benderYour customer is a real person. They have needs, worries, fears, aspirations and desires. Heck, they even have names.

What they also have is their own timeline. They want what they want when they want it. Your timeline, based on your internal schedule and processes does not concern them in the least. Have you noticed that it can take eight weeks for your subscription to GQ or Runner’s World to start? If a magazine is published every month, let’s say on the first, they aren’t going to make a special print run because you ordered on the second of the month. They’ll put your name on the list to make a printing label for the next issue. The magazine has a print cadence, and it runs every month. You cannot impact that cadence, you have to wait for the merry-go-round to go all the way around before you can get on.

Is your marketing like that? Do you send a monthly newsletter? Is your catalog published semi-annually? Does your sales team call their leads once a quarter? Do you have a cadence for your sales and marketing efforts that is built around your internal processes?

Perhaps your customers and prospects would like a little more control. Well, there’s a way to give it to them.

Under the umbrella title of “automated marketing,” you can build an integrated set of processes and tools that respond directly to the actions of your targets. For example, when your customer shows up and looks at your page with product specs, you can send them an email with more detailed information about that product. When they are looking at a page with pricing, they are farther down the funnel and it may be time to begin closing. If you try to close when they are still researching, they will react negatively to such pressure and never come back.

The best part is that this all happens on the prospect’s timeline. Even if they are researching at two in the morning on New Years Day, your automated system will reach out within minutes, if that’s what you want.

funnelAutomated marketing can also help you learn a lot more about your prospects without having to annoy them with a phone call or long form to fill out. Let’s say that you have a few great white papers and case studies that you know people would really enjoy and learn from. Use them as bait to get small bite-sized pieces of information to build a more complete picture of who they are and what their needs are. Here’s an example:

Prospect is looking for a widget. They do a Google search and they see your ad for a free white paper called “10 ways widgets will save you money.” They land on a page and the page just asks for five or six pieces of info. Name, email, zip, company name and job title. That’s not much to ask, so they fill in the fields to get their new white paper.

The system is set up so that one week after downloading the white paper, they get an email suggesting that they might find your “how to tell if widgets are right for you” white paper also of use. Since they are in a research phase (otherwise, why ask for the first white paper), they will want this one, too. They click the link and fill out a short form (just company size, department size, and biggest reason interested in widgets) to get the widget.

You do nothing until two weeks later – you see that the same person is reading all of your pricing pages and installation documentation. Clearly, having read the other material, they are getting ready to buy it or pitch it to their boss. You can automatically send another email suggesting they download your article “How to get your boss to say ‘yes’ to widgets.” Since this is perfectly aligned with their timeline, they click the link and fill out the small form (fields like timeline for need, budget and phone number. Note that you didn’t ask for the phone number until you had built up some relationship and trust with the prospect. They’ll see you are respectful of their time and privacy and will be more willing to talk now).

From here, you know everything you need to know about the prospect. You’ve also done a little more research on the person and the company and you have a pretty good sense of what they need and how they should be approached. So, you auto-send a last email that has an article called “What separates great widget project successes from failures” linked from it. When they click that link, it’s time for your sales force to take action and start the real selling process with this qualified prospect.

The best part is that all of these steps are  measurable: which papers are working? Which emails aren’t working? What information are we not collecting before the call that we need to know?  This allows you to fine tune the machine to optimize the quantity and quality of customers you send to your sales team.

This system delivers qualified prospects without cold calling and never lets the prospect feel pressured. The entire process happened on their timeline. Each step only occurred after the prospect took action. In our next blog post, we talk about a new way to use this system: automated internal corporate communication.

Bender and Futurama are owned by Fox. Image used without permission, but we still dig that show.