As a practitioner in the field of marketing automation, I lead a team that helps end-user companies with strategy, content, and execution. This has provided me with tremendous insights into what is actually being accomplished within those organizations that are using marketing automation, particularly in the SMB market. The reality is often significantly different from the continuous swirl of marketing hype surrounding the latest product announcements.
In 2012, we saw some interesting realities. First, those that really did nurture leads—not just send more email blasts—reaped the rewards. Second, more and more companies understand the importance of content, and even more specifically, having the correct content at the correct stage. It's becoming increasingly apparent that technology alone is nothing more than the engine—it's the content that provides the fuel.
Below are some of the realities as we saw them in 2012:
- Those that learned how to nurture and not blast received their just rewards—a 45 percent increase in ROI, according to MarketingSherpa.
- Content became the central point of discussion when implementing marketing automation, but most companies do not yet have a cohesive content development strategy. We found that we "educated" most of our customers on the need for additional content. A tactic we recommended to help clients meet this need is content mapping that reveals to the customer what content is needed by the target audience throughout their prospects' buy cycle.
- Interest in who is visiting companies' Web sites continued to grow as marketing automation customers began turning anonymous visitors into revenue. Many prospects we talk to are redoing Web sites to ensure they are SEO friendly and that they are really helping to drive traffic to their brand. Many are also focused on trying to transform anonymous traffic into known leads. Marketers are working on maximizing conversion (at the appropriate stage), as well as using enhanced digital tracking and reverse DNS lookups through marketing automation to identify the companies searching their site.
- The compelling metrics of successful marketing automation implementations (including those from SMBs) became more widely reported. Yet many companies still haven't reaped the benefits. Unsuccessful marketing automation implementations are happening in droves. The technology alone is not a silver bullet—processes must also change and content must be built.
The good news is that we definitely see more progress and success in store for marketing automation in 2013. However, for this success to happen, companies need to focus on finding the right technology for their organization, revise lead management processes, and develop more content, particularly for the early stages of the buy cycle.
We see the following happening in 2013:
- Although social media integration and other new features of marketing automation will continue to create buzz, the basic elements required for success (content strategy and creation, campaign development and nurturing, a revised lead management process) will be at the forefront as more companies purchase marketing automation solutions and struggle to reap the known benefits. Companies that adapt a new lead management process that pushes marketing's responsibility further into the funnel (nurturing) will definitely receive the greatest benefits from marketing automation. Marketers will need to take on more responsibility at the top end of the funnel—it's no longer about lead generation, but about producing "sales-ready" leads for your sales team. And that means more than just adding a couple of email blasts to be sent to your prospects each month. Marketers must understand how to be effective at nurturing. And if they don't, they need to find the resources that can help them get there.
- Having a content strategy will be critical for all marketing departments, particularly if they are looking to maximize the benefits of marketing automation. It's not about dumping as much content as you can produce on the prospect; it's about having a strategy and plan, and getting the right content to the right prospect at the right time. Otherwise it won't work. Marketers must map out the type of content they need to produce by target audience and through each phase of the buy cycle.
- As content strategy becomes more established within marketing departments, social media will by extension become a more effective marketing tactic for companies. According to a recent survey, social media has become the number one tactic for content marketing. As with any media outlet or medium, the content has to be of value for that medium to produce expected results. Marketing automation can not only help distribute the content to social media, but more importantly, help track the effectiveness of that content.
- Marketing departments will continue to be resource constrained. To stay competitive, companies will be forced to move to the next level of automation but will find themselves in a bind to quickly reap a return on that technology. Having knowledgeable resources—either on staff or via outside sources—will be critical to achieving a quick ROI. Without expert resources, companies will continue to struggle with successfully implementing marketing automation, taking a much longer time than is necessary to receive an ROI or not receiving one at all. This is mostly because the marketing automation systems have become nothing more than email blast engines on steroids—in other words, they aren't being used to their fullest benefit.
With 60 percent of the buying process now being completed without the buyer ever contacting the supplier (according to a recent Corporate Executive Board study), vendors will be forced to change their marketing and sales model to continue revenue growth. Those that work to integrate technology that best fits their organization (not super-sized solutions with more features than they can utilize), those that adjust their lead management process to utilize the technology effectively, and those that develop a content strategy will certainly see the most positive results.
Lisa Cramer is president and cofounder of LeadLife Solutions (www.leadlife.com), a provider of marketing automation technology coupled with content marketing experts who help clients create campaigns that maximize sales opportunities and build relationships.