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Lured by the carrot of increased ROI, will marketing departments use automation to turn their craft from an art to a science?
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No one said using technology to empower marketing decision makers would be an easy feat. Marketing professionals have long claimed their domain was more art than science, and they have resisted being measured and modeled like their customer service and sales brethren. But in today's fiercely competitive marketplace, they find themselves compelled to use all the tools available to increase productivity.

Many companies have spent the last four years building massive and expensive databases, installing ERP backbones and automating their front-office functions. As a result, they are empowered with all the right tools to get closer to their customers and drive value. They are beginning to achieve results from their CRM implementations. As they go beyond sales efficiency and concentrate on customer satisfaction and sales effectiveness, they are expanding the scope of their projects to include marketing automation. Marketing automation systems can help them manage their campaigns, automate the marketing department and conduct marketing on the Internet.

Campaign management systems as a packaged application have become more viable in the last three years, and represent the most established software model for combining technology with marketing to forge individual relationships with key customers. Research indicates these systems will continue to move down market and become more mainstream. It will take several more years, however, for marketing groups themselves to undertake wholesale automation.

What Can It Do?
Today's systems allow companies to analyze and target their most profitable market segments and enable campaign management. In addition, over the past few years, systems designed to holistically automate the marketing function have also begun to emerge. Ideally, a comprehensive marketing automation system would accomplish the following:

  • All-encompassing customer or marketing database/warehouse
  • Customer segmentation on an enterprise-wide level through database querying and scoring
  • GUI-based design of various inbound and outbound sales/marketing campaigns
  • Multi-channel campaign management, optimization, tracking, measurement and feedback
  • Best practice templates to aid in developing various marketing activities and workflow
  • Analytic tools for customer profiling and testing prior to campaign implementation
  • Collateral material management
  • Tight integration with call center, field sales, direct mail and Internet applications
  • IS expense reduction by placing responsibility for these functions with non-technical marketers

In reality, it's difficult to find a single vendor who can perform all of these functions well. At the moment, each marketing automation vendor has its specialty.

What Do You Want?
The benefits of marketing automation applications lie in their ability to convert customer data and information into ROI-yielding results. But project managers and executives beware. While evidence of significant ROI is real, you can't build a castle in the sand. Defining your requirements up front will lay a solid foundation for your project.

The difference between the success or failure of a marketing automation implementation lies in the knowledge and ability an organization brings to the effort. Companies that know what problems they need to solve, how to sort through the hundreds of technology solutions available and how to structure and manage their process reengineering efforts are the ones achieving measurable results through marketing automation.

And don't overlook the people. In our experience transforming the way companies market, sell and service through CRM, we learned that people-related issues are tantamount. The best processes in the world, supported by the latest technology, can still result in a failed project if the people involved are not behind the effort. It is very important to ensure that you have executive support, provide the right level of training and support to get new users comfortable using the new systems, and manage the potential resistance to change.

Ask the Right Questions
In many companies we witness a great divide between marketing professionals and the IT department. The IT teams understand the power of enabling technologies such as marketing automation. Software vendors are beginning to live up to their promises, and companies have successfully implemented certain critical functions of their larger CRM and e-business initiatives. The spotlight is now on marketing automation. Usually, the IT department examines all the bells and whistles and conducts a thorough vendor evaluation before selecting a package. But at this point has the IT department gone too far without getting the right people on board? Have they asked the end users-the marketing professionals-the right questions? Here is a useful roadmap for embarking on the marketing automation journey. Getting satisfactory answers to these questions will help you avoid setting up the project for failure before it's even born.

  • What are the marketing department's requirements-how do they do their job on a daily basis?
  • Is there a significant level of interest and a commitment from the marketing organization to make the project work? Without a proactive desire to do their jobs differently and adapt to the new tools, the project risks failure.
  • What tools would they need to be more effective?
  • Is there a marketing database? And is it populated with the right set of data to enable effective campaigns?
  • Will marketing embrace the technology to better understand their customer base and develop specific programs that drive customer loyalty and value across segments? While these questions may seem like common sense for most project managers, time and time again, they are overlooked.

Do You Want a Revolution?
There is a revolution underway that's not wholly about e-business. We see the marketing function making a transition in the coming years from being an art based on creative development, to being a science of developing appropriate channel management strategies based on in-depth understanding of customer needs. The magic of marketing automation applications is that they enable the statisticians to focus on campaign design, while the marketing department can implement campaigns without having to learn code. In the future, business process reengineering could start at the marketing department-the new information gold mine.

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