I was recently reviewing service websites for a client while doing competitive analysis for a sales strategy. In less than a minute of my checking out the first site, the phone rang – and it was the company calling to see if I wanted to buy their service: marketing automation at work! This happened three times in the last month. It was marketing automation in action – and it annoyed the heck out of me.

Now, before I go any further, I should clarify: marketing automation is a good thing. Sometime before a company scales up from 10 customers to 10,000 (and sooner than later), marketing automation is practically essential for maintaining engagement with existing customers and generating warm leads so your sales team can follow up.

Marketing automation can work wonders when integrating sales and marketing – but I’ve seen too many examples of where marketing automation has gone wrong to keep silent.

Here’s how you can avoid annoying your customers and using marketing automation to the fullest:

5 Ways to Improve Marketing Automation So You Boost Leads and Conversions

1. Rethink Your Assumptions About Your Customers. “We track what our customers do right from the instant they click on to our website,” said the professional marketer whom I will not name. “We’re operating under the assumption that if they’re on for more than 30 seconds, they’re ready to buy – and we want to contact them while that lead is hot.”

Hold your horses, friend. Jumping the gun like that in real life would get you banned from most social settings. Imagine:

“So, we’ve been on this date for 30 seconds. I did my research on your LavaLife profile, so I know I’m totally your type. You’re obviously interested or you would have left by now. Ready to get married?”

Rethink your assumptions and treat your customer with a little more respect.

2. Focus on Building Trust. The whole strategy behind many inbound marketing campaigns is to provide enough education so that the customer can feel comfortable. They do their research – and probably, will check out some third-party review sites or blogs. Then they’ll get in touch, when they are ready.

3. Don’t Automate Everything. I’ve seen how live marketing people can help boost lead conversion rates from 10 percent to 60 percent and higher – but it does take a personal touch, before the sales person gets involved.

Sales people are sometimes skeptical when marketing people start talking about a ‘deeper level of engagement.’ But that’s generally a problem of poor marketing and sales integration in the first place.

Personal engagement by marketing people on Twitter, LinkedIn or good old email marketing can often turn a cold lead into a hot one, even if it does take time to cultivate. Keep in mind though that the marketer isn’t trying to replace the sales person by doing 1-on-1 interactions; again, it’s about educating the customer. Marketing can also ask the customer if they are interested in meeting a sales person – but should never presume (eg. “I saw you downloaded our white paper, so my associate Rudy from sales will be calling you momentarily”).

4. Be Proactive, Not Pushy. If giving a hello to a customer after 30 seconds (BTW, how did you get my phone number?) is creepy, where does that leave friendly, useful customer service? Does it mean we always have to wait for the customer to call? What if we want to be more proactive.

Certainly, following up with an email (vastly preferred to phone calls by customers for most campaigns) after a customer registers for a download or purchases something online would be appropriate. When I buy a book or music online and get a message 5 minutes later containing a list of recommendations, that’s just good customer service. The same would go for inviting that hot lead to have a conversation with the sales person – which is where the hand-off could happen.

5. Get Feedback from Sales Reps About the Process. Marketing needs to work closely with sales on this – and often, the sales person working 1-on-1 with the customer is able to get essential feedback about whether your marketing materials are providing enough value in the first place.

Sales reps need to help the marketing people pre-qualify leads; otherwise, a few days of calling back junk leads will be enough for the sales reps to start ignoring marketing’s leads entirely, leading to missed opportunities.

Marketing automation helps you reach your customers in an effective way so you can help them. Don’t harass them. Need help? Contact us for sales consulting services