Digital Marketing10 minute read

Streamline Your Marketing Funnel With AI-powered Customer Outreach

New AI automation tools can help organizations deliver better, more personalized messaging at the awareness, consideration, conversion, and loyalty stages of the customer journey.


Toptalauthors are vetted experts in their fields and write on topics in which they have demonstrated experience. All of our content is peer reviewed and validated by Toptal experts in the same field.

New AI automation tools can help organizations deliver better, more personalized messaging at the awareness, consideration, conversion, and loyalty stages of the customer journey.


Toptalauthors are vetted experts in their fields and write on topics in which they have demonstrated experience. All of our content is peer reviewed and validated by Toptal experts in the same field.
Wasim Ullah
Verified Expert in Marketing
10 Years of Experience

Wasim is a growth and performance marketer who helps startups and Fortune 500 companies develop and scale digital marketing strategies. He has designed and implemented multichannel campaigns using data-driven approaches that combine paid marketing, social media, email, SEO, conversion rate optimization, and other digital techniques.

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Customer outreach is fundamental to fostering relationships with new and existing leads and converting them into loyal brand advocates. Over the past decade, I’ve helped companies strategically integrate outreach messaging into their marketing campaigns, alongside digital strategies such as social media, SEO, and paid digital advertising, to nurture high-quality leads with personalized interactions at each step of the customer journey.

Streamlining outreach efforts is especially necessary today, given that customer relationship management (CRM) spending is expected to slow across industries, according to spring 2024 data from The CMO Survey. If companies can’t find creative ways to automate outreach and do more with limited resources, they risk losing out to competitors who can. However, automation must never come at the expense of personalization; in 2021, McKinsey & Company surveyed consumers and found that 76% felt frustrated when brand interactions were not tailored to their needs and interests. How can digital marketers balance these simultaneous expectations to automate and personalize customer interactions?

Fortunately, new communication tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) can help companies integrate outreach across the marketing funnel, strengthening relationships with their target audience and reinforcing customer loyalty. In this article, I present essential AI outreach automation techniques that can save time and resources. Automating marketing outreach can help companies increase the number of leads, lower the cost per acquisition, and nurture those leads with greater finesse at each stage of the funnel.

Automating Customer Outreach at the Awareness Stage

The awareness stage is the point at which brand recognition begins for a new prospect. Content marketing and SEO campaigns are essential digital strategies for boosting awareness, given that organic search is a primary route that highly motivated prospects use to identify brands that fulfill specific needs. Paid advertising on social media is another common and successful awareness strategy. Digital customer outreach is a natural complement to these marketing efforts, allowing brands to engage their target audience in a personalized way right from the beginning.

Automation ideas for awareness-stage outreach efforts: chat marketing, multichannel integration capabilities, and social media scheduling and drafting.

For instance, brands can use AI tools to spark conversations with leads who have just encountered them for the first time on social media. I did this for an insurance startup in the Persian Gulf region. We wanted to foster high-quality lead generation on Facebook by removing intermediary steps between when a new prospect saw an ad and when they received a quote for coverage. The traditional process required the lead to exit the social media platform to complete a form on the company’s website and then wait for a sales representative to contact them.

To streamline these steps, we used an automated chat marketing tool called Manychat to interact dynamically with new leads on social media. This tool allowed us to offer instant quotes in English and Arabic through Facebook Messenger, thanks to the logical conditioning functionality built into Manychat’s AI chatbot. This capability meant that a lead could see a paid ad containing a click-to-message button and receive a quote within the short span of a chat interaction. The experience was more seamless for prospects, and the automation reduced the human effort needed to deliver the initial quotes by more than half.

AI automation can also funnel awareness-stage leads into the next phase of a personalized outreach campaign via multichannel integrations. For instance, I used Zapier’s AI capabilities to automate lead migration between the insurance startup’s social media accounts, CRM system, and email marketing platform. If someone submitted a Facebook message asking the company to send more information, the system could take action based on the person’s input and appropriately funnel the request and contact information into the CRM and email marketing systems. The automation eliminated repetitive tasks from the process, reducing the time and effort needed to handle these initial leads. These resource savings are crucial—after all, automatically migrating social media audiences into an email campaign prevents you from overinvesting in onboarding a lead who is still far from conversion.

This type of outreach automation, however, should only be made after streamlining more foundational elements of your social media campaigns. Social media tools have long offered the ability to schedule posts in advance; now, new machine learning capabilities, such as Hootsuite’s “best time to publish” feature, eliminate the guesswork around when to post by analyzing your target audience’s engagement data and recommending optimal times. Many other social media tools also offer AI-powered functions, including post generators and automatic hashtag recommendations, ensuring that marketers don’t miss high-traffic opportunities. When I introduced Hootsuite’s AI capabilities to a Fortune 500 company in the Persian Gulf region, we nearly quadrupled our content (in both Arabic and English), increasing engagement and bringing leads more efficiently into the next phase of our outreach campaign.

Automating Customer Outreach at the Consideration Stage

Once a company has acquired initial leads through awareness-stage outreach, a web search, or even a direct referral, it’s time to begin nurturing those relationships. The consideration stage is the point at which a lead, now aware of the brand, begins to look more closely at its products or services. To support this consideration, brands should use audience insights to tailor their outreach efforts, prioritizing precise, personalized messages.

Ideas for consideration-stage outreach automation: audience segmentation for email sequencing, email content generation, and chat marketing.

Email marketing is an important outreach strategy at this stage of the marketing funnel—and in particular, brands should customize drip campaigns according to the interests and needs of their email recipients. A typical drip campaign starts with a welcome message and a follow-up email outlining products or services, then weekly or monthly messages with offers or thought leadership content. Your email list is not a monolithic group, and it can be challenging to determine how to tailor an email sequence for each lead. This is where the AI capabilities of many outreach automation tools can offer increased efficiency and accuracy.

At the insurance startup mentioned above, we used an email marketing tool called Mailjet to automate customer segmentation for our drip campaigns. (Other popular tools like Mailchimp and HubSpot offer similar features.) Mailjet’s AI-powered automation can differentiate between individuals on the email list based on factors such as engagement history, purchasing behavior, geography, and additional demographic details. We used these detailed analytics to deliver hyperpersonalized email campaigns that resonated with each lead’s expectations and needs, resulting in overall sales improvements of 5% to 10% within six months.

Many email marketing tools, including Mailjet, HubSpot, and Mailchimp, now offer generative AI capabilities as well. Recently, I introduced a client to Apollo, a versatile B2B marketing tool that can generate emails while also streamlining other end-to-end marketing and sales functions. Simple welcome or “thank you” messages proposed by Apollo’s AI email generator require minimal editing; longer and less formulaic email content still needs human intervention, but the AI-proposed material eliminates the blank-page syndrome that slows initial idea generation and can be optimized for specific email templates. In our case, a team member would revise the AI-generated draft and incorporate customer reviews and other real-world data. Apollo’s email automation solution can also evaluate your outbound messages for clarity, structure, and other elements that impact click-through rates.

AI chatbots open another communication channel for personalized outreach at the consideration stage. If someone arrives on a website from an email marketing message, a tool like Intercom’s AI chatbot can identify the person, deliver a pop-up message addressing the individual by name, and provide customized recommendations based on previous interactions. At the insurance startup, we used Intercom to engage with users on both our English and Arabic landing pages. At the time, the styling options were relatively limited for the Arabic-language version, and the overall engagement rate was around 30% to 40% better with the English-language chatbot. Still, this outreach channel offered a valuable means of nurturing leads and providing personalized messages—including instant quotes—in both languages.

We also used Intercom to provide real-time support to potential customers as they entered their information for an insurance quote. If someone needed help finding their vehicle identification number, for instance, our AI assistant could help them locate it on various documents. This 24/7 outreach channel prevented leads from stopping in the middle of an application, making it more likely for them to receive the quote and ultimately invest in coverage.

Automating Customer Outreach at the Conversion Stage

Personalized messages and support can help companies nurture new leads and build confidence in the brand. Marketing or sales representatives can then invest time and energy in inspiring high-potential leads to take the next step toward conversion. There’s a good chance a lead will be considering multiple options as they near conversion, so the brand that provides stronger outreach and personalized customer service will have an advantage. Yet, how can a company track thousands of leads and know which are the most likely to convert? Once again, AI automation can help organizations achieve effective outreach at scale, ensuring the right messages go to the right individuals at the right time.

Ideas for conversion-stage outreach automation efforts: lead scoring based on detailed analytics and lead reengagement for email and chat marketing.

AI-powered sales outreach tools can assist with lead scoring, applying logical conditioning to analyze, sort, and prioritize leads based on their maturity. Scoring can account for various factors, such as location, website activity, and, importantly, potential revenue. If a team scored their leads on a scale of 1 to 10, they would consider the customers at 9 or 10 as highly likely to convert. At the insurance company, this would prompt a sales team member to contact the lead directly, helping the sales representative allocate their time efficiently by leaving the longer-term nurturing to other outreach methods. We used an internally built CRM to conduct lead scoring, but I’ve used HubSpot, Zoho CRM, and related tools to achieve similar automation for other organizations.

Automated lead scoring is especially valuable for companies providing products or services, such as insurance coverage, that require a sales team member to finalize an offer before a purchase is made. This outreach automation effort helps companies prevent high-priority leads from disappearing while waiting for a response. According to a 2021 study by InsideSales, which analyzed over 5.7 million inbound sales leads at more than 400 companies, conversion rates are eight times higher if the company contacts a lead within five minutes of the initial request compared to responses provided between five minutes and 24 hours. With AI-equipped sales outreach software, this kind of rapid funnel velocity becomes much more feasible by helping the sales team prioritize highly qualified leads based on detailed analytics.

Conversion-stage outreach can also involve email or chat marketing. For instance, suppose someone has placed products in an online shopping cart and exited the website without completing the purchase. As long as the lead can be identified based on information they’ve provided or other online tracking data, brands can send an automated follow-up email inviting them to return to the online store or informing them of a special incentive, such as free shipping.

Automating Customer Outreach at the Loyalty Stage

After a new lead has been acquired and nurtured through conversion, it’s important to continue engaging that individual to achieve sustained customer loyalty and, ultimately, brand advocacy. While attracting new leads is always desirable, never take repeat customers for granted, as it generally requires less investment to inspire them to make another purchase. Fortunately, many of the techniques and tools used for outreach marketing automation at earlier stages work equally well for fostering and deepening relationships with existing customers, whether it’s via social media, email marketing, or periodic check-ins from sales team members based on automated lead scoring.

Loyalty-stage outreach automation ideas: segmentation based on multichannel integration for follow-up sequences and Net Promoter Score.

To enhance customer retention during the loyalty stage of the sales funnel, use your email drip campaign to share educational content, platform-related updates, and other stories that will inspire previous customers to come back. Teams can use a tool like HubSpot to send customers a Net Promoter Score follow-up email shortly after fulfilling a purchase or service. Traditionally, these surveys ask how likely the email recipient is to recommend the company to a friend on a scale of 1 to 10. A limited number of questions can then be asked based on the first response. This customer feedback can inform subsequent AI audience segmentation and email sequencing.

Brands should prioritize multichannel integration of these tools to reinforce customer loyalty. By ensuring that tools like Hootsuite, Manychat, Zapier, and HubSpot work together seamlessly, you can create a cohesive and personalized experience that resonates with customers at every touchpoint. This integrated approach not only simplifies the management of customer interactions, but also enhances retention strategies by providing consistent, relevant, and timely engagement that keeps loyal customers actively connected with the brand.

AI Automation That Powers Human Engagement

AI outreach platforms will continue to revolutionize marketing strategies and become the industry standard for customer engagement. One of AI’s most significant advantages is its ability to deliver hyper-relevant, personalized messages to customers at each stage of their journey—from initial awareness to loyal brand advocacy. This level of audience targeting and smart sequencing ensures that marketing efforts resonate more deeply with each individual.

Of course, delivering this kind of personalized outreach still requires a human touch, but AI frees up marketing and sales teams from repetitive tasks and allows them to focus on strategy and personalized, human-to-human engagement, making every interaction more meaningful. Companies can leverage AI to streamline their outreach efforts in ways that unlock time and resource optimizations while enhancing the quality of their customer relationships. This dual benefit is critical to thrive in the modern digital landscape, guaranteeing that businesses stay ahead in both efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Understanding the basics

  • What is customer outreach used for?

    Customer outreach is a marketing strategy brands use to engage new and existing audiences with proactive, direct messages. These efforts foster engagement, nurture relationships, drive sales, and build customer loyalty. Outreach efforts may involve digital marketing techniques such as email and chat marketing.

  • What is automated customer outreach?

    Automated customer outreach uses digital marketing technology and software to eliminate complex or repetitive tasks associated with building customer engagement. When applied across the marketing funnel, these tools can improve the efficiency, consistency, and personalization of messages via email marketing, chatbots, social media, and other communication channels.

  • How do I automate customer outreach emails?

    Brands can automate outreach emails using AI-powered capabilities built into many email marketing platforms. For instance, these tools may assist with automated customer segmentation, allowing brands to deliver hyperpersonalized email campaigns to specific individuals based on demographic factors or previous engagement patterns. Generative AI capabilities can also expedite the creation of email content. Marketers should monitor these personalized email sequences for ongoing optimization.

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Wasim Ullah

Wasim Ullah

Verified Expert in Marketing
10 Years of Experience

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Member since November 7, 2022

About the author

Wasim is a growth and performance marketer who helps startups and Fortune 500 companies develop and scale digital marketing strategies. He has designed and implemented multichannel campaigns using data-driven approaches that combine paid marketing, social media, email, SEO, conversion rate optimization, and other digital techniques.

authors are vetted experts in their fields and write on topics in which they have demonstrated experience. All of our content is peer reviewed and validated by Toptal experts in the same field.

Previous Role

Digital Marketing Director

PREVIOUSLY AT

AXAFujifilm

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