Marketing automation: does it give your contacts the creeps?

Over the last five years, there’s been a mass move to capitalise on the golden bullet promised by marketing automation. The ability to automate the communications and sales process based on behaviour triggers is a pretty exciting prospect, but at what point can it go too far?

I love the visibility you can achieve with a marketing automation platform (MAP). The ability to see on an individual level and at a glance the performance of a campaign, nurture programme or the point at which a prospect is in the sales cycle is pretty awesome.

Once you’ve started the machine and you’re running campaigns from it, it’s pretty hard to turn back. It’s intrinsically linked into your systems, your processes and the behavioural expectations of your marketing and sales team. Who would be without it?

With all that power, though, things can get out of hand.

We work with several clients who have big ol’ marketing automation platforms with endless rules and processes to ensure the various marketing teams don’t over communicate or contacts aren’t pushed on to the next stage too fast. After all, there’s no point over-delivering (crap MQLs) or being too hasty in the follow through with pre-sales.

It’s all about being aware of the response and reaction to the communications so you can gauge whether you’re being efficient and on the ball or downright creepy.

What’s interesting though is that we’re all learning. We’re all learning where that creepy line is and where it kicks in.

I’m a marketer, you’re a marketer. I’m a human, you’re also a human (I hope). You know when things are too hasty, when the business development team or sales guy calls too soon or when you over communicate. You’ve got to use your gut instincts and not give in to the internal pressures of delivering more leads.

Having given it some thought, I’m suggesting the following actions that might prevent your communications overstepping the mark. They’re by no means best practice, but I see under the hood of a lot of marketing programmes and sales processes, and I have first hand experience of hasty sales calls as I download A LOT of content from websites just like yours. You could say I’m in a lucky position, or you could just think it’s a bit weird! So here goes:

1. Don’t call too soon

Just because I download a piece of your content, doesn’t mean I’m ready to buy. Now, this mantra shouldn’t be taken to the letter as it isn’t always the case, but for the most part, it’s true. If you’ve developed your content strategy with the buying process in mind, then there may be a few pieces of content that really strike a chord and suggest ‘intent’, but beware, these are few and far between.

The things to consider here are whether the downloader is an existing customer, a warm prospect or fresh into the system. If you were the lead, when would you like to be called? Re-evaluate the process and determine the right time to set that call, but do it with your customer hat on, not your ‘I need more leads in’ hat on.

2. Don’t acknowledge the last action that the contact did (on the call)

Quite simply, if the pre-sales caller tells the contact “I’ve just noticed you downloaded our latest whitepaper”, it feels pretty creepy. In fact, you couldn’t get much creepier. Enough said.

Instead, use the data gathered on the prospect to acquire insight, not to tell them directly. It’s too easy for a pre-sales or telesales person to look at the MAP or CRM screen and tell the contact what they’ve been doing. It takes a bit more training and thought to engage that contact using the insights provided. It’s worth it, though, so don’t skimp on training in this area.

3. Don’t acknowledge the last action that contact did (in the email)

Like the point above, the same goes for any subsequent emails you sent me. It’s okay when you’re selling consumer goods to say ‘you bought this, therefore, we think you might like this’, but in business, it’s a slightly different kettle of fish. All I say is, ‘keep it real’ and don’t tell them you’re watching them.

4. Don’t make them feel like they’re in the machine

I suppose this one isn’t creepy, but if I’m getting regular communications from you and you’re trying to push up my score with new content, then don’t just go through the motions.

There’s the classic email nurture programme which is recommended by most MAPs. It’s a three step process with each email encouraging me to download more. It’s hardly ingenious, and as marketers, surely we can do better.

Consider breaking the mould and rather than simply pushing me hard to the next piece of content, why not engage me another way? Some platforms might take the conversation out of email and into social media, or mix up the communications with content provided with lighter, informative content, like an insightful blog piece.

5. Don’t email too much

Frequency and velocity timing are my favourite things. I like to experiment here to see how performance adapts over time to a given segment(s). Whilst some say don’t over email, others say bombard the contact. I say, “that depends”.

It depends on who you’re emailing, what you’re emailing to them and what the specific message is. Cold or cool contacts might get frustrated with over-mailing, whilst customers may be perfectly happy to receive your communications. Just get the balance right for the right kind of contact. Again, put your customer hat on and think about the most relevant and pertinent messages and their frequency.

So, if there’s anything you take out of this blog, I’d like it to be that you stop and re-evaluate your follow-ups and nurture process – and ask yourself, does this next contact point feel natural and genuine, or a little bit too automated and creepy?

I’d love to know what you think about the automation process. You can tweet me @n1colaray or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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