A beginner’s guide to B2B marketing automation 

Marketing Automation is pushing its way into more and more B2B businesses’ technology stack, and with good reason. Marketing automation can transform the way you get customers, the way you close deals, and even the way you manage your customers after the deal has been closed.

In this post, we’ll give a comprehensive beginner’s overview of what marketing automation is, what makes it different from other B2B tools, and how you can get started and reap the benefits today.

What is B2B Marketing Automation?

Marketing Automation is, in essence, a suite of tools that a business needs to manage its leads, its sales process and its customers.

What makes a B2B Marketing Automation system distinct from for example a B2C focused one is its focus on a longer and more complex sales process with more actors involved, which might require personal contact and research about groups of people in a company. As an example, whereas a B2C system might fully embrace automated communication to individuals, a B2B marketing tool will place more emphasis on giving a salesperson information about what individual contacts have done, ways to get in touch with them on a personal basis, and ability to store company and deal information as well.

At its core, a Marketing Automation system will be your main contacts database. But in contrast with most sales-focused CRM systems, a marketing automation system also includes features that help you communicate with those contacts. This means it has additional features such as:

  • Email marketing: The ability to create lists, build emails (often with a drag-and-drop editor) and send newsletters and other types of emails to those contacts (and then track open and click rates, among other things).
  • Forms and campaign pages: The ability to build campaign pages to capture new leads.
  • An automation engine: Many see this as the heart of a marketing automation system. It is simply a way to automate a lot of the tedious work, such as segmenting your contacts, emailing them when they do certain things on the website, or communicating with them on social media.
  • Multi-channel outreach and retargeting: The ability to not only email your contacts but also to communicate with them on channels such as social media and via paid ads.

In addition to all this (and more), a B2B focused marketing automation system will also have strong emphasis on sales and marketing alignment (which we’ll get to further down) - hence it will either feature a fully functioning built-in B2B CRM system and/or will be able to integrate with most B2B CRM systems on the market.

What are the main benefits of a B2B marketing automation system?

Having all the above in one place supported by an underlying common contacts database makes your life as a marketer much simpler and your work more effective. It gives you the ability to capture leads effectively, manage those leads, and help your sales force close more deals by working right alongside them.

In terms of communicating with your leads and contacts, a marketing automation system allows you to mass-communicate in a more personalized way and based on the buyer’s actions.

In terms of business results, helps you achieve the following:

  1. Multiply sales force effectiveness by helping your salespeople do more with less time.
  2. Save time on routine work such as importing and exporting leads, segmenting, sending items contacts request, sorting through and filtering, distributing leads, managing campaigns and events, etc.
  3. Improving conversion rates in each step: Getting more leads from your visitors, qualifying and closing more of those leads to deals, and increasing revenue from existing clients.
Read more about the three ways marketing automation provides business results in this article: the 3 different ways marketing automation gives you ROI.

Types of B2B tools and where Marketing Automation fits in

Your job is to build a streamlined business process that drives more leads, closes deals, and satisfies customers. At your disposal, you have a landscape filled with B2B sales software and B2B marketing software. Your job is to figure out which tool to use for which purpose, and how they’ll play with each other to form your larger business process.

The tools mainly come in three different forms:

  1. Niche: A niche tool handles a specific aspect of a stage. To work, it has to be able to function on its own (no integration needed), or be easy to integrate with other tools in order to fit into your overall process.
  2. Use case: A tool that handles a specific use case from start to end, such as event management (inviting to events, managing the actual event, then following up after the event). To function, the use case has to be able to be of stand-alone nature (doesn’t need integration), or the tool needs to be able to integrate with your other tools (manually via import/export or actual integration) so you can use it as part of a larger process.
  3. Suite: A suite of tools that allow you to build your own processes. Where needed, you can plug in niche tools or use-case tools by integrating them, when the general tools offered in the suite are not good enough to do the job, or when the job is so important that you need a dedicated and specialized tool for the job.

Below is a summary of the three types, with one or two examples in each category:

the form of niche products that specialize in one single aspect of one of the three stages above (such as researching SEO), tools that integrate a specific end-to-end use case (such as managing events), or complete suites that integrate all the tools in one package but require you to build your own end-to-end process (such as a comprehensive Marketing Automation and CRM system like SharpSpring).

Type

Example use cases and B2B tools

Niche

SEO (Ahrefs, Moz)

Forms (Jotform, Typeform)

End-to-end

Events (Eventbrite, Invajo)

Cold outreach (Yesware, Qualifier)

Suite

Marketing & CRM (SharpSpring, HubSpot)

Customer Support (Zendesk, Teamwork)

Note: This table is not a comprehensive list of all the different types of B2B tools. It’s just meant to illustrate the different types of software that exists (niche/use-case/suite) with some examples.

Is it better to use niche tools, end-to-end, or a suite? In theory, you can do everything you need with only niche tools, but for most business needs it would be a nightmare to cobble together. You can also build most or all your needs using a single suite, but some functionalities might not be as fully-fledged as you’d like them to be (and it can in some cases be more time consuming to just plug a ready-made end-to-end use case tool in).

So there’s almost always a trade-off between simplicity and functionality.

For most businesses, we’d recommend having a suite as your foundation and plugging in a niche or end-to-end tools where you have critical processes that really need the special attention they deserve.

Here are some examples of scenarios which illustrate when you might need niche or end-to-end tools plugged into your overall suite:

  • SEO is a core part of your content strategy: If this is the case, then you’ll be hurting yourself if you don’t use an SEO tool, rather than the built-in SEO features of your suite.
  • You’re getting most your leads from cold outreach: Plug in a dedicated end-to-end cold outreach tool to make this process more effective, but take over with your suite once contact is established. Here’s an example in our own help portal where we describe how some of our customers are using Woodpecker together with SharpSpring as their fully-fledged cold outreach solution plugged into their overall business process.
  • You’re hosting a lot of events: You’ll almost certainly need to plug in an event tool to your suite. But once the event is finished, the follow up might be better to do in your suite so that your sales team gets all the information about who attended, who showed interest afterwards, and to follow up.

B2B Marketing Automation examples

In essence, most companies’ overall business process consists of the following three steps:

  1. Capture leads (be visible, reach out)
  2. Close deals (manage sales process, communicate, educate)
  3. Maximize customer potential (manage customers)

This model summarizes what you can do in each step:

ROI Model

Here are the main B2B marketing automation examples you can use in each stage:

Stage

Strategy

Features used

Capture leads

Inbound leads funnels: This is probably the most common B2B marketing use case. Basically, you create an opt-in offer (for example a guide about a topic or problem) on a landing page, then you blog about it or create ads to drive traffic. After they convert on the landing page, they get a series of emails and nurture, educate and qualify them, and lead scoring detects high potential leads that the sales team gets in touch with.

• Forms
• Landing pages
• Email marketing
• Automations
• Lead scoring
• Sales intelligence
• CRM or integration

Capture leads

B2B advertising funnels: Same concept as above, just using ads and more product or sales-oriented landing pages instead. You create a highly targeted and informative long-form sales page, then create ads that drive traffic.

• Same as above, but with more advanced use of landing pages
• Retargeting

Close deals

Lead nurturing: Your database should be nurtured continuously, using tactics such as newsletters, trigger-based drips, promotions of events and offers, and retargeting.

• Tracking and segmentation
• Newsletters
• Trigger-based actions (automations)
• Content personalization
• Retargeting

Close deals

Sales support: Detect buying intent and provide sales intelligence that is helpful to sales when winning deals. In addition, nurture leads that sales don’t have time to focus on right now.

• Tracking and lead scoring
• Automations
• CRM or integration
• Sales sequences
• Retargeting
• Sales notifications

Maximize customers

Customer onboarding: Onboard and educate new customers with different sequences and tips depending on what the customer purchased and how they’re using your products.

• Tracking and product integration
• Email marketing
• Automations

Maximize customers

Customer nurturing: Continue to inspire your customers, and detect when the upsell opportunities arise or churn risk arises.

• Tracking and segmentation
• Product integration
• Email marketing
• Sales notification
• CRM or integration

These are just some of the more generic tactics you can use. To see a full list of tactics for each stage, please read our article about all the tactics you can use to increase conversion rates in your sales funnel.

How to get started with B2B marketing automation

Where to start depends on which area of your business is currently a bottleneck. Here are some suggestions on what you can do depending on the particular situation you find yourself in:

If you don’t have enough leads: Start building lead funnels and B2B advertising funnels. Once you start driving and nurturing leads, you can move onto the next step below.

If your sales process is not effective or well organized: Start by implementing the CRM part of your marketing automation suite. Once you have a basic process in place, the challenge will be to get salespeople to actually use it. For that, you’ll need a mix of management strategies (regular sales meetings, forecasting calls, and follow-up), and tactics that incentivise and simplify usage (sales intelligence, sales support features such as nurturing sequences and templates, and helpful features such as quoting right from the system).

If you’ve got a lot of unhandled leads and customers: Build a proper customer database maintenance and nurturing structure. This consists first and foremost of a good segmentation model (fields that allow you to easily categorize your customers and pull out targeted lists), and secondly of a communication strategy to those various segments (for example a regular newsletter for leads, and an inspiration newsletter for customers).

For a more in-depth roadmap of how to get started with marketing automation, see this post: Step by step roadmap of how to start using Marketing Automation.

Should you do it yourself or use marketing consultants?

Lego

Implementing a B2B marketing automation suite is a lot like building something from lego.

The benefit of having a suite instead of individual niche tools is that they all share the same contact database and come pre-integrated. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still a lot of work!

Many businesses fall into the trap of believing the various vendors’ hype that it’s easy to use and thus will take care of itself. Well, it is easy to use - once it has been implemented! But the implementation and customization does take a lot of effort, and it’s certainly not easy unless you’ve done it several times before. This is so by its very nature since there is so much you can do.

Most businesses don’t really know where or how to start, and they don’t have the time necessary to learn how to build and tweak something from scratch. We believe that B2B sales consultants and B2B marketing consultants have an important role to fill here.

But many businesses fall into the trap of outsourcing too much to consultants. The problem is that no consultant can have the same in-depth knowledge about your market, your customers, and your processes that you do. If you outsource too much to them, you’ll get stuck with standard processes that you have little control over, and you’ll always have to rely on your external consultants.

Our approach is different. In anything you build, you’ll generally have to analyze which problem to focus on, architect a solution, then build it, and then tweak it. Here’s our suggested division of labour in each:

What needs to be done

Questions to answer

The consultant’s role

Your role

The analyzing

“What do I need?”
“Where are my bottlenecks?”

Provide an analytical framework. Probe. Provide guiding experience.

Gather data. Explain needs. Set goals.

The architecting

“What should I build?”

Provide examples and analogues. Provide suggestions and expected results based on experience.

Make decisions. Provide information about what might and might not work.

The building

“How do I build this in a way that will work for my business?”

Take care of the technical and one-time aspects and customizations. Get started quickly by implementing standard processes, then train, educate and hand over for anything that needs quick and continuous work or business-specific knowledge (such as pillar content or individual steps in the sales process).

Learn so you can take over and own your own process. Own any process that needs quick and continuous work.

The tweaking

“What should we double down on, what should we improve, and what should we discard?”

Help measure. Discuss and provide suggestions based on a framework of methodologies and strategies.

Own. Find business needs and bottlenecks. Set goals. Initiate action.

We believe that the consultant’s part of the job above is necessary for any B2B marketing automation and CRM project to succeed. So we include the above consulting services in our packages, free of cost, and forever. This makes both us and our customers more successful. More on that below.

Why marketing consultants are included in our packages

We believe that the market is divided between two faulty extremes:

  1. Support only: Most vendors provide systems and technical support, and then you’re on your own. Vendors might provide guides and methodologies, but it’s up to you to learn and implement.
  2. Agency model: The other extreme is when agencies come in and basically want to take over your marketing completely - including all your content, website, design, branding, etc.

We’re big proponents of you owning your own process, but we also know that external consultants have a big role in helping you get to that point effectively. That’s why we include the services in the table above in our packages. You get B2B sales consultants, B2B marketing consultants, technical experts, and developers - all included in the package at no cost.

This makes our customers more successful, and in the long run, us more successful too since we depend on our customers’ success.

Read more about our included marketing automation services here.

If you're ready to learn more about tools and how we can help you, learn more below.

SharpSpring: All-in-one Marketing Automation & CRM with help included

SharpSpring is an easy to use Marketing Automation and CRM solution that helps you get leads, manage your deals, and sell more. Complete with features such as contact tracking, lead scring and automations. Offered by FunnelBud a premium SharpSpring agency, complete with Professional Services and implementation at no extra cost.

Marketing Automation

Landing pages, newsletters, automations, segments and more. Rather than a bunch of tools - one for newsletters, one for events, one for lead scoring - let SharpSpring manage it all.

CRM system

Contacts, accounts, business opportunities, pipelines, email sync, reports and more. Integrated with Marketing so you get leads right into the CRM. Work as one team in SharpSpring!

Included Services

Our job is to help you grow. Get more leads. Automate your business. Integrate. Training and coaching. Designs and templates. Others charge $2-4,000/mo. We charge nothing.

Low monthly cost. All included. High quality help. Don't hesitate to request a demo now!

Are you considering B2B marketing automation?

If you’re interested in implementing B2B marketing automation, we’d suggest a free demo and discussion with one of our consultants first. Book a demo below to see how SharpSpring can fulfil your needs, discuss strategies you can use, and learn what you can do to get started.