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3 lessons learned from our marketing automation implementation

(Co-Autor: Amelie Höllersberger / LinkedIn)

Marketing automation is amazing and if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we love it with all our hearts. But as everything in life, nothing comes easy and on our way to marketing automation we learned a thing or two. And since we’ve already learned the hard way, we’d like to share these lessons, so you don’t have to. 

  1. Marketing automation needs content

Obviously, content is a focal point when planning and implementing marketing automation. But automating and especially personalizing content meant also that we had to rethink certain content.

If you want to offer individual customer journeys, you need to be able to have enough material that actually is and sounds individual. That starts with email texts which suddenly can’t be “all for one and one for all”.

If, for example, you want to address B2B personas from different company units (e.g. marketing, sales, IT), you have to have content and information for each one of them. And each one of them needs individual emails that address their needs and problems. Because what marketing needs in a product and/or solution might not be relevant for sales and vice versa.

When it comes to white papers, blogs and infographics, we had a lot of content to start with and I would wager that most companies do. As a general rule, there’s often rather too much content than too little.

But planning all these individual email communications and campaigns, we had to define concepts and work very closely with buyer personas.

Without these personas, it would have been incredibly difficult to find the right tone and angle (and content) because personas give information on interests, worries, problems and qualms that help conceptualizing journeys, starting with the subject line of a simple email.

  1. Before you automate, you need to clean up your content management system

If you want to plan your automated customer communication which will address customers individually, you need to start with one thing: you need to look at and organize all of your content. As I already said: usually, you will have too much content which needs to be categorized according to your personas, different buying phases and products, etc.

This will be an even more complex task if you also work with different industries or specific partners and collaborators. This step involved a lot of gigantic excel lists for us.

A few things we stumbled upon on our way to total content clarity:

  • differing naming conventions for documents sometimes made it impossible to search and find them (especially when the file names differed from the actual titles)
  • content gaps or content that was way too old to hand to any new customer
  • outdated layout and design (which is bearable) or outdated information (which is bad) that needed to be updated
  • content that is amazing but for mysterious reasons never got a landing page and/or never was published
  • content that everyone is talking about, but no one seems to find

We found a few solutions to our problems:

  • we created a shared content list
  • we assigned a content manager who is informed about every new publication and responsible for documenting it
  • our IT team created a naming convention generator (a small app that generates a file name according to specifics like type, industry, buying phase, persona, etc.)
  • we assigned content experts from different business units (and who also work in the field) for relevant topics who can help with categorizing and verifying content but also help create content
  1. Optimizing is no picnic

As soon as we’ve started the first campaigns and sent our first emails, we looked at our open- and conversion rates. And lo and behold: not all of them were satisfying. But when you are a small- to middle-sized B2B business and therefore don’t have thousands of recipients for each email, persona and campaign, it’s actually not as easy to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Of course, the first thing that pops into mind is the miraculous A/B-test but that mainly works if:

  • you have two similar emails you can send to equally large test groups
  • both test groups are big enough for proper results
  • you can do this for several emails, so you can test different attributes

However, most of our campaigns addressed different topics each month and were sent to target groups that differed in size. We couldn’t really do A/B-tests because it would have taken us months or even years before we had results we could work with. Since we didn’t know whether the subject line, the content of the email or the CTA itself was at fault, it was really difficult for us, to optimize and all we could do was try out new ways each and every month.

Our learning: it’s much easier to optimize automated journeys that involve the same content than automated campaigns that switch content each week/month.

You never stop learning

No matter which innovation you implement or plan in your company: you never stop learning. It doesn’t help to ignore all problems in the initial honeymoon phase and only look at the “good” results. You should be honest with yourself and your team to realize what works and what doesn’t work for you because not everything that works for other companies will be good for you and your customers.

Identify problems and find out what you can do.

  • Sometimes, it’s best to abandon a campaign if it just doesn’t work and concentrate on those that do work.
  • Sometimes, you have to work out new processes or change the way you communicate with your team.
  • Sometimes, you need different technology or specific apps to work out a problem.
  • And sometimes, you have to go back to the drawing board.

Be open for solutions and don’t be too stubborn just because you read a great use case by a company that was completely different than yours, which made it work. Work with your team, not against them.

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