In Marketing Automation 101, we showed how automation can save you time and money while growing your business. If you want to successfully use marketing automation, though, it’s important to have a plan in place from the start.

Automating random tasks without a plan might let you jump into the action right away, but you won’t reap the same rewards as you would from a comprehensive strategy. Sitting down to craft a marketing automation plan can initially take a bit of time, but you’ll get more results from your marketing, and you’ll save time in the long run.

Let’s take a look at how you can create a comprehensive and holistic plan:

Set measurable goals

When asked about their marketing goals for a certain period, an inexperienced marketing manager might say, “We want to be the most talked about (product/service) on social media.”

Or they may rely on buzzwords: “We want to go viral.”

These sound like fine aspirations, but they’re too broad to be of real use in creating an effective marketing strategy.

The key to setting useful goals is specificity. The more narrow the focus of a goal is, the easier it is to measure your progress towards achieving it.

Both of the previous examples fall under the broad umbrella of “brand awareness.” But even the goal of “I want to raise awareness for my brand” is too vague. Instead, think about what awareness for your brand would look like in practical terms. It could mean increasing:

  • Visitors to your site
  • Followers on social media
  • Email leads in your database

These goals are specific and measurable. Once you pick one of those examples, you can:

  • Determine how much you want to increase those numbers or percentages
  • Choose a KPI (key performance indicator) to track your progress
  • Establish a time frame in which you’d like to hit this goal

Using marketing automation to support your goals

Now, you can break down how to use marketing automation to meet the goals you’ve chosen.

Let’s say that your ultimate goal is to get more people to use your product or service. Your more immediate goal is to grow your list of email contacts by ____ %. Email marketing is a very high-impact form of marketing automation, so growing your list and moving those subscribers through a sales funnel is a good way to boost sales.

A simple way to grow your list using marketing automation is to offer a useful download on your site, in exchange for an email. A shoe repair business could offer a guide showing people how to take better care of their boots. This may seem counter-intuitive—after all, it would reduce the amount of boots needing repair. The idea is that you offer something of genuine value, which then increases the trustworthiness of your brand. You can set up an automated email to deliver the how-to guide, while creating a workflow that adds the email address to your subscriber list.

To do all of this, you need to have a firm understanding of your marketing funnel.

What does your marketing funnel look like?

A marketing or sales funnel is an overview of a person’s journey from non-customer to customer. It lets you to step back and see every step of the journey, from initial awareness to evaluation to sale. Getting this bird’s-eye view can help you spot the point(s) in the journey where you’re losing potential customers. After that, you can create goals aimed at patching those leaks.

Before you begin to analyze the customer journey, you should have created customer personas. Those will help you understand who your customer is and what they need. That information, in turn, can help you decide how to target prospects at different points of the funnel.

A typical marketing funnel

The specific stages of a marketing funnel vary from business to business, which is one reason to use a marketing automation tool that lets you customize your lead stages. The most common stages are:

  • Awareness: A lead learns about your product/service, whether from an ad, a friend or family member, or somehere else. At this point, they aren’t necessarily interested in how it can solve their problems. This is often referred to as the “top of the funnel” – the point where the funnel is the widest. A large number of people may hear about your product/service, but less will be interested or take action, so the funnel becomes narrower as people move down it.
  • Interest: The lead moves from being aware of the product to realizing that it might have something to offer them. This might happen because they’ve learned more about your product, or because they find themselves with a problem that your product can solve.
  • Evaluation: The lead begins to compare you to your competitors while deciding whether to use your product/service. This point is often referred to as the middle of the funnel.
  • Commitment: The lead has decided to go with your brand, but has yet to make the purchase. They might be waiting to get paid, waiting on approval from a manager/other party, or maybe they don’t quite need the product/service just yet and were researching it in advance.
  • Sale: The lead has actually spent the money and gone with your product/service. They’ve reached the bottom of the funnel and come out the other side as a customer. Typically, marketing activities that are focused on moving people from the “commitment” stage to the “sale” stage are referred to as “bottom of funnel” tactics.

Creating goals based upon your marketing funnel

Now, you can take a look at your reports and identify any parts of the funnel where you’re losing leads.

For example, let’s say your customers are moving through the top of the funnel easily enough—following you on social media and subscribing to your newsletters. But, they never convert into sales, you now know to focus on middle and bottom of funnel tactics.

In that situation, your goal could be to increase sales by ___%. To accomplish this measurable goal, you know you’re going to have to get creative and find ways to convince middle-of-the-funnel leads to cross the finish line.

Now, let’s tie it back to online marketing. If you run an online fishing supply store, maybe people are putting fishing poles into their cart, but then deciding not to complete the purchase. You can create a workflow that automatically sends abandoned cart emails to these leads to remind them of their interest in the pole. After all, if they got as far as putting an item in a cart, they’re definitely interested. It may be as simple as catching them on another day when they’re in the mood to buy, or after a new paycheck has come through.

Different funnel stages often work well with different channels

In general, as customers move along the funnel, communication gets more intimate or personal. Email, conversations (whether in-person, over the phone, via social media or live-chat, etc.), and SMS are especally well-suited to the bottom of the funnel. That doesn’t mean they can’t be used for people in the middle of the funnel, but they fit in well closer to the end.

Similarly, advertising and social media are often top-of-funnel activities, but can be used for middle or bottom of the funnel marketing too. One-to-one conversations on social media are an example. Another example is retargeted ads, where a lead who opens a specific email about a sale or visits a product page on your site is shown targeted advertising campaigns related to that activity. If they browsed through the “dog harnesses” section on your site, for example, you might show them Facebook ads for dog harnesses and leashes, or ads about a sale you’re running on your products for dog owners.

Related: Marketing Channels: Cross-Channel Marketing Strategies and Examples

What KPIs are you tracking for each goal?

We mentioned earlier that KPI stands for “key performance indicator.” KPIs let you measure the success or failure of your goals.

Once you’ve defined a goal, you need to choose the metrics you use to quantify your progress towards it. This could be an overall number, a percentage, or any other form of measurement. You then choose a KPI that lets you track the rise or fall of those numbers or percentages.

For a simple example, let’s say you want to increase your social media engagement in the next quarter. Common social media KPIs include clicks, likes, shares, comments, and followers. Each of these KPIs tells you something different about the level of engagement your social media is receiving.

You can use the number of shares as your KPI and set a goal to increase the average number of shares by 25%. Then, you simply have to track the number of shares over the quarter, take an average number for that period, and compare it to the previous average. If your numbers increased by 25% or more, you succeeded in hitting your goal.

Track more than one KPI for the full picture

Often, you’ll want to measure more than one KPI to see how different factors affect your overall goal.

Let’s go back to our earlier example. Say your fishing supply business want to increase sales for the year by 15%. In addition to tracking the number of overall sales, you might also want to track website traffic, social media conversions, and your clickthrough rate to gain a better understanding of how those factors may or may not contribute to your overall sales numbers.

This will help you identify what factors are tied to your overall sales numbers. For example, when you start out, you may expect your overall sales to increase when people visit your site from a Facebook ad. By tracking overall sales and conversion rates for that ad campaign, you can discover whether that’s true or not. If you’re also tracking clickthrough rates and conversions for promotional emails, you could learn that your increase in sales actually came from them. After that, you’ll have a better idea of where to focus your time and energy to increase sales.

One last note: be careful not to track too many KPIs. There’s no exact science when it comes to the number of KPIs to track, but more than three and less than 10 is a good start.

Important metrics vs. vanity metrics

Since you’re only going to pay close attention to a few metrics, you need to identify which metrics are important, vs. which ones are “vanity metrics.”

The easiest way to differentiate is to look at whether the metric directly affects your bottom line. For example, having 50,000 Instagram followers might look good (and appeal to your vanity), but it doesn’t necessarily mean more sales. In fact, if those followers aren’t likely to become customers, it doesn’t matter if you have five or fifty thousand.

On the other hand, tracking the number of conversions you’re getting from your website tells you what your sales numbers are. And tracking where those conversions are coming from gives you insight into what’s boosting them.

Common KPIs

Here are some common KPIs:

  • Conversion rate
  • Open rate
  • Click rate
  • Total revenue
  • Unsubscribes
  • Lead-to-customer ratio
  • Return on investment

To learn more about KPIs and common marketing metrics, head to our post on reviewing your marketing results.

Don’t forget project management best practices

Outside of marketing-specific tips, it’s also important to remember some basic project management practices to make your plans more likely to succeed.

Before you start implementing a plan, decide who will do what. If you’re a very small team, this is probably already decided for you (as one or two people will have to do everything). If you’re on a larger team, or are juggling multiple marketing initiatives at the same time, this becomes more important.

Every goal should be owned by 1-2 people and everyone should know what the others are working on. Using project management software can make this all much easier. Ideally, you’ll be using a marketing automation tool that lets you set goals, budget, and timespan for campaigns, as well. Using both of these will make it much easier to stay organized.

How long should I plan for?

In a smaller or newer business, 3-6 months is a decent length of time to test out new ideas and strategies. When you have less than five employees or your business is only 1-2 years old, you’re much more nimble than larger businesses. You may as well use that to your advantage. Planning for longer terms might actually hurt your business – keeping your plans light lets you change along the way and focus on what works.

As you learn more about what works for you, your business, and your customers, you can plan for longer periods. But, even while planning for longer terms, you should leave some wiggle room in the plan to adjust to trends and current events.

If you’re in a larger business, or working in sync with other departments, then you’ll likely be planning for 6-12 months at a time. But don’t think that means you can shirk your quarterly reviews – they’re still necessary. That way, if a project is drastically under- or over-performing, you can course-correct.

When you’re setting timeframes for your plans and goals, don’t forget to take learning curves into account. If you or your team will need to learn multiple new tools to implement a plan, then account for that time in your plans and goals.

After working your way through this process, you’ll have a crystal-clear idea of what your marketing goals are, and how you can reach them. From here, it’s just taking action. If you’re looking for the right tool to help you do that, we built MarketingHub exactly for this reason. It was created from the ground up to be easy to use and get the results that businesses need.

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