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Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software like SalesForce.com is an important tool that most B2B companies have been using for many years. These systems maintain very detailed records on people and companies that your company is working with as sales opportunities. CRM systems help track leads through the sales process by following them as they become contacts, as opportunities are associated with them and as they become customers. Salespeople can document all emails between them and the prospect, telephone calls, in-person meetings, trade show attendance and any other time they have contact.

That is a vital component of running a successful business. For companies who wish to build upon the CRM capabilities and have even more tools in order to perform quality marketing, a marketing automation system is the very valuable next step.

A marketing automation system should interface with the company’s CRM system or it will be of little long-term value. What these systems give a company is first, the added ability to monitor the behavior of their prospects at times when they are not directly interacting with a company representative. Second, they allow companies to respond immediately, if they desire, to their prospect’s behavior.

I had the experience of working in a company that used SalesForce.com, but had no marketing automation system. Sure, there were people looking at different options, but because I was in a smaller organization within the company, I was able to push for–and ultimately get–a marketing automation system installed. We did not go with one of the bigger players, but found a smaller one that seemed to have all the same features, but for significantly less cost. As I have mentioned earlier, I was on a fairly tight budget.

Once the system was installed and connected with SalesForce, it opened a new world of marketing opportunity. I could track all visitors to our website and see where they went, how long they spent, what they downloaded and more. I could set up real-time alerts to be sent to me or the proper sales rep when a visitor from a particular company or country visited our site. I could see how they got to our site, what words they searched for, and more. Much of this can be achieved through the various web analytics packages available today.

Using this system increased my ability as a marketer to interact in a much more personal way with our customers. I set up a matrix describing what content we would send them at various points in their buying process and could automatically send that out when they reached certain lead scoring thresholds. Customers would receive what they were interested in, at the time they were demonstrating interest.

Best of all, we could track any interactions, including invitations to webinars and their responses and attendance, and put that back into SalesForce so that when sales reps looked at their accounts, they knew what their contacts had been up to and how they had been interacting with the company.

Based on my experience and the successes I had, I am convinced that a good marketing automation system is critical to achieving B2B marketing success.

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