Marketing Automation and Sales Optimization: A Growth Experience

Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

About the Authors

Martino Chiaviello is a Senior Creative Strategist at Accenture, who’s career has been a blend of creativity, strategic thinking, and digital marketing for life science and technology organizations. His passion for digital health and technology has led him to be a mentor in the ELabNYC and ABCT health tech and therapeutic accelerator programs, and he has helped numerous startups with their branding, marketing and go-to-market strategies to enhance the digital health startup community in NYC. Martino is also an Adjunct Professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) where he teaches Digital Marketing to the next generation of marketers.

Marketing Automation and Sales Optimization: The What and the Why

So what exactly is marketing automation and sales optimization (“MASO” for short) and why is it important? Marketing automation refers to the automation of traditional marketing tasks such as collecting forms, sending out emails, and posting social media content. Practically speaking, this term broadly covers two essential and related activities:

  1. Using technology and content to personalize prospective and current customer interactions with your company, and
  2. Streamlining and coordinating the work of sales & marketing and customer success teams to enhance efficacy and efficiency.

As the competitive landscape becomes ever more crowded and noisy, these activities can help companies find, engage, inform, and convert prospective customers. Well-executed MASO efforts can distinguish the winners from the wanna-be’s. It is also important to note what marketing automation is NOT. It is not a substitute for a great sales team. Nor is it a replacement for investment in promotional campaigns including advertising, sponsorship, and event participation. MASO is, however, a complement to such efforts and a reliable way to make the most of these investments, reducing cost and increasing revenue.

A MASO Project with Cylera

Earlier this year, I had a revealing conversation with Tim Ozekcin, the talented, curious, and hard-working Co-founder of Cylera, a cybersecurity company serving the healthcare industry. Following a successful commercial launch last Fall, Tim and colleagues had seemingly found product-market fit (as evidenced by foundational sales to a number of leading hospitals and health systems), and were focused on scaling their business. Though Tim had recently brought on an impressive healthcare cybersecurity KOL (Key Opinion Leader) and a top-notch sales team, together we saw many opportunities for evolving the company’s marketing efforts. So after a few more conversations, and with the support of the NEXT Platform Team, we initiated a rapid-fire project designed to turbocharge Cylera’s next stage of growth. This article shares some project highlights in the hope that other startup founders and aspiring business growers might benefit from our collective experience.

MASO for the Rest of Us: 5 Principles

Today, there are a dizzying array of solutions available, nearly all of them SaaS-based. Unlike their enterprise-oriented predecessors, such services are easier to learn and use at companies of all sizes and types. Prices have come down by orders of magnitude. The days when only large, well-resourced companies could afford to engage in MASO are decisively over. However, the skills and experience required to succeed with MASO are, as the science fiction writer William Gibson memorably put it when referring to the future, “here, but not evenly distributed”.

Fortunately, growth marketing or growth hacking has recently emerged as a discipline. These are outcome-oriented names for MASO, and many capable practitioners can be hired as either employees or gig workers through services such as Upwork and Marketerhire. There are also many agencies that offer various aspects of MASO or growth marketing as a service. But for startup founders like Tim, who hadn’t had previous experience with MASO, spinning up this function required an injection of know-how. So I reached out to Martino Chiaviello, a Senior Creative Strategist at Accenture and Adjunct Digital Marketing Professor at FIT, who I had met at ELabNYC. Together, we joined Tim and his talented team to design and implement a phased MASO project at Cylera. The sections that follow showcase some of the work we did to illustrate some of the essential elements of a modern marketing automation and sales optimization program.

1. Start with a Solid Strategic Marketing Foundation

Competitive Landscape Auditing

After choosing your competitive set, closely analyze the following elements

We looked at everything from readily accessible website messaging, social media presence, and availability of a range of resources such as on-demand webinars, white papers, and testimonials, to more subtle things like optimization for mobile devices as well as strategic and channel partner quality. Ultimately, we made a series of recommendations designed to optimize Cylera’s digital presence in anticipation of increased engagement up and down their marketing funnel, including:

  • Make the useful and already somewhat popular blog easier to navigate with category filters
  • Strengthen the resources page with more white papers, videos, case studies, etc.
  • Use available real estate on signup forms to convey additional information to help with conversion
  • Amplify your presence and following on LinkedIn through targeted paid promotion
  • Ensure people can successfully interact with your website from any device by making it responsive and mobile-friendly (indeed, think mobile first!)
  • Liberally use logos and quotes to build trust and demonstrate social proof
  • Enhance use of Google Analytics to hone strategy and support data-driven decision-making

2. Know Your Customers

Who are they and how do they like to take in information?

When creating personae (the following is just one illustrative example), try to capture and synthesize as much information as possible not just about who your target customer or user is, but also:

  • What challenges do they face at work? What are their most pressing pain points?
  • What are their goals and aspirations?
  • Which are their favorite sources of information?
  • How do they fit into their organization’s management structure?
  • What are their most common emotional states as they do their job?

Understanding as much as possible about your target customers (and their colleagues as well) is the best way to ensure that your communications speak to them when, how, and in ways that resonate with and move them.

Persona for a health system or hospital Chief Information Security Officer

3. Forge a Cohesive Content Strategy

Keep an eye on the customer journey and how content maps to sales cycle

As we learned from the persona work described above, CISO’s are always on the hunt for up-to-date information about threats and vulnerabilities. Cylera has found that real-world stories of hospitals experiencing new forms of cyberattacks are way more effective in capturing the attention of their target audience than information about their products. They also found that such stories are often shared by their target audience, which makes sense as attuning organizations with tight budgets and lots of other things to worry about to the real threats they face, and the need to take precautionary measures is a core part of their job.

I have seen this dynamic many times in other contexts and other industries. For example, stories about bullying in school settings is a powerful way to get the attention of administrators who might later become interested in a social and emotional learning program. Highlighting behaviors associated with ADHD that parents may have seen in their children but not necessarily understood has proven to be an effective way to encourage them to learn more about diagnostics and treatment for this relatively common condition. So make sure to channel your target audience and start the conversation with content that piques their interest. Once they’re engaged and thinking about a particular problem or challenge, they’re much more likely to be interested in learning about potential solutions.

Our preliminary assessment of traffic patterns on Cylera.com revealed some important practical challenges and opportunities. A small minority of visitors made it from the home page to the products page. This suggests that A) campaigns driving prospects directly to a landing page reinforcing the challenges they are facing as well as containing key product information and/or B) reducing the steps necessary for them to get to the product pages from a home page that devotes more real estate to addressing their challenges would likely be helpful with increasing conversion.

4. Develop A Unified View of Your Entire Funnel

Avoid using tools that do not interoperate; disparate data stores are unhelpful.

Cylera already had a fairly well-developed sales cycle mapped out before we started our MASO collaboration. An important next step for Cylera is to layer in marketing automation between these stages in the form of drip email campaigns (i.e. email sequences designed to tell a multi-stage story that are sent over time). These will be designed to ensure that not only the company’s champions within prospective customer organizations receive content appropriate to their stage of engagement/consideration, but also to provide them with sales cycle-accelerating information they can disseminate to other key stakeholders within their organizations. Properly equipping your champions as they interact with their colleagues is an important, and often under-appreciated part of effective marketing.

Future enhancements to Cylera’s MASO funnel will range from improved top of the funnel visualization to post-sale customer success and retention dynamics, and many things in between. While Cylera was already using a CRM before we started our MASO project, we recognized opportunities for enhancing the flow of marketing activity-driven leads and prospects into it. We recommended that they adopt a capable Marketing Automation System or MAS for which a native integration with their CRM was available. As a principle, marketing and sales teams using different and incompatible systems is usually a recipe for waste, confusion, and a poor customer experience. Once again, being able to roll up all relevant data from disparate sources into a cohesive view is essential.

5. Always Be Experimenting

MASO is about constant incremental improvement rather than “silver bullets”

An example of a paid LinkedIn promotional campaign from the MASO project

Impressions

Impressions for the first month in market: A good start with room for improvement

Clicks

Clicks for the first month in market: Meaningful engagement by a very targeted audience

Google Ads

An example Google ad with encouraging click performance

Cylera is seeing a decent uptick in visitors from Google and LinkedIn ads that is helping to drive brand awareness. While these ads are directing visitors to the main home page, it allows Cylera to start becoming part of the conversation. Shortly, Cylera will begin releasing ads that are more targeted to the needs, goals and challenges of their target audiences. These ads will be focused on the products and will link directly to product landing pages, helping to drive conversions and reduce drop-offs. Naturally, all of these promotional efforts will conform with the Engage, Nurture, and Convert framework.

So important to tailor content to the appropriate stage in the Customer Journey

All would-be MASO practitioners should keep content marketing best practices in mind. The higher up the funnel you are targeting, the more you should focus on the needs of your prospective customer and the industry. Paradoxically, less about your product can be more until that virtual hand is raised.

Intuitive but helpful rules of thumb for compelling promotional content

More Work to Be Done

While it’s too early to assess the ultimate results of Cylera’s adoption of MASO, we are confident that the initial improvements in funnel dynamics and other KPIs already being demonstrated will multiply over time. Lessons learned and applied to future experiments build on themselves. Patterns also emerge, sometimes unexpectedly. Watching carefully, and continuing to engage with prospects, customers, and even those who decide not to become customers is all part of the process. Given the quality of Cylera’s talent, technology, and focus, they will not only become proficient MASO practitioners, but will very likely gain HIoT market share, help hospitals and health systems protect their operations and patients, and satisfy their investors with strong business and financial performance.

Finally, anyone interested in learning more about our approach to marketing automation and sales optimization or how Martino, I, and/or other colleagues might be able to help your company kickstart or evolve a MASO program, please feel free to reach out to me at travismillman@gmail.com or schedule an exploratory call at calendly.com/travismillman.

Digital health entrepreneur, executive, and evangelist. Startup builder, strategist, and marketer. New business coach, mentor, and consultant.