When you hear the phrase “marketing automation,” what do you think of first? A detailed diagram of emails sent to different segments, broken out by email engagement, drawing a line from lead to customer? This has become the norm, yet it is among the least effective automation paths you can set up as a marketer.
The inherent flaw in this strategy is that it starts with the marketer’s timeline rather than the prospect’s. The marketer sits down and defines what information the prospect will consume next, what actions the prospect will take next, and the path the prospect will take from becoming a lead to becoming a customer.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that the world is not as straightforward as that. You might define the funnel stages as Lead to Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) to Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) to Opportunity to Customer, where leads download an ebook, then become an MQL when they start a trial, an SQL when the sales person follows up with that prospect, an opportunity when they do a trial review call, and customer when they purchase.
… But what if they start a trial and then download an ebook? Or what if they get into a sales conversation after just downloading an ebook, never become a customer, and then go cold until they start a trial months later? The reality is that you can’t control what your prospect does or in what order your prospect does it. What you can control, however, is how you react to your prospect’s behaviors. And this is where automation and trigger marketing becomes powerful.
The “triggering” event can be anything measurable by your CRM and automation software. Here are just a few examples:
- Form conversions
- Email opens (or lack thereof)
- Number of pages viewed
- Chatbot interactions
- Meeting certain descriptive criteria
As a result of the triggering event, you can automate tasks/actions with your marketing automation software. Here are some examples:
- Send them an email (or sequence of emails)
- Update their CRM record
- Add them to a list
- Assign them to a sales rep
- Send an internal notification about them
1. Understand your buyer persona.
Know your buyer persona: It should go without saying in the context of any marketing activity, but in marketing automation, it’s doubly important.
If you think through the lifecycle stages, pains, and motivations of your target audience(s), you can craft better trigger marketing strategies to guide them along their path to purchase.
The goal of marketing automation is to provide a great experience at scale, and part of that means meeting them where they are. When 80% of customers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences, it just makes sense.
2. Think in terms of ‘ifs’ and ‘thens.’
Software is simple. It sees in black and white rather than the complex outcome that you’re moving toward. However, you can reverse engineer a great trigger marketing strategy using automation by thinking through your outcome and the path to get there as a series of if/then statements:
- If x happens, then do y.
- If the prospect fills out this form, then send them this email.
- If the prospect has visited the pricing page, then notify a rep.
The “if” is the criteria. The “then” is the action you want to take.
3. Figure out your triggering events.
In order to get your messaging to the right people at the right time, you must identify the “trigger” (in HubSpot, it’s called “enrollment criteria“). This is the “if” part of the equation, the concrete indicator that the software can use as a green light to execute the actions.
Triggering events are only limited by the information you have in your system and your marketing automation’s capabilities. Common ones include:
- Actions taken on the website
- Criteria met in the database
- Responses to past emails or campaigns
4. Determine the actions you want your system to perform.
Once you know your “trigger” or enrollment/starting criteria, then you can decide what happens next. This is the “then” part of the equation. Common actions include:
- Sending an email
- Enrolling in a sequence
- Categorizing the contact in the database
5. Craft personalized messaging.
Remember that 80% of customers are more likely to purchase after a personalized experience? If your action (“then” statement) includes a marketing task such as email sends or campaign enrollment, it’s critical to know exactly how this contact is different from others in your CRM and what messaging will uniquely appeal to them. Ask yourself:
- Where are they at in their journey?
- How can I provide value and move them to the next step?
6. Identify and eliminate repetitive marketing tasks.
If you’re still not sure where to begin with marketing automation, start by creating a list of your most repetitive tasks. For example, if you send the same email over and over again to multiple contacts, using automation to eliminate this task from your day will increase productivity and, as a result, performance. This will help you focus on higher impact tasks that can’t be automated.
7. Increase the value of your CRM.
As mentioned previously, your only limits are the capabilities of the software you’re using and the quality of your data. If you have messy data, marketing automation may hurt you. If you have incomplete data, you won’t be able to do the advanced personalization and segmentation that will make a world of difference.
With that in mind, you will have to understand how to make the most of your CRM. Part of this comes down to using automation to update CRM records and categorize contacts, but ultimately you’ll have to think about how your organization uses their CRM and ask yourself these questions:
- What data can you gather about your prospects (and when) to help the effectiveness of your campaigns?
- How can you use automation to ensure the cleanliness and accuracy of your database?
- How often can you audit your database to ensure the integrity of these efforts?
Trigger-Based Email Marketing
We briefly discussed that marketing automation provides a big opportunity for email marketing efforts. Triggered emails — automated marketing messages based on a prospect’s behaviors — are powerful because they are inherently relevant and timely. The key to an effective email is relevance plus timeliness plus value, and the first two are baked into triggered emails. It’s up to the marketer to jump on that opportunity and align a valuable offer to those recipients.
Not using triggered emails? Here are a few recipes of triggered marketing automation to get you started.
Trigger: Downloaded an Educational Offer
This is a great place to start if you don’t have any triggered emails set up, as this is the broadest trigger — engaging the prospects at the earliest stage of the buyer’s journey.
What to Send: Transactional Email With Next Step Call-to-Action
In this situation, your triggered email can be a transactional email — confirming the download (or registration or request) and including any information related to that download.
For example, if this is a follow-up to downloading an ebook, include the name of the ebook and a link to the PDF. If it’s a follow-up to registering for a webinar, include the webinar information, including the time and date and how to log in.
Once you’ve covered your bases on the transactional information, it’s time to think about what you want your prospect to do next. You have their attention — take advantage of it! Do you want them to convert on a middle-of-the-funnel offer like a demo request or complementary consultation? Or do you want to encourage them to share this offer with their network, to expand the reach of your content? Think about that ideal next step, and include a call-to-action for that in your follow up email.
Trigger: Took One Action in a Series, but Not the Next
Say your prospect gets close to taking the action you want — like starting a trial of your product — but they don’t quite get to the finish line. They visit the trial landing page, or view some content about your product, but don’t start that trial. This is an opportunity for you to follow up to get them to cross that finish line.
What to Send: Related Content and an Alternative Action
Perhaps they didn’t complete that action because of some hesitation — they didn’t want to fill out a form, or they had some additional questions that stopped them from starting that trial. This is an opportunity to follow up with related content (like product videos or resources for the trial) and an alternative action (maybe they don’t want to use a trial, they simply want to get a demo or speak directly with a sales rep).
You can even simply ask them in your email … what stopped you from signing up? Anything we can do to help? You’ll be surprised by how many responses you’ll get. After all, these are people who got close to taking an action but had some specific hesitation. You want to both discover and address that hesitation head-on.
Trigger: Viewed Specific Content
Whether you have content on specific topics (product pain points, for example), or content aligned with specific parts of the funnel (product pages vs. blog articles), when your prospects view that content, you have more data to use in your follow-up emails.
What to Send: Tailored Follow-Up Content
Whether you trigger an email immediately or save this intelligence for future communications, the data you collect about which content people view can be used to make your marketing that much more relevant on a one-to-one basis.
For example, if you have content on your website (case studies, blog articles, etc.) that’s related to specific industries or target markets, you can infer that people who view that content are in that industry, and tailor your future marketing messages accordingly. Or, if you have content on your website that is related to specific topics of interest or pain points that you address, you can infer that people who view that content care about that pain point, and tailor your future marketing messages around that topic.
Think about the various behavioral data points you have about your prospects, and what you can draw from that to determine what they care about.
Trigger: Recently and Highly Engaged or Lacking in Engagement
Figure out what your bar is for a highly engaged prospect (perhaps they downloaded at least three ebooks and viewed at least ten blog articles) as well as an unengaged prospect, and respond and market to them accordingly.
What to Send: Timely Next Step Call-to-Action or Reengagement Campaign
For your highly engaged prospects, you once again have attention you can leverage. One great option is to encourage them to share the content they just downloaded. But also remember that triggered marketing automation does not need to be solely external (sent to prospects), it can also be internal (sent to your fellow employees)!
When a prospect becomes highly engaged, this is a great opportunity to notify that prospect’s sales representative that this is a good time to follow up with the prospect. For your unengaged prospects, send a proactive reengagement email. You may even want to have multiple trigger points (e.g. haven’t clicked on an email in three months, six months, one year) where you send different campaigns to reengage these prospects.
For example, after three months, send a reminder to update their email preferences. After six months, ask them if the content is irrelevant and offer them to unsubscribe. And finally, after one year, tell them you will not email them anymore unless they respond.
Trigger: Interacted With Your Company, or Mentioned Your Competitors or Industry, in Social Media
As you listen to what your prospects are saying in social media, you have the opportunity to follow up with those who interact with your company, or those who mention your competitors or specific pain points that you address.
What to Send: Comparison Guides, Product Information, or Educational Content
Pick a common and valuable interaction that occurs between you and your prospects in social media — it may be asking questions about your product, mentioning that they’re evaluating a competitor, or simply asking a question that relates to the pain points your product addresses.
If responding by social media, you likely don’t actually want to automate your response — it will be very easy for your prospect to recognize the impersonal nature of that interaction. However, you can supplement your one-to-one social media engagement with a triggered email campaign with supporting content. For example, if your prospect asks questions about your product, you can send how-to and product feature information. If your prospect mentions they’re evaluating a competitor, you can send comparison guides, third party reviews, or case studies for them to use in their evaluation process. Or if your prospect simply asks a question related to your industry, you can follow up with educational content on the topic of interest.
At the end of the day, any of these triggered emails are likely to get a higher response — and higher return on your effort — compared to the typical linear marketing automation campaign. Using some of the same technology, you can reorient your marketing to work around your prospect’s timeline instead of your own, while continuing to drive the actions you desire.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.