Leveraging Pardot in a Post-COVID World (Towards the Next-Normal)

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COVID-19 has caused disruption that many of us couldn’t have imagined, even at the start of this year. Several countries and industries have been unravelled in a matter of months, exposing the fragility of some organisations. The pace of change is unsettling, partly because the pace of change is fast, but also wholly unpredictable.

With the ‘lockdown’ coming to an end in several countries around the world, and employers poised to restart national and global economies, it’s time to look beyond lockdown toward a post-COVID world.

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Salesforce, and its community of partners and ‘Trailblazers’, have begun producing content prescribing the Salesforce platform as an aid. Naturally, different interpretations of the pandemic have sourced multiple angles on how we could respond to the COVID-19 disruption by optimising and relying on Salesforce technology for operational support. These are all valid points of view, although with different focuses across various parts of the growing Salesforce platform.

Now, it’s time to look into Pardot marketing automation. I have worked as a Salesforce and Pardot Consultant for a few years, and during that time, have been bought into to solve business challenges, usually on a tight timeline. At this stage, I have seen numerous business initiatives take flight thanks to the combined power of Salesforce, Pardot, and buy-in from the team within the organisation. The power and ease of marketing automation with Pardot does mean organisations are at risk of building, automating, and launching too fast without a mental checklist to ensure system integrity and team alignment.

This article will pull out the key points from the framework recently published in the Salesforce COVID-19 Response Playbook, describing a typical business’ progress to the ‘Next-normal’. Then, I will take the phases outlined and apply practical Pardot tools, techniques and specific considerations to the following marketing topics: Messaging & Content, Data Segmentation, Campaign Distribution all in direct relation to Pardot – and Pardot Change Management as a bonus. Hopefully, by the end of this guide, you will have some new ideas to explore or features to try out that you may have even overlooked.

Progress Towards the ‘Next-Normal’

The recently published Salesforce COVID-19 Response Playbook outlines a useful framework to bring some structure to the COVID disruption and understanding around what could come next.

According to the framework, organisations will progress through three phases: ‘Stabilize’,  ‘Reopen’, and ‘Grow’.

When it comes to marketing teams and operations, my thinking overrides the linear journey through the phases. You may have heard that marketing ‘owns’ CX (customer experience) across the organisation, to keep the experience consistent and meaningful no matter which stage in the customer journey. Different business units can cross phases at different speeds, which means that marketing teams need to be versatile and elastic working within the framework.

Phase 1: ‘Stabilize’

Crisis response center

In this phase, it’s highly likely that you played a key role in mitigating short-term risks both within your organisation, and those posed to your customers as their situation changed day to day, if not hour by hour in extreme cases. Communication is core to stabilising operations, within which marketing automation platforms became indispensable tools that needed skilled individuals to ‘drive’ them.

Someone from the marketing team should sit on the ‘dedicated crisis response team’ (and continue to be heavily involved as the organisation finds its feet in the ‘Next-normal’ transformation office). This may sound obvious, but I have seen how representatives from different departments can get left out of the conversation (deliberately or unintentionally) when decision-making speed is ramped up.

While most have emerged from the ‘Stabilize’ phase at an organisational level, you could treat the information I will share as the ‘what could/should have happened’ – you may even find some ‘stones left unturned’ or information that will be useful for reconciling (‘cleaning up’) in the ‘Reopen’ phase.

Phase 2: ‘Reopen’

Workplace command center

It’s time for the firehose to return to a running tap. Time to put assumptions aside – this phase is all about planning and coordination in preparation for a ’return to the workplace’ where the way you do business may have altered.

Marketing will still be pulled into multiple initiatives that will spring up around the organisation, especially with products and services being ‘reimagined’. This phase will require energy from your team, and maybe you will feel as if you have backtracked to the ‘stabilize’ phase at times; but, keep confident in that you are laying foundations with established processes, both in automation terms and how internal team members use the system.

Phase 3: ‘Grow’

Next-normal transformation office

‘Grow’ is an indefinitely long phase, as opposed to ‘Stabilize’ and ‘Reopen’, which are considered shorter term. Salesforce describe the ‘Next-normal transformation office’ as the “go-to crew as you create an engaging employee experience, recenter around customers, and shape your organization”. As I will compare in this article, some changes marketing will be making can range from tweaks to messaging and campaign automation, to overhauling and replacing the old customer journey.

In the next section, I will take the phases outlined and apply practical Pardot tools, techniques and specific considerations to the following marketing topics: Messaging & Content, Data Segmentation, Campaign Distribution all in direct relation to Pardot – and Pardot Change Management as a bonus.

Messaging & Content

During the ‘Stabilize’ phase, the aim was to adapt our messaging to be more empathetic, less commercially driven, geared towards respectful support, a ‘we’re here for you whenever you need us’ approach.

Looking into the reopen phase and beyond, I could see ways for marketers to prepare for the long-term and the inevitable changes it will bring:

Snippets

Pardot Snippets are reusable blocks of text, images, dates, or links that can be pulled into multiple Pardot emails, forms and landing pages. Snippets offer a great opportunity to centralise content management.

What this means in the ‘New Normal’ is to update any content you need to quickly, and consistently across marketing assets. More importantly, one day in the future, you may want to update messaging once again when your organisational strategy activates the ‘Next-normal’.

Reimagined Products/Services

Products and services have adapted to function in a reality of no social contact, generally pivoting towards virtual experiences. Even if the commercial gain is not the primary goal while your customers are in distress, it’s still a marketer’s job to wear the ‘cross-sell hat’.

Internal Feedback Collection

It may begin to feel like everyone in the organisation has an opinion, especially as a response to dynamically changing situations, and will voice these suggestions to marketing (who have a louder voice, still, to the customer base). The situation will quickly become overwhelming without a mechanism to collect and collate feedback, ideas and (as a result) deflect the barrage of requests marketing is likely to receive.

With Salesforce as your main operational hub, a marketer is lucky to have multiple options that help efficiency to receive, acknowledge, and put ideas into action. Some organisations use the core Salesforce platform (the Case object, or a custom object), or it may be time to browse the AppExchange for a tool (check out Survey Force by Salesforce Labs especially).

Whichever option you choose, ensure that it can relate back to Salesforce – the last thing you should do is introduce new tools into the mix and duplicate work with cross-referencing separate tools with each other.

Data Segmentation

Segmentation to Stabilize and Reopen

The Salesforce COVID-19 Response Playbook makes recommendations on how you could segment your customer database in order to prioritize outreach and service.

There are two suggestions:

  • Segment by customer ‘priority’
  • Segment by customer ‘value’

These broad attributes will be utilised differently depending on the organisation. Let’s look further.

Segment by Customer ‘Priority’

How could ‘priority’ be defined?

  • Serving the most vulnerable (income, age, health data), the approach a nonprofit, for example, would take.
  • Serving the most valuable customers (average deal size, lifetime value). Maintaining delivery expectations and SLAs, despite skeleton staffing in your team. These businesses could prove to be the backbone for incoming revenue.

The suggested fields above can be applied to Pardot segmentation, in the form of Dynamic Lists and Automation Rules.

Mailability vs. Deliverability

Mailability and deliverability are two concepts that are often confused with each other in email marketing, especially in Pardot where both concepts utilise the same prospect fields. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial for informing how you will send certain communications to your customers, and what results you can expect from a given email send.

You can use mailability to estimate the potential reach your email will have. If you have a list of 100 prospects, but turns out only 60 are mailable, then you may decide to allocate less time and effort to this campaign or change your target audience.

Operational Emails

Operational emails are another Pardot email type for ‘non-marketing’ purposes, also referred to as transactional.

Operational email sends by-pass the ‘email opt-out’ field, which makes them suitable for communicating information that your organisation is legally obliged to do. It is your responsibility to ensure that your email content reflects one of the following:

  • Necessary to health and safety regulation
  • Communicates terms of service changes
  • System status notices
  • Internal emails within your organisation

There are other categories listed here, but I picked out the likely one for COVID-19 notifications.

Sending to Large Pardot Lists

Sending a mass email through Pardot can be damaging to your overall email deliverability. Luckily, there are some checks you can do while building your email and segmenting your prospect data.

  • Split your lists: if your organisation is on a dedicated sending IP and large sends are not something you do often, consider splitting your lists using the built-in Pardot functionality. It’s better to send gradually and successfully, rather than all at once and risk kickback from recipient email service providers.
  • Watch out for risky Prospect data: risky data can include prospects that haven’t double opted-in (confirmed opt-in), haven’t been active in Pardot for a certain length of time, were part of purchased lists, or even have come from an unknown source.
  • Validate the Email Data: use an email validation tool to estimate how much of your database is predicted to cause an email bounce.

You can read the full tutorial here: “Sending Pardot Emails to Large Lists – Guidance and Tips

Segmentation Towards the Next-Normal

Although ‘Fast ROI’ is characteristically part of the ‘stabilize’ phase (identify gaps in the product catalogue, identify easy upsell), marketing will need to keep the momentum going into the Reopen phase. It’s time to define the time periods specific to your business and investigate the trends that form the wave you will need to ride into the ‘Grow’ phase.

I will now break that down:

  • Define the time periods specific to your business,
  • Investigate new trends.

There was a week in the 2020 calendar when your business began to turn, when you knew that adapting would be inevitable. There may have been further upticks, or declines as the situation changed. These time periods are specific to your business, so it’s up to you to dive into Salesforce and look.

Salesforce Opportunity Data

Take a look at Opportunity data using Salesforce pipeline reports, or Einstein Analytics if you are fortunate to have it at your disposal. Compare the period of ‘old normal’ with ‘New COVID-19 Normal’, comparing the products/services sold, new pipeline opportunities, transaction size, pipeline velocity (ie. where are opportunities getting stuck in the opportunity cycle). Pipeline bottlenecks like these present the ideal opportunity for marketing to step in with campaigns that will reactivate ‘dormant’ sales opportunities (in a respectful manner and tone).

Salesforce Case Data

Service cases offer a wealth of information about your existing customers and their needs. Pay attention if your business model revolves around subscription-based services or relies on renewals.

Using Salesforce Service Cloud puts you at an advantage. From Salesforce, you can investigate measures such as the common types of cases raised (both pre-COVID and during COVID), frequently asked questions, which can be transformed into marketing materials and alleviate your support team.

I know that this guide may be oversimplifying the complex reality of how organisations actually operate, and I don’t want to come across as naive – so, I will share a trick that I picked up as a consultant when tasked with understanding a business, and fast. The secret weapon is to look at Salesforce dashboards.

Dashboards show the KPIs that other teams are tracking closely, giving you a lens into a function may not be familiar with. To keep an eye on multiple teams, you can even create a dashboard that aggregates parts of other teams dashboards (you can think of dashboard components as building blocks). It will become the real-time cheat sheet to the rest of the organisation, so that the marketing team is ultimately involved and proactive.

Recency & Frequency

As your marketing automation settles into a new customer journey, it may be worth implementing some advanced segmentation to avoid certain customers from being bombarded.

‘Marketing fatigue’ describes the outcome of prospects receiving too many emails (frequency) in a short space of time (recency). Recency & frequency lists set limits on the number of emails a prospect can receive, for example, no more than 3 times in the past 30 days, or no more than once in the past week.

These time frames are criteria on Dynamic Lists that are changeable to what works best for your industry and buying cycle/s; these  Dynamic Lists can then be applied as suppression lists (ie. ‘do not send to’) for list emails and Engagement Studio programs.

Campaign Distribution

Marketing automation platforms are well suited to broadcasting important messages to your prospects and customers, offering better activity tracking, and therefore feedback that will potentially enrich your ‘Grow’ phase decisions.

Prospect and Segment Ownership

After segmenting your marketing database to cater to the ‘Stabilize’ phase and the ‘Reopen’ phase, it is best to circulate these new audience definitions to other teams – or risk ‘crossing wires’.

The ownership of segments between marketing and the business development team is the most common example I see. Not having a clear-cut understanding of which team ‘owns’ Prospects at different stages of their customer journey can lead to confused or diluted messages instead of the clarity you want to get across, especially in a context that can change from one moment to the next as the wider situation develops.

The simplest solution is to create a matrix. Anyone, in either team, should be clear on who is contacting who, when, and why. In changing time

Use tools that will keep an activity log on one platform. In the case with Salesforce, you are at an advantage with Engagement History and Lead/Contact activity history, but the most optimal tech stack is Pardot for marketing paired with Salesforce Engage for Sales.

Automated Email Journeys

Email campaigns or one-off emails that are triggered by Engagement Studio or automation rules may need tweaking or overhauling. Here are some examples of each when it comes to restructuring Pardot email sending:

  • Lighter ‘cosmetic’ changes: eg. email content changes, swapping out email templates repositioning emails in the sequence, adjusting Engagement Studio rule steps or wait times.
  • Restructuring: building new Engagement Studio programs

You should ask yourself: has the customer journey fundamentally changed? The speed at which prospects are going from new lead to customer, is the sales process now is higher-touch (more sales team to customer interaction) and, therefore, requires fewer email touchpoints, or is it the opposite (lower-touch sales interaction because of limited team capacity, and a higher reliance on automated email).

Pardot Change Management

As the business adapts, so will your Pardot account. Having a platform that’s flexible enough to tailor to specific business requirements is one long-standing mantra of Salesforce. With Salesforce and Pardot becoming increasingly aligned, you will find that updates to existing automation, fields, and usage can potentially bridge both tools.

Salesforce describes the ‘Grow’ phase as “accelerate change to grow in the Next-normal”. Fast change can lead to risks down the line if measures are not put in place.

I recently reviewed an article that presented the ‘Rapid Response Cycle’ for Salesforce change management during times where Salesforce development is being accelerated in many Salesforce orgs. The author spotted a potential risk that organisations could dive head-first into if change management isn’t taken seriously. The main takeaway is to invest in a centralized platform designed to coordinate Salesforce development and provide impact assessments to reduce risks when making changes.

I would go further, and say that this is even more crucial for organisations using both Salesforce and Pardot; oftentimes, two disparate teams can become disjointed when making changes on the fly. In uncertainty, the challenge will be for organisations to iterate their way towards the right answers for their org; regardless, each team should be able to track a system change and not only determine what happened, but also see the context around why it happened and the impact of that change.

You can read the full article by Ian Gotts here: “#NovelEconomy: Transforming the Salesforce Implementation Lifecycle to Prepare for the Post-COVID World

Summary

With the ‘lockdown’ coming to an end in several countries around the world, and employers poised to restart national and global economies, it’s time to look beyond lockdown toward a post-COVID world. When it comes to marketing automation through Pardot, I have seen numerous business initiatives take flight thanks to the combined power of Salesforce, Pardot, and team buy-in; however, organisations are at risk of building, automating, and launching too fast without a mental checklist to ensure system integrity and team alignment.

I hope that you will have seen some new ideas to explore while reading this article, or features to try out that you may have overlooked. It may be time for you to put any assumptions aside, and begin planning and coordinating in preparation for a ’return to the workplace’ where the way you do business may have altered. Best of luck with progressing towards the ‘Next-normal’.

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