Marketing automation is one of the most popular new business development tools around, and for good reason – it shifts the burden of both routine and complex tactical marketing processes away from marketing professionals and frees them up for more important, strategic tasks.
But what exactly is marketing automation?
Marketing automation is the use of sophisticated software platforms to perform a variety of repetitive tasks, such as emailing, social media posting, fulfillment and more. Its purpose is to help drive traffic to your website, convert that traffic into leads and turn leads into clients. In short, marketing automation enables you to deliver highly targeted, personalized messages that nurture your leads throughout the entire sales process for more effective engagement and conversion of prospects.
So what does the marketing automation process look like for accounting firms? Done correctly, it involves seven key steps that will enable you to avoid many of the common problems associated with automating marketing tasks:
1. Research Your Target Audiences
One of the biggest marketing mistakes accounting firms make is assuming they fully understand their target audiences. However, much of what they “understand” is based on personal experience, perceptions and assumptions that may cause them to make poorly informed decisions that can waste time and money. Instead, structured, systematic research should be conducted to uncover valuable information such as what motivates clients’ decision-making, what do they value most in a professional relationship, where do they go for new insights and what messages resonate well with them? As much as possible, try to understand the full firm selection process that takes them from prospect to client.
To determine if your marketing program is successful, you need to be trying to accomplish something. If you haven’t already established marketing goals, now’s the time to do so. Start by identifying things that are inhibiting firm growth. For example, are you failing to attract qualified leads? Are you unable to effectively engage with them? Are you not converting enough prospects into clients? Answers to these and other pertinent questions will show you what you need to do so that you can develop a marketing program that will help you successfully address the marketing challenges facing you.
3. Identify Appropriate Marketing Tools
Your research from Step 1 should have provided critical insights such as how potential clients prefer to receive information: do they read unsolicited emails? Search the web? Attend professional conferences? Prefer traditional seminars or webinars? This kind of information will reveal what channels are better for reaching prospects. Often, it’s a blend of traditional and digital marketing techniques.
4. Develop a Content Strategy
Even the most efficient and effective marketing automation will fail miserably if you’re not distributing information of value to prospects. As the old computer saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”
The content you develop must be relevant to your target audiences and your firm’s marketing goals. In other words, it does no good if you’re writing about something that excites your audience but is not in your firm’s scope of services. Likewise, it’s a wasted effort to provide content associated with your firm’s key attribute but is of zero interest to your target.
5. Organize Your Marketing Workflow
If you’ve been following these steps so far, you now know what motivates your target audiences, the channels they prefer and the topics your content should address. Now it’s time to organize your tasks to effectively engage with prospects throughout their journey through the marketing funnel, from lead to converted client. What behavior triggers a follow-up action? When a website visitor clicks on a specific offer, what happens? What data is tracked? What follow-up content is sent? When is it sent? What other action is taken? Once your marketing automation processes are set up, you’re ready to engage prospects at the appropriate times with personalized messages, valuable content and the information they need to accurately assess your firm and hopefully select it.
6. Choose Your Marketing Automation Platform
It might seem odd to be selecting your platform at the end of this process instead of the beginning, but there’s a very good reason for that. There is such a variety of marketing automation platforms offering an equally wide variety of functions that you could easily choose the wrong one if you haven’t done the work outlined in the previous steps. Once you have a strategy and plan in place, it’s much easier to pick the right platform to implement them.
7. Test, Track and Adjust
Once your platform is programmed to perform the necessary functions, it’s vital to test and assess that functionality to see if it’s performing properly. Is it, in fact, doing what needs to be done? Develop a few key metrics based on your strategic goals to help you accurately assess your system and how it’s working. For example, are the number of qualified leads increasing? Are prospects receiving the right information when they need it? Once you’ve established baseline performance levels, you can test and improve performance.
While marketing automation may sound ideal, it’s important to understand that it’s not a cure-all for bad marketing. Utilizing marketing automation to execute a faulty plan simply means you’ve automated bad marketing. It won’t fix a poor plan.
The steps outlined here will help you develop both a sound marketing strategy and a marketing automation program to efficiently implement it. Of course, there will stumbling blocks along the way to automating your marketing efforts, but with the right platform, training and support, you should quickly see significant benefits.
Lee W. Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner at Hinge, a marketing firm that specializes in branding and marketing for professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to...