chicken or the egg? Why sales and marketing is the logical place to start ramping up your business, and how to do it.

In The Automation Issue, we present a collection of expert essays on an important topic in the industry today. Here, Mark Coudray discusses automation in sales and marketing.

Since the theme for this issue is automation, I would like to set the stage by asking the question and offering a caveat. Why automate? On the surface, this may appear obvious. Automation can speed up a process. It can make a process more consistent, and it can add substantial efficiency to the output. All true, but automation also comes with a price that absolutely must be considered.

Back in 1977, I purchased my first automatic press. For the first couple of weeks, life was fantastic. So much product was going out the door that I almost couldn’t believe it. But my initial elation quickly turned into a nightmare.

You see, I had only considered automation at the production level. At the time, I was working 16 hours a day and had a six-month backlog of work. Orders were coming in faster than I could get them out. I had money in the bank. From all appearances, I had a successful business.

It took exactly three weeks to burn through the entire backlog. My accounts receivable skyrocketed from almost nothing to over $30,000 in 1977 dollars. (That’s more like $120,000 today.) I converted all of my cash to inventory, which in turn got converted to accounts receivable.

To make matters worse, I was completely out of orders with no pipeline to replace them. The steady stream of work coming in was now only enough to keep production going for a day at a time. I couldn’t spare time away from the shop to do outside sales. The source of my work had been almost entirely word of mouth, and I quickly discovered I couldn’t predict when the next order would come in.

Thirty days into automation and I was on the edge of closing the business. I was out of cash and couldn’t meet payroll. My sales were anemic compared to what I needed to keep production going. The worst part was that I didn’t have a clue as to what just happened.

It took me almost five years to recover. My previous state of having a constant backlog of work and cash in the bank became an almost constant peak-and-valley cycle alternating with feast-and-famine cash flow. It was a very frustrating time.

Fast forward to today. Businesses continue to look at automation with a siloed perspective, only solving the problem in the area where there is a bottleneck. Before considering any automation, you must consider the potential impact on the other key areas of your business.

These are production, sales and marketing, and administration. My part of the equation will focus on sales and marketing. To understand what you’re up against, spend a little time learning about the Theory of Constraints. Read “The Goal” and “Critical Chain” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. You’ll discover the shifting nature of bottlenecks or constraints and how they propagate through a business.

Why Sales and Marketing Automation?
Sales and marketing is the logical place to start. As Stephen Covey so eloquently pointed out in his landmark book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Begin with the end in mind.” Nothing happens until something is sold. If you can control sales, you can balance your entire business.

But the goal of automating sales and marketing isn’t simply to compress and accelerate the sales cycle. Nor is it to have a faucet you can turn on or off at will.

Rather, I look at sales automation as a critical component that reflects the changing nature of how buyers are transacting business in the digital economy. The sales process has changed. The internet allows access to practically any piece of information via search. Gartner predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their business relationships without interacting with a person.

Prospects have researched the market. They’ve identified vendors and reviewed offerings online. They check online social reviews like Google, Yelp, Manta, Better Business Bureau, and Angie’s List for validation. They’re avoiding direct contact with sales personnel because they are tired of being sold on the traditional features-and-benefits model.

This is especially true of the increasing numbers of millennials responsible for purchasing. When they do connect, the discussion is almost always price-focused. Access to so much information has further commoditized an already price-driven market. This isn’t just happening in graphics. It’s happening to everyone.

That’s why the modern role of marketing and sales must be focused more than ever on an educational and consultative approach. “Content marketing,” the buzzword for several years now, means marketing efforts that deliver valuable educational content in advance of the sale. The idea is for you to create and promote information in the hope of validating you as the established authority and expert in the field. And the packaging and design of the content is just as valuable as the information; in the consumer’s mind, how well you present your business is a reflection of how well you conduct your business.

Attention is what everyone is competing for. The more compressed the information, the better. Prospects want their content distilled down to a tweet. They don’t have time. Long articles are being condensed into infographics. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth even more. Content is now being viewed on mobile devices 67 percent of the time and this has a big impact on how information is packaged for consumption. With all this information compression, what are the options? What is the best strategy?

Content and Drip Marketing
Having a plan is essential. In the beginning, it started with blogs: short 300- to 500-word commentaries on company websites. This evolved to the “vlog” or video blog. Some are opinion pieces, others technical info. For these to be successful, you need to get traffic to your page on a repetitive basis. It works great if you have an e-commerce site where visitors regularly return. Short videos on the homepage delivered as lightbox overlays work particularly well.

The rise of the special report or white paper was next. For this, readers enter their email, confirm they want to receive the information, and then download the material. These are typically in the form of a PDF e-book ranging from a few pages up to 100. Most are 10 to 20 pages. This approach works very well for market or industry surveys, evolving technologies, or subjects that need immediate insight and action.

When it comes to content, a key component of marketing automation is to always make sure your contact with your market is relevant and useful – to the buyer, not to your sales team. We can no longer “blast” our prospects with buy-my-stuff pitches. When I hear someone tell me they’re going to send out an email blast, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. This is push marketing from the last century at its worst, and it just doesn’t work. It’s the fastest way to disengage your reader.

The entry-level automation for all of these examples is scheduling software that allows you to prepublish and release the content according to your timeframe. Automation scheduling also works very well for special events and seasonal content. Campaigns can be designed, created, loaded, and delivered with great precision. Timing is everything. Through the associated analytics, you can determine the best time of day or week to publish for maximum viewership. This is especially important for social media posts on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn Pulse. Examples of subscription software for this are Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Sprout Social, 22Social, and Buffer.

A more advanced form is email automation, also known as drip marketing or autoresponder sequences. Here, you extend your contact with the people who downloaded your e-book by dripping additional in-depth insights that go beyond what’s in the book. Remember, content marketing is all about establishing yourself as the definitive authority in your specialty area. People can only retain a limited amount from a single exposure to your information. Dripping content increases the exposure, retention, and recall of who you are. You maintain a higher top-of-mind awareness. This is very powerful because even if your prospect isn’t ready to buy, they at least know who you are if one of their friends is looking for what you do.

All of the major email service providers offer this capability. Just a few of the many examples are AWeber, MailChimp, GetResponse, iContact, SendGrid, Constant Contact, Drip, and Emma. They range from free to hundreds of dollars per month depending on the level of service you seek, mail volume, and number of contacts you are mailing to. Also available are add-on tools like Zapier, IFTTT, and AW Pro Tools that integrate services and provide advanced segmentation and tracking capabilities.

One of the most powerful features of drip automation is the ability to segment your prospects based on rules. Rules-based automation allows you to gradually escalate a prospect based on their progressive interest. Consider that open rates for an average email list are about 8 to 11 percent. An engaged list where the reader is familiar with you can average 30 to 40 percent. Lists of highly engaged recipients who are anticipating content can have open rates from 50 to greater than 100 percent if your content gets shared. How do you achieve this level of performance? It’s easier than you might think.

Rules-based automation allows you to automatically resend an email if it has not been opened in a specific time – say, 24 hours. You can also prompt recipients to respond to an offer, take a survey, or click a link in the body of the email. If any of those things happen, you can trigger additional actions, like unsubscribing them from a prospect list and resubscribing them to a warm lead list. If they purchase something from you, they get moved automatically to a buyers list. This process uses tags that are individually applied and removed as needed. The marketing objectives, content, and contact frequency are all customized based on their engagement with you.

A step up from simple email and scheduling automation are marketing platforms. These are a mix of marketing and sales customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Almost all of them are cloud-based and are sold on a per-seat, per-month basis. The cost can range from free to thousands of dollars per month. You get what you pay for.

Examples of these platforms include: ActiveCampaign, HubSpot, Infusionsoft, Marketo, Pardot, Salesforce.com, Ontraport, SugarCRM.com, VTiger, and dozens more. These programs can combine and consolidate multiple functions into very sophisticated sales and marketing campaigns. As with any digital technology, the learning curve and implementation can be steep. My advice would be to go slow and master the steps. Nothing is served by overwhelming yourself and becoming discouraged.

Expense or Investment?
Besides the advantages of automating the steps, digital marketing provides incredibly powerful analytics. This is a fundamental advantage of using digital pull marketing over traditional push marketing. When you have key performance indicators (KPIs) across your campaigns, you can easily see what’s working and what isn’t. More importantly, you can monetize the entire process and change marketing and sales from an expense to an investment.

This shift is fundamental to your current and future success. Like digital production, digital marketing is moving toward a unit of one. This means each client will have their own unique characteristics. The more precisely you can relate to and connect with them, the more business you will do. This level of precise customization can get very expensive, so you have to know what you want and exactly how much you’ll spend to get it.

Likewise, the sales cycle and actual sales contact time will continue to get shorter. This makes the need to convert every opportunity imperative. With current trends, you will probably only get one shot at closing the deal. As a result, you need to know exactly how much it costs you to acquire a prospect, lead, and, ultimately, a customer. You need to know exactly how long each step takes and how many prospects you need to get the necessary number of leads to convert the number of customers you expect. This is necessary in order to keep your order flow balanced. You can do all of this with sales pipeline automation.

When you have a complete visualization of your KPIs, you’ll know exactly how much revenue you’ll deliver for every dollar you spend on your campaigns. The business becomes a true economic engine at this point. A dollar invested can generate $4 to $100. When you have the confidence of knowing exactly how much you have to spend, and how long it will take to generate a sale, you have the ability to scale up or pull back based on the other constraints in your business.

Finally, there is the client performance side. To get a true handle on client value, you will need to collect data across multiple parts of the business. Determining how profitable a client is involves a combination of jobs per period, job size, profit per job (gross margin), and frequency of ordering. Many of these are tracked in the CRM dashboard. Depending on customers’ performance profiles, you will feed data back into the marketing campaign platform to deliver the kinds of messaging, content, insights, and offers that stimulate them to do more and more business with you. As you engage with clients on an increasingly personalized, relevant basis, their average order size and order frequency will increase. This is not additive growth; it’s compound multiplicative growth. It’s the kind of growth that only comes from having the keys to unlock your customer’s behavior. Sales and marketing automation and analysis will give you those keys.

Explore the rest of The Automation Issue:

The Automation Issue, Steve Duccilli

Killing Your Top 5 Time Wasters, Mike Ruff

The Benefits of Screenroom Automation, Johnny Shell

5 Steps to Take Control of Your Printroom, Marshall Atkinson

MIS: Whipping Your Data into Shape, Eileen Fritsch

An Automation Wish List for Your Printroom, Marshall Atkinson

View more from this Screen Printing issue