Marketing automation deployment within large enterprises—and often down to the midsize-company level—is increasingly providing marketers with the ability to capture customers' “digital body language” to inform lead scoring, nurturing and conversions. But even given a maturing of powerful new capabilities, marketers sometimes struggle to strike a balance between technological power and ease of use, and in making sense of a growing number of devices and channels.
“Every marketer dreams about a world where their marketing feels ultra-personal and converts at a huge rate, all automatically,” said Jeff Russo, manager-product marketing at HubSpot Inc. “That's the promise of marketing automation, but only a fraction of organizations who use a marketing automation tool ever reach that end because it's fundamentally hard to do.”
Russo said as vendors keep adding features and complexity, marketers can find it difficult to get beyond the setting-up phase.
“At the end of the day, the platform that delivers the most value to its customers won't be the one that has the most features,” he said. “It will be the one that is intuitive to the marketer and grows with them over time.”
Adam Blitzer, COO of Pardot, said: “There is a huge trend toward user-centered design and features right now, which is fantastic for customers and providers alike. More technical features are in demand, user interfaces are improving, and platforms are able to integrate with more third-party services than ever before.”
Part of the issue, observers said, is that marketers often expect technology to solve problems that are not essentially technological.
“Examples might be developing a lead-generation strategy, planning campaigns and creating content to make these campaigns effective,” said Atri Chatterjee, CMO at Act-On Software. “No marketing automation system can design an engaging and relevant campaign for your business. You have to do so.
Chatterjee added: “Similarly, companies need to establish the interface between marketing and sales even before they start using any technology. Education about marketing and how [best-of-breed] marketing automation fits in to make that marketing more effective will be more important than promoting features and functions of the software.”
As the marketing automation landscape matures and marketers come to grips with interfaces, deployment and preplanning, they may find that today's marketing automation platforms feature more capabilities than first realized.
“Integration helps us tie in every part of the campaign—Web, social, direct mail, call centers, webinars—to a single overarching strategy,” said Doug Sechrist, VP-demand marketing at Eloqua Corp. “For example, when social and display advertising—not typically thought of as great lead-generation channels—are integrated into a demand campaign, they can help drive more eyeballs to a website and other assets, increasing influence and conversion.”
As marketing automation solutions become even more sophisticated and marketers increase their skills to use them effectively, the effect on integration should continue to expand.
“Marketers want confidence that their marketing platform will work with the systems and processes they have, as well as any systems they may need to use in the future across all areas of marketing, including lead-gen, social media and display,” said Maria Pergolino, senior director-marketing at Marketo Inc.
“To accomplish this, the marketing automation solution must integrate with a number of categories in a robust ecosystem, including: video, live chat, display advertising, social campaigns, SEO, data enrichment, content marketing and life-cycle marketing solutions.”
When the underlying marketing technology and channels are integrated, marketers—ideally—can centralize marketing decision-making to leverage all the information they have about a particular customer. At that point, marketers can better match the customer with the appropriate marketing messages and offers, then deliver them through the most appropriate channel, said Jay Henderson, director-global strategy program, enterprise marketing management at IBM Corp.
“This includes cross-channel, multiwave, light-outs nurturing campaigns,” Henderson said. “As marketing technology becomes more integrated, marketers have a more unified view of who the customer is and what their needs are. Marketers have a centralized ability to then pick and deliver a particular marketing message through whatever channel the customer deems is most appropriate and coordinate those messages across all channels.
“The net of integration from your customer's perspective is a more unified and relevant experience across each channel and tactic, such as lead-gen, social media, display, etc.,” he said.
Integrated marketing isn't only about crossing channels and merging campaigns but also about the potential for tearing down the silos between marketing, sales, IT and other departments. Aprimo Inc. recently debuted Service to Sales, an inbound marketing solution that analyzes customer data from the Web, call centers and retail sales in real time to provide targeted offers for cross- and up-sell programs.
“Marketing automation tools provide sales reps with the same powerful customer insights marketers use to close deals,” said Lisa Arthur, CMO at Aprimo. “We've reached a point where ... solutions can leverage these interactions, driving the sales profit center and maximizing customer experience at the same time.”
In today's buying cycle, buyers typically are quite a long way through their decision-making process before they are ready to hear from a company. Sales departments benefit when they know when a prospect is open to being contacted. Automation plays a role here.
“When a buyer does reach out to your company, marketing automation technologies can determine how hot of a lead the contact is,” said Ellen Valentine, product evangelist at Silverpop Systems. “If the prospect requires further nurturing, marketing can move him through programs to provide more information about the company before qualifying the lead for sales.”
Valentine said, that sometimes, when a lead makes initial contact, they are ready to make a purchase. In that instance, automation allows the lead to be passed directly to sales, bypassing any further nurturing from marketing.
“By integrating marketing automation with your customer relationship management system, you can also allow sales reps to be active participants in recycling leads that are not yet ready to buy and [place] them back into an automated nurture program,” she said.
No discussion about marketing automation would be complete without an acknowledgement of its impact on Big Data—how automation can consolidate it, analyze it and allow marketers (or triggers) to take action as a result.
“By aggregating data from across channels into a single, 360-degree view, organizations can gain insight into the needs and behavior of their customers and prospects,” said Kristin Hambelton, VP-marketing at Neolane Inc.
“In turn, they can provide greater relevancy and personalization in their communications—and dramatically increasing response rates. Imagine, for instance, that a key prospect tweets about one of your competitors. This behavior might, in turn, trigger an email containing a specific content asset designed to neutralize that threat.”
Marketing automation's advantage, Hambelton said, is found most compellingly in today's highly competitive marketplace.
“It's no longer about simply getting found,” Hambelton said. “It's about leveraging data to help prospects or customers find what they need quickly before moving on to a competitor's website.”