This article was originally published on MarTech Series.

Before considering marketing automation, let’s first talk about your customers and how well you know them. Do you know why and how they became customers in the first place? What other competitors did they consider when starting their research process? When was the last time you spoke with them?

Sounds like how you might treat friends, right? In today’s world where everything you need is just a click away, customers value relationships over transactions and if you don’t treat customers as they expect, they will leave you for a competitor. To know your customers as well as you know your friends, you need to build a high-def picture of them using data, and the more you will know about them, the better you will treat them.

A customer relationship management (CRM) solution is a data accumulation and learning system made up of tools built to engage and gather data about your customers at every point of their journey. For convenience sake, we have compartmentalized a customer’s journey into bundles of activities so we can more easily solve the challenges of building relationships with customers – marketing, sales, delivery, and support.

On the other side, your customers don’t see your business the same way you do. They don’t compartmentalize their expectations into marketing, sales, delivery or service; they see you as one single entity. You must deliver one consistent representation of your business to every one of your customers, from the first contact to last. To do this successfully, you need all of your customer data in one place. All your marketing, sales, delivery and support applications sitting on the same platform leaves less chance for customers’ data getting lost or corrupted, pixelating the hi-def picture of the customer and your ability to build lasting relationships.

Of the four building blocks of an end-to-end CRM system, marketing is usually the first opportunity to capture data about the customer, and because of this, it’s critical for your future business success to get everything right before you flip the switch on your marketing automation system of choice. Here are the seven imperatives of successful marketing automation:

1. Develop a customer engagement strategy

Before thinking about automating marketing, you need a go-to-market strategy that involves all parts of the business – marketing, sales, delivery, and support. Define your target market segments, the ideal customer profile and the target personas, including behaviors and preferences. Additionally, be sure to define the metrics that best reflect what success looks like. There are many of these along your customer’s buying journey, and the more you capture, the more detailed the picture will be.

2. Build one customer data repository

Choosing the right CRM to support your business is crucial, but can be daunting for even the most seasoned pros. If data sits in multiple databases, integration projects need to be managed to ensure that the picture you have of the customer is not being compromised, costing extra funding. A CRM that has everything sitting on one platform eliminates the need for additional integration and the chance for customer data corruption. It also ensures that everyone who engages the customer will have the exact same view of the customer data, whether they work in marketing, sales, delivery, and support. And that’s great for your customers.

3. Define one comprehensive data dictionary

You’d be amazed at how many countless hours I have spent with sales and marketing teams answering the question “What is a lead?” Something as simple as this, if misunderstood can cripple the effectiveness of marketing automation before it gets off the ground. I cannot emphasize enough how essential it is for all those involved in engaging your customers to be speaking the same language. Everything from prospects, to ideal customer profiles, to lead scoring and SQL’s, etc. Write them down and review them regularly with everyone involved.

4. Get your roles aligned

Marketing, sales, delivery, and support teams must know exactly when and how to engage your customers. In short, define the processes, workflows, and handoffs in effect as your customer moves through the buyer’s journey. The beauty of having all customer data in one place is that everyone has the same view of the customer at every stage of the customer journey. Having complete transparency from customer acquisition to advocacy gives your business the best possible chance of winning and retaining customers.

5. Understand your buyers’ journeys

For decades, a foundational concept in demand generation has been “the funnel” – a structured approach of qualifying potential customers in or out of buying phases based on criteria pre-defined by sales and marketing. When conceived, the funnel made sense because buying behaviors were less complicated and more linear. Today, any information your buyer needs is at their fingertips. The B2B buying process is now a non-linear, highly competitive and complicated process. It is imperative for a modern business to understand in great detail the origin, nature, and outcome of every interaction with customers along their buying journey – and a fully integrated CRM platform does just that.

6. Get personal, listen and learn

According to the first-quarter 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report, American adults spend over 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media – 60 percent of our daily waking hours. Because of the sheer volume of content, it is incredibly challenging for companies to break through the chatter. As with all good marketing, there’s a tried, tested and measurable process to make this happen:

  1. Know your target audience, why they buy and how they buy; define an ideal customer profile.
  2. Develop a broad range of content in multiple forms – written, audio, video – that best represents your business in a way your customers want to consume. Map the distribution of these pieces – delivering the right message in the right form at the right time.
  3. Monitor and analyze all interactions so that you can understand what content is actually being consumed, and at what rate. Listening, learning, improving and trying again is the key to acquiring potential customers and retaining existing ones.

7. Report on everything and share the insights

As stated earlier, the key to successful marketing is great planning, and the key great planning is data and insights about your customers and your past campaign performance. It is imperative that the marketing goals, methods, and metrics that were agreed upon during the GTM planning stage (#1) and the related marketing metrics are all contained in easy-to-access comprehensive reports and dashboards. These should be easily shared across the organization and understood by everyone – even those that are not in the marketing team. As campaigns run, results should be analyzed and insights used to improve the next iteration of the campaign.

Having everyone on the same page sounds simple, but is ultimately the key to your success across the board. With the right amount of planning and cross-functional alignment, automating your marketing doesn’t have to be a headache, and in fact, will ultimately save headaches down the line.

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