Growing Profits with Marketing Automation

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Getting the Most out of Marketing Automation

While a marketing automation platform can make a marketer's life easier, there are several key points to keep in mind when reviewing platforms and implementing them.

1. Before investing in a marketing automation system, determine if you have enough content to use in an automated nurturing stream, recommends Jay Famico, an analyst at the research firm SiriusDecisions. "I've seen many organizations that purchased a [marketing automation] platform before thinking about the content and the programs they wanted to use with it," Famico says, "and they ended up with all these capabilities that have gone unused for months because they're still getting the content prepared."

2. Marketers should have a list of what they intend to achieve with the platform, says Cox. "Define up front what you want to gain from marketing automation," she suggests. "You may think that you just want something that can send out emails or help you understand your click-through rate, but you'll probably end up wanting a lot more."

Having a clear understanding of the type of insights and tasks you need help with will make it easier to evaluate vendors, Cox adds. "At first, [the vendors] will look the same, so it helps to have a grasp of what it is you need," she says.

3. Then there's the quality of your data. While it is becoming common for marketing automation platforms to offer a feature that will "clean" or standardize users' databases so that the information can be segmented and scored properly, companies need to ensure that they are capturing useful data in the first place.

Data quality, Famico explains, refers to more "than just the fields-based information on your CRM system; it's also about capturing all that activity data and making sure the data is more precise in nature, rather than generic." Instead of noting whether visitors viewed four versus eight pages on your corporate Web site, for example, it is more important to record the type of pages they visited. "Did they go to pages related to a particular sort of product or topic? If they submitted a form, what kind of content did they register for? Having that kind of data will make it much easier to segment your users and send them the right messages," Famico says.

4. In addition to lead generation and growing your customer base, don't forget about your current customers. "Companies typically start using marketing automation for their prospects," Famico observes. "They usually don't focus on their internal customer base, and those are the most easy to sell to. There's such a large volume of opportunity there that gets overlooked." To do so, you'll need to integrate your marketing automation platform with your CRM system, which can be a challenge, but it's essential for getting the most out of both platforms, Famico adds.

5. Finally, as you experiment with the automated features, don't attempt to do everything at once. "Don't try to boil the ocean," says Adam Blitzer, vice president of B2B marketing automation at Pardot. "Take on a new project on a gradual basis and you'll see marked improvements." Forrester Research senior analyst Robert Brosnan agrees, noting that a company will typically implement a tool "over the course of three to six months, then begin implementing twenty-five percent to one hundred percent more incremental campaigns…as the firm begins to understand the capabilities [of the tool]."

An Automated Future

In terms of what a marketing automation platform can do, vendors have begun looking beyond the standard lead generation and campaign management features into new areas. "We see automation growing at the data management/predictive analytics layer…as well as for workflow, collaboration, and project management. Think marketing resource management tools like Aprimo, Infor [through Orbis], IBM Marketing Operations [formerly Unica Marketing Operations], and a host of others," Brosnan says. Marketers, Brosnan adds, will soon see products that offer more campaign automation, engagement techniques, and algorithmically driven customer dialogue. "Expect a future convergence between the techniques of B2B and the scale of B2C," he says.

Some vendors, such as Unica, Eloqua, and Neolane, are helping companies automatically tailor the content that visitors see on their Web sites according to what the company knows about the visitor. "If a contact from a pharmaceutical company goes to your corporate Web site, for instance, that person will see different calls to action than someone from manufacturing," Famico says. "You're turning your Web site into a demand creation engine."

In addition, being able to listen to and interact with customers on social media networks has become critical for many organizations. In response, vendors are increasingly moving from products that simply allow users to post and monitor their social media activity to integrating social media messages with other channels.

Marketo created a lot of buzz last year when it acquired social campaign management provider Crowd Factory, enabling it to combine social marketing with its automated offerings. Facebook, LinkedIn, and, most recently, Twitter now offer application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow brands to create and run a variety of ads through automated platforms and integrate those ads with other channels.

Compared to email campaigns, however, marketers are still slow in adopting automated solutions for social media and mobile communications. In a recent global survey of 550 senior marketing executives conducted by the CMO Council, 30 percent indicated they would be investing in automated solutions for social networks and online community building in 2013. A slightly higher percentage (33 percent) said they were looking into automated solutions for mobile applications. Email platforms topped the list of automated solutions being deployed this year, at 41 percent.

"Every year, my heart drops when I look at this question set, since I know the number one answer is going to be email," says Liz Miller, vice president of the CMO Council. "Marketing automation advances are languishing when we keep investing in the same old things."

Companies, Miller explains, need to look at their marketing automation systems holistically, and implement ways to connect their customer data across multiple channels. "As marketers, we keep trying to fix the same problems we've been trying to fix in silos when we should be asking, 'How do we get everything aggregated into a system that we can manage from a centralized source?'"

Regardless of how marketers incorporate automated capabilities into their workflow and campaigns, they should remember that those features "won't solve all of [their] problems," warns Cincom's Cox. "You can never take out the importance of human interaction," Cox says, "but [a marketing automation system] certainly helps."

Contact the editor at editor@destinationcrm.com.

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