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Everyone talks about the endless possibilities of marketing automation and what it can do for your business. But when it comes to reality, what can you really accomplish with marketing automation? You probably know that it can be used for lead nurturing, but were you also aware there are some other lesser known use cases and examples of how marketing automation can save you time -- and help you move more leads through your pipeline more quickly? Well ... there are. You learn something new every day, huh?
And guess what? You're about to learn even more, because we're going to tell you about those hidden use cases for marketing automation right now. Boy, is it your lucky day or what? Here we go!

1) Categorize Leads by Persona and Lifecycle Stage on the Fly

It's often said that one of the most valuable uses for marketing automation is that it allows us to "scale the personal attention" we deliver to each prospect. Rather than blasting one marketing message to our entire database in the form of a newsletter each month, we can instead send timely, relevant emails that cater to the needs and wants of each of our prospects. But how do you get started with delivering those messages?
A good first step is to set up some rules using your marketing automation software that put your leads into those various segmented buckets as they enter your marketing database. At HubSpot, we base our lead nurturing campaigns off of two important characteristics -- a lead's persona, and their lifecycle stage -- to determine exactly what we’ll communicate to them. To do this, we use a lot of different triggers and criteria to segment different leads into different buckets, such as the content they’ve downloaded, the pages they’ve viewed on our website, and through leads' self identification of personal information they provide in the forms they’ve filled out on our website.

Example: Building 3 Segments (Leads, MQLs, and SQLs)

Setting up these criteria in most marketing automation systems is relatively straightforward. The toughest part is knowing which actions should define which segments of your leads. Here is an example of what some sample criteria might look like when mapped out:
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Let's dissect the example above. First off, you'll notice that all new records first go into the general "Leads" bucket. From there, they are marketed to over time, and escalated to "Marketing Qualified Lead" (MQL) or "Sales Qualified Lead" (SQL) status once they've taken a specific, key action.
MQLs have met one of two key criteria: They have either taken an action that indicates a clear interest in our product (like downloading a buyer's guide or a product spec sheet), or have achieved a high engagement score. The engagement score itself is customizable, so what drives that number up could differ from company to company (it might be based partially on things like the number or type of pages the prospect has viewed, for example).
By the definition we see above, SQLs are leads who have actively reached out for contact with someone on our team, either by way of a demo request or a consultation. Essentially, they have "raised their hand" and indicated to us that they want to talk to a sales rep.
Overall, keep in mind that these stages might be very different for your company, and defining what constitutes a lead vs. a marketing qualified lead isn't an exact science. Start off with a hypothesis, and refine your definitions over time. If you're looking for some additional direction, check out this article about the steps you need to take to define the stages in your sales and marketing funnel.

2) Control When Leads Get Sent to Your CRM System (And Your Sales Team)

If you have both a marketing database and a customer relationship management (CRM) system, you’ve probably wondered which leads should be in which system, and when that transition should occur. While there are different ways to approach this, one of the more common approaches that makes a lot of sense looks something like this:
  1. All leads first enter into your marketing database. Here, they are scored, bucketed, and nurtured.
  2. When a lead's score hits a certain threshold, the lead is sent to the CRM system automatically.
  3. In the CRM system, the sales rep starts working the lead, or can manually re-enter the lead into a nurturing campaign if they don’t think the lead is ready for follow-up by a human yet.
This approach works well for a number of reasons. First, it’s a scalable way to bring in and prioritize a large number of leads. By storing leads who aren’t yet sales ready in your marketing database, you can be sure not to overwhelm your sales team with under-qualified leads. Second, you can also be sure leads aren’t contacted prematurely.

Example: Sending Only Highly Engaged or "Good Fit" Leads to Sales

Here is an example of what these criteria might look like in your marketing automation system:
If you're using HubSpot's Workflows tool, the criteria can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. It might be based on something like an engagement score, a view of a particular page, the contact's job title or some other characteristic, or even the lifecycle stage that we assigned in the last example.
Determining exactly what makes leads a good fit for contact by a salesperson should involve collaboration and alignment between Marketing and Sales. Once you have a good understanding of what makes a lead "sales ready," then you can set up the right criteria in your marketing automation tool to send your sales team the right leads at the right time.

3) Notify a Sales Rep of a Hot Prospect Who Requires Immediate Follow-up

We talked a minute ago about setting up some criteria to control when leads get sent to your CRM system. But what about those hot prospects who a sales rep should follow up with immediately? With a marketing automation tool like Workflows, you can easily set up a customized notification to the right sales rep at the moment a lead they should know about comes in -- or the moment a lead's lifecycle stage gets update to SQL. That way, your sales team can follow up with important leads in near real time after they've visited your website or took a key action.

Example: Alert Sales to Leads Who Are a Very Strong Fit and Highly Active on Your Website

Here’s an example of some criteria you might use to identify leads you want to notify a sales rep about right away.
In the above example, notice that there are several conditions a lead would need to meet in order for the sales rep to get notified. The lead would need to have a high lead score (indicating they've been active on the website), must also be in the correct role at the company, and would need to have visited one of two key pages that, to us, indicate an intent to buy. These are strict criteria, and this notification email may not get sent all that often, but when it does, we can be sure that it's meaningful.
Also pay particular attention to the email notification that would get sent to the sales rep. We've included important details about that particular contact: the lead's name, company name, job title, some details on the content that first brought them to our site, and what they appear to be interested in most recently. This detailed information will help the rep quickly follow up in a relevant way.
Have an interesting use case for marketing automation that you've implemented for your business? Tell us in the comments! If you are new to marketing automation or want to learn more about HubSpot's approach, check out this video introduction to Workflows.