B2B Marketing Automation: 7 Best Practices + High ROI Use Cases

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B2B Marketing Automation can be a very effective way to reduce human error, increase efficiency and remove expense from your marketing process. 

It can also be a very effective way to waste time and money on overly complex and ineffective processes.

Some years ago I was consulting to a major insurance company and we asked for a list of all the automated messages and contacts a customer receives when they sign up. They simply didn’t know. 

Their systems were so complex and so poorly documented, that the only way to actually know what happened was to create a dummy customer profile and literally see what turned up in the mail.

However, in this post I’ll show you how to develop a B2B marketing automation system that is both effective and can be managed long term.

I've created a free, lead scoring example and template in Excel that you can  easily customise to your business. Download it here

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Selecting a B2B Marketing Automation Platform

Performing a feature by feature comparison of marketing automation platforms is an almost impossible task.

Heck, even comparing the same feature between two platforms is nearly impossible:

HubSpot if/then branch

Is the If/Then workflow branch better in HubSpot, MailChimp or ActiveCampaign?”

At some point you will need to select a platform for your business but before you do you should be aware of the following.

The Differences Between Platforms are Smaller Than You Think 

Many of the features are replicated across the different platforms, but under different names and in different configurations, so the differences are smaller than they sometimes appear.

The Difficult Part is Creating the Content

There will be functionality differences but the same high converting lead nurture email flow, subject lines and copy can be automated in all of these systems.

Moving from One System to Another is Both Easier and Harder Than You Think

It’s easier; because the content / ideas are the the hard part and you have already built them.

It’s harder; because navigating the nuances between the systems to bring across your content will take longer than you expect.

It’s liberating; when you change systems (no matter from what to what) you’ll find great new features you can’t believe you ever lived without.

It’s frustrating: when you change systems (no matter from what to what) you’ll lose features that you thought were vital to your business. (They probably weren’t!)

The Top 5 B2B Marketing Automation Platforms

While Outlook’s Email Rules are a type of marketing automation, in practice we need something just a bit more sophisticated to really make a difference in B2B marketing. 

The good news is that B2B marketing automation is a very, very, competitive software space with dozens of different platforms. 

The high profile systems are constantly trying to outdo each other so I’m not even going to try to provide a feature by feature comparison as it will be out of date a week from now.

Instead I’m going to grab the top 5 systems G2 Crowd suggests and provide a short commentary on my long term impressions.

1. HubSpot

Started as a blogging platform but is now an industry heavyweight competing in the integrated business to business sales, service and marketing automation space with applicability from small businesses to enterprises. 

Minimum price that includes automation: AUD1,282 per month 

2. Marketo

Owned by Adobe and targeted primarily at larger businesses, this is a marketing automation system first and foremost. 

No public pricing.

3. Salesforce Pardot

Salesforce purchased Pardot in 2013 and it provides the marketing side of the integrated sales and marketing offering from Salesforce. 

Minimum price: USD1250 per month or approximately: AUD1,736 per month

4. ActiveCampaign

An effective email automation tool but lacks features in the CRM/sales space. 

Minimum price that includes automation: AUD95 per month

5. Mailchimp

This former email list platform has recently rolled out some substantial marketing automation features. However, it too is short of some of the needed B2B CRM/sales features.

Minimum price that includes automation: USD14.99, or approximately AUD21 per month

Top 7 B2B Marketing Automation Best Practices

1. Start with Your Overall Strategy

This may be a surprise but none of these systems is difficult to configure. 

The developers have spent countless hours creating a user interface that is easy and, moderately, intuitive to use.

The hard part is deciding what you want it to do: what is the actual copy in the email, which pageviews are most important, what is the right email cadence, etc. 

So start there first. 

Don’t dive into creating workflows and alerts. Plan out what you want to do at a high level and work down to the detail.

2. Start Simply and Build Over Time

It’s much easier to build your automation implementation progressively over time than design up a 50 step process and try to launch it. 

Software developers learned this a long time ago.

Instead, build stage by stage. Test what works and what doesn’t, adapt, fine tune and improve as you go.

Plus you’ll get quick wins on the board to demonstrate success to management.

3. Test, Test, Test

You’ve heard of Always Be Closing; well this is Always Be Testing.

Time and again review the performance of nurture series, emails (clicks, opens), Calls to Actions (clicks and conversions), structures, etc.

Often you can dramatically improve performance of your automation, not by starting from scratch, but by tweaking small elements.

Also, test to ensure there are no unintended consequences of your automation and that it does what you think it will do. 

4. Use as Few Systems as Possible, Even if you Have to Compromise Functionality

With the apparent ease of integration, Zapier, ITTT, etc you might think you can string together a bunch of best in class systems and be successful.

It is true, it’s easier than ever to push data from one SaaS platform to another. 

However, each integration makes the whole system more fragile, complex and difficult to maintain.

Try, as much as possible, to keep everything in one system. 

Often it’s better to deliver a slightly less than perfect automation using the system you have, than graft on an additional piece of software.

5. Document as Much As You Can

The software vendors all imply that these systems are self documenting, i.e. there is no need to document externally.

Trust me, they are not. 

Looking back at an automation you created just a month ago can seem like reviewing the scribblings of a mad person. 

Why did I do it that way – it makes no sense!

If you’re looking at someone else’s automation it’s worse.

So document as much of the process in high level diagrams (PowerPoint, Google Presentation, etc) as you can. It will make it much easier long term.

6. Agree on Naming Conventions 

It seems like a small thing but document your naming conventions somewhere and stick to it. 

You’ll be surprised how often you’ll appreciate this small idea.

7. Don’t Automate Complex Rules / Special Cases / Small Volumes

If you can’t write down a simple description of what the automation will do; don’t automate it.

If you have lots of exceptions to the rule; don’t automate it.

If something happens only occasionally; don’t automate it

A good example of the last point is automated lead scoring in SME B2B organisations.

Sure, if you’re a large organisation and generating 50 leads a day you need automated lead scoring. 

But if you’re a SME B2B generating one lead a day. It will take forever to generate enough history to validate your automation. 

It’s not as cool to do it manually but it will be more effective and probably take less time overall.

Marketing Automation Use Cases With High ROI

The Use Cases for B2B marketing automation are almost limitless but let’s examine those with good ROI that are also easy to set up.

Lead Nurturing

20 years ago lead nurturing was done by the salesperson. Every month they looked through their 4×6” prospect index cards and found a reason to contact each person and remind them they existed.

Now the process is automated. 

Lead Nurturing Best Practices:

  • Mix up the content you send: bottom of the funnel “book a meeting” emails through to top of the funnel education pieces. That way you catch people at all parts of the funnel.
  • Remember, the goal in B2B marketing, is to stay top of mind over the long sales cycle. So always provide good valuable content. You want them to stay engaged, not unsubscribe. 
  • Space sends out by a few days, or even a week. Don’t send all of your content at once; you’ll annoy the prospect and have no more reasons to contact them.

Data Augmentation and Contact Updates

Use the automation system to update contact details. Here are some examples:

  • If you only service one country or location use location information to set lead status to “Out of Market” if the prospect is from another country
  • If a contact has not opened or clicked an email for a long time, set them to “Unengaged”
  • If the contact works for a competitor, unsubscribe them from all updates. (Keep them in your system so they can’t re-register and get the content again)
  • Set contact Lead Source based on the social media advert they came from.
  • Update their interest profile based on the website pages they have viewed.
Unsubscribe your competitors using marketing automation

Alerting Staff To Prospect Activity

Most systems can be integrated with your website activity tracking. Use this information to alert sales staff when a prospect does something “interesting”.

They can use this information to move the sale forward.

For example, send an alert to the Account Manager when:

Be creative on Account Manager alerts
  • A new prospect in their area downloads a piece of content
  • Their prospect visits the Pricing / About Us / Reviews / Product X /Service Y page on your site
  • Their prospect downloads a new piece of content
  • Their prospect unsubscribes from your newsletter list(!)
  • Their Sales Opportunity has not been updated in 30 days. (Better yet, alert their manager.)
  • Their prospect has viewed more than 10 pages on the website in the last 10 days.

Each of these simple alerts helps the salesperson to understand how the prospect is proceeding through the sale cycle.

I've created a free, lead scoring example and template in Excel that you can  easily customise to your business. Download it here
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