Marketing automation is a popular topic in 2013. While the industry experts like to focus on the “sexy” features like lead scoring, prospect tracking, and the ability to retrieve company data from third party sources, I believe the most important feature for small business marketers is the ability to automate your follow up.
Following up is the blocking and tackling of marketing and growing your business. We may dream of creating that perfect blog post or advertisement that will bring a flood of prospects to our door, credit cards in hand, asking to where they get in line for the register. But, like most things, building your business takes more effort than that.
The key to creating a predictable and profitable stream of customers is consistent follow up. Small businesses that follow-up on the leads they capture enjoy higher conversion rates and a more referrals than those that don’t.
Consistent follow up is the key to predictable revenue and the key to consistent follow up is creating a systematic approach. Every business owner I’ve ever met understands, on an intellectual basis, the importance of following up with prospects, customers, referrals, etc. The problem usually lies in the ability to execute on following up when all of the other day to day pressures are bearing down on us. If you don’t have a system in place that makes is as easy as possible perform your follow up tasks, chances are those tasks will get squeezed out of your day when other fires arise.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. In the professional services world, and many other B2B companies, it is common for the same person to responsible both selling the and delivering the service. Many accountants, lawyers, architects, etc., are responsible for going out and finding new business. Once they make a sale, they must also “do the work” and deliver the service. I hear from folks like this all the time who describe their pipeline as “feast or famine” or “like a roller coaster”. When they don’t have a lot of work, they are busy hunting for new business. Then they make some sales and become very busy working and meeting their deadlines. Following up with prospects and referrals takes a lower priority – without a system in place, opportunities may fall through the cracks. When the current work is done, the cycle starts over.
The first step in breaking this cycle and taking your business to the next level is to map out your follow up sequences. Think of following up (and all of your other marketing activities) as a business system. It is important to map out your goals along with the people, processes, messages, and other tools you will use to achieve those goals before you jump into using marketing automation software. Marketing automation can be a big help, but you have to have a system before you can automate it.
Once you start mapping out your follow up sequences, you will discover that there are many areas of your business that require follow up. Don’t try to automate them all at once. Pick one area, create a follow up system, automate it if appropriate, take what you have learned and then move to the next.
Marketing automation is often associated with online marketing, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to only online activities. There are still many offline or person-to-person interactions that need strong follow up as well. If you are having trouble thinking of a place to start, here are a few example scenarios requiring follow up:
- Meeting a potential referral partner at a networking event
- On-boarding a new customer
- A request for a free consultation
- Receiving a referral from your BNI group
- Registration for your event or webinar
- Attendance of your event or webinar
- Download of an eBook from your website
- Conversation at your trade show booth
- Giving a referral to someone in your network
Another way to review opportunities for systematizing your follow up is to examine your Marketing Hourglass or sales funnel, and ask yourself what type of follow up is necessary to help a prospect move to the next stage in the process. Illustrations of sales funnels often make it look like gravity does the work; in reality, it takes effort to help a prospect get to the point where they feel comfortable making a purchasing decision.
Lead generation is an important part of marketing and is often the most expensive and/or time consuming. Make sure you’re not throwing that money away by putting strong follow up systems into place.
P.S. – If you would like to see an example of marketing automation software, check out this demo of Infusionsoft, my favorite solution for small business owners.