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It wasn't that long ago that you had it easy, even if you didn't know it at the time. Until just last week (or at least, that's what it feels like) B2B marketing managers interacted with customers through three major channels: direct mail, automated email marketing, and call centers. Now with the rise of bots and real-time lead generation, you've got it coming in from all over the place.

If your brand has a major presence, you're probably getting inputs from social media, DMs, value-added resellers, distributors, and about a dozen more channels. With the average Fortune 500 firm planning as many as 3,000 campaigns a year, just keeping track of your messaging gets to be more than a human is physically capable of. This is where B2B marketing automation comes to the rescue. Advanced marketing automation software helps you sift through your customer journeys and zero in on actionable insights.

Whether we're introducing you to the idea of marketing automation tools for the first time or expanding on what you already know, you’ll end up with some new tools to help your CRM with more advanced automated workflows.

What Is B2B Marketing Automation?

B2B marketing automation is the cluster of processes you use to improve the efficiency of your b2b marketing through various online channels. It uses smart workflows to do repetitive tasks and analyzes the various touchpoints in your customer journey to develop strategies that improve your outreach efforts.

How B2B Marketing Automation Compares to B2C

You may be familiar with or already using this approach to market to consumers (B2C), but B2B is different as you're usually communicating with already warm prospects. Most of the market segmentation work is already done before you reach out. The automation isn't necessarily less complex, but it's easier to focus on potentially productive targets.

That is, assuming you're using good tactics to get the job done. 

Examples of B2B Marketing Automation

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Lead Scoring

Lead scoring is the first place you should look to improve your digital marketing efficiency. This is the practice of scoring or ranking your leads for how likely they are to respond to your contact. For example, if you have a list of leads split between data centers and ice cream vendors, the data centers will be better prospects for selling IT services. The ice cream vendors will probably be more interested in freezer maintenance.

Of course, good lead scoring gets much more granular than this. In principle, you could get down to one type of ice cream vendor versus a different type or between a data center specializing in financial services and one serving insurance companies.

Automated Emails

Undirected automated emails are distinguished by how ineffective they are. With solid lead scoring, however, you're connecting with some very promising leads at virtually no cost. Say you're trying to reach that financial services data center. Automated emails can reach every relevant potential client in the world with a pitch that's tailored to an audience that needs to hear about your SSAE 16-certified services.

Chatbots and AI

Marketing efforts using chatbots and AI have gotten a bad rap due to all the spam, but they have a valuable role to play in your sales teams' content marketing efforts. Not only are these helpful for information gathering on the front end, but they're also invaluable in handling repetitive follow-up contacts with the more promising leads.

Say your marketing team has used the usual marketing channels to develop high-quality leads among those data centers. The target audience is those contacts who are interested in going further in the sales funnel. Their feedback to your initial email campaigns might be unstructured and hard to parse. In this case, a solid AI can sort through the plain-text replies to find the ones who are most eager to hear more about your service.  

Self-Nurturing Content

More than 50% of B2B customers do at least one search per day from a smartphone or other mobile device. According to research by Google, that number will jump to 70% by 2024. Your content needs to be user-friendly for mobile display, free from pop-ups and annoying forms to fill out, and highly relevant to your target audience.

That's what self-nurturing landing pages are all about. Instead of having site visitors fill out forms and giving up customer data over and over, just to get non-personalized content, your AI should nurture leads by crafting what it shows to the customer on the device they're using. Effective lead nurturing is essential in B2B marketing automation. By incorporating ABM, you can tailor your approach to each lead. Discover the advantages of account-based marketing to improve your nurturing strategies.

Trigger Marketing

Trigger marketing may be the least sophisticated and most effective marketing strategy you can use automation for. In concept, it's simple: you use a triggering event to send a targeted marketing message and drive the buyer's journey with a timely tap on the shoulder. An example of this would be a targeted email that goes out to those data centers in response to a high-profile data breach with a different company. The message you send, which could just as easily be an SMS, direct phone contact, or social media post, might play up your provider's security features, using the headline as a hook.

Marketing automation examples are all around. Triggers can be anything in the news, major events, anniversaries or special days, even selling log rollers to lumberjacks on Arbor Day. The key is to make it timely and relevant for new customers.

Build Your Own B2B Marketing Automation Strategy

It's great to have a theoretical knowledge of this stuff, but now you have to actually implement your B2B marketing strategy. Fortunately, there are unlimited ways to do this. The product you're marketing will largely condition the approach you take, as will your expertise in your audience and the environment you're operating in. Your specific methods will be whatever you think works best, but it will all be built on a framework that's about the same for every sales cycle. Here's an outline of that framework.

Define Your Marketing Goals

The first step in building successful marketing campaigns is to know what you're trying to do. What are your goals? Do you want to double your social media following, increase brand engagement across existing channels, improve the customer experience, and reduce complaints by 10%? Have a meeting with your stakeholders and set some concrete goals to work toward. This informs all your downstream decisions.

Choose Your Marketing Automation Tools

If you were doing this 10 years ago, your toolkit would be small enough to fit in a pocket. These days, you're spoiled for choice in marketing automation platforms. No need to get fancy; each of these platforms has its strengths and weaknesses, and you might already be using several of them. Some popular marketing automation tools include:

  • HubSpot
  • Marketo
  • ActiveCampaign
  • Keap
  • Mailchimp
  • Pardot
  • Sendinblue
  • Act-On
  • Omnisend
  • Sales
  • Salesforce
  • Ontraport
  • GetResponse
  • Constant Contact
  • LeadSquared
  • Klaviyo
  • Salesforce Marketing Cloud
  • Zoho Corporation
  • Zapier
  • Dotdigital
  • Eloqua
  • Salesfusion
  • SharpSpring
  • EngageBay

Implement and Test Your Workflow

After you craft your approach and choose your tools, always build a feedback cycle into what you're doing. You need to know how effective your efforts have been. That's digital marketing 101 stuff, but it's even more important with an automated workflow.

AI can teach itself, but it needs the inputs to refine its approach over time, or you'll have an amazingly sophisticated computer algorithm basically doing doughnuts on the lawn for you. Schedule weekly (or even daily) reviews to see how well things have been going, and be ready to alter your swing at the drop of a hat.

Monitor and Refine Your Strategy

When you're happy with how things are going, settle in for a less intensive but still vital routine of monitoring and refining your strategy. For as long as your campaign is running, the world will continue to turn, and you need to have the whole team ready to make those small tweaks, and optimize the ROI of your marketing automation software.

Speaking of Keeping Up…

When you're trying to keep up with the world of online digital marketing, the thing you need most is a great advisor. The CMO specializes in keeping you up to date on all things digital, including B2B marketing automation. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of your game with all the latest tools, tips, tricks, and tactics in digital marketing, brand management, and beyond.

Stephanie Hood
By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.