In the years since it was introduced, marketing automation has advanced from a fringe technology championed by early adopters to a key tool for digital marketing success. In a world where ROI rules, marketing is poised to emerge as a proven revenue producer with a big impact on the bottom line—and software is driving that transformation. In fact, in 2012, Gartner analyst Laura McLellan told Forbes that just three years from today, CMOs will reign over a larger technology spend than will CIOs.
While sometimes lauded as a miracle cure for a company's marketing woes, marketing automation requires careful planning and implementation to deliver the best results. The success of a marketing automation implementation is as dependent on a thoughtful rollout strategy as it is on a great piece of technology.
If you are considering adding marketing automation to your arsenal in 2013, here are five simple tips to help you get it right.
1. Be on the Same Team
At its core, marketing automation is about turning otherwise fractured marketing and sales departments into one cohesive engine for generating leads, closing deals, and increasing revenue. However, this can be an uphill battle unless the appropriate groundwork is laid out beforehand. Before you implement an automation platform, assess the alignment between your sales and marketing departments and take the time to address any trouble spots.
Aligning your sales and marketing teams is all about establishing better communication. Allowing joint access to marketing and sales data will increase transparency and cooperation between the two departments. Keep marketing and sales personnel accountable by developing joint definitions for key terms. There should be no confusion as to what defines a successful campaign, what makes a qualified lead, and what your optimal ROI looks like. This will keep both departments on the same page, working toward the same goals.
2. Think Like a Scientist
Marketing automation was designed to put a science and process behind an increasingly complex sales funnel. It is important to adopt this process-driven approach in your marketing and sales organizations as well as your automation platform. Ask a lot of questions, figure out what works, and make it repeatable.
There are some important elements to address around your use of a new tool. How are you assigning leads to your sales team today, and are there ways to improve that process? Who will manage drip nurturing campaigns, and what resources will they need? Who will need to participate in training, and how can you empower others in your organization to take advantage of your new programs?
You'll also need to examine your buyer's journey. Who is your target market? What decision makers are involved? How can you personalize your marketing to each potential buyer? What are the buyer's concerns at each new stage of the marketing cycle? Which key metrics will help you measure success?
3. Custom Is Key
Marketing automation platforms are designed to make an impact right out of the box. Most will have default set-ups for popular functions like lead scoring, form fields, and sales alerts. They will also provide some standard campaign reports to help you get started. While these defaults will still be a dramatic improvement for many marketers, customizing these options will push your effectiveness even further.
Take time to work with your implementation team to tailor and calibrate these features for your own needs. Purchase intent is indicated differently in every industry, and your scoring and system should be customized to pick out the most salient buying signals. Creating custom segmentation rules for your prospects will also allow you to better target your marketing and create dynamic content tailored to your audiences. Most automation platforms will work closely with you during the set-up process on this customization.
4. Pick a Trailblazer
Change doesn't come easy, especially in sales, where most sales reps have well-defined habits and processes. Having an advocate on the sales team can go a long way toward increasing the adoption of a new platform. Creating a champion of automation before implementation can help build excitement and acceptance for the technology and ease the transition stage between the old way of life and the new (improved!) way of doing things.
To choose your marketing automation champion, pick one of your highest-performing sales reps who is also open to new ideas. The best-case scenario would be someone who is also tech-savvy. Make sure that rep understands marketing automation from a sales perspective, how it can save sales reps time, identify qualified leads, and allow for more targeted follow-up. Then let this sales rep be an evangelist for the platform and explain its value to the rest of his team.
5. Have a Thirst for Knowledge
Marketing automation tools are constantly evolving to keep pace with the latest and greatest digital trends. Product updates come at a rapid pace, sometimes even daily, and new best practices for usage are always emerging. The set-it-and-forget-it nature of some automation options can sometimes mean you don't revisit your strategy as often as you should. It is important to look for a provider that is dedicated to keeping you up to speed and ensuring your success.
Explore the resources your automation provider and other industry experts make available to you. Look not only for product information, like training Webinars and a comprehensive knowledge base, but also thought leadership around best practices, technology advances, and inspirational strategy ideas.
Getting started with any new tool can be overwhelming. Begin simply with a few key goals. As you grow more sophisticated in your usage, you'll tweak the processes based on the results you uncover. The tips above will help ensure you're able to get off to a running start with your new marketing automation tool.
Adam Blitzer is vice president of B2B marketing automation provider ExactTarget.