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Using marketing automation to better align marketing and sales

Phil Marshall

February 21, 2022

marketing automation

So far, in this three-part series on creating a nurture that fills your pipeline, we’ve covered best types and timing of content, how to set up nurtures, making your nurture multi-channel and personalization through behaviour as well as demographic aspects.  Hopefully, some of those tips were useful and your pipeline is starting to fill!  

But how do you ensure that the leads you ultimately pass on to your sales team are likely to buy, rather than simply waste valuable sales team time and cause friction between you and them?   Sales people need concrete evidence of a reason to engage, not just a broad expression of interest in a topic or piece of content.  In this, final post in the series, it’s time to complete the jigsaw by qualifying those leads to ensure sales is set up for success in closing a deal.

At this phase of the nurture, there are three aspects to consider for a successful handover:

–        Lead scoring

–        Sales enablement

–        Alignment between marketing and sales teams

Let’s look at each element individually:

1)     Lead scoring

Ensuring leads are marketing qualified and ready to be passed to sales is time consuming, complex and, often, inaccurate if done manually. Fortunately, though, help is at hand in the form of your marketing automation platform which will help you increase efficiency and accuracy by automating the process, scoring leads based on data.

Scores are assigned based on two criteria:

1)     Behavioral engagements: clicks of an email, visits to a webpage, downloads of a whitepaper, sign up to events etc.  All these actions will earn scores for a lead and demonstrate their level of engagement

2)     Demographic attributes: what is their job title?  Which company do they work for?  What is the size of that organization?  What industry are they in?  Again, scores will be assigned to a lead according to attributes possessed that are more likely to see them become a customer.  By adding these demographic attributes to a lead’s overall score, you can eliminate those who, although engaged, may not be a potential buyer.  Students, for example, may download lots of whitepapers, or sign up to lots of events, but they would be unlikely to purchase.

Lead scoring considerations:

  • Whatever total score you define as your MQL threshold, you should require a lead to hit a minimum score on both behavioral engagement and demographic attributes.  This will ensure a good overall mix of attributes, and therefore, ultimately, an uptick in the quality of the leads.  
  • Scoring should be set globally, rather than by campaign.   Although it is possible to set scoring up on a campaign basis, the complexity can often lead to a labyrinth of confusion with duplicate scores, or records scoring artificially high or low.  One, global scoring model, with nuances for certain campaigns if required, is an infinitely more effective, efficient and accurate route to surfacing qualified leads for sales
  • To a large extent it doesn’t matter the size of the scoring values you assign to certain actions or demographic attributes, but care must be taken to ensure that they’re in proportion to the value of one another (i.e. you wouldn’t score an email open higher than an email click). Additionally, you must ensure that your scores make it possible to reach the MQL threshold, but not too easily. Modelling out some lead scenarios can be very helpful here!
  • Assigning points for a certain action should be determined by working with sales teams and ascertaining what a good lead looks like to them. From there, you can decipher what types of demographic attributes and content these leads generally engage with and build your scoring around that.  Working closely with the sales teams, you also learn which types of content engaged with are ultimately most successful at converting a lead. So, for example, if you know that the sales team is particularly successful at converting leads that have downloaded a whitepaper, then you can ensure that whitepapers score more highly than other forms of content.  Tools such as Marketo’s Sales Insight (see below) make it easy for sales teams to prioritize these leads over others.

By building up a clear picture of your target audience, your marketing automation platform will successfully automate the process of qualifying the hottest leads, as well as disqualifying those who are irrelevant, in an efficient and accurate manner.  

2)     Sales enablement

For the magic to happen, the sales team needs to be set up for success.  So, when marketing passes that lead baton to the sales team, in addition to having pre-qualified leads, they would ideally know the background to that lead, be timely in their conversations and understand, at a glance, which leads are a priority.  Fortunately, automation can simplify the lives of sales teams, too.  

Tools to help:

  • If you’re a Marketo user then  Marketo Sales Insight (MSI) can be used to integrate marketing automation platforms with an organization’s CRM in order to shorten lead cycles and increase close rates by providing the salesperson with all the background information they need in a timely manner.  MSI flags new MQLs in real time, provides visibility of the lead’s interactions with the company thus far, and prioritizes leads by quality and urgency for sales teams.
  • Within the MSI app is Marketo Interesting Moments, which can be setup to provide sales teams with additional, relevant information about a particular lead’s engagement activity, such as downloading a paper, clicking on a link or visiting a web page.  Having this almost anecdotal information displayed on the lead or contact record in the CRM means the sales person, or BDR, can easily tailor their approach and timing of any conversation with laser sharp focus.  It’s important for marketing to be selective with the information the tool is set up to provide in order to gain sales teams’ trust.  Sharing unimportant details will ultimately result in the salesperson ignoring the tool.

Whether you choose to use such tools or not, syncing your marketing automation platform with your CRM means that, as soon as a record hits the MQL threshold, they are passed directly through to your CRM in real time and assigned immediately. It’s crucial here that appropriate assignment roles are set up to ensure that, when a lead is ready for follow up, they’re passed to the right salesperson to do so in a timely manner.  In addition, having a clear agreement – or setting up SLAs – between the marketing and sales teams ensures that leads are followed up within a minimum period of time. 

3)     Sales and marketing alignment

A familiar conundrum, ensuring sales teams are happy with the leads marketing teams are passing them requires regular coordination and alignment between the two camps.  

Communication is the name of the game.

  • Consider creating a feedback loop for the sales team. At the outset of campaigns, not every lead is going to be right, or of the highest quality, so creating a feedback mechanism for sales teams is crucial in rectifying this.  Providing sales teams with a forum for reporting back on which of the MQLs provided were strong and which weren’t – and in which case, why? – can be invaluable. For marketing teams, it’s useful to get feedback on why a lead didn’t work, despite hitting all marketing thresholds, to allow them to go back and tweak the lead scoring configuration.  Sales teams are the people getting first hand feedback from their conversations with leads, so it’s crucial for future activity that a feedback mechanism is put in place in order to tweak the model so that higher quality leads are passed to sales in future. 
  • Where does marketing stop and sales start?  Rules for communication with a lead, post MQL stage, need to be established between sales and marketing teams.  In some organizations, once the MQL is passed to sales, they request marketing to stop all communication with the lead for fear of disrupting the sales cycle, while others request that marketing keeps the lead ‘warm’ by maintaining concurrent communication.  Either way, both teams need to come to mutual agreement about the best way to proceed.  If simultaneous communication is continued, how will the sales outreach be supported by marketing?  Is there a post-MQL nurture stream that is in line with what sales would be sharing at the same time?  Consider setting up a nurture stream with an early, middle and a late stage and when the lead reaches MQL status, they then go into the late stage of the nurture and it’s understood that, at this stage, only post MQL materials – such as brochures or datasheets – are permitted in order to support sales communication.

Setting up nurtures that work is a delicate process and, if you want to do it at scale, you almost certainly have to automate the process.  But the machines can’t do it all!  Hopefully this three-part series will help ensure you are delivering the right content at the right time, across multiple channels and with the right level of personalisation to ensure you are handing the caliber of leads your sales team is looking for.

If you’d like to chat further about your individual challenges or needs, we’d love to hear from you!

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