The digital marketing toolbox keeps getting more powerful and accessible. It used to be that only multinational enterprises had the resources to get involved with retargeted advertising, managed cloud servers, mobile app development and business intelligence data platforms. In recent years, though, thanks to the B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) revolution, we all have access. But no enterprise-caliber marketing tool changes the game for businesses operating in digital spaces as potently as marketing automation, especially when integrated into your social media efforts.

With marketing automation, you can scale your company's ability to nurture sales leads without investing proportionately in manpower. A key element to any B2B inbound program, automation sends the right messages to the right people at the right moments, tracking prospects' interactions with your content and escorting them as they progress through your conversion funnel. Throw the prospect research, content distribution, and engagement power of social media into the mix, and you'll start to unlock your inbound marketing program's true potential.

Relationships with Robots

Too many brands handle email marketing with outdated approaches, sending the same content to their entire audience lists. While this strategy may result in conversions, adding more personalization to email is far more effective. Marketing automation uses algorithms and user-defined parameters to know what makes your prospects tick and at what stage in the decision-making process they are at any given moment.

When you segment your audience according to metrics such as page visits, clicked links, demographics, profession, referral source, or social media channel, you can then send personalized messages that hit the right spot.

Especially in the B2B sector, the customer's journey can often take several months and span several marketing channels, as prospects get to know you gradually before making a purchasing decision. B2B inbound marketing is all about establishing trust, educating people about the merits of your solution and building a relationship. When you automate this process, you can handle more volume, with better message personalization and fewer embarrassing errors.

A Personalized and Optimized Journey

Here's how social-integrated marketing automation works. Let's say you post on some relevant LinkedIn Groups about your latest cloud security product, one which specifically targets financial institutions. A prospect sees your post in her feed and clicks through to your LinkedIn company page. There she flips through a slidedeck about your product line and, impressed enough, decides to follow you.

The next week, when you post a link to a new piece of content on your website, your prospect clicks on it and subscribes to your emails via your site's sidebar widget. Because it's been tracking her clicks on your posts to date, your automation engine knows that your prospect is interested in cloud security for finance firms. So instead of receiving a bland "Welcome to our newsletter" email, she sees a link to an article you published about the latest trends in bot attacks going after investors' private data. Intrigued, she clicks through and, after looking at your tech support page, eventually downloads your eBook about different types of cloud server protection and monitoring.

The following Tuesday, the prospect receives an email thanking her for reading your publication and offering her a timely discount. When she clicks on the "learn more" link in the email, your sales team receives an alert that she wants to talk. Knowing that tech support is important to her, your sales rep opens the call with a breakdown of the various channels for 24/7 tech support that your firm offers. Impressed, the prospect seals the deal.

Leveraging Accessible Data

Marketing automation success depends on compiling rich records about each lead. These records are used to score leads and to give human sales reps valuable intelligence. Relevant information can be harvested from any number of sources that you integrate with your automation platform, including visitor-specific onsite browsing behavior, opt-in forms on landing pages and third-party resources.

Integrating a B2B social media management dashboard like Oktopost with an automation suite like Act-On allows marketers to manage and measure social engagement data for use in lead nurturing. These tools will attach logs of all social post clicks and on-site browsing sessions to each prospect's record, so that targeted, customized messages go out at optimal moments. When you know what specific types of social posts and published content pages are of most interest to each prospect, you can map out automated processes for optimized engagement that speaks to these interests.

Of course, all of this data can also be examined on a macro level too, so you can generate reports that answer key questions about your marketing tactics. Which social media platforms are referring you the most and best leads? What type of messaging resonates best with leads from each social media platform at each stage of the purchase cycle? Which micro conversions turned into the most valuable sales? Skilled marketing automation practitioners know how to use this information to tweak and improve their social media posts, engagement methods, lead scoring formulas, the behaviors that trigger messages and overall automation strategy.

Keep the Humans Involved Too

Today's automation tools are extremely powerful and sophisticated, but they aren't intelligent enough to negate the need for human contribution just yet. There will always be opportunities to improve settings, mechanisms, integrations, messages and segmentation schemes.

Lead nurturing is delicate business, and the pitfalls of over-reliance on algorithmic engagement are significant. When setting up your automation solution, remember that personalization is the key to formulating triggered messages that resonate. And especially in the B2B space, sales and support still need to be managed by people. But once you've optimized your social media and automation tools for messaging with customized content and collecting the right data, the humans at your company will be significantly empowered.

By the time your sales team picks up a case, reps will have a wealth of valuable information at their fingertips that they can use to provide personalized service, helping customers to make decisions that are best for them.

Published on: Jan 27, 2015