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Marketing automation. What is it? Why is it so important?

One of the biggest challenges in B2B marketing is the long lead time of the sales cycle, which for many clients can be up to 18 months. As B2B marketers, therefore, we are often required to hold the hand of clients through multiple stages of the sales cycle, starting with initial top of the funnel content, such as email campaigns and collating information, right through to bottom of the funnel activities, such as webinars, sales calls, and the final decision.

The challenge is that each step of the cycle requires a different marketing approach. So it is essential that we are able to provide the right marketing strategy and content at the right time, for each step of the way, and help to boost the effectiveness of our client’s sales cycle.

However, with many sales cycles starting with a database of thousands of potential client customers, how can we optimise the process, and monitor and manage the entire process efficiently and productively?

A manual approach is likely to be resource heavy and inefficient and, while there are many tools to help manage and automate separate tasks, these do not provide a coherent end-to-end integrated approach. So what’s the answer?

Marketing automation tools, such as SharpSpring, HubSpot, Infusionsoft, and many others, are powerful tools that help B2B marketers to automate and optimise the end-to-end marketing cycle, particularly for clients with long sales cycles.

These tools offer powerful capabilities, such as: WYSIWYG email design; behavioural-based email automation; rules-based lead scoring, which adds a ‘score’ to lead activities to reflect relative interest; built-in CRM; integrated call, web and CRM tracking on a single platform; unified reporting; and so on.

The benefits of marketing automation are numerous. The ability to create more and better sales leads, through more focused segmentation and nurturing, being the number one benefit. But there are many others.

According to a 2014 Forrester Research report, for example, B2B marketers using marketing automation software can expect to increase the sales pipeline of their client, on average, by 10 per cent. Furthermore, it notes, companies that excel in lead nurturing generate 50 per cent more sales-ready leads at 33 per cent lower cost per lead.

A similar study by Nucleus Research shows that marketing automation can, on average, drive a 14.5 per cent increase in sales productivity with a 12.2 per cent reduction in marketing overheads. A further important benefit of marketing automation is the ability to shorten the sales cycle and close deals more quickly, saving costs and boosting sales productivity.

That’s why, at RMA, we use SharpSpring marketing automation software in order to help our clients create better leads, boost sales productivity, and shorten the sales cycle.

If you would like to discuss how we can boost the efficiency and productivity of your sales cycle process through efficient, targeted marketing, please visit www.redmillcommunications.com.

Why don’t operators just focus on network innovation?

The battle for service innovation is largely over and has been for some time. Of more importance to the existential role of operators is the way in which the network will evolve to support the many services that will be delivered across it. Network innovation is by far and away the most pressing question for operators as we approach a next generation of NFV, SDN and 5G technologies, not to mention fibre and DSL evolution and enhancements. Don’t be disintermediated further by leaving network innovation to equipment vendors. Operators need to take a leading role.

While it’s interesting to discuss service innovation within the operator domain, it’s easy to spend too much time navel gazing. In our opinion, as we have repeatedly written, if you don’t have either credible content offers (such as a flexible digital supermarket combined with readily available coverage from a leading football league) and/or a strong B2B / M2M story, then there’s not much you can really do beyond being a network provider.

Existential angst in this case is both a waste of time (you won’t be able to innovate services that make sufficient money outside of these areas to replace any revenues you’ve already lost and it’s pointless trying) and a significant diversion from the serious business of thinking about where you can make a difference. It’s pointless fighting lost battles when there are others in which you can both win and make a substantial difference.

And, the answer isn’t that hard to identify. If all you can do is provide a conduit by which users access services provided by other parties, then it will almost certainly pay to offer the best network – which means that the focus of innovation should be solely in this direction. There’s nothing wrong with being the best network provider, far from it. Questions such as “how can I make my network function as efficiently and effectively as possible?” And, “how can I make sure it scales, adapts to surges and flows, cost effectively and in such a way that all of the requirements of current and future services can be met?” are of fundamental importance. After all, whoever provides the services, users have to be able to access them, securely, safely and with the right performance attributes in place.

Of course, that’s not easy. There’s a good deal of debate at the moment about how precisely networks should be optimised for better traffic management, flows and so on. We don’t know; there’s probably a lot of physics involved. No, our point is that this is a topic of fundamental importance and operators should be playing a great deal of attention to this as it’s a clear strategic imperative.

One thing is certain to us, however: operators should certainly not be delegating all of the required network innovation to their network equipment providers. Operators should not be leaving the evolution of network performance and capabilities solely to the equipment vendors.

Rather, they need to be driving the change in partnership with vendors so that they can make the most of technological enhancement that benefits their needs. Not all vendors have their operator customers’ interests at heart and its naïve to imagine that they are somehow disinterested.

But this is a worrying trend. It seems that, over the last 20 years, more and more of the network evolution function has been delegated to equipment vendors, with operators playing a decreasingly important role in this. Is this correct? Have we misread things? We tend to think not but are happy to be corrected.

Network innovation is of critical importance. We can already anticipate the coming world of 5G (although we all need to know what use cases it will serve); we know that NFV / SDN are going to have a profound impact on operator network but what will happen next? How will operators drive forward their networks to support a class of services that we cannot yet anticipate and which will, in all likelihood, will come from parties that use the network capabilities enabled by the operators.

Of course, some operators are taking a leading role in the evolution of network capabilities. But too often, we see operators following their vendors. They should be leading the way – after all, historically, operators have only delivered a handful of services but they have continually developed the network capabilities to support them.

Service innovation is an interesting topic, but it’s one that’s rather wasted at the moment. Network innovation is of far more importance in securing the future role of the operator and it’s this area to which energies should be directed, not in designed isolated services that may or may not catch on. Operators need to think about how their networks can evolve, addressing fundamental questions about their future construction and performance. NFV and SDN technologies will have a profound impact on operator infrastructure: better to be leading the way than passively following.

How to choose a CRM system

According to a recent report from business software consultancy Capterra, the two most important factors that influence the purchase of customer relationship management (CRM) software are functionality and ease of use.

The report, based on data from a survey of 500 CRM users in the US, found that 24 per cent of respondents thought functionality was the most important factor influencing their CRM purchase decision, followed by ease of use (20 per cent), price (14 per cent) and vendor reputation (9 per cent).

It is essential for businesses today to form and maintain close relationships with customers, so a good knowledge of your customers, their preferences, likes and dislikes, spending patterns, location, and so on, is essential for segmenting, monitoring, analysing and, ultimately, improving the success of your marketing and sales campaigns. In this respect, a CRM system can be a powerful tool in your marketing armoury. But with so many CRM options on the market, how do you choose the right one for your business?

The primary purpose of a CRM system is to optimise your customer interactions at all points. Tasks for enabling that include managing contacts, appointment scheduling, monitoring marketing and email campaigns, tracking customer loyalty, integrating social media campaigns, and a whole host of other customer-related functions.

So the first point on the checklist should be to identify what exactly you need the CRM system for. For example, do you need a centralized customer database … with mobile access? Do you want it to schedule sales calls, simple contact management, to manage email campaigns, track customer loyalty, monitor social media campaigns, does it need to integrate with other existing applications, and so on? Does it integrate with Outlook or Excel, or Quickbooks, or other tools that are vital to your operations?

Once you have a detailed picture of your exact CRM requirements, it is important to ensure that the package you choose is a match for your business. Is it in line with the breadth, goals and growth plans of your organisation? For example, if the business is growing fast, don’t choose a CRM package that you will quickly outgrow.

As outlined in the survey above, another consideration is ease of use – all users must be able to access the software comfortably, otherwise it will be underutilised and could result in costly training requirements.

Functionality is another key consideration. The survey notes that calendar management is the most used CRM feature by respondents (52 per cent), followed by email marketing (50 per cent) and quote/proposal management (46 per cent). A quarter of respondents wanted more social media monitoring functionality, such as pulling in contact information from social media profiles, mobile apps, and so on.

Other functions might include customer loyalty tracking or ecommerce integration. But by outlining your requirements at the beginning of the process, it should become a lot clearer to identify which CRM platforms offer the functionality that you require.

Another consideration is mobility. Employees using smartphones and mobile devices to access corporate data is now the norm for most businesses. Does the CRM system allow employees to access and update data from remote locations?

One final option to consider is the choice between a cloud-based CRM package and a more sophisticated on-premise solution. A smaller organization, for example, might benefit more from a cloud-based solution, which confers a number of benefits.

First, it eliminates the need for costly up-front investment. Instead, from as little as a few pounds per month, a single user can gain access to entry-level, online CRM apps. However, cloud-based solutions can be as sophisticated as you require, and offer flexibility as the number of users can be scaled up or down according to demand. An added benefit is that a cloud-based app can be accessed from anywhere, from any device, which in turn offers productivity and mobility gains.

An on-premise CRM system, on the other hand, will require considerable up-front investment, and will require on-going IT support, and one-off fees such as software licences. However, it might be more suited to an organisation in which tight integration is required with existing enterprise-grade applications.

There are many options and packages out there, so just ensure that, before you begin the search, you outline the precise demands on your CRM system in terms of functionality, and that the package is matched to your own business size and goals. By outlining what you are looking for upfront, the decision-making process should become a lot clearer and simpler.