Christine is an Inbound Professor for the HubSpot Academy team. She joined HubSpot in July 2021, after spending the majority of her career educating young people in the nonprofit sector. Christine writes content focused on automation, email marketing, and app integrations.
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This guest blog is provided by Christine Lee from HubSpot, and discusses the tools, benefits and best practices for using artificial intelligence and marketing automation for internal and customer-facing business processes.
Internal processes: What to prioritise when implementing marketing automation and AI
Have you ever invited guests to your home and instead of doing a thorough job to prepare, you pushed some clutter into a spare closet or under your bed only to have to sort through all of it later? Sometimes it's tempting to approach marketing automation and artificial intelligence this way — prioritising the customer-facing aspects but leaving the internal processes in disarray — resulting in more organisation and clean-up later.
When implementing marketing automation and AI into your business, you must ensure your internal processes are built to sustain your customer-facing processes. There are three aspects of your internal processes to address in order to successfully use marketing automation and AI:
Tech stack organisation
Cadence and content
1. Data hygiene
Automation and AI rely on data, so one of the main priorities for using them effectively is having good data hygiene. The International Data Sanitization Consortium (IDSC) defines data hygiene as, ‘the process of ensuring all incorrect, duplicate, or unused data is properly classified and migrated into the appropriate lifecycle stage for storage, archival, or destruction on an ongoing basis through automated policy enforcement.’
Ensure and maintain data accuracy
In other words, it's the means by which you ensure and maintain your data accuracy. This includes de-duplication, addressing missing values, and standardising your data systematically. There are aspects of data hygiene you have to proactively work on in order to use automation and AI well.
Before you even begin organising and cleaning up your data, you have to address how and where you're attaining your data. Inherently, gathering and using data isn't wrong. In fact, you can't effectively do much without it. Inbound marketing is centred on building genuine connections with your customers. Doing so requires data. Be transparent with your customers on how you're obtaining and using their information.
Considering how you approach data privacy is a critical part of setting up your internal processes to succeed with marketing automation and AI. With the emergence of GDPR, CCPA, and iOS15, the nature of data privacy within the industry is evolving and it's important to be aware of and adhere to these regulations. As an inbound marketer, navigating data privacy ethically is essential. Intrinsic to a "customer first" mindset is ethical behaviour.
People are protective of their privacy while also wanting their experiences to be highly personalised. Your job as an inbound marketer is to live in that liminal space.
To start, research what regulations may pertain to the market you operate in, audit your processes for regulation compliance, and develop a system of transparency that involves disclosures and consent.
‘Organisations are losing their best chances to create great customer experiences due to needlessly risk-averse privacy ideas that limit the use of personal data. The key is to bring value to customers and bring data use in context.’
— Penny Gillespie, Vice President analyst at Gartner (source)
Put your customers first by being clear in your data privacy procedures and using the information you have to enhance their experience. Having good practices in place regarding data privacy allows you to address your data hygiene more comprehensively.
Prioritise accurate data
Think of data as something organic — capable of deteriorating in quality over time. This is why it's important to prioritise having clean data, or accurate data. Dirty data, otherwise known as inaccurate or incomplete data, can render ineffective even the most streamlined customer-facing automation processes.
Think about how easy it feels to turn on your faucet and get running water. Though you may not call it to mind often, the experience you have in this daily luxury is due to a vast network of pipes, pumps, and lines all working together. In the same regard, for you and your customers to experience the benefits of automation and AI, you need all the internal processes to be connected and integrated. Being intentional about maintaining your data hygiene is like clearing out the lines in your plumbing system. You don't want a trickling faucet due to clogged pipes!
For example, you could utilise AI to optimise the best times to send your emails, but if you don't have accurate data on open rates, even if you have the functionality of the algorithm the results will not be helpful.
Update your data
Data hygiene is about keeping your knowledge updated. From customer interactions to contact records and even your knowledge base, clean data is essential to effective marketing automation and AI. Prioritising data hygiene takes time, but you don't have to do it alone! You can use automation and AI as a part of your process to get there.
Software from InCycle, ZoomInfo, ClearBit, Gong, and HubSpot provide tools that automatically catch and remove duplicates, auto-generate relevant company information into your contacts, and automatically process conversational data. Using AI and automation to keep your data clean whether it's de-duplicating records or auto-generating missing values saves you time and gives you the foundation you need to build your customer-facing processes.
2. Organise your tech stack
Streamlining your internal processes for marketing automation and AI also includes organising your technology stack or tech stack. Optimizely defines a tech stack as ‘a grouping of technologies that marketers leverage to conduct and improve their marketing activities.’ Your tech stack is the full scope of all the different software and tools you use as an inbound marketer.
When it comes to organising your tech stack, ask yourself: Does your technology speak to each other? Are all the tools you're using pulling information from the same database? Does all your software integrate with one another or are you having to create workarounds in order to use the tools together?
HubSpot Chief Technology Officer, Dharmesh Shah, speaks often about the ‘Frankensystem,’ which he defines as a ‘CRM monstrosity cobbled together with software parts.’ If the applications and software systems you use require multiple databases and can't integrate with one another, how can you leverage marketing automation and AI effectively? The data each system pulls from would be incomplete.
Think about the extra work you would be creating for yourself. In a Frankensystem, you'll not only be maintaining clean data for one database, which is work enough, but multiple databases. Ensuring that the technology you employ can access all the same data consistently and integrate with one another is key to your internal success.
Cobbling together software parts might get the job done, but over time you're creating more manual work for yourself and the margin for error increases. When your software systems are not integrated with each other, you have to deliver the messages back and forth so the chances of the messaging being misconstrued increases every time you remove a direct connection. When your technology speaks to one another, accuracy increases and time is saved — both key components for scalability.
3. Cadence and content in AI
Finally, to succeed in utilising AI for marketing, in your internal processes, you must consider your cadence and content. As technology for automation and AI develops, the key for you as an inbound marketer is to identify opportunities to be helpful. This means getting the right message to the right people at the right time. Doing so requires discerning the balance between not too much or too little when it comes to your content and cadence. This is where you can leverage data from behavioural marketing to assess and automate your touchpoints and campaigns with your customers.
It's important to set your automation to a strategy and calendar. Automating tasks or employing AI without a clear vision or goal is just more tasks. Utilising these tools with your motivation in mind creates connection. One way to get clarity on your cadence and content internally is to employ journey mapping. Create a clear story — visually — of your customer's journey and interactions with you. This helps you experience your business from a customer perspective, enabling greater empathy and empowering you to delineate appropriate touchpoints and campaigns.
When journey mapping, consider taking time to set up your CRM scheme and integrations. What applications are you utilising at each point of your customer's journey? This part of the process often works in congruence with organising your tech stack. Utilising journey mapping by visualising your customer experience is one way to better align your calendar and goals. How do your goals relate to your customers' behaviours? Streamlining your cadence and content internally is about coming up with a plan to reach your customers at the right time with the right message, which involves understanding where your customers are and what they want.
Similar to maintaining good data hygiene, you can use marketing automation and AI to help establish your internal processes for cadence and content. An example of this is automating workflows that remind team members to complete specific tasks each quarter that contribute to your overarching strategy.
Marketing automation and AI can be leveraged in creating exceptional experiences for your customers, but to use them efficiently and effectively requires your internal processes to be integrated well into your customer-facing processes. If you prioritise your data hygiene, engage with data privacy responsibly, organise your tech stack, and develop an internal strategy for your cadence and content, you'll be on your way to delighting your customers.
Customer-facing processes: What to prioritise when implementing marketing automation and AI
If streamlining your internal processes for marketing automation and artificial intelligence is like tidying your home in preparation for an event, your customer-facing processes are like the party favours that delight all your guests.
When it comes to customer-facing processes, there are two areas it will be important to focus on — strategising and humanising.
Strategising customer-facing processes for marketing automation and AI parallels your internal processes. In your internal processes, cadence and content are evaluated via behavioural marketing and journey mapping. When it comes to strategising how cadence and content can delight your customers directly through automation and AI, think about things like the accuracy of your content, the level of personalisation to the individual, and the timing of your messaging in conjunction with lead nurturing.
For example, to increase the accuracy of your content, consider writing-assistant software, Grammarly. This tool uses automation and AI to assist in better copy, which results in greater precision in your messaging. Utilising an application like Grammarly to check your content for grammatical and spelling errors can greatly affect your content quality. We all know what it's like to receive an email riddled with errors.
Delighting your customers includes removing even small barriers of disengagement, and marketing automation and AI can help. It doesn't always have to be a complex system!
When it comes to increasing the level of personalisation in your cadence and content, consider tools that allow you to experiment with smart content and recommendations. Tools such as BrightInfo, Sitespect, or HubSpot analyse and use your customers' behaviours on your site to generate smart content, or content customised based on their behaviours. This tailors your website's content to each user.
Remember, customers want their experiences to be personalised. When the content of your website feels built just for them, they are more likely to engage.
Another way to increase the level of personalisation in your cadence and content is by using a recommendation engine such as Adobe, Optimizely and Dynamic Yield. Recommendation engines employ AI to provide your users with a set of options based on their past behaviours on your site. Automation and AI can also help with send-time optimisation. Seventh Sense is a tool that gathers the data of your contacts' interactions with your email campaigns — open rates, click rates, times that they engage — and uses this data to predict the times that your contacts are most likely to read what you send. This tool uses AI to test and analyse engagement, so that over time, your campaigns become more effective, and you can automate your campaigns so you don't have to manually send out each email.
Whether it's text completion, grammatical accuracy, smart content, recommendations, or send-time optimisation you can use AI and automation to make your content and the cadence of it more engaging to your customers.
Another strategic way to utilise marketing automation and AI in your customer-facing processes is in your availability. All humans need to sleep at some point, but chatbots never do! Whether it's chatbots that recommend relevant knowledge-base articles or automated workflows for specific customer actions, you can use marketing automation and AI to delight your customers by ensuring you are ready to respond whenever they seek any level of engagement.
Using automation and AI to strategise your customer-facing processes can make you exponentially more helpful as an inbound marketer, but we can't forget that helpfulness is only one portion of effective inbound marketing. A holistic approach requires the human touch. Humanising your customer-facing processes can still be assisted by marketing automation and AI though. One example is the application WordTune, which uses AI and automation to audit your copy for tone consistency and clarity, and can even adjust your content to specific levels of formality.
As an inbound marketer, you don't just want your touchpoints to be efficient, you want them to be empathetic. Every time your customers interact with you, you want them to feel keenly understood and seen.
If your customers are not responding to how you're trying to engage with them — whether they aren't opening your emails or interacting with your chatbot — consider how you might use a human touch to generate solutions. Perhaps you develop a targeted feedback survey or use A/B testing concentrated on areas such as language or tone. Think on whether your language and branding sound natural or if they are full of industry jargon that's difficult to understand. Consider using humour in your earlier touchpoints with your customers to create engagement. Technology glitches and humans are fallible, so when mistakes are made, commit to transparency.
AI: putting humans first
Identifying a comprehensive marketing automation and AI strategy for your customer-facing processes partnered with humanising your touchpoints, provides your customers with a personalised, frictionless experience. Inbound marketing is about putting our customers first and surpassing their expectations.
Whether it's a conversation intelligence tool, email parser, or recommendation engine, use marketing automation and AI intentionally so that your customers are delighted by each interaction with you.