Marketing Automation Model for B2B SaaS Companies

Marketing Automation Lasers

Key takeaways at the bottom if you don’t like to read full blog posts!

Marketing Automation has been a big part of the marketing mix of successful companies for a few years now. They are hungry for automation skills and talent, and managers of those companies recognise the enormous wealth of possibilities that come with this technology. Whether in B2B, B2C or NGO’s, the impact is huge… for the ones using it the right way. Today I will write a bit about what I believe is the right approach to automation in B2B businesses operating in the SaaS model.

Now, the SaaS model requires a bit of a different approach to your leads and customers, which translates to a different approach to your marketing automation efforts. The debate is between focusing on churning out a lot smaller and less advanced campaigns, or conversely, getting stuck producing that one mega-program that takes months to deliver but “once this baby hits the ground it will change the game for us! (fingers crossed)”.

Let’s be more specific and use a hypothetical free one month trial as an example. It’s really pretty simple here – you can either build a quick program to support the trial onboarding, have it done within a matter of days or weeks, or you can spend months building something complex. The former program could consist of basic targeting and messaging, would be more or less similar across all leads, the latter could have personas and behavioral targeting.

Now, having those two basic options to choose from, think about this – if you offer a free trial and three months in your campaign is still not ready the opportunity that you had with all of those leads has already landed and been lost with the unassisted trial. You had one chance to get their attention and, once their trial is gone, that opportunity is gone with it. It’s really the classic strike the iron while it’s hot, not rocket science. Also, really easy to see on how many opportunities you’re missing out on – just see how many trialists have not converted to paying customers because there was no supporting messaging alongside the free trial.


Time is key so you got to get to market fast!

You can see where this is all going. In most scenarios, for a SaaS company that has little or no automation, it is a better strategy to deliver quickly with less complexity than to spend forever building that one “grand campaign”. Once you have your basic program up and running there’s nothing stopping you from iterating later on – A/B testing and changing comms to ones that perform better, incorporating behavioral and demographic targeting and predictive analytics plus all the other goodies. What makes the difference is that you already have something in market that touches your leads and helps them with your product’s features, convinces them to convert and keeps you top of their mind.

So now that you know where my head’s at, take a look at your sales funnel – at the different stages and the amount of contacts that are yearning to hear from you. Whether those are known pre-trial leads, trialists, your customers, people that have churned, not converted, etc. you should build campaigns to be able to contact all of them. Yes, all. Unless you have bought cold data, those people were interested enough in what you’re selling, to leave you their details fully knowing that emails will follow. So even if it’s something simple – you’d be surprised how much you can get out of even simple automated email campaigns – covering your sales funnel should be #1 priority right after sorting out all the basics in your data and once they hit the ground you can start adding more intelligence to your programs.

In most cases in SaaS world, contacts will get 1 free trial so you have one shot at being their chosen solution for whatever problem they have. After all, if you don’t, all that hard work that Lead/Demand Gen is doing is going to go to waste.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Speed trumps complexity.
    It is more important to put campaigns in market fast, capitalising on the attention Lead Gen was able to secure, rather than spending months building the one complex campaign to “rule them all”.
  2. Cover your Sales Funnel Stages.
    Build and deploy campaigns that will cover as much of your sales funnel as possible. From freshly known leads to at-risk customers, you have a limited window of opportunity where you can deliver a campaign that will be relevant and in context. Make sure that unless there’s a reason for it (unsubscribes, suspended, etc.), you don’t have entries in your database just gathering dust.
  3. Start A/B testing.
    As soon as you have your campaigns in market you can start testing to see what works and what doesn’t so that when #4 happens you’re ready.
  4. Iterate to add more intelligence to your programmes.
    Once tests results are in, start changing those comms to better performing versions.

Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter to stay up to date.


The Great Open Rate Debate


If you’re really in a hurry scroll towards the end to get the bolded takeaways but know you’re missing a lot of goodies in the middle.

Are you reporting email campaigns based on the metrics provided by your email software? If so, is that because they work, or because they are easy to find? And do you know what those numbers really represent?

Emails opened per campaign and their open rates (ORs), along with click-through-rates (CTRs) and click-to-open-rates (CTORs) are the basic metrics of email marketing. They measure the effectiveness of email campaigns, are used as KPIs, brought up in meetings and fairly important decisions are made based on the info they provide. One might say that some base their company’s good fortune on that data.

This problem is compounded by the prevalence of these metrics within most common email marketing platforms. But just because they exist and most people use them, does this mean they are any good at what they are intended for? Marketers should ask themselves if OR, CTR and CTOR metrics are fit for their intended purpose.



Let’s try to answer the question – so how do we measure OR’s? How does your email marketing platform know which emails are opened and which are not? In most cases,this is tracked by the viewer loading images from your email. “But what happens when someone doesn’t load the images or just views a stub of the message in Outlook without even opening it” I can hear you say? Well, they might have read your whole email and you will never know about it, as a result of their company’s security policy blocking image downloads. Indeed, from Outlook 2007 on, images are automatically blocked by default in these clients. Consider this as well – many other email clients do load images in the preview pane as a default and will record an ‘Open’ even though no one spent time reading the email. Furthermore, if the recipient clicks on the message with the intention to delete it straight away, the images might load and show up on your report as opened, even though they haven’t read a single word of your email copy.

Let that sink for a second…

It’s not all bad though and certainly doesn’t mean that Open Rates are useless. It just makes them less important and changes their focus. They still work for comparative analysis, testing which day of the week, time of the day, “from” address, “from” name and subject line are performing best. It’s when you try to use them for other analysis you need to be careful about it – remember that open rates measurements are not exact science and be careful when basing your decisions around them. Look at it this way – treat ORs as a relative measure rather than absolute one – for example when the March Newsletter campaign had 10% higher open rates than the February one. All in all don’t read too much into the numbers – since 50 opens doesn’t mean 50 people saw your email, 20% OR doesn’t mean ⅕ of your audience saw it.

Now, there are some companies that will send an email without a call to action and have their sales call people who just open the email. Fortunately, it’s a rare practice now but at this point, knowing that you can’t rely on the Opens measurement, it is arguably only slightly better than cold calling.

Another implication is the CTOR. Since it’s calculated by dividing the number of clicks by the number of opens, this metric again is only good for comparing results of A/B test or seeing anomalies, like massive drops or rises of performance, but as with open rates is an indication and not science. Again, as a relative measure, CTOR is the metric that you should be using A/B testing email design and copy. Put it this way – the “outside factors” of the email are measured with OR, the “inside factors” (copy and broadly understood design) with CTOR. Use this to compare different campaigns to know what works, rather than have this as your KPI and you’re all set.

This leaves one last metric – the CTR. It is often considered the most accurate, by using redirect links to measure clicks from email campaigns. Clicks are only counted when a click is made and this provides hard, scientific facts on who clicked on your email and on which link. In my opinion, CTR should be the primary way of measuring effectiveness of campaigns on the operational level. As a campaign KPI, measuring Opportunities created per campaign would work better (in B2B) but measuring this effectively is a topic for a whole different discussion.

In general, open metrics can definitely be a useful measure of performance. They allow for monitoring variables like subject line, time and day of the week of send, problems with spam filters and “from” names.

To summarise:
Open Rate: Great for answering how well this email performed against the last month’s version to the same list. Also great for A/B tests of the “outside factors” like subject line, time and day of the week, from name and address as well as making sure you don’t have problems with spam filters. not so great for measuring how many people actually saw your email.

Click-to-Open Rate: This one is valuable tool for comparative measurement of the “inside factors” of emails – shows which design, email text, CTA placement, etc works better but has inherited the inaccuracies of Opens measurements.

Click-through Rate: The one totally accurate measure in the set discussed in this post. In the emails that have a CTA (are you still sending ones that don’t? sheesh…), they should be used to measure the success of an email. On the other hand, if you want use A/B tests to improve the subject lines used in your emails or see whether your CTA should be at the top or the bottom of the email, use one of the above metrics.

99 problems email ain't one

So how do you use Open Rates? Do you find them useful or prefer other metrics? Will be happy to hear your opinion.

Alun, thanks for helping out with this post and all the inspiring discussions mate.

Drip Marketing 101

Drip Marketing

The Basics

So you’re doing Marketing at a B2B company. You have your website working as a lead generator, you do field marketing, spend a lot of money on events, gathering the data and from time to time get some more leads bought from a data-siphoning company. You also have a list of your clients with all the upsell opportunities and a lot of email addresses that are not being contacted. It is a huge database of potential prospects, with a lot of them not ready to be sold to at the moment. So what do you do after your sales guys called them and got the cold shoulder? Mark them down as “lost opportunities”? “Not interested”? “Call again in 6 months”? In reality a lot of companies actually use this “burned ground” tactics without realising that there might be a different way of handling those contacts.

Drip marketing, also called nurture programs, engagement programs, and many other depending on the Marketing Automation Software (MAS) provider, is especially applicable in long sales cycle. It allows you to stay in touch with your leads, feeding them pre-written messages, maintaining your relationship over long periods of time. After all, you spend so much time, energy and money to get someone’s email address, so now is the time to get as much out of it as possible.

A very basic drip marketing program can be as simple as having a set of emails that are being sent to a lead in a given period of time. Let’s assume you have one product, one region and a set of resources that you can send – whitepapers, videos, analyst papers and factsheets. Organise them in a way that would resemble your early, mid and late stage content and put them into your nurture stream. There is a number of MAS solutions out there that can provide this functionality in an automated way. If you are still to chose one for yourself, see some of the comparisons here and here.

Now, the simple example of your drip marketing program:

Basic Nurture

You got the data into your system via subscription forms, resource forms, list uploads of people you met at conferences, etc. Then you chose the order of the content you want to serve and how often/ on what day of the week you want to send your email and set your program. Assuming you would have 5 pieces of collateral, one email send weekly and 7 day iteration, you would have enough content to last you for 5 weeks before your sales person could try to establish a connection. Example order of those could be:

  1. Provider comparison white paper.
  2. Solution brief.
  3. Case Study.
  4. Solution video.
  5. Factsheet.


Of course the more content the better. Well at least in most cases – you want to be nurturing someone for quite a while, making sure they get to realise their problem, get to know your product, etc. That being said, if someone doesn’t interact with you for a few months time it means that either they are not interested or you need to look into your marketing efforts and no amount of same-ol’ content will change that. So while 5 pieces work in the example, explaining the concept, it is nowhere near what a drip marketing program is intended to do. The more the better, as you don’t want your programs to exhaust the content they have leaving your leads in limbo.

The next post about drip marketing will go over more advanced examples- companies utilizing demographic criteria while having multiple different products and selling on different continents. Finally, the last post will go over possibilities of dynamically basing you drip nurture based on both – the behavioral and demographical criteria.