The fact that "sales" is changing under the influence of digitization is not a new insight. To just send the sales force to a potential customer and hope that the arguments are convincing is usually not enough anymore. Often it is already a success when companies are even allowed to present their products on site. And the real challenge begins much earlier.
Marketing for self-confident customers
The customer of today is very self-confident and informs himself on the internet, where the product knowledge is democratized in the meantime. Not only the much-cited digital natives are always online and well informed but also older consumers research the Internet before turning to a specific salesperson nowadays.
Useful content for an optimal customer experience
If you are not convincing on the net, you will not be shortlisted. Customer experience is, therefore, significant for successful sales today. It is all the more important to support potential customers in their research because it may influence their decision making positively. The aim is to attract the consumer's attention to one's entire customer journey, across all channels at all touchpoints.
Marketing and sales must, therefore, work closely together. That is because the starting point for digital sales is increasingly the marketing of a firm, which develops previously generated leads to sales maturity. Without the right software support, it will not be possible to reach ever more demanding customers in the course of their customer journeys at a wide variety of touch points.
Digitizing distribution is both an opportunity and a necessity
Rapid market changes and rising customer expectations presuppose a high level of digital competence in companies, e.g., in the following areas.
Personalized web offers or online shops
Customized services for defined target customers
Qualification of the customers (Is the willingness to buy given or must classical sales become active?)
The complexity is simply too high. That's why automated digital processes are needed. They give the sales team more time for potential sales prospects, especially in connection with the sale of complex products and services.
Marketing-Automation - What is behind it?
Marketing automation is the "IT-supported execution of recurring marketing tasks to increase the efficiency of marketing processes and the effectiveness of marketing decisions."
The technological basis creates a marketing automation suite: Evaluating data, storing rules, evaluating sales opportunities (scoring), segmenting target groups, personalizing content, dynamically playing content, planning campaigns, integrating social media and taking account of the mobile context are the challenges that need to be overcome.
Also, a marketing automation tool must be able to consolidate and prepare data from various sources, such as CRM, CMS, ERP, e-commerce, analytics, mailing tools, and Excel lists. This data forms the basis for efficient campaign planning and control based on a defined set of rules.
Define your audience
A central campaign planner provides a clear overview of all upcoming and ongoing campaigns at all times. That allows the best possible use to be made of existing resources and budgets.
Effective campaigns must meet specific customer needs. The target group must be precisely defined in advance to achieve this. Segmentation can be used, for example, to identify all senior engineers in a particular region who have worked on a specific topic in the last twelve months.
It should also be possible to connect the marketing automation suite to your internal CRM system as well as to access external databases to leverage the broadest database possibly. That makes it possible to address an audience that goes beyond one's contacts.
A connection to the existing content management system is required to supply the potential leads with content.
There, users can efficiently create and manage the required content and play it out across channels within the framework of planned campaigns. Personalization is the be-all and end-all. Only those who know their leads and their individual needs can supply them with suitable content in a targeted manner.
To be able to play through multi-stage campaigns automatically, it must be determined in advance which content or service is offered to a lead as a reaction to a previous action. Just as necessary are binding limit values that mark a point as ready for distribution. In the context of a multi-level lead-nurturing, the scoring improves the more information the potential new customer requests - until he or she is prepared to as a so-called sales-qualified lead for transfer to sales.
Pay attention to data protection
With the entry of force of the Basic Data Protection Regulation (EU-GDPR), the right of consumers to their data will be further strengthened (cf. Art. 83 GDPR).
Behavior-based data collected via cookies have a personal reference at the latest with the registration. Marketing departments may therefore only receive and process personal data if at least one of two conditions of authorization is met: The consent of the user has been obtained, or a general economic weighing of interests has been carried out.
Particularly in the balancing of interests, persons may object to possible profiling. In this context, clarification and transparency are legally required and particularly necessary. If the potential customer knows what happens to his data and for what purpose they are stored, he gives his consent much more willingly. For this reason, the data protection declaration on the website should comply with the GDPR and obtain the opt-in for data that you have not legally collected - or consistently delete the corresponding data.
Selecting the right channels
If campaigns can be extended to other channels, their reach grows. Social media not only provides companies with an insightful picture of how audiences receive an attack but also enables them to make direct contact with their target groups.
It also makes sense to use mobile channels. Then marketers can reach their target groups via appropriate apps on the smartphone and keep them up to date at all times, for example, with push notifications.
Of course, not every company needs to be represented in all channels. Nevertheless, a marketing automation suite should support the output channels email, mobile, and social media by default. Advanced features such as the ability to play advertising messages on in-store beacons or take advantage of geolocation are freestyle rather than compulsory.
Cloud ensures sustainability
When the marketing automation suite runs in the cloud, the benefits increase:
• Cloud-based marketing automation tools can be used directly without implementation and convince with a very high degree of prefabrication based on proven best practice approaches.
• Especially in a rapidly growing environment such as marketing automation, new functions are immediately available in the cloud and without loss of investment. On-premises installations, on the other hand, often lack the time and money to add new features.
• Besides, marketers can act and react quickly at any time - without the support of their own IT department. After all, cloud solutions are intuitive to use, so users can even query databases themselves - an earlier domain of IT.
• Cloud solutions are usually so easy to configure that marketers can easily take ownership of the application and customize it to meet their individual needs.
• Thanks to the cloud, it is even possible to generate innovative services without great effort, for example, by booking chatbots for marketing managers to improve customer service.
• Marketing departments using cloud-based solutions can, therefore, always act as the market requires. It would take far too long to entrust IT with the corresponding orders - and any sales opportunities would be wasted.
Increased efficiency through integration and artificial intelligence (AI)
Even the best approaches remain ineffective if marketing automation is not embedded in the context of integrated digital marketing: It requires both data from existing customers and sales-ready leads from the CRM system as well as personalized marketing content from the CMS, which can be dynamically played out via the marketing automation tool on the basis of detailed personal profiles.
The boundaries between the different solutions are often fluid. The systems must, therefore, be relatively easy to connect via preconfigured interfaces.
New technologies such as artificial intelligence can also increase efficiency, for example in the field of automated scoring: The AI recognizes the behavior of the website visitor and is able to refer to a chatbot at the right moment, recommend suitable products or - if there is a risk of leaving the site - offer a discount. If the existing data can be used intelligently, prospects and customers feel personally addressed and are easier to convert. That doesn't benefit the personal sales force, which is assigned those leads where personal advice is necessary and justifiable in terms of customer value.
Setting the course for the future today
For many, that sounds like a dream of the future. But we can be sure: Marketing automation will establish itself nationwide. Because they can be used immediately and are always up-to-date with the latest technology, cloud solutions will win the race. After all, not only is the pressure on marketing and sales increasing, but digitalization is also causing established business models to falter.
About the Author
Gisbert Reichel is Key Account Manager at Arvato Systems and has around 20 years of experience in the IT industry. He studied law and has an apprenticeship as a business IT specialist. Professionally, he mainly worked for consulting and IT service providers (Logica and companies in the Bertelsmann Group), where he was involved with CRM, e-commerce, and content management topics at a very early stage.