How Flight Centre’s B2B teams harnessed marketing automation

Head of digital for the travel company shares the tale of rolling out marketing automation, as well as how it's impacted digital marketing strategy, content and personalisation efforts

Transitioning to a comprehensive marketing automation platform has not only improved how Flight Centre’s B2B brand marketing and sales teams interact, it’s also transforming content and customer engagement strategies.

CMO recently caught up with the travel company’s head of digital, Kevin Wordon, to discuss how his team has tackled rolling out marketing automation, what was needed to sell the vision to the executive team, why technology is now driving marketing and sales collaboration, and the brand’s current and future efforts around personalisation.

Automation: The beginning

Flight Centre’s B2B business represents 40-50 per cent of the total group’s profits and incorporates the larger Corporate Traveller and FCM brands, as well as Campus Travel, Stage and Screen, 4th Dimension and cievents. Wordon said the group initially brought on Marketo’s marketing automation to facilitate email marketing campaigns and has since grown this into a shared services capability globally.

Having spent the first year getting their heads around the platform and how to distribute it, marketing automation was rolled by the digital team across B2B operations in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, Singapore, US and Canada. Rather than give employees everything at once, Wordon’s team delivered the platform in modules, rolling these out in just seven weeks across up to three brands per country.

“What we didn’t want to do is build a specific team around Marketo and not have the business using it themselves,” Wordon said.

As a result, the first module was about delivering email marketing segments and personalisation, as well as training marketing and campaign managers to use the product themselves.

“I see all marketers becoming digital marketers in the near future – it’s going to be part of their core skillset,” Wordon said. “So why not empower them and train them up now, rather than have separate teams?

“Certainly things like Web development and the more technical side will be done by my team, but having those tools in marketers’ hands to action activities is important.”

Wordon admitted to some friction around the technology at first, but said the combination of education, easy-to-use platform, internal shared services team and quick wins in campaign delivery saw brand teams quickly become responsive to its potential.

The second phase of the global rollout, which has recently been completed saw the digital team deploy Marketo’s Sales Insight platform.

“That’s where we’ve seen the biggest change in our business,” Wordon commented. “It’s really empowering our sales people and given them an understanding of digital as well. It’s pretty much a window into Marketo, but what sales teams can start to do is look at their leads and contacts and see if they’re opening up emails, navigating online, or how they’re being scored and ranked according to type.

“Any given BDM can have 300 leads in there and see where they’re at and if they’re progressing. Three years ago, they may have just sent a PDF to prospects, whereas they now have so much more data.”

Wordon said the technology has brought sales and marketing teams closer together while helping employees better understand online’s position within the customer journey. Empowering the sales team through technology and the immediate deliverables to the business were also key to getting the investment across the line with executives, he said.

“How we make sure we steer the rest of the business to the platform we have had wins with and best use our assets is important,” he added.

To further support global teams, ‘follow the sun’ support and SLAs have been put in place.

“It’s finding the line between technical and marketing/campaign support that’s been the biggest challenge,” Wordon said. “So we have worked to define that.”

Customer impact

On the marketing side, one of the big changes marketing automation has made is in the way teams approach acquisition and retention campaigns, Wordon said.

“We used to go out with just an acquisition or retention campaign every single month. Now we’re looking at the smaller things we can do to help our customers along their journey, or that help us find new customers,” he said.

“For example, we are looking at things like when you’re travelling, what else you do around that. We know you’d use a taxi or visit the airport, so we’re looking at airport parking, or partnerships with taxi companies. Or can we help you with your mobile while you’re overseas? It’s about providing those ancillary services as well.

“That could be much more effective for some customers than giving you $1000 credit when you come on-board. $1000 credit might work for a small business, but for a large enterprise; there, it’s the small perks. Decision makers want to know if they can get a lounge pass, be upgraded, or rise to platinum status. That’s where we can get a strong hold by more personalised engagement.”

Flight Centre’s heritage as a bricks-and-mortar travel company has given the company a strong focus on personal service, and Wordon said translating that kind of personalisation to the online environment and in digital communications is an imperative.

“What we’re looking at next is the ability two weeks out from when someone is going to travel, to email them with insights on their destination including what the weather might be, or if they need a Visa,” he said. “At the time of booking, we supply further information, produce a second information-led email a couple of weeks out, then something closer to departure again.”

Flight Centre is also planning to trial an SMS alert service with customers as they depart and return, providing contact details of their travel manager and information they may need in an emergency. “It’s how we personalise that information to the individual that’s our current priority,” Wordon said.

Read more: Flight Centre's retail marketing chief talks customer journeys

Getting the customer data right

Luckily for Wordon, the customer data he needed to make marketing automation successful was already collected and managed through Flight Centre’s Salesforce CRM efforts. The company has a 20-strong team supporting the Salesforce platform including five in Asia-Pacific.

“A lot of the time, people will look at marketing automation tools but forget about the importance of CRM and end up with multiple, disparate systems that don’t talk to each other,” Wordon commented. “We don’t have that problem. However, as we move into these next projects, we’re going to bring in information on things like itineraries, and booking details.”

To kick this next phase of work off, Wordon said he’s starting with a proof-of-business case.

“We undertook some manual work upfront just to show we can do this, before we spend time further integrating data,” he said. “We’re also getting feedback from clients along the way before we automate it.”

Measuring the overall impact and success of marketing automation is also a priority for Wordon, and he’s both heavy on reporting for teams, as well as for executives.

“For the first time, they’re looking more at the wins we’ve been able to bring on-board, but also want the clientele is asking for and why. There’s more focus on clients,” he said.

Core metrics being used are site turnover and traffic, driving appointments to Flight Centre’s business development managers, and customer retention. “Every single person at Flight Centre, from a store consultant to the top, is incentivised around this,” Wordon said. “That does drive the business towards the right outcomes.

Read more: CMO50 #26-50: Darren Wright, Flight Centre

“A lot of people will ask how you can incentivise a developer on bookings and appointments. But if they develop something that stops an inquiry from coming through, or our products isn’t appearing on the site correctly, in the end that has a direct result on our customer. So we’re changing the way they think from development milestones to thinking about the customer.”

Current and future innovations

Wordon said a recent advancement of its use of marketing automation is in events programs. “Whereas the business was doing events in isolation before, sales are now coming to us to engage marketing because they know we can facilitate that,” he said. “We’re moving away from the spreadsheets and getting people to fill in a form, to having a really good event collateral approach.”

With 70-80 per cent of inquiries now coming from online through online chat or dedicated online phone numbers, it’s also vital Flight Centre gives customers different ways of engaging with the business, Wordon said.

“We’re certainly noticing that where we come into play and when clients contact us is later in the journey,” he said. “We have to change our approach to more focus more on providing content and information online.”

One example of this push to become an information source is Flight Centre’s online travel calculator, which allows customers to work out what they spend on travel.

“There are a lot of smarts behind it. But some people don’t know what they spend on travel, so to be able to get that information and data together, put that through Marketo, has been a win,” Wordon said. “We’ve seen a 20 per cent uplift in online inquiries coming through since we implemented Marketo.

“In terms of year-on-year growth, we are about 40-50 per cent up on online traffic and that’s steadily increasing. Mobile is also increasing.”

Personalising online content is another focus. Wordon said all of Flight Centre’s brands now have dedicated content directors looking at how to create craft and source content for the different personas and decision makers across its clients.

In terms of the website, Wordon is first looking at how to personalise by industry. This is being enabled from the Marketo platform, which is very rich in terms of insights, he said.

“If you are from the mining industry, for example, and we know you through Marketo, when you head to the site we’ll either serve up blatant personalisation, or a version that’s more subtle – we’ll test both ways,” he said. “So you might go to the expert insights sections and a mining case study will come up first.

The next stage will be personalising content based on the three key roles Flight Centre’s B2B teams interact with: The booker, the traveller, and the decision maker. Real-time personalisation on the website, is due by December.

“The content is different for all three and we’ll structure it against those personas,” Wordon said. “For instance, the decision maker doesn’t necessarily care about the financial side because he has the CFO, he cares about the perks.”

Wordon has also just commenced the first trials of Flight Centre’s personalised, itinerary-based communications.

“That will also allow us to cross-sell – making sure we have an accommodation booking with every airline booking we have, and stopping leakage that we have there,” he said.

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