As a leader in your professional services organization, you know you need to continually improve the way you attract and nurture new leads, as well as grow existing business accounts. And the automation of such tasks and decisions that can be so central to the growth of a firm, yet so painstakingly manual, is alluring for sure.

Yet new automation capabilities borne out of AI and machine learning seem to emerge daily just as you think you’ve determined your ultimate strategy. There are literally thousands of products out there with overlapping capabilities, complex functionality, and constantly evolving features.

In this article, I’ll present six marketing automation use-cases to help you as you consider your own martech stack. I’ll also address the top benefits of marketing automation. I’d like to start first, though, with a definition of professional services marketing automation (MA).

Marketing Automation Defined

As the name implies, marketing automation platforms take the labor and drudgery out of several marketing tasks and workflows, making it easier to engage and convert key buyers of your services. They also can be used to measure the effectiveness of different tasks to give you a better sense of what works, what doesn’t, and why.

More formally, marketing automation is the use of sophisticated software platforms to automate both routine and complex marketing processes, reducing costs and improving effectiveness. It allows firms to simultaneously personalize andscale their marketing programs.

The feature sets in marketing automation platforms vary widely. Some of the most common features include:

  • Email marketing
  • Forms, landing page, & microsite creation
  • Campaign management and cross-platform integration
  • Lead scoring and management
  • Social media marketing
  • Search engine optimization support
  • Content marketing
  • Analytics

Lastly, while marketing automation software is often compared to customer relationship management (CRM) software because of their overlapping functionality, the core function of CRM is to capture, track and analyze leads, prospects, and clients for sales departments. Marketing automation platforms, on the other hand, are built to deliver, accelerate and scale marketing program — making each touch more personalized and focused.

Marketing automation works across multiple marketing channels, including your website, social media networks, and offline channels including direct mail. As a comprehensive marketing solution, it also helps identify, track and nurture key leads and measure your marketing return on investment (ROI).

That’s the what. Let’s explore the why. What’s the use-case for marketing automation?

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6 Marketing Automation Trends

1. Marketing automation adoption is growing fast.

The marketplace for B2B marketing automation has experienced rapid growth over recent years. As the figure below shows, it is reasonable to expect that trend to continue. That growth is clearly impacting professional services. Our most recent High Growth Study shows that 84% of professional services firms see marketing automation as a part of their strategy. Further, 22% of firms see MA as one of their top priorities for this year.

Figure 1. Global marketing automation software market, by enterprise size, 2014 – 2025 (USD Million)

Source: Grand View Research

This trend is not surprising given the importance of nurturing relationships and building trust in the professional services business development process. Increasing the visibility of one’s expertise is a key way to nurture prospects and win new clients — and marketing automation is ideally suited to support these goals.

2. The sophistication of the underlying technology is rapidly increasing and creating a knowledge gap.

As advanced technologies such as speech recognition, predictive analytics, sophisticated testing and artificial intelligence become more integrated into marketing automation software, these platforms will become more and more capable. Even today, these advanced systems often offer more functionality than most firms know how to apply. And this trend is only likely to get worse as more advanced features are added in the coming years.

This situation has created something of a knowledge gap — and many professional services firms understand they need to address it. Well over half of firms (57%) are planning to tackle this need with additional training or by engaging an outside resource. Firms that fail to make the most of their MA investment, however, are likely to experience disappointing results.

3. Industry-focused marketing automation platforms and applications are likely to proliferate.

As new marketing automation vendors enter the market and competition intensifies, we expect to see the introduction of more systems and applications targeted at a particular industry (or other niche) as a strategy. For example, Cosential offers a system designed specifically for the needs of AEC firms. And Higher Logic has built a platform to serve the unique needs of membership organizations. This movement toward specialization makes sense for the platform developers, who want to differentiate their products from the tidal wave of competing products, and it makes it easy for professional services firms to find a suitable MA platform for their clientele. We expect to see this trend toward specialization to continue.

4. Firms that do not embrace digital marketing are falling behind.

Marketing automation has grown out of the digital transformation of communications and evolving buyer expectations. As you might expect, professional services firms that embrace digital techniques tend to outperform those that do not.

The fastest growing firms are much more likely to embrace digital marketing strategies. And those that do not are at a competitive disadvantage. Their marketing activity is likely to be more costly, less effective and reach a smaller audience. In a highly competitive marketplace this is not an enviable position.

5. Hyper-personalization is the new normal.

When many people hear the word “automation,” they think “impersonal,” “rote” and “canned.” In fact, automated marketing solutions can be highly effective at hyper-personalization.

With MA platforms, you can create emails that are personalized well beyond adding the recipient’s name in the greeting. According to Chadwick Martin Bailey, a full 56% of people will unsubscribe from emails because the content is no longer relevant. To combat this, you need to send information that is germane to individual prospects. Of course, you need to keep up with what you know about each lead, and what you know will likely change over time. Marketing automation manages this information so that you send only information that is likely to be of interest to a lead or client. This way, you remain visible to leads without wasting your time, seeming pushy, or becoming irrelevant.

Take, for example, Prospect A. You first make contact with Prospect A when she subscribes to your email newsletter. After a month of receiving emails, she registers for—and attends—a webinar, “How to Build the Perfect Professional Services Website,” which was promoted in your email.  The logical follow-up to the webinar is an email with a link to a related guide, such as “The Lead Generating Website Guide.” You set up your marketing automation platform to send out that guide offer within a day or week of the webinar. All of these interactions pull Prospect A deeper into the funnel. At some point your business development team takes over, and the engagements go offline.

The automation platform creates each of these multiple customer touch points, deepening the relationship over time. Automation gives your firm the opportunity to stay visible to your target audience and dramatically improves the odds of sending the right message to the right person at the right time.

6. Marketing budgets will increasingly include marketing automation platforms.

Spending for marketing automation tools will grow vigorously over the next few years, reaching $25.1 billion annually by 2023 from $11.4 billion in 2017 according to a 2018 Forrester report, “Marketing Automation Technology Forecast, 2017 to 2023 (Global)”.

Before investing in a marketing automation platform, make sure you have buy-in from your firm, a website that captures leads, and a CRM or prospect list. And you’ll have a leg up if your firm is already producing high-quality educational content. However, some firms begin creating content and using automated marketing at the same time.

Marketing automation platforms are typically cloud-based, software as a service (SaaS) subscriptions. Each offers different automation and analytics tools, but many are bundled into automation suites. Don’t be intimidated by expensive automation platforms. There are systems that cost thousands of dollars a month, but you can get started with leaner systems, like Drip & Automizy, for just $50. The key to success with these elementary options is to stay client-focused and don’t go on autopilot.

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10 Marketing Automation Benefits

Marketing automation can help you accomplish many of your strategic marketing goals. The trick is to understand which strategies make sense for your firm. Understanding your strategic goals also helps you identify what metrics to track and optimize. Here are the strategies most aligned with the needs of professional services.

1. Attracting more new leads. A very common goal for many firms, developing a flow of new leads is something that most marketing automation systems are well suited for. Often this involves some combination of SEO-optimized content, social media and guest posting to drive visibility. With the ability to automate implementation and track sourcing across platforms, you can measure success and optimize your program accordingly.

2. Better qualifying new leads. As you attract more prospects, some will be qualified and ready to engage. Others are far from it. How can you tell the difference? Part of the answer is in the content you are sharing. If it is well targeted, you will find that your better prospects will be naturally attracted to it because it speaks directly to their needs. You can also try lead scoring. Most systems with CRM capabilities will automatically assign leads a readiness score based on predetermined behavioral criteria. These two mechanisms work together to accomplish your strategic objective of cultivating better-qualified leads.

Imagine knowing which of the 5,000 leads in your CRM are hot and which have become cold. With marketing automation platforms, you can rank each lead by lead scoring—a point system used to calculate the value of a prospect based on behaviors and qualifications.

For example, a person that attends a webinar gets more points than a contact that registers but doesn’t attend. Lead scores can also decay over time if a contact does not stay engaged.

The goal when using marketing automation is to not hand off a prospect to the business development team until he or she becomes a hot prospect and is ready to talk. At this point, the prospect has a relationship with the firm (and in some cases, your experts). With content and marketing automation, your business developers can usually close deals faster because they do not need to explain your firm’s offerings and the prospective client sees the value in your firm.

3. Segmenting your database for better targeting and more personalization. All prospects have different needs. It doesn’t make sense to treat them the same. However, when you have a single gigantic list, it can be hard not to. That’s why these systems provide tools to automatically segment your list by demographic or behavioral criteria. When you layer criteria like these, your marketing strategy effectively becomes “personalized.”

The key, of course, to getting the right message to the right audience is segmentation. You want to segment your list as much as possible and tailor the journey from there. Marketing automation allows you to segment nearly any data point, including location, job title, job responsibilities, business revenue, status (lead, prospect, RFP/proposal, active client, past client), or the last time on your website.

Depending on the platform, segmentation can be highly dynamic, adjusting (adding or subtracting people) for a series of data or conditions. There are several benefits to dynamic segmentation.

  • Keep messages relevant to a particular lead based on where they are within your sales funnel.
  • Remove a person from a business development list once they have become a client.
  • Send offers based on several different characteristics (e.g., location, revenue, or industry). For example, if you’re presenting at a conference in New York, you can email a personalized invite to leads within 100 miles. With segmentation, you will not bother a prospect in California with a useless invite. This is why sending relevant content is so compelling. In fact, relevant emails delivered through marketing automation drive far more revenue than generic email blasts!
  • If done manually, such dynamic segmentation would be overly time consuming and prone to error. A well-designed marketing automation platform lets you set it and forget it.

4. Nurturing your leads to develop better opportunities. Some professional services industries work on very long closing cycles. You could easily spend years waiting for a potential client to need your services. Professional services are not impulse purchases. Fortunately, managing a nurture or “drip” campaign is something these systems do well — so much of your middle-funnel nurturing can be automated. The timing and content of these “touches” can be programmed in advance so that little ongoing attention is required.

Many marketers create amazing guides, webinars, infographics, and other content. Unfortunately, they promote each piece of content once and move on to the next piece. It may be more effective to use that content sequentially based on behaviors and segmentation. Using sequences, you can deliberately move a lead through your pipeline, from cold lead to hot prospect, giving them the education they need to trust and prefer you along the way. If they don’t respond to something in the sequence, resend that item. (They won’t know you’re resending it.)

The relationship with your firm’s content is vital because clients are doing more due diligence online. We know that 80.8% of referrals look at your website. This is a great opportunity to start a relationship with your firm by supplying them with great content — distributed through an automated marketing solution.

5. Identifying sales-ready opportunities. At some point, many of the leads you have been nurturing will need the services you provide. If these individuals have been well nurtured, they will know how you can help them, and your firm will be top of mind. They may even prefer you over other firms. When the time is right, they will reach out to you. In the meantime, there are a number of techniques to probe for interest. For example, you can configure the system to send out a free consultation offer from time to time. In this way, you can look for opportunities while minimizing your time investment.

6. Making your expertise more visible. In the professional services we have a major marketing challenge. We sell expertise. As valuable as that is, however, expertise is invisible. So how can a prospective client learn about your expertise? The best way is to demonstrate it — to make it visible and tangible. This can be done by educating your audience, using blog posts, webinars, videos, public speaking, social media and the like to show people who are interested in your area of expertise how you solve problems like theirs. Marketing automation is an ideal tool for delivering this information to the right prospect at the right time.

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7. Improving client retention. Many professional services are episodic. Clients need a firm from time to time, but not continuously. From a firm’s perspective, maintaining an on-and-off client relationship when you are busy working with other clients can be difficult. Further, many past clients may not realize the full range of your firm’s expertise and seek out someone else to do work you could easily handle. Marketing automation, however, provides some relief by automating many of these ongoing interactions. Good programing outperforms good intentions.

8. Tracking and optimizing marketing investment. Figuring out what works in a marketing context has always been challenging. The tracking capabilities of today’s modern marketing automation platforms help answer that eternal question. Cross-channel integration allows you to track and optimize your strategies, providing the insights you need to improve your ROI.

9. Increasing productivity of your marketing team. This is an easy one to score as a win. By their design and functionality, professional services marketing automation systems almost always have a dramatic impact on marketing team productivity. That’s what they were designed to do: take the repetitive drudgery out of marketing campaigns. Of course, they need to be set up initially — a laborious process — but after that, the time savings accrue every day.

10. Saving billable time. The battle between billable time and business development has long been a fixture of the “seller-doer” model. Potential clients want to meet and get to know whom they will be working with. As the person with the expertise, you are the product. So if a prospect is screened, qualified and nurtured in advance of interacting with the billable professional, that saves a lot of non-billable business development hours. Better-qualified, better-educated prospects maximize billable time.
And on that note…

When you reflect on this list of marketing automation benefits, it is easy to see why marketing automation as part of the martech stack has enjoyed so much growth and innovation. Marketing automation is here to stay, and before long it will be a standard part of all professional services marketing programs. When properly implemented, it is a way to both personalize and scale your marketing strategy. It is also well suited to building the awareness of your firm and establishing trust over time, which makes it a great match for any professional services firm.

Of course, there are challenges and pitfalls. No marketing automation system will turn bad messaging into good leads. Your strategy must be built on a solid understanding of your target audiences and your firm’s strengths and weaknesses. And there is that yawning skills gap. Platforms are only as effective as the wisdom and skills of the team that sets up and operates them. But as as your skills, understanding of your target audience and messages align, marketing automation becomes an increasingly powerful — even essential — tool.

Additional Resources:
  • For more hands-on help on becoming the next Visible Firm®, register for our Visible Firm® course through Hinge University.

How Hinge Can Help:

Your B2B website should be one of your firm’s greatest assets. Our High Performance Website Program helps firms drive online engagement and leads through valuable content. Hinge can create the right website strategy and design to take your firm to the next level.

Elizabeth Harr