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Using marketing automation to turn your B2B sales sieve into a funnel


"We have all the gear but no idea" 

Firstly, I have to confess to stealing the quote above from one of our clients (you know who you are). I love its simplicity in articulating the challenge we see in virtually every B2B marketing organisation we walk into. It also rhymes. 

In this article I’m going to attempt to relate some practical things from our own experience over the last few years so that, if you’re sat there working out how you’re going to shoehorn that quote into a conversation next week, I can at least hopefully demonstrate how you can get to “some idea” by better leveraging strategy and technology to make inroads into building an automated sales funnel that will make you the star of the business.

At this point you’re probably expecting a quote about the enormous effect of automation on sales. I could do that but ROI statistics are meaningless and varied, and you can find them easily. I will however show you a chart from Salesforce looking at organisational goal priorities:

Salesforce chart showing the priority of leads and lead quality for businesses

This reflects the conversations we have with Sales teams across the board, but rarely in a marketing discussion do we hear mention of “qualified”, “velocity” or “alignment”. I’m sure it happens internally, but proper lead management is ultimately most business’s revenue driver and needs to be at the forefront of everything we do when it comes to marketing.

But let’s quickly bring it back to the day-to-day.

If you’re a B2B marketer in 2019 I’ll recklessly predict that many (if not all) of the following probably apply to you right now:

  • You’ve invested significantly in technologies but they’re all sat there slowly burning money like your well-intentioned gym membership without being used to their full potential


  • If you use the phrase “siloed data” once more you can legally claim copyright on it


  • Your KPIs (if they exist at all) are broadly confined to the number of online form submissions along with some vague stats around visit numbers and bounce rates that you churn out dutifully every month despite knowing nobody has ever done anything with it in living memory


  • You’ve gazed lustfully at personalisation but still haven’t made the first move, even though you’ve spent the last five years being told it’s totally up for it


  • Every time you walk past the Sales team they mutter darkly about “more leads” and “less dross”


  • You know you should be following up on Marketing’s soft leads but it never seems to be the right time, does it


I could go on but you’re probably hammering the desk and shouting “THAT’S ME! THAT’S ME!”. If you’re not then either the rest of this article will be a colossal waste of time, or you have remarkable self control. 

What if…

Within B2B marketing, there has always been a tendency to treat prospect nurturing and engagement with a big stick, with Marketing spending budget to drive a large amount of inbound traffic with a view to converting a percentage of visitors to leads and customers by Sales.

Email is frequently seen as the main channel to engage with prospects, with more advanced organisations introducing an element of segmentation but it’s usually piecemeal and with little real automated nurturing thereafter. It's manual, it's hard to scale and it’s difficult to manage. 

But what if you could fully automate prospect and customer nurturing by sending messaging and content, triggered based on individual interactions both online and offline? 

For example: 

"Prospect A visits a website, she completes a form. She returns, views a specific page and is sent an email based on the content viewed. Later she engages with a sales person, and receives an automatic email based on the type of content which has been requested from sales, along with a personalised message on the website."

Hopefully we can all agree that’s basically a “good thing”, but it’s also a lot of work neatly summarised into a soundbite.

What does a typical technology-driven sales funnel look like?

It can be broadly summarised with the diagram below. On the left are the “activities” that will typically make up the creation of an automated nurture campaign. On the right is the outputs you should be looking to deliver.

B2B sales funnel

Still too fluffy? I thought so. So let’s look at the work that’s really involved in getting there. 

Let’s pretend we’re running a simple one-off campaign to drive quality leads into the Sales team this quarter.

Getting the data foundation in place

Here at Ratio we spend our lives in data. We love it. And we couldn’t deliver as well as we do for our clients without it.

By data I am talking about real user insights rather than simple content performance analytics. An automated sales nurturing campaign is predicated on a sound understanding of your different user segments, how they engage with you, their behaviour or propensity to take particular journey flows to your conversion points, and ultimately their value. Without that, you may as well carry on doing batch and blast.

To do this you need someone who can properly manipulate and analyse your data based on your stated campaign objectives.

I cannot stress this enough...if you don’t have an analytics expert in-house, the investment with a specialist such as Ratio or a contractor will pay its way many times over. Data from platforms like Google Analytics can be dangerously misinterpreted in the wrong hands, which means you’re potentially on the back foot from Day 1. You’ll also be surprised what else you might learn from someone who knows how to wrangle data to deliver the deep insights you never knew existed.

For more on why data is somewhat more important that supposition, our Experience Optimisation Director Doug Morris wrote an excellent article called "Why opinions are not enough in Optimisation" which is linked at the top of this page.

Once you have your data, you then know how to target your audiences, where their data sits (e.g. CRM), channels you need to invest in, the right messaging, goals, and a whole lot more. To break this down into chunks, you should be documenting:

1. KPIs for the campaign, broken down by segment or other desired attributes

2. Outputs of your existing data analysis based on your KPIs

3. Requirements from Sales for what constitutes a quality lead (e.g. content viewed, conversions made, country visiting from)

4. Lead score criteria, if required

5. Where data integration needs to happen (e.g. web form > CRM record)

6. What data needs to be integrated (e.g. email, goals triggered)

Setting up the flows and journeys

Once we know who our users are and how we want to target them, we need to work out what we’re going to do with them once they’re on the site. Specifically, how we’re going to automate this process as much as possible.

For example, your campaign may be targeted at two distinct audience segments. Let’s call them “Ratio customers” and “Ratio prospect customers” (if you’re the former, thank you and we love you).

Our campaign might be promoting a new service that we’re offering, but the journey we take our existing customers on will be quite different. We know from our data that they’re likely to have very different attributes:

A Ratio customer:

  • Knows who we are already
  • Is known to us as well as being of higher value
  • Is going to speak to their account manager rather than fill in a form
  • Is much more likely to buy the service

A Ratio prospect customer:

  • Will want to know more about our credibility
  • Wants to know who else we’ve done this for
  • Won’t know a named contact
  • Is probably lower value to us immediately but has a higher longer term nurture value

Hopefully you can already see how the conversation and “next best action” for our two segments needs to be very different. You may also notice that I’ve segmented by existing customer versus prospect, which we see very seldom but it makes such a difference in tone and positioning. 

So what now? First you’ll need some way to automate the flow. I don’t want to get into the choice of technology in this article, but you’ll be looking to use a tool such as Agillic, Sitecore or Eloqua as the platform to power this.

 eloqua automation flow

The Eloqua automation interface

You then need to think about mapping personalisation and flow rules against each segment, specifically

  • The email or inbound marketing messaging and tone


  • The personalised messaging once they land on the site, and whether we want to promote or change content or the position of content on the page. For your first attempt this could be something as simple as just personalising the hero/masthead image and text – a simple rule in most personalisation engines


  • If a user has engaged, what do we want to do next? E.g. the highest impact action for a prospect customer engaging with our email link but not filling in a form may be to send them an automated follow up nurture email with further related information or trust messaging directing them back to your landing page, with the landing page itself now personalised with a much more prominent call-to-action


  • Measurement checkpoints to monitor performance of our automation plan and refine based on the data, for example if one nurture email is performing much better than another


  • Agree with Sales at what point an opportunity is considered “Sales Qualified” (rather than “Marketing Qualified”) and is sent across to them in whichever format you defined in the Data stage


  • Build the integration required to get your data from one platform into another. This may be configuring GA to ingest the data from your CMS and automation/email platform, integrating form data into your CRM, or even creating custom data pull scripts in SQL to extract leads on demand. I could spend an entire blog post talking about the various options, but your job here is to brief the dev team on what you need and let them work out the detail. A lot of platforms have built-in connectors for data now, so look for these as a quick win before investing time and money into more complex integrations. E.g. Sitecore’s Dynamics and Salesforce CRM connectors


Setting up and executing the campaign

I’m not going to teach you how to suck eggs, so let’s skip merrily through this one:

1. Campaign strategy and success criteria

2. Stakeholder definition

3. Creative and sign off

4. Create your target list(s)

5. Create your campaign landing page with associated personalisation rule(s) 

6. Set up the inbound channels 

7. Deploy your automation flows

8. Test and deploy the campaign

There is one step here we haven’t discussed yet, and that is A/B/n testing. Everything we’ve done so far should be testable: emails, landing page, personalisation rules, automation. We rarely see people doing email testing, but if this is your primary inbound source then you’ll be missing a trick if you’re not testing variations with a % of your customer base before emailing everyone on your target list with the most successful version. Some ESPs have this built in – for others this may be a manual process.

Report and optimise

Once your campaign is up and running you need to be all over it like a dog with a bone. An unattended campaign is an unloved campaign, and it won’t work hard to deliver the most value possible for you.

Many businesses report on email campaigns with basic email stats that get emailed round every week or month. We have found it much more impactful to take this data and present it in a much more visual way, using tools such as Google Data Studio and Klipfolio to create live dashboards that your teams can access and filter data to get the information they want, and reporting on how your personalisation and testing rules are effecting success metrics. 

Behold the gorgeousness of Klipfolio crunching your raw GA data….

klipfolio dashboard

An example of a Klipfolio performance dashboard

This data is also vital for quickly assessing campaign performance against your KPIs, enabling you to quickly spot problem or high performing areas quickly, and constantly refine your campaign as the weeks pass.

Any marketing automation platform worth its salt will also be able to give you invaluable data about where users are in your automation flows, so that you can work out how messaging or the flow itself needs to be changed to optimise the journey through the campaign and beyond.

All the gear and SOME idea

Hopefully this has given you some insight into how we at Ratio approach sales funnel automation and optimisation.

As with everything, there is often a steep learning curve to understand how all the different parts fit together, especially when it comes to the technology, but if you start with a solid understanding of your analytics and KPIs then this really directs the rest of the process as I’ve described above, much of which is good old fashioned donkey work. To summarise:

1. Set objectives and target audience

2. Data, data, data, data, data (and some more data)

3. Set up your flows and personalisation/testing

4. Create and execute the campaign

5. Report and optimise

6. Watch as the leads flood in…

7. Although as with everything testing and automation related, not everything works first time. It's a continual process of refinement. A bad result can be as informative as a good result

Of course if you need help with anything I’ve written about here, please let us know and we will be delighted to help.