How to deploy a marketing automation platform
In one of our earlier blogposts, we presented you the ultimate guide to choosing the right marketing automation tool. Got your new shiny platform set up and ready to go? This is where the real work begins: deploying the tool successfully in your organisation. Don’t worry, you got this! We’ll lead you through the process step by step.
One thing you should keep in mind is that the implementation of a successful marketing automation platform is never finished. To begin with, there’s no such thing as the ideal campaign flow. It’s crucial that you keep finetuning your existing communication processes continuously. On top of that, shifts in the marketplace and the introduction of new marketing methodologies and technologies mean that standing still equals going downhill.
Focus on strategy first
In this blogpost, we assume that you already have a (digital) marketing strategy to roll out automation. Remember our famous GET-TO-BY principle?
If you still need a little help defining that strategy, let our Marketing Automation Roadmap guide you!
Often forgotten in an implementation is that we are indeed deploying a marketing automation tool. We all know that these platforms are perfectly capable of delivering ad-hoc communications to your audiences. Still, the real strength lies in their capability to automate processes, so you or your colleagues won’t have to intervene in fixed — but no less important — communication moments with your contacts. Successful deployment will make sure that those processes that behave predictably keep running in the background without the need for human intervention.
Draw out your plan of approach
Before diving head-first into the actual implementation, it’s important to define our targets for the first iteration of the application deployment.
You’re about to take the following steps:
- Data model definition and set-up
- Integration with other systems
- Template design and development
- Set-up of the initial process flows
- Training the users
When defining these targets, make sure that the reach of the initial implementation is ambitious but feasible at the same time. Our experience taught us that it’s best to deploy a limited number of processes / flows / campaigns in a few basic steps.
Enhancing and fine-tuning these processes as well as setting up the next ones will be part of next iterations. That way, it will become easier to learn from your experiences and include those insights in future iterations.
Define and set up your data model
A well-designed data model is essential for your marketing automation strategy. Using the data available, you are ready to start segmenting your target contacts and personalise the messages you’ll be sending.
Want to achieve the degree of segmentation you aspire, so you can put all personalisation possibilities to good use? Make sure that your selected marketing automation platform is able to store information in a relational database model (as opposed to just having a flat file storage solution).
This set-up makes it easier to keep the data model up to date. It also ensures that new data elements won’t turn your database into bulky contact tables with hundreds of columns.
Be sure to store all relevant information in the marketing automation platform. This will give you all the options when segmenting your contacts and personalising your communication.
Integrate with other systems
Most of the necessary data probably originates from external applications. It needs to be integrated into your marketing automation platform.
There are two basic methods to interface data into the tool:
- For the information to be available on the fly, the interface needs to be (near) instantaneous.
- If the information is more static, the interfacing can be executed on scheduled times. This option is easier to implement.
Also, the direction of the different data types can be inbound, outbound or unidirectional.
This part of the implementation is more technical when compared to the other parts. Keep in mind you might need to get your IT-department and/or the suppliers of the various platforms involved. Also take into account that a ‘perfect integration’ is very hard to achieve. The closer you get, the more effort it will take!
Develop design templates
When you’re communicating across channels, it’s important to make sure that your corporate image and house style are reflected at all times. An important part of the initial implementation is to develop the different templates you’ll be using in the application for frictionless deployment.
You can use this step consequently for two distinct purposes:
- To challenge the current house style(s) and see where you can refresh them or make them stronger. We recommend revisiting your house style at least once a year to check and – if necessary – update the designs.
- To make sure the house style is consistently applied across the different channels.
Set up the initial process flows
Now it‘s time to roll out the process flows that are part of the initial implementation. It may be tempting to select ‘everything’ when deciding which process flows need to be included. However, it’s better to be bit scrupulous in your selection, for several reasons:
- The time needed to analyse, develop and deploy all desired processes into the platform would result in a very long lead time. This could delay the launch of your new tool. Moreover, a longer lead time may render some processes partly outdated at the time
of final deployment.
- This way of working may rule out a valuable learning process, during which you can apply the results of the initial processes to the next batch of processes you implement.
- The installation of all different processes could result in a higher marketing strain on your audiences. Even though several platforms have tools in place to manage that marketing pressure, it can become unclear which messages in the many different flows will be sent and which will not.
In the same vein, it’s not necessary to develop all the selected processes into flows with whistles and bells. Here too, you can benefit from the lessons learned to constantly refine the processes. Ever-changing market environments make this an unrelenting task. Do not forget to include A/B testing in your processes (in the flow itself as well as in your communications), as this will give you valuable information on what works best with your target audience.
You’ll find opportunities to automate processes in these areas:
- Lead generation
- Welcome new customer process
- Loyalty programs
- Cross- and upselling
- Churn management
- Service messaging (this area is often overlooked by marketing as these messages have a very high open rate).
Start planning future iteration steps to refine and augment the existing flows, and to implement new flows. Both should benefit from the insights drawn from the results.
Train the users
The final step before the launch of your marketing automation platform is educating the users of the tool. For best results, we recommend training them on the developed environment. This approach should highlight the features of the tool itself and give a better insight in the way your organisation implemented the tool.
These elements are essential in your training program:
- Obviously, the functionalities and the operational side of the tool itself.
- Knowledge about the data model. You want users to be able to segment the contacts as well as personalise messages based on the information in the database. To do so, users need to fully understand the architecture of the data model.
- The implemented channels that can be used in communicating with your audiences.
- The design and lay-out of the templates and how to deploy them across the different channels.
- The implemented flows. This is essential in helping users understand what is being automated, so that particular communications no longer need to be sent manually.
Go live and plan reviews
Are you still with us? Excellent! You are now ready to go live with the first iteration of your marketing platform! Make sure you plan your review moments to analyse the results of the implemented flows and prepare the deployment of the next batch. Let’s make this work!
As we said before, a marketing automation platform is never really ready. But now you already have the right steps to ensure a good rollout of your marketing platform. A well thought-out strategy, a plan of action with feasible targets, a well-designed and up to date data model, setting up process flows and "training" the users so that they understand what is automated on your platform. Now it's time to go live and analysing your first batches will make sure your automation is rock solid!