Marketing automation systems have dramatically changed the way marketers go about finding, engaging and keeping customers. But as many marketers are finding out, these packages aren't one-size-fits-all solutions.
Vendors in the space compete for marketing dollars based on their products' features, service, comprehensiveness and ability to integrate with other systems. But marketers often have different technology needs depending on industry, company size and budgets. Marketers want as much technological firepower as possible, but often end up buying too much technology.
“Everybody buys the hype of marketing automation—the increase in responses, leads, conversion rates, etc.—as well they should,” said Jay Famico, research director-demand creation strategies at consultancy SiriusDecisions Inc. “But our research shows that while 20% of b2b companies have purchased or implemented a marketing automation solution, 85% of them don't believe they're using it to its fullest potential.”
The promise of marketing automation systems and the reality of implementation are often different. “Who doesn't want to fill the top of the funnel, shorten the sales cycle and increase velocity?” said Ken Robinson, VP-revenue marketing at ethics and compliance company NAVEX Global. “But the idea that marketing automation is a widget, an app or a Salesforce.com plug-in—and will be easy to use and get up and running quickly—falls apart quickly,” he said. “It's easy to send an email or configure a landing page, but harder by far to get those full-Nirvana concepts, like deep insights, great reports and charts.”
Famico and others said a common mistake is approaching the marketing automation decision from a technological standpoint instead of as a way of doing business. Without attention to purposes, responsibilities, staffing and possible uses, marketers may go wrong in both purchasing and implementation.
“It's typically like the gym membership model; the marketer has bought the gym membership expecting he'll get in shape,” said Jon Russo, founder of marketing technology consultancy B2B Fusion. “Everybody has good intentions, but what they underestimate is the energy—the organizational changes, the need for sales-marketing alignment, and much more—required to pull things off.
“Having the vision of what the destination looks like is critical,” Russo said.
Russo recommended that marketers look at the complexity of what they're selling and its scale—regional, national or international. An organizational commitment to the process is also required, including a willingness to staff appropriately.
“It's easy to buy the tools,” Russo said. “What's harder is to map a lead-flow process, decide with sales on the definition of a lead and map the performance of sales versus marketing. There's a whole set of transformational changes that organizations have to go through to get the full benefit of a marketing automation system.”
Carly Pisarri, senior demand generation and marketing programs manager at online marketing tag management provider TagMan Inc., is working with Russo and B2B Fusion on her company's marketing automation processes. Pisarri, who joined TagMan in March, gained experience implementing marketing automation at her previous employer, investment researcher Gerson Lehrman Group.
“At Gerson Lehrman we had been using various email-based marketing programs but decided they weren't robust enough for us, so we started to move to a marketing automation platform,” Pisarri said. “We bought the platform, but had it for about a year before we actually started to use it.”
That year was spent cleaning up the company's database, while launching a Salesforce.com CRM system. Integration between marketing and sales automation systems is critical, she said.
“In our prior proprietary CRM system, sales reps had customized their accounts, treating each customer differently,” Pisarri said. “When you move to a marketing automation platform, you can't have duplicates or different types of customer records.”
Pisarri recommended hiring a technology consultant because of the relatively brief time marketing automation companies allot to new users to get them up and running.
“As for implementation, you want to use only as much as you need to maintain your business, and gain confidence with the departments you work with,” she said. “You want to make sure your marketing automation power users are comfortable in their jobs, are confident about learning new features and don't worry about taking risks in implementing them.”
Preparing “use cases”—the actual tasks to be tackled—is key in choosing the correct marketing automation system and determining which features to use, said Jeff Pedowitz, president-CEO of the Pedowitz Group.
“It comes down to the reason you're buying the platform to begin with,” said Pedowitz, whose company often helps marketers choose and implement marketing technology solutions. “Start with what problems you're trying to solve, such as increasing subscriptions, or gaining recurring revenue, or launching a product or remarketing better to prospects. Do you have a renewal issue? If so, start by asking what [effect] a 2% improvement in renewal rate would have on the business.”
Pedowitz acknowledged that smaller companies might be overmatched by some of the full-featured marketing automation platforms. “If you're barely sending out email right now, buying one of those would be overkill,” he said.
But assuming a company's marketing efforts are robust enough, he said, the larger marketing automation vendors have the largest customer bases and vibrant online communities, which can be valuable in seeking peer solutions to problems.
NAVEX Global's Robinson stressed the need for executive buy-in and support, and suggested appointing a salesperson to be a marketing evangelist to the other sales reps. “Even reaching deep into the service and support organization is important,” he said.
Robinson has structured a “revenue team” to take full advantage of the robust marketing automation program he's implemented. It includes a content director, as well as product line managers responsible for design, measurements and reporting of campaigns. There's a marketing technologist “with his head under the hood of both marketing automation and CRM.”
Robinson's team also includes a social media marketing manager and a business information manager with a finance and analytics background, he said.
“This kind of integration represents the promise of better things to come,” he said. “But if there's not alignment, if there's a disconnect among the players, marketing automation will be seen as just something marketing likes to do.”