Abstract Matrix-like image with the word BUSINESSSocial networks, search engines and online resources have all created new challenges for business-to-business marketers. Prospects do more research on their own, and it’s not always easy to know how to reach them.

So how do you adapt to the changing landscape, in order to engage and nurture potential customers more effectively?

Here are five areas that B2B marketers should be paying careful attention to and selecting their marketing automation tools accordingly.

Data Collection

Listening, absorbing and acting on information about contacts rather than shouting generic marketing messages is key to nurturing leads in an age in which inboxes are overflowing and time is short.

For marketers, this means using marketing technology tools to help build a robust database based on prospect preferences and behaviors that can be used to send automated, triggered messages. A few hot areas:

  • Web tracking: While not new, Web tracking has grown more sophisticated, enabling marketers to tie anonymous behaviors to specific contacts and thus send more relevant automated messages, as well as monitoring a more expansive range of behaviors, such as blog comments, Foursquare check-ins, white paper downloads, Twitter follows, etc.
  • Progressive profiling: Instead of trying to collect 12 data points about a prospect up front and risking form abandonment, progressive forms allow marketers to set up an automated process in which they ask buyers for a few key data points at first and then gradually increase their knowledge as the relationship grows.
  • Social: Offering website visitors the option of signing in with their social network credentials, adding a lead generation form on a company Facebook page and inserting share call-to-actions in event reminder emails and white paper .pdf files are just a few ways marketers can build their database and increase their message reach.

Lead Management

Marketing automation enables you to add a layer of sophistication to your lead-management process that will increase efficiency, tighten up any remaining leaks in the funnel, and improve alignment between marketing and sales.

New technology enables you to create more comprehensive lead-scoring systems than ever, allowing you to rank the qualification of prospects according to their buyer interest and increase the number of quality leads sent to sales.

And tighter integration between marketing automation platforms and CRM systems means you can easily alert sales when leads perform certain meaningful actions, as well as giving sales full visibility into marketing’s activities—and vice versa—when you turn a lead over to them.

Cross-Channel Campaign Management

Today’s buyers want to be communicated with as individuals, so marketers are faced with the challenge of incorporating various decision points into their campaigns in ways that build deeper relationships and drive conversions. The best marketing automation platforms make this process easier by providing visual campaign tools that enable marketers to create programs with multiple messaging tracks and touch points and automatically route each contact down a specific track based on his or her interactions with the company.

Whether it’s a nurture email, event invite or an alert to your call center to contact a lead in your system, the possibilities for engaging prospects are endless.

Social Marketing

Many prospects are now coming to companies via search and social, so marketers need to make sure their content creates a consistent conversation path during the relationship. In addition to the tactics mentioned above, B2B marketers should focus on making their content shareworthy and shareable, delivering educational content that addresses key pain points and including social icons that make it easy to share with the click of a mouse.

Marketers should also plan their automated nurture campaigns around the idea of facilitating a social dialogue, encouraging sharing in multiple emails and enabling conversations around their content. In today’s marketplace, integrating social media into a multichannel marketing strategy is becoming an increasingly essential element of nurturing leads and driving conversions.

Tracking and Reporting

There’s a lot of pressure on marketers today to demonstrate their value and impact on the bottom line. By employing marketing automation technology and strategy that captures all aspects of their campaigns and offers a clear view into the results of their marketing efforts—from lead acquisition to account close and beyond—marketers will be well-positioned to accurately showcase how they’re capturing prospects’ attention throughout the whole lead-management process.

To gain a complete picture of their marketing efforts, marketers should run reports that look at both first touches and influence. The former will tell you where new leads are coming from and where you should keep spending your money, while the latter will provide insights into what actually convinced someone to buy.

When tracking where leads came from (“first touch”), put an automated system in place that separates the source from the offer, so that no matter how prospects interact with your content and what path they take from seeing your ad to signing a contract, you’ll be able to keep tabs and better determine where to focus future resources.

As the director of product strategy at Silverpop, Bryan Brown is responsible for defining the broad strategic vision of the company’s family of products and helping marketers grow revenue.

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