2014 should be a great year for marketing automation; frankly, the last two years have been great years for marketing automation. We saw multiple IPOs, acquisitions galore, demand for new positions with titles like “VP of Demand Generation” and “Marketing Technologist.” And most of all, we saw widespread and unequivocal proof that marketing automation can deliver a meaningful return on investment. According to Gleanster Research, adoption of marketing automation grew by 28% between 2012 and 2013. What started as an innovative approach to supporting the complex sale (largely for Software companies) has now blossomed into a comprehensive suite of capabilities designed to align multi-channel marketing efforts and systematically allow marketers to engage users based on the specific stage in the buying cycle. According to research, about 85% of organizations reporting top quartile performance in key metrics like revenue growth, click-through engagement, and lead-to-sales conversion report using a marketing automation tool, and 50% of these used the tool for over two years.
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But as past success seeds future adoption, more and more companies run the risk of rushing the implementation without sufficiently preparing to use marketing automation appropriately. The real risk in these situations is snap conclusions about the value of the tools. Executives might think it’s a waste of money or doesn’t do what they thought it would during the sales demo, when in reality the organization was ill prepared in the first place. Unfortunately, many organizations still struggle with marketing automation – not because the tools don’t work or they lack functionality, but because of a skills gap in B2B marketing best practices and a lack of content to fuel the beast. So while vendors cope with record new customer onboarding, many organizations are taking the plunge blindfolded, backward, and head first. At least be prepared.
Content is the new currency for B2B engagement. Growth in inbound marketing tactics (whereby marketers generate demand by creating engaging and relevant content that entices buyers to self-identify themselves) has led to exponential growth in digital content. The problem is, not all content is created equal. Prospects can sniff out generic or low quality content in a heartbeat, and it hurts your brand. A common complaint with regard to marketing automation is that the tools demand a high volume of quality content – and most of the time good content doesn’t exist before marketing automation is implemented. Make no mistake, marketing automation tools demand content to work effectively, and your organization will need to budget for new resources or allocate time with existing resources to create content.
The most common mistake organizations make when investing in marketing automation is failure to re-think processes and campaign workflows. That’s partly because resources may not have the domain knowledge to immediately recommend changes to existing processes when implementing the new tool. Unfortunately when marketing automation is configured with poor marketing processes it just accelerates mediocre results; it’s all too easy to blame poor performance on the technology instead of the real culprit. Check out additional process considerations to think about inside the Pre-Purchase Checklist for Marketing Automation Deep Dive.
Five years ago, resources with proficiency in marketing automation were difficult to train and retain. Today, it’s a little easier to find resources with experience with these tools because the features and functions are generally the same across different solution providers. Also, a rich landscape of consultants and systems integration service providers sprang up that can help with everything from best practice recommendations, to implementation, to full managed service outsourcing. It’s also important to note that Top Performers are 15x more likely than Everyone Else to employ demand generation executives to bridge the gap between marketing and sales. Titles such as VP of Demand Generation would oversee the use of marketing automation, process optimization, and ongoing measurement. This role is compensated in line with performance, in much the same way as a VP of Sales, so it’s easy to justify the role when you can link a clear return on investment.
For organizations that are currently considering marketing automation, rock on. This blog post is not about scaring you into delaying the decision. In fact, most of the key areas you need to be prepared for are nothing more than a willingness to change legacy practices. Your processes will change, how you rely on technology will change, and the nature of the skills in your marketing and sales department might need to change. Much of this can and will happen after the implementation. Where organizations fail is when executives or key stakeholders cannot innovate and adapt. Be open to committing resources and time to key areas such as content development, measurement, and training. That doesn’t mean you have to come up with new buckets of spend in the marketing budget either. For years, many marketers were scared of marketing automation, choosing to delay the investment until it reached mature adoption. It’s not a fad. Unfortunately, early adopters of marketing automation were afforded a competitive edge because they used the technology to transform the customer buying experience and raise the bar in their industry. Now it’s time to play catch-up, and delaying this process could have a material effect on the pipeline. Buyers expect relevant communications, and they expect to engage sales when it’s appropriate and when they are sufficiently educated about the challenges your product or service solves. Bottom line, you can’t do that manually. It requires a tool like marketing automation.
Being prepared helps your organization maximize your investment in marketing automation. It helps ensure that you are actually using these tools they way they were intended to be used. Research suggests that the lion’s share of post-implementation issues stem from one or two stakeholders who wield enough influence to prevent innovation and change internally. That’s all bad, all around. Ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to B2B marketing tactics. Since you are educating yourself on the process, chances are good you are willing to champion change. You probably also know exactly who you need to educate internally. Maybe it’s the CEO, CFO, or someone in marketing. So perhaps the best way to use the above checklist is to just print it out and level-set with the stakeholders who are involved in the decision to invest in marketing automation. Ensure that they are willing to support the tool and champion internal change as needed. If you use the tools the way they are intended, it’s pretty difficult not to see measurable value. But if you invest in marketing automation and use the tool the same way you used legacy tools like email marketing (and you fail to change processes or tactics), your organization is likely to be unimpressed by the investment, and your shareholders will be unimpressed at your long-term revenue growth.