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Are marketing automation tools the greatest asset in the sales arsenal?

The more your sales reps know about prospects, the faster they can close deals. Here's why marketing automation tools deliver real sales intelligence.

If your sales reps could just get inside a prospect's mind, they'd be able to close more business in less time. It's all about understanding a prospect's business challenges, interests, predispositions, place on the buyer's journey, etc.

But can a sales rep read a prospect's mind without meeting that person? Yes -- virtually -- and marketing automation systems, which can automate the process of segmenting and gaining intelligence about customers, can help so that reps can sell more. Let's take a look at how this works in practice.

Ready, set, track

Once a person registers for an asset on your company's website, many marketing automation platforms (MAPs) will "silently" track that person's subsequent (and sometimes prior) activity, such as the pages that that prospect visits. Marketing automation software will share that information in real time with sales reps via the sales CRM. This website tracking is typically enabled by dropping MAP-provided code on your website, blog and content sites. The combination of website tracking and prospect-provided data (via Web forms) delivers powerful prospect intelligence for your sales reps.

Prospect intelligence

Marketing automation systems provide intelligence and tools via the CRM that help salespeople learn a great deal about prospects: the person and their company, interests, challenges, stage of the buyer's journey and intention to buy. To keep it simple, for our purposes here, let's define leads and prospects as those who have taken some action indicating engagement with your brand or interest in your services.

Basic lead information

Web forms can collect demographic data including name, email, title, department and level (VP, manager etc.) about the person; as well as firmographic data, such as company name, size, geography, industry, etc. This intelligence helps sales reps to tailor their approach based on a respondent's level and function, and to connect new prospects to existing accounts.

Intention to buy and lead scoring

A quantitative lead score predicts the likelihood that a given lead will ultimately convert into a closed deal. The higher the score, the more likely that a lead will turn into a sale. The score may incorporate predictors such as the lead's current challenges and technologies, the presence of an active and budgeted project, selected demographic/firmographic data, and even frequency of activity.

Lead scoring helps sales reps prioritize activity by focusing efforts on the most promising leads -- with some objective criteria attached to identify the most promising.

Prospect activity: Interests, challenges and the buyer's journey

As you might imagine, the content that a prospect accesses can tell you a great deal about him. For example, when a prospect downloads white papers, case studies and presentations describing how a widget improves efficiency, it could indicate that he has an efficiency challenge. When a prospect downloads several assets, it indicates that he or she is pretty interested in this topic. And when several people in the same company download content on that same topic, the rep might surmise that this is a real initiative for the company.

Lead scoring helps sales reps prioritize activity by focusing efforts on the most promising leads -- with some objective criteria attached to identify the most promising.

What's more, the asset type suggests where the buyer is on a journey from awareness (e.g., assets such as general analyst reports and topical blog posts) to consideration (buyers' guides) to purchase (product datasheets and demos).

Based on this data, a rep can develop strategies to progress the buyer to the next stage in the journey. For example, the sales rep might say, "I see that you downloaded the efficiency white paper. What kinds of efficiency challenges are you having today?" The goal is to eventually transition education into a sale.

Tip: Categorize and tag all your content and marketing campaigns by product, topic/challenge and phase of the buyer's journey.

Clues, not facts

Intelligence gathering is an imperfect art. When a prospect downloads assets, it does not provide 100% certainty that he has a challenge or will consider buying your product to solve the problem. He might just be curious about a topic or he might be researching technologies to build something in-house. Still, these clues, provided by your marketing automation system, provide real intelligence that can help sales reps to have more informed, relevant and successful conversations with the right prospects, so they can close more business.

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