How We (Semi-) Automated Lead Follow-Up
5 min read
"We don't have bandwidth." "There's no budget." Sound familiar?
No company has unlimited resources, and every team has to work within a set of constraints. Late last year at my company, that constraint was staffing – specifically for business development reps. We had a small team who had been instructed to split their time between managing existing client accounts and following up on new leads from marketing (MQLs).
Squeaky wheels get the most grease, and our biz dev team was dealing with some of the squeakiest customers. Not surprisingly, MQL follow-up took a back seat. What's a marketer to do?
With no budget to purchase a specialized sales follow-up automation product, we had to get creative with the tools we already had. Using Salesforce and Marketo, we created a process that automated about half of the typical follow-up tasks for our biz dev team, and assigned them Salesforce Tasks as handy reminders to complete the other activities. The result? Improved lead conversion rates, more accurate tracking, and a more organized team.
Here are the steps we followed to make this work:
1. Map out the interaction journey
Once leads reach the marketing-qualified stage, our biz dev team's goal is to set an appointment to further qualify the opportunity before passing to the outside sales team. They already had a standard process for the types of emails, phone calls, and other outreach they would perform towards this end goal.
Every few days, the lead was supposed to receive some kind of outreach from the team. After about a dozen touch points, if there was no response, the lead would be nurtured. However, due to the team's time constraints, this process was not being followed with any consistency.
So, we mapped out the interaction journey we wanted to create using their existing process. Touch point 1 is an email about X, 2 is a phone call about Y, and so on. We settled on 3-4 touch points per week, with the entire follow-up process completed within 3 weeks.
We also determined that at least a few of the touch points should be tailored to the prospect based on their industry. For example, in one of our email sends, we offer a different set of customer case studies and proof points depending on the prospect's industry.
The last decision to be made when mapping this journey was how it should end. We decided that leads should stop receiving this automated follow-up when:
An appointment had been set (success!)
The lead was rejected or nurtured (it happens)
The biz dev rep wants to tailor follow-up beyond what's available in the automated flow (we gave them a manual "opt-out" box to check in Salesforce)
The lead reaches the end of the 3-week flow with no response (at this point, their lead score gets reset and they start over from 0)
Our next step was determining which parts of the journey could or should be automated.
2. Decide what should be automated vs. assigned as a Task
This was actually a fairly easy decision for us. Of all the touch points we mapped out, about half were emails. Easy to automate – we just had to edit the sender information in Marketo. Other activities, like calls and LinkedIn InMail, would be assigned as Salesforce Tasks for the biz dev rep to complete on certain days of the week. This essentially gave them a ready-made to-do list.
3. Build the Marketo campaign
Before building the campaign in Marketo, we solidified the following components:
Criteria for leads to be added to the flow
Copy for all emails
Information for all Tasks (e.g., "Call #2 - please complete before Thursday when Email #3 will be sent")
Desired timing for each step of the process
Criteria for leads to be removed from the flow
I'm no Marketo expert, but luckily my team member is a guru! She helped us set up an automated flow that essentially follows this process:
Thursday: first automated email send
Monday: first phone call outreach (Salesforce Task)
Tuesday: second automated email send
Wednesday: first InMail (Salesforce Task)
Thursday: third automated email send
...and so on, until our entire interaction journey is complete OR the biz dev rep connects with the lead.
This has made the lead follow-up process far more predictable for us. For instance, we know that every Thursday, a new batch of MQLs is starting the automated follow-up flow, and that our biz dev team will see their outreach Tasks assigned every Monday and Wednesday.
4. Track activity
We track two main elements here: 1) whether the automation program is performing as expected, and 2) whether the biz dev team is able to get through their assigned Tasks.
Strictly speaking, Marketo flows are not really designed for this. So it was important for me to verify that leads were receiving the correct communications, especially at the beginning when the process was brand-new. I quickly learned that "automated" meant less work for the biz dev team but more for me! But if it's helping us move leads through the funnel more effectively (and it is), it's worth it.
I have a mega-spreadsheet where I track the dates on which leads are supposed to receive each email and my team is supposed to be assigned each Task, so I can see activity taking place as expected or troubleshoot any issues. This was especially valuable when one of our team members went on vacation and we had to "pause" the flow, since it helped us pick back up where we left off.
As for monitoring the team's work, the beauty of Salesforce Tasks is that it's easy to see whether or not outreach work is being completed. This provides us with accountability while also making it easier for the team to see what needs to be done day-to-day.
Six months in, we're thinking of refreshing the approach and messaging to ensure it's still effective. This will be the next iteration of this project.
Here's more about the results we've seen...
100% of MQLs now getting regular, consistent follow-up
25% increase in conversion rate of MQLs to sales opportunities
Greater accountability, collaboration, and organization between marketing and biz dev teams
Does all this sound a bit crazy? Hacking Marketo to do something other tools are built to do? Maybe it is a little unconventional, but necessity is the mother of invention.
Is there a tool you're using to accomplish an outcome that it wasn't originally designed for? I'd love to hear about it!