Lead generation and marketing automation: How they work together

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Despite criticisms that it’s inefficient and ineffective, lead generation remains an important marketing tactic in B2B and in some B2C sectors, including high-ticket items like auto and home sales.

The truth, of course, is rarely simple. Some lead gen strategies are more effective than others, which is why marketing organizations continue to spend on the tactic. But as marketers focus on intent data and lead scoring to better understand which leads are most likely to convert, old lead generation plays — such as calling everyone who downloads a content asset — are increasingly seen as relics from another era.

Understanding how lead generation and marketing automation work together

Converting leads into customers takes time. This is especially true for B2B purchases, where a single lead (i.e. a person) rarely has the power to make a purchase decision on their own.

What old-school lead generation tactics lacked was a way to keep tabs on leads without having a sales rep call them regularly to ask for an update on their purchase plans.

That gap was filled by marketing automation technology. Marketing automation tools make it easier for marketers to:

  • Build and embed lead forms on their website.
  • Automatically send Thank You messages after leads complete a form.
  • Assign leads to an email nurture cadence.
  • Score leads based on their engagement with your website and emails.
  • Send the lead to the sales team once they achieve a certain lead score.

You’ll find the exact features and capabilities of marketing automation tools will vary. This is just a taste of their functionality.

Dig deeper: The email marketer’s guide to effective marketing automation

Before you dive too quickly into lead generation and marketing automation, however, you first need to develop a deep understanding of your prospects, your customers and your sales process. Marketing automation platforms are very powerful tools, and with great power, as you know, comes great responsibility.

The combination of lead generation and marketing automation can backfire when:

  • Businesses with a long sales cycle conduct too much outreach in a short amount of time.
  • Businesses that sell multiple products send outreach about a different product than the one the lead expressed interest in.
  • Sales representatives reach out too soon, before a lead is ready to have a conversation.

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How to automate lead generation

Marketing automation platforms add automation and scalability to your lead generation strategy. But for most businesses, the lead generation process is rarely fully automated. Even if it occurs after the handoff to sales, humans still close most of the deals in B2B and high-end B2C transactions.

Humans also have to build the pieces and processes behind your marketing automation plans. This often begins with the lead generation offer itself. This could be as simple as a Contact Us form on a website, or it could be an offer to download a piece of content or attend an event.

Try to limit the fields in the form to as few as you need to get the information you require. As leads move through the automated journey there will be opportunities to collect more data along the way.

A lead form will capture the information from your prospect and add it to the specific campaign assigned to the offer. From there, a number of steps take place, each of which is built before the campaign goes live:

  • Leads often receive a quick Thank You or confirmation email after they fill out the form.
  • After the initial outreach, leads enter a nurture cadence, which will send additional offers for content, events or invitations to view certain pages on the website.
  • Each of these actions is given a score. Leads collect points as they engage and get handed off to sales once they reach a predefined points threshold.

It’s difficult to imagine how a modern lead generation strategy — even one as relatively simple as the one outlined above — can be executed at scale without a marketing automation platform.

The major players in the martech industry all have powerful marketing automation tools in the market. There are also marketing automation tools geared toward small- and medium-size businesses. Some of the most popular platforms include:

  • Marketo (Adobe)
  • Marketing Cloud Account Engagement (formerly known as Pardot, from Salesforce)
  • HubSpot
  • Eloqua (Oracle)
  • SharpSpring
  • ActiveCampaign
  • Autopilot
  • MailChimp

Implementing effective lead scoring systems

Not all leads are created equal, which is why lead scoring is a critical element of your lead generation strategy. Lead scoring attempts to measure the readiness of a lead to move forward based on their engagements with your brand. At a high level, it works like this:

  • A load downloads a top-of-funnel content asset: one point.
  • A lead registers to attend a webinar: two points.
  • The lead shows up for the live webinar: five points.
  • The lead accesses an online demo: 10 points.

While marketing automation tools have a lot of capacity (the number of contacts is often part of the pricing model), the same can’t be said for your sales team. The sales reps need to spend their time on the leads most likely to convert. That’s why lead scoring is essential to running an efficient lead generation motion.

One of the risks that businesses take when they automate a task — any task — is they set it and forget it. Your lead scoring needs to be continually monitored and adjusted in order to make sure the best leads are reaching sales and to accommodate changes to the overall strategy.

Attending an in-person event, for example, often merits a high score. A business that is planning to introduce such events as part of their strategy needs to define a score for the events and adjust the scores for other actions as needed.

Dig deeper: The 3 Rs of marketing automation: Relevance, response and ROI

Evaluating and measuring success

Increasingly, the only key performance indicator (KPI) that matters to marketers is revenue generated. Marketing teams will still track marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs), but those metrics have inherent flaws.

Marketers falling short of their MQL goal can distribute content and encourage people to register, thus increasing their MQLs. But unless those leads are ready to talk to sales or make a purchase in short order, their value is relatively unknown.

Marketing teams that are using marketing automation as part of their lead generation strategy are able to track not only the number of leads at different stages, but the velocity at which the leads move along the journey. These marketers develop a better understanding of the types of engagements that encourage a lead to convert more quickly. They also gain visibility into the effectiveness of their content assets, events and website features.

Developing realistic goals for your lead generation program often relies on historical data. You’ll better manage expectations and evaluate the performance of your strategy if you understand:

  • How many inquiries convert into MQLs.
  • How many MQLs convert into SQLs.
  • How many SQLs develop into opportunities.
  • How much pipeline the opportunities generate.
  • The average deal size for your product/company.
  • The length of the sales cycle.

By analyzing the data from your marketing automation platform and your CRM, you’ll be able to measure the impact of your lead generation strategy and plan for the optimizations you need to improve your outcomes.

Modern lead generation strategies can’t scale without the help of a marketing automation platform. Today’s marketing relies on understanding the journeys that prospects travel as they become customers. Think of marketing automation as the tool that allows you to give them directions along the way.

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The post Lead generation and marketing automation: How they work together appeared first on MarTech.

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