Marketing Automation – Sometimes, less is more

When it comes to marketing automation for professional service firms, how much is enough? How much is too much?

Accountants, lawyers, and other professionals spend a lot of time developing relationships with prospects, clients, and strategic referral partners. Automating common marketing tasks can help strengthen these relationships, but they could also hurt them.

Automated marketing messages can be counter productive when they ignore the existing relationship. This can range from everything from the tone of the message (it didn’t sound like you) to treating customers as if they are not customers. Examples of this could be addressing correspondence as “Dear Business Owner” or sending them a special offer for first time customers.

Have you ever received a “we want you back” offer from a company with whom you are a current customer? How did that make you feel?

Quite often, the degree to which automated or canned messages can be used effectively depends on the relationship you have with the person receiving the communication, at the time you are sending it.

For example, when it comes to following up with someone who downloaded information from your web site, pre-written or “canned” follow messages may be appropriate. The typical goal in this scenario is to nurture this potential relationship in the hopes it continues to develop. Since you don’t know much about the other person yet, you can rely on canned messages that speak to general needs of the audience you serve.

When marketing automation is used to support existing relationships, it may be better to automate the first 90% of the task. We can use automation to remind us to do the task. We can also use tools like templates to give us a head start and prompt us about the main thrust of the communication. But rather than automatically blasting the email (or letter, fax, etc.), sometimes it is helpful to personalize it a bit more. Using the knowledge you have gained through your relationship building efforts, you may be able to use that last 10% of effort to continue strengthening your relationship.

Sometimes that last 10% makes all the difference in the world.

How does this play out in automated marketing systems? Each system differs, but typically the difference lies in scheduling a task (or reminder) to do something, rather than automating the task completely.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s pretend that my referral marketing system calls for following up with a new strategic referral partner 4 times in the first 30 days after meeting them. The goal of these 4 communications is to help me gain “top of mind” status with my new ally and to begin building a relationship with them.

It would be easy to create 4 canned messages, add them to my CRM system and assign to a contact record after returning from my meeting. I could “personalize” the message by including a field in my database that indicates where we first met and include that in one of my messages. But since I have designed these messages to go out without being touched, I have to keep them fairly generic.

A different approach I could take is to set up tasks in my system that tell me (or someone in my company) that a follow up action needs to take place. I could assign myself the “send week 1 message” task. When I see it is time to send the week 1 message, I can open up the week 1 email template and truly personalize it based on the knowledge I’ve gained from my previous relationship building activities.