Marketing Automation Systems - What are they and why they are important for my business?

For this article, we sat down with Christopher Perry from City Catering Southampton. Chris is a Marketing Technologist, specialising in bridging the divide between marketing and technology,

The Business Warrior Podcast host, Emily Digweed, spoke with Chris as they explored how Marketing Automation Systems are changing the way we run our businesses today, and how they will continue to affect our operations in the future.

Emily: So Chris, what's your take on marketing automation systems today?

Chris: So back in the day, this technology originally focused on automating email marketing and as you mentioned, today we have this plethora of tools which help us create seamless sales experiences and time-bound marketing workflows. Most importantly, it is all about moving someone who is interested in your organisation's services to paying customers and to advocates.

This is generally driven by a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) which forms the central hub for communication activities.

Over at City Catering Southampton, we have acquired the right tools to help us grow and scale our communications without losing the ability to speak from the heart to our diverse range of customers.

The tools that we use help increase the flow of knowledge and data across our organisation has been paramount to reaching new influencers, and helps us ask the question - are our customers engaged with us and what else can we do to help them?

Some of the things we have been doing to achieve this, we launched two apps called Lunchhero and Lunchhero+, which helps parents and pupils in our schools, know what's on the menu. This simple apps removes the paper menu from the equation and makes it easy for pupils to engage with food in a visual way.

The other tool we use is our CRM, which is essential to everything we do. We use sales sequences to increase the time that we connect with customers, by allowing them to very quickly respond to our quotes so that we get sales through the door. We recently launched an e-commerce store that looks to put the power in the hands of the customers, so they can see exactly what food they are ordering.

All of these different things comes back into our automation system and allows us to report on KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), so we can see in a visual way how our customers are interacting with us.

Emily: So a lot of our listeners are from small businesses, how do you think marketing automation affects them moving forward? 

Chris: So although we have 250 people working for City Catering Southampton, we approached marketing tools with a small business mentality. We started off with the basic packages, allowing us to really think about how we wanted to configure the system for our business. This way, we could make sure our sales tools worked the right way for our customers.

Something I learnt from our competitors was that if someone engages with a catering organisation, a lot of them will just send a menu, here is what we have got, have a look. What we did, is we decided to call every single one of our customers in the first five minutes, have a quick conversation about what they needed, and then send a personalised sales quote to that customer. That's not the sort of experience most people have when working with caterers, so that really helped us win new business.

One of the great things is using these automation tools is that over time, we can see what products they are buying from us on a regular basis. This allows us to go back and say, "we can see you have been ordering a lot of mini cakes from us, should we come up and design a new menu purely for your business?" So that's an example of how we have been using the very basic packages to really elevate our sales across the business.

Some of the other things I would recommend people looking at is sales sequencing. As you know Emily, lead generation is really hard. It doesn't matter what tactics you have in place, there is going to be an element of picking up the phone and going out visiting customers, which takes up a lot of time. So I would say to smaller businesses, look at ways you can automate your sales processes from an email marketing point of view and use that data to enable you to make better day-to-day decisions.

When a business starts their automation journey, their customers should be at the heart of their focus. Account Based Marketing (ABM) specifically focuses on individual customer needs, to be able to view a single profile view of a customer, explore their engagement across all your channels and understand their needs before picking up the phone. That is going to give you an edge against your competitors.

Emily: Now we know that technology is changing all the time, new platforms are popping up. They have changed a significant amount over the past decade or so too. What are some of the biggest changes you have noticed during your time in marketing? 

Chris: Marketing automation was born from the challenge of constantly expanding channels and different types of engagement. So let's think of some of the things that are out there.

You have email marketing, you have apps, the Customer Relationship Management tools, you have all of this information, so we need to make sure that our data is clean and is GDPR compliant. We also have the rise and fall of different social media channels, and SEO complexity continues to challenge us. Google is constantly changing their algorithms so we need to keep on top of what we need to do to make sure we are viewed in search.

Contemporary inbound marketing relies on trial and error, and I think that's how these systems have changed. They have given us the tools to analyse all this data in a way that we can make effective decisions. You know back when Google Analytics was launched in 2005, everyone was like "wow we can actually we can actually see how many people have looked on our web page, and the content they are looking at. How do we take these two different data sets and improve our pages?" Now we are in a world of UX improvement and looking at backlink strategies. The way that these systems are changing is to make it more accessible, visually viewable and allowing us to act on this data.

Mobile tech has never been so good. Cheap video and audio equipment is allowing us to send personalised sales video messages, and we are constantly experimenting with media, gifs and engagement across all sorts of devices to get our message across. I think as these tools continue to involve, they will be driven by our imagination, instead of being limited to the tools available to us and that's what I'm really excited about. It's up to us as marketers to come up with new ways in which we can use these tools to benefit our customers, and not the other way around.

Emily: So where do you see marketing automation heading over the next few years, and where do you want it to go?

So I am really excited about AI (Artificial Intelligence). As much as you can sit there with a person on the end of a chat, when you have tons of traffic and lots of people trying to engage with your organisation, AI bots are going to be a really good way to deliver personalised conversations. Artificial intelligence will allow us to know what are customers goals are, what were there ambitions when they viewed a page on our site, and to understand the profile of the customer. Providing our website visitors with a unique experience will be the next stage of where AI meets marketing tech.

I'm also really excited to see where we go with wearables and VR. As we mentioned, as marketers we are either on the road, in front of our computer, sat writing content or recording podcasts. Wouldn't it be great if we could take technology like, snapchat glasses, and as we are on our way to see a customer, walking into the office, we could check our CRM on the glasses, looking at most recent engagement. You wouldn't need to get your laptop out. We can't know everything about every customer all the time, so that's the sort of clever intelligence that makes you look like someone who really cares about their organisation.

All of this is going to help with loyalty and retention. It's great having your customer working with you, but how are you going to turn them into advocates. There are some great CRM systems out there that are doing a lot of work in building academy's so people can learn how to use their systems or they're putting on events to share their experiences with other marketers. It's all about bridging that divide between marketing technology without compromising our humanity. Emotion is data of the soul, and organisations need to tap into our real life human experiences in order to grab our attention and turn our heads.

Emily: As someone who has a lot of experience implementing marketing automation systems, what are your top tips to a business looking to bring on one of these systems?

Chris: It's really important to make sure your colleagues understand the technology and you make just as much of an effort to understand their needs first. To assume that they will be as excited and as thrilled about this new bit of technology as you are is really dangerous because not everyone isn't as IT literate as you may think. Just because everyone uses Facebook and Twitter, this doesn't mean that someone is going to understand the importance of automated regular communications. Many people will require some additional training and it's a great idea to start with departmental needs first, not everyone needs a sophisticated marketing sequence. Just help them make their job easier and once you have done that, you can start looking at some other stuff you can do together.

I also think it's really important to connect with a mix of other marketing professionals, to get their unique view on how marketing automation can be better used for your organisation. So don't approach marketing automation tools with a wire frame attitude, we have to do this first, then that etc. Start with your customer journeys and how you can optimise engagement at every stage of the process, and then once you have done that, tested it and you have looked at the data to verify improvements, then you can start looking at the really cool stuff because you know you have your foundations in place.

More about City Catering Southampton

City Catering Southampton is a not-for-profit catering charity that provides school meals to pupils, providing nutritious food for life accredited meals to Southampton's children throughout the academic year. We deliver care meals to individual homes and lunch clubs all year round to vulnerable adults and we provide delicious food professionally served to businesses in Southampton and Hampshire.

For corporate catering in Southampton, make sure you head over to City Catering Southampton to find out how they can help.


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