I am a huge fan of using marketing automation platforms (MAPs). Especially when it comes to business-to-business sales environments with more complex purchasing cycles. I'd say it’s pretty much the equivalent of Red Bull for marketers: it helps you get a TON more done.
It also gives you the ability to execute more effective marketing programs and execute business processes when integrated with a sales tool like one used for customer relationship management (CRM).
Figure 1: An example of an automated business process for contact forms
Looking at the recent trends with enterprise platforms now supporting applications, you can also gain easy access to a broad range of emerging tech. When you look at all the benefits, overlooking the opportunity to use this type of technology is just plain silly.
The idea of marketing automation isn’t brand new, yet some confusion remains around the platforms and the value they bring. We often see people confuse MAPs for things like email marketing tools, basic CRMs, and sales enablement apps.
That’s why I'm here to minimize confusion by providing a quick overview on MAPs along with their opportunities and challenges. Ultimately, I hope this helps you make better decisions about how MAPs might work for your organization.
What Is Marketing Automation?
Marketing automation is the category of technology that allows companies to streamline marketing processes to accelerate revenue growth. MAPs usually offer a wide range of functionality that allow for things like multi-channel communications, campaign and lead management, and user-level tracking. When it comes to tracking, capturing data on anonymous visitors or doing cross-channel tracking for identified users can be a challenge, but MAPs make it easy.
Although the number of marketing automation platforms continue to grow, it’s important to know the larger players in this space. Some enterprise tools have been around for quite some time and have strong customer and support bases. Names you should familiarize yourself with are:
Opportunities with Marketing Automation Platforms
Below are a few opportunities you might find benefit your business, no matter what industry you're in:
One of the more obvious benefits to leveraging marketing automation is the ability to do more, with less. MAPs provide the ability to scale efforts, regardless of how large or small your contact database is or the amount of emails you need to send. That’s great news for companies that don’t have the budget for large marketing departments.
Easier data maintenance
When you integrate your MAP with other enterprise tools like a CRM, data maintenance is much easier and accurate. Marketers can automatically receive updates around customer data and how it compares to prospect/lead data. The result is more consistent messaging. Lack of this very necessary integration point leads to common errors, such as sending emails to leads who already converted or adding outdated data back into the CRM.
Better alignment with sales
It’s easier for marketing to work closely with sales to hit revenue goals when a MAP is being used. The functionalities that are more useful to this effort include things like defining the lead lifecycle, identifying qualifying and disqualifying parameters, and building escalation rules so only sales-ready leads are passed on. When the two tools are integrated the sales team doesn’t need to learn how to use a marketing automation tool because they can remain working in the CRM.
Enhanced campaign visibility
Additional benefits of using a MAP include an easier way to execute lead generation programs.
- Out-of-the-box features that help with visibility include anonymous and identified cookie tracking to observe user behavior.
- Dynamic content matching allows for personalization at the user level, and detailed reporting can provide insights into what’s working and what’s not.
- As prospects flow through the lead cycle, MAPs also provide ROI tracking when a lead ends up in a closed win opportunity with revenue.
There are many more benefits to using marketing automation. When it comes down to it, MAPs help elevate the role of marketers from activity-based professionals to strategic revenue generators.
Although I am a huge advocate for marketing automation, the platforms can come with some challenges. This is especially true for organizations that make the decision to acquire a MAP for the first time.
Here are the most common issues we see:
Shortcutting Strategy and Requirements
Not all MAPs are created equal and making the wrong decision can be costly. Before diving headfirst into demos and platform research, organizations should really understand how the tool will support their overall business strategy. Current tools in your stack and potential integration needs must also be accounted for. During this process, leadership may learn that they can meet some requirements with tools they are already paying for. Circumnavigating the process of strategy and requirements can result in a MAP that is hardly leveraged (not enough features being used or too many capabilities gaps).
Missteps with Implementation
Typically, the more robust the tool, the riskier an implementation becomes. One of the biggest challenges we hear from clients is that low quality data is pulled from various systems and added to their MAP. For some reason or another, organizations tend to overlook the quality of their data and only focus on transferring the data as-is. Data is the gas that fuels your MAP; poor quality in, poor quality out. In some cases, we even advise clients to start with a fresh slate when their prospect and customer database is disorganized, outdated, or simply untrustworthy.
Not Identifying Clear User Roles and Responsibilities for the Tool
Adoption can be a challenge without clear roles defined. This includes ensuring there is a project sponsor during vendor evaluations and implementation, but equally as important is identifying who the system administrator will be. Having a dedicated system administrator is extremely important. They help agree upon processes and will also typically ensure data is maintained correctly in the tool. Often times, they also end up becoming internal champions to keep things moving forward during the adoption phase.
Disregarding Skills Gaps
Companies that often adopt marketing automation tools for the first time can run into issues with skills gaps. If a company has users who are not comfortable with marketing automation concepts and best practices, it will require time and money to get them up to speed. Mastering robust marketing automation tools come with a larger learning curve than standard email marketing tools. Companies that skip this step often end up paying lots of money for MAPs that are only used to send out blanket emails. Investing in a skill-set combined with a commitment to continued learning and experimentation will yield great results for your marketing programs.
When Should an Organization Consider Investing in a Marketing Automation Tool?
In most cases, we recommend using a marketing automation tool when your company is looking to improve demand generation efforts. Another key consideration is if your organization has made the commitment to run more marketing programs. When it comes down to it, knowing if you should acquire a MAP is primarily driven by your business model, needs, and resources available to execute your marketing strategy.
When done strategically, marketing automation serves as the foundation for a strong digital, systems-oriented marketing department. It helps businesses manage more campaigns to nurture leads that can help drive revenue. It can also bring visibility into marketing program ROI to demonstrate the impact marketing is making within your business. These are all beneficial to build a performance-based B2B marketing team that can scale.