Article Source: Forbes

Use marketing automation right and sales go up. Use it wrong and you risk the chance of alienating potential customers. And that’s not a good thing.

When leveraged properly, marketing automation provides the great benefit of empowering sales and marketing to work together to progressively profile leads and deliver relevant content that aligns to a buyer’s buy cycle. This approach can accelerate sales and provide much valued, measurable ROI. All good!

Unfortunately, I’ve seen an increase in practices that are not so good. For example, I have had some business developers calling me or emailing me right after I attended a webinar or downloaded a white paper.

It was so bad that, one time, I apologized to the business developer on behalf of the marketer. He never should have been inserted at a point in the buy cycle that clearly made no sense. His job was practically mission impossible.

Using one of your most expensive marketing assets (a business developer, in this case) to cold-call me because I downloaded a white paper or attended a webinar was a complete waste of my time and theirs.

Just because we can track what prospects or other responders do on our website, or show them as attending an event, doesn’t mean they are ready to speak with anyone. Injecting ourselves immediately can come off as being too eager or worse yet—desperate.

What tracking does tell us is that the potential customer is interested, but that he or she is still learning about the topic or the issue. So the right course of action is to figure out what questions the potential customer still may have and create content that will fulfill that need. Different types of content can provide a clue to whether a prospect is further down the buy cycle than someone else.

For example, if you set up a content strategy that contains an article on the topic, a white paper, a case study and a self-assessment, each of these helps qualify someone further in regard to that person’s interest level. A group of prospects may read the article and not click on the link to the white paper. Those who download the white paper may stop there, but a smaller percentage will also have an interest in the case study.  This means that they believe in the solution, and the case study is proof that your organization can do it. These people are likely more willing to speak to a business developer than those who just downloaded an article.

Finally, a small percentage may fill out the self-assessment, which provides the BD with a summary of information based on their answers. Those same answers could give the BD very strong clues as to who’s ready to speak now. Clearly those who rated themselves poorly are likely candidates. Those whose self-assessment shows they are already solving the problem may not require a call at all; they are just trying to see if they are missing anything.  And, as marketers, it is crucial to our business to know the difference.

Like any great tool, you must learn how to use marketing automation strategically, which is something many marketers are not taking the time to do. The message to all marketers: Learn about buyer behavior, the buy cycle and include your BD in the campaign development. Unless you do that, you are just becoming more inefficient, ineffective and potentially aggravating to your customer base.

Eric Webb is Senior Director, Marketing Communications & Brand, McGladrey

Follow him @McGladrey