Winning new customers still is one of the biggest obstacles for B2B companies. Many rely on a variety of methods for their Inbound Marketing in order to minimize scatter loss and even avoid cold-calling. Mixing many methods, combined with B2B marketing automation, enables a targeted and individual communication with your prospects. Optimally, you pair them with tailored content through the various phases of the customer journey until your prospect has made a purchase decision.
The goal of your inbound marketing is to attract prospects and turn them into paying customers. However, inbound marketing only develops its full potential when it is automated. Let’s learn all about marketing automation in B2B!
What Are the Responsibilities and Goals of Marketing Automation in B2B?
With B2B marketing automation, you take inbound marketing for your company to perfection. It works by not just hooking individual content pieces and hoping someone bites. Instead, you align your entire customer communication to the customer journey.
The task of B2B marketing automation is to address…
- the right (potential) customers,
- with the right information,
- at the right time
- via the right channel
And this should work as automated as possible. Always with the goal in mind to qualify leads until they are ready to buy.
This is How Marketing Automation Works in B2B
1. Attract Prospects with Lead Magnets
Your first step must be to attract potential customers and learn more about them. B2B marketing automation tries to address the individual needs of users as specifically as possible—unlike as stiff and generic email funnels. You simply won't succeed if you present the same content to everyone.
"Give value. Give value. Give value. And then ask for business." – as Gary Vee's would put it. The conclusion is to gain attention because you add a lot of value!
Free lead magnets such as e-books, checklists, white papers, or templates help your target audience to overcome certain challenges. They are willing to share information about themselves as a thank you for your help.
Always ask for their email address—afterwards you can use it to get in touch with them.
Data is the Gold of the 21st Century
It’s as easy at that: The more value a lead magnet adds to for your target audience, the more willing they are to disclose personal information. The more you know about your prospects, the more individually you can communicate with them. Therefore—depending on your offer and content piece of course—it may be worthwhile to ask for additional helpful information, such as the employee's position in the company.
At the same time, you should stick to “the less, the better” when it comes to lead magnets. Not only from a data protection point of view, but also because every additional piece of information requested costs you leads. The leaner the lead form, the more likely it is that prospects actually fill it out.
2. Add Additional Information
Once the fish is hooked, you shouldn’t let it go. Now it's time to provide the lead with further information and making her or him more and more familiar with your brand. However, the focus is still on being a thought leader—don’t pitch your product! The prospect should gain trust in you and your company.
Supply your prospects with additional content via emails, landing pages or social media campaigns. Of course, everything should be aligned with your lead magnet in order to have the necessary relevance! For example: Offer new content such as supplementary checklists or guides to the prospect in a second email. In many cases, this procedure will increase the general acceptance of further communication.
3. Focus on Individual Communication
So far, there's not much difference between this and an ordinary email funnel that sends your B2B leads uniformly predefined mailings. However, the better your messages are tailored to the individual need, the more likely a prospect wants to buy your product.
Now, it’s time to trust in automated communication measures that depend on the specific reaction of a prospect to the previous content your provided.
To do this, track the behavior of message recipients:
- Are messages opened and read?
- Which links are clicked?
- Which pages of your website are visited?
Draw your conclusions from these points about what the interests, needs, and challenges of your prospects are and focus on them in subsequent communication.
Marketing Automation is More Than a Sales Funnel
Ideally, B2B marketing automation along the customer journey is a never-ending process—even when a prospect has already become a paying customer. After all, customer loyalty is the ultimate goal. Happy customers are less picky and can almost always be convinced to accept additional offers.
And because marketing automation in B2B never ends, it can't be equated with a sales funnel. Instead of dropping out at some point, leads in an automation system are continuously provided with content, depending on their interaction rate. In this way, you’ll build a close relationship between your brand and the prospect. When the time comes for a concrete need, the user will remember your company and contact you. After all, you have already accomplished one important step with using marketing automation.
Simply spoken: There are no lost leads. Even those who don't buy may act as influencers by recommending you to others. Or you could simply reach out to those who visited your website, but then bounced off. Tools such as Leadfeeder come in handy here. In addition to the measurable successes of B2B marketing automation, there are many other advantages that are difficult or impossible to quantify.
Prerequisites for Marketing Automation in B2B
In order for your marketing automation to develop its full potential, some elementary prerequisites are needed.
1. In-Depth Target Audience Knowledge
If you want to attract and inspire your target audience with your content, you have to know your target audience. And that brings us to the "problem": A target audience is often still too large and heterogeneous to be able to assess it accurately.
Therefore, give your target audience a face with the help of buyer personas.
What are buyer personas exactly? A buyer persona is a semi-fictitious representative of your target audience that you should describe and visualize as precisely as possible. Semi-fictitious because they are based on real data, facts and figures (i.e. they are not ideal customers), but you still make them up.
The fact that each buyer persona has a name, a photo and many concrete details about the person and the job, interests, needs and challenges, as well as their typical habits and behaviors, enables you to identify them much more strongly. With the personas in mind, it is much easier to create content that really fits your target audience and minimize scatter loss.
The deal is not to make B2B marketing automation look like automation. Instead, users should get the feeling that they are being understood and personally cared for. Doing so, you can gradually introduce them to your offers without annoying them.
2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Rule of thumb: There is no B2B marketing automation without a good CRM!
Customer Relationship Management software is an indispensable prerequisite for being able to carry out customer communication based on behavior and other characteristics. Thus, your CRM should be the center of your marketing automation activities. In a sense, it is the control center where all threads come together.
In addition to general contact data, your CRM also records interactions with campaigns. Here, a 1:1 contact from a prospect with your sales or customer service should be documented. Based on all this information, you can give prospects individual impulses so they can enter the next phase inside of the customer journey.
3. Relevant Content
No matter how good your software support is—marketing automation in B2B stands and falls with content. It is the content that entices users to trust you. With relevant content, you can position yourself as an expert within your field of expertise.
Inbound marketing firstly is all about giving and not taking. You must first create value before you even think about pitching your product. Your first content pieces should be as therefore free. Focus exclusively on the challenges of your target audience and selling second.
Make it clear what the customer journey of your buyer personas looks like, so that you can shine at every touchpoint with suitable content. A funnel can help you with this. For example, use Avinash Kaushik's SEE-THINK-DO-CARE framework, which does justice to the complexity of B2B customer journeys and simplifies them at the same time.
In the SEE phase, the goal is to generate attention. Here, prospects have a completely different demand for content than in the DO phase, where they are already searching for the solution. From here on, you can more “aggressively” point out your offer.
Only if you succeed in constantly delivering content along the customer journey, prospects will stick with you and sooner or later talk to your sales team. Therefore, try to put yourself as deeply as possible into your target audience’s shoes with the help of buyer personas, web analytics and CRM data.
It also helps, for example, to ask your service and sales teams about typical customer questions and problems. See through your customer’s eyes and get out of your bubble! Just because you find a topic interesting does not mean that it’s relevant for your customer, too.
4. Evaluation Strategy
If your marketing automation in B2B is running, your next question is when the B2B leads have matured enough to be worth handing off to sales. Nurturing and qualifying contacts is called lead nurturing. Once someone has fallen for your lead magnet, you can start nurturing. The better you do it, the more leads will eventually become customers.
You have to deal with their evaluation the latest when your automation really picks up speed and the leads start coming in like crazy. At some point in the process, it's neither economical nor possible to devote the same amount of attention to every lead. As with content, gut instinct is a poor guide.
With the help of a lead scoring model, you can define which level of the customer ladder a contact is on. Possible levels could be:
- Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
- Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
Evaluation with Explicit and Implicit Scoring
Usually, the lead scoring system of every good CRM includes a scoring system in which certain points are awarded based on a variety of factors. Explicit scoring assigns points based on objective characteristics, such as demographics and firmographics.
For the manufacturer of a hair growth product, older people tend to be more interesting than younger people. For example, the 50+ age group would receive more points than people between 20 and 49. In the B2B environment, it is often the industry that is interesting.
If you sell consulting services to insurers, you can score contacts from the insurance industry higher. If you work regionally, the leads from your area will get a higher score. If you are targeting companies with a large number of employees, you use the number of employees as a measure.
With implicit scoring, points are awarded based on behavior. Here, the score increases with each interaction. This could include:
- Website views
- Subscriptions to newsletters and other listings
- Opened emails
- Link clicks in mailings
- Visits to landing pages
- Participation in webinars
- Social media interactions
- Submitted contact forms
- Contact requests
- Sales contacts (via phone, in person, chat, trade shows, etc.)
The impact of implicit scoring on the overall score of a B2B lead is usually much greater than that of explicit scoring. This is in the nature of things: If the position within the company can only be scored once with a certain number of points, the lead accumulates additional points with each interaction—often even when repeating the same action.
Recognizing When B2B Leads Are Nonprofitable
By the way, B2B marketing automation isn't just for qualifying leads. At least as valuable is marketing automation in B2B that tells you if a lead is not yet ready for sales or perhaps never will be. Scoring also helps with identifying such contacts. More specifically, it helps with negative scoring.
If a contact has decisive characteristics that do not match your target audience or behaves in such a way that a lack of interest can be attested, points are deducted. This can be the case, for example, if he or she comes from the wrong industry or has only given "intern" or "working student" as the job title. Certainly, someone loses points, when he or she unsubscribes from a mailing list.
Conclusion: B2B Marketing Automation Generates More Leads that Convert Easier
Marketing automation in B2B is not only an excellent way for companies to attract more leads through attractive content, but above all the best way to qualify leads. Often, sales and marketing teams don't necessarily fail at generating leads at all. Rather, they fail at gaining the trust of these contacts. This is especially true in the B2B sector, where it is often a matter of products and services that require explanation, which cannot be mapped at all with static funnels.
With marketing automation, you can largely automate the process of gaining trust. Automation itself, however, requires a lot of experience and competence for setup, maintenance and optimization.
Anyone who wants to operate marketing automation in B2B should therefore be aware of the time and financial investment involved. But: This does not mean that automation has to be expensive! Especially for small and medium sized businesses with limited human resources, it opens up completely new possibilities for customer acquisition.
Regardless of whether you familiarize yourself with the subject yourself or work with a professional agency, there is one thing you must have time for in any case: For the processing of all the qualified leads that will boost your company's success thanks to marketing automation.
Webinar (German only!): Marketing Automation along the Customer Journey
Would you like to set up and operate marketing automation for your own customer journey and in your B2B company?
Then the free webinar "Marketing Automation along the Customer Journey", which builds on this article, is just the thing for you to deepen your knowledge and get started with marketing automation. German only!
Autor: Robin Heintze
Robin Heintze is the co-founder and managing director of the online marketing agecny morefire. Their international team uses all relevant channels in online marketing to achieve sustainable growth for customers.
The strategy and also the implementation of all measures are realized from one team. This way, customers get more leads and sales via channels such as SEO, Google Ads, content marketing, social media or marketing automation—and can measure these precisely, thanks to professional web analytics.