A Beginner’s Guide to Marketing Automation

CRM offers a lot as a standalone software. It can oversee and track customer interactions, regulate customer service experiences, and rearrange the sharing of information over all departments. However, like any other software, CRM also has some limitations. It is not intended or designed to do everything. Here comes the need for. While automation software can be used without CRM, and vice-versa, they work so well together that the whole is often more notable than the sum of its parts.What is Marketing Automation?There are many long, complicated definitions of automation software. But a short, yet simpler definition is that it is used to automate the marketing process depending on the interests and interactions of the prospects. It provides an improved customer experience with more efficiency and higher conversion rates.The basic objective of marketing is to produce more revenue for your organization. To achieve this, we have to drive traffic to our site, convert that traffic into leads and close those leads into ultimate customers. Marketing automation actually has an impact on the conversion and closure phases of this process.How it Works:Hundreds and thousands of marketers these days are relying on email marketing to generate more traffic and better results. They send email after email to their entire list of customers and prospects, hoping that the message will appeal to some of them and that the customer will end up purchasing something. But is it really helping businesses?I think that sending the same message again and again to all prospects and customers may annoy them, causing them to ‘unsubscribe,’ leaving you without an opportunity to do business with them in the future. This is where a marketing automation system would be a sound investment. Marketing automation enable you to nurture your leads throughout the buying process and deliver highly targeted, personalized messages that actually address the specific needs of the customer.Hot Features of Marketing Automation Tools:Lead nurturing and drip marketing are the hottest features of an effective marketing automation software. A number of different software are available in the market, but not all of them are offering all the features at one platform. Before you choose your vendor for automation, you need to confirm if they are offering all the essential features.Marketing automation tools work as an intelligent gatekeeper. Prospects are nurtured and engaged until they are converted to be qualified leads, then they’re motivated further into the funnel. This keeps the sales staff from being overcome with leads that never transform into real customers. By keeping non-starters out of the labor-intensive phases of the pipeline, the product enhances ROI for both the sales and marketing departments.As leads are engaged and nurtured, their interactions are always measured and assessed. And if they stay inactive, the engagement and nurturing proceeds automatically. But when the lead turns active, the software will automatically inform the relevant faculty in the sales department. Most of the interactions and information is entered into the CRM system automatically, showing all the details about the lead’s interactions with the sales department. Having an active lead, and all the details on what made them a hot lead, is a big advantage for any sales representative.Best Practices to Follow:As many small and medium sized companies are showing interest in using marketing automation tools, there are a couple of issues faced by them. To avoid any problem in your marketing automation system, you need to follow the best practices. The following have been designed with a look at “What is working best” in the market.1. Integration with CRM and the Sales ProcessAligning sales and marketing closely is of great importance to be successful with marketing automation. The marketing team needs to understand the sales cycle and how prospects move through the cycle. In order to measure the efficiency of marketing campaigns, you need to track leads through the sales pipeline. Also, it is important to know that by sharing data, marketing automation platforms and CRMs are able to integrate and talk with each other.2. Hyper-Personalization TrendThe hyper-personalization trend is going to be the most ideal approach to market in 2015, providing people with what they are searching for and trying to avoid spamming. Thinking about the people who have shown some interest in your offers, who reacted positively, who clicked on your links, and who bounced helps in the personalization of the message and offers.3. Avoid Auto-pilot ModeMarketing automation is a good way to save your time and resources by automating functions, but it is very crucial to avoid auto-pilot mode. Automation can quickly become sales prevention when “contact us” forms are not properly routed.4. Always Use a Multi-Tasking PlatformThere are plenty of marketing automation platforms offered in the market; some are offering pure sales or email marketing, while others are limited to marketing intelligence only. On the other hand, multi-tasking platforms have proven to be helpful in managing your sales, emails, and digital marketing campaigns at the same time from a single dashboard. It saves time, increases efficiency, and raises ROI.In a NutshellLike fingers on a hand, marketing automation and CRM work individually and together to achieve the same basic tasks. Marketing automation is about starting customer relationships on the best foot, while CRM is about managing and improving those relationships. Without either finger, the hand still works, just not as well.

Health Care Reform – How Are You Affected? – Part 2

To date, little is known about specifics expected to come from the two departments. HHS will be the primary driver however, while DOL will address union and other labor issues that arise.Healthcare reforms do address a few specific areas by which employers, large and small, can plan. We do need to remember the final outcome of the law was not to reduce costs. Rather, the purpose was to increase access to health insurance.The immediate timeline related to all employer sponsored health insurance plans look like this:-By September 23, 2010, all insurance plans must offer dependent coverage to children until age 26, regardless of marital status, student status, or employment status.
-Tightly restricted annual limits on “Essential Health Benefits” are eliminated
-Waiting periods for pre-existing conditions are eliminated for children under age 19
-Lifetime benefits are eliminated
-35% tax credit (immediate for 2010) for employers who offer and subsidize health insurance for its employees.Essential Health Benefits will be better defined by HHS over time, but will certainly include mandatory wellness benefits. Health plans in effect on or before March 23, are considered “grandfathered” and thus are exempt from the following mandates. However, a change in carriers, a “substantial” change in benefits, or a substantial shift in costs of premiums to employees will result in the loss of this exemption. HHS will issue R & Rs later, further defining the parameters of “substantial change”.Grandfathered plans may enjoy the luxury of smaller premium increases over time than non-grandfathered plans because these new plans have other, stricter requirements.In the interim, grandfathered plans are exempt from:-First dollar coverage for preventive care although some grandfathered plans offer this benefit.
-Non-discrimination rules are extended to insurance plans. That is, management may not have a richer benefit plan than non-management
-Emergency care services must be treated as “in-network” without prior authorization
-Pediatricians and OB-GYNs are considered primary care providers.Insurance carriers will be required to abide by a “minimum loss ratio” (MLR). This will apply to all group insurance plans. In short, the MLR states that insurance companies must issue refunds to groups if claims are less than 85% (large groups) and 80% (small groups) of total premiums paid. The reverse is also true. Small groups in particular could face excessively high premiums after one particularly unfavorable year. Some employers who provide health insurance are now faced with some tough decisions as a result of health care reform. Non-grandfathered plans are more likely to see significantly higher premiums than grandfathered plans, as R & Rs clarify some of the uncertainty.Health Care Reform included some other obscure provisions about which employees are probably unaware. All non-grandfathered plans and employer groups with 25 or more employees (including common ownership of 2 or more small businesses) will be subjected to a number of reporting requirements in addition to the mandates listed previously. Too, health care reform will begin to count part-time employees as well through a formula called “full-time equivalent” (FTE). This could be especially troubling to employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees, but after accounting for FTE of part-time employees they could inadvertently be counted as 50+ and subject to mandates. The FTE formula will be clarified as time goes by, but by January 1, 2014, all non-grandfathered groups will be subject to these mandates.Health care reform does not require employers to offer group insurance. Nevertheless, penalties will apply to 50+ employee groups (including FTE & remember the common ownership rule) who do not offer medical insurance. For instance, an employer would face a $2000 fine per employee (31st employee and beyond) if even one employee receives a $2000 tax credit from the government toward health insurance through the Exchange (to be explained in a later column) or through Medicaid.Employers who offer health insurance must also offer a free voucher, equal to the employer’s contribution, to all employee’s whose household income is less than 400% of the federal poverty level. The employers can then purchase insurance through the Exchange. If the Exchange is cheaper than the value of the voucher, the employer is then required to pay the difference to the employee.On January 1, 2014, the IRS will get involved. Employers of 50+ and not grandfathered will be required to report the value of the health insurance on W-2′s to be issued by January 2012. Penalties will apply here as well if the reported value is greater than $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for families. That is, insurers will be assessed an excise tax on the coverage and because of the MLR, that assessment will likely be pushed on to employees as higher premiums.If the employer’s contribution is less than 60% or the employee’s cost share of premium exceeds 9.5% of household income and an employee receives a government subsidy, then a penalty of $2,000 for each employee (31st employee and beyond) is levied..By March 2012, employers of 50+ and non-grandfathered plans must provide a 4-page pre-enrollment coverage document outlining benefits and exclusions to all new employees. Details will be forthcoming from HHS.Reading “between the lines”, it would appear the government is making it difficult for employers at or near 50 full-time employees to offer health insurance. Likewise, employers may be forced to eliminate part-time/seasonal workers and instead opt for overtime to regular/full-time employees to avoid potential penalties and the possibility of having to cover part-time employees on insurance.Health care reform includes other mandates that will trigger by January 1, 2014, but are not as likely as the above mandates to alter an employer’s basic business model on hiring practices, nor are they as apt to influence an employer’s decision on whether to offer insurance.Inevitably, many more questions will arise. As you can see, the intent with health care reform is a push toward universal coverage through employers of 50+. Next time, we’ll talk about individuals and groups under 50

Before the Affordable Health Care Act, They Were Locked Out

(Many provisions of the Affordable Health Care Act have already kicked in before full implementation of the law which takes effect in 2014.)Locked out of medical care, that is. Who? Individuals with pre-existing conditions. Now, 50,000 of them have healthcare coverage via the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) in their state. This is a temporary high-risk health insurance program that makes healthcare not only available but much more affordable.For example, a patient named Deborah fell victim to a back injury. It left her unemployed and unable to afford health insurance premiums. However, when she discovered the Michigan PCIP plan, she was able to enroll in it, receive the back surgery she needed and get on the road to recovery.PCIP makes a difference. It has allowed many Americans to get connected to health insurance and receive the medical care they sorely need. That’s because PCIP enrollees can receive that care immediately.The way it works is that states have the option of operating this new program in their state. However, if a state has chosen not to do so, the Department of Health and Human Services has established a plan in that state. This insurance serves as a bridge to 2014. That’s when all discrimination against pre-existing conditions will be prohibited.You can see how your state administers PCIP with either their own program or one established by the Department of Health and Human Services by clicking on the link below.https://www.pcip.gov/StatePlans.htmlInsurance up to Age 26Another plus of the Affordable Health Care Act that has been in effect since 2010 is where young adults are allowed to remain on their parent’s health plan until they turn 26 (unless the young adult is offered insurance at work).Health Care Premium ExpensesEffective on January 1st, 2011, the law requires that at least 85% of the premium collected by insurance companies administering large employer plans be spent on health care services and quality improvement for health care.For individual and small employer plans, 80% of the premiums must be spent on improving health care services.It this provision is not met, rebates must be given to consumers.Discount Prescription Drugs for SeniorsAlso In 2011, seniors who reach the coverage gap will receive a 50 percent discount when they buy Medicare Part D covered brand-name prescription drugs.Over the next ten years and until the coverage gap is closed in 2020, seniors will receive additional savings on generic and brand-name drugs.