Taking the Lead
Is marketing automation a legitimate industry or an Internet-based free-for-all or both?
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Marketing automation suffers from a multiple personality disorder. There is the legitimate, well-mannered arm of CRM that strives to use technology to improve and gauge the effectiveness of marketing initiatives.

Then there is the other side of marketing automation, an Internet-based free-for-all that uses any tricky and ingenious means necessary to procure sales leads and get the company message out there.

So when we talk about marketing automation, which personality are we discussing? As is often the case in situations like this, dealing with the more sedate of the two is easier, and many people are defining marketing automation as the logical CRM extension of sales force automation. As they see it, marketing automation extends the lead tracking and campaign management functionality of SFA to include the actual gathering of leads. Working in tandem with SFA technologies, these tools give management a much clearer, more comprehensive picture of what is working and what isn't.

The appeal of such technology is obvious, leading experts to predict that in a few years, the marketing arm of CRM will be worth $2 billion. But according to Robert Mirani, director of CRM strategies at the Yankee Group, this prediction may or may not be accurate. "Last year there was a lot of buzz around marketing automation," he says. "Vendors were saying that it could solve all these problems. But the word that came back was that marketing departments didn't necessarily want that. They resisted it. I don't know that there was necessarily the demand or interest that there was around sales force automation."

Such initial rejection has not dampened the spirits of those trying to capture a slice of the predicted $2 billion pie. Right now, a small group of upstart vendors is aggressively pioneering this industry, each trying to establish a presence before the big boys like Siebel notice what's going on. Most agree that the three primary players in the CRM marketing automation market are Rubric, MarketFirst and Annuncio, which, at this writing, have a combined total of 63 customers. There are smaller vendors, like Imparto and Attune, which offer similar applications. Larger vendors are also beginning to offer marketing functionality as part of their suites.

While these companies seem to be making a go of it, it may be a while before their founders all retire to Marin County. "Marketing departments aren't necessarily empowered to spend huge amounts on software," notes Mirani. "For them to say we will spend $250,000 on Rubric or MarketFirst' is not easy to justify."

So what's a marketing director who can't justify it to do? Easy. Turn to that other marketing automation, the sneaky one that embraces such words as "viral" and "guerilla." As anyone who has logged on to the Web can testify, Internet-based marketing is everywhere. The actual content of many e-commerce sites is lost in a flashing sea of banner ads and mailing-list-generating contests. As we speak, cookies not the edible kind are burrowing their way into the hard drives of millions of unknowing Web surfers. Once-humble home pages now have "sponsors," who want your name and address. Viral messages invade your home through e-mail (see "Viral Marketing" in this issue's The Edge).

Get the picture? The Internet attracts an audience in the hundreds of millions, which makes it by definition an incredibly effective marketing technology. It is completely democratic and costs little compared to a billboard or a mailer campaign.

So when we talk of marketing automation, which of its two personalities are we discussing? The smart money says both. And, by the way, this Jekyll and Hyde combo is going to be worth more than $2 billion. A lot more.

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