Gartner says B2B buyers want information with or without salespeople

B2B buyers only spend 17 percent of their time meeting with potential suppliers and 45 percent of their time researching on their own, according to Gartner’s latest research.

These buyers spend 38 percent of their time in internal meetings, with others in the buying committee, where sales people aren’t present.

They are also spending 27 percent of their time doing online research and 18 percent offline — typically on trusted websites and social media platforms or in-person events.

So Gartner are talking about the importance of buyer enablement — to help buyers find the information they need.

“Today’s buying journey isn’t just hard — it has reached a tipping point where it’s become nearly unnavigable without a significant amount of help,” said Brent Adamson, principal executive advisor at Gartner. “However, customers today don’t really care where that help comes from. A conversation with a sales rep isn’t an end in itself, it’s simply a means to gathering the information necessary to complete specific buying ‘jobs.’ But, what matters isn’t the conversation, it’s the information provided.”

Gartner defines buyer enablement as “the provision of information that supports the completion of critical buying jobs.”

“Much like sales enablement, sales organizations must focus on what we call ‘buyer enablement’,” Adamson says. “Sales teams need to harness empathy, and their deep industry and customer knowledge to develop and deploy information to help buyers buy — just as they do to enable sellers to sell more easily.”

In other words, it’s the age old challenge of getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

Adamson outlines two areas of buyer enablement — prescriptive advice and practical support.

Prescriptive advice involves do-this or don’t-do-this recommendations to ease the customer’s journey.

Practical support gives customers the tools to action the prescriptive advice.

So buyer enablement is about salespeople acting as “information connectors… curators or brokers of information rather than individual experts,” Adamson suggests.

So salespeople need to offer the buyer helpful tools and data. To help them simplify the buying process. This increases the chances that buyers will make a higher-value investment and reduce the chances they will fear regretting their investment.

As soon as B2B buyers add multiple suppliers to the process they spend even less time with your salespeople — as the above mentioned 17 percent of time with suppliers is split among all of them. So if they are speaking to three potential suppliers you only get an average of 5-6 percent of their time. Not very encouraging.

“When you start looking at this world of buying and just how complex it’s become, with all the different people involved and the amount of information… as individuals, we have incredibly limited access to our customers to have any kind of impact on all of that complexity,” Adamson says.

I personally translate this as your sales team need to:

— Help customers help themselves, enabling them to cut through the noise in their own organisation, and yours.

— Take control of the customers decision-making processes — as much as possible — to guide the buyer to make the best informed decision. You should be the expert in how to buy what you sell.

Questions to consider:

— How are you maximising the limited time you have with clients?

— How can you gain better control of your customers buying process?

— Is your sales process optimised to help your ideal client buy?

What are your thoughts and experiences? Please share your feedback below.

Gartner says B2B buyers want information with or without a salespeople

B2B buyers only spend 17 percent of their time meeting with potential suppliers and 45 percent of their time researching on their own, according to Gartner’s latest research.

These buyers spend 38 percent of their time in internal meetings, with others in the buying committee, where sales people aren’t present.

They are also spending 27 percent of their time doing online research and 18 percent offline. — typically on trusted websites and social media platforms or in-person events. Hence the increasing focus on buyer enablement — to help buyers find the information they need.

“Today’s buying journey isn’t just hard — it has reached a tipping point where it’s become nearly unnavigable without a significant amount of help,” said Brent Adamson, principal executive advisor at Gartner. “However, customers today don’t really care where that help comes from. A conversation with a sales rep isn’t an end in itself, it’s simply a means to gathering the information necessary to complete specific buying ‘jobs.’ But, what matters isn’t the conversation, it’s the information provided.”

Gartner defines buyer enablement as “the provision of information that supports the completion of critical buying jobs.”

“Much like sales enablement, sales organizations must focus on what we call ‘buyer enablement’,” Adamson says. “Sales teams need to harness empathy, and their deep industry and customer knowledge to develop and deploy information to help buyers buy — just as they do to enable sellers to sell more easily.”

In other words, it’s the age old challenge of getting the right information to the right person at the right time.

Adamson outlines two areas of buyer enablement: prescriptive advice and practical support.

Prescriptive advice involves do-this or don’t-do-this recommendations to ease the customer’s journey.

Practical support gives customers the tools to action the prescriptive advice.

So buyer enablement is about salespeople acting as “information connectors… curators or brokers of information rather than individual experts,” Adamson suggests.

So salespeople need to offer the buyer helpful tools and data. To help them simplify the buying process. This increases the chances that buyers will make a higher-value investment and reduce the chances they will fear regretting their investment.

As soon as B2B buyers add multiple suppliers to the process they spend even less time with your salespeople — as the above mentioned 17 percent of time with suppliers is split among all of them. So if they are speaking to three potential suppliers you only get an average of 5-6 percent of their time. Not very encouraging.

“When you start looking at this world of buying and just how complex it’s become, with all the different people involved and the amount of information… as individuals, we have incredibly limited access to our customers to have any kind of impact on all of that complexity,” Adamson says.

I personally translate this as your sales team need to:

Help customers help themselves, enabling them to cut through the noise in their own organisation, and yours
Take control of the customers decision-making processes – as much as possible – to guide the buyer to make the best informed decision

Questions to consider:

How are you maximising the limited time you have with clients?
How can you gain better control of your customers buying process?
Is your sales process optimised to help your ideal client buy?

What are your thoughts and experiences? Please share your feedback below.

5 steps to award-winning sales and marketing alignment

Following on from the theme of my recent posts, on what I learned today about marketing automation best practice, I wanted to share more information on the essential topic of sales and marketing alignment. If you think this is a fluffy subject then read the latest industry research:

“Failure to align sales and marketing teams around the right processes and technologies costs B2B companies 10% or more of revenue per year.” IDC

“Companies with aligned sales and marketing generate 208% more revenue for their marketing, 36% higher retention & 38% higher win rates.” MarketingProfs

“B2B organisations with tightly aligned sales and marketing operations achieved 24% faster revenue growth and 27% faster profit growth, over a three-year period.” SiriusDecisions

Whichever way you look at it, there is no denying the power of alignment. So, if it achieves such high results then why aren’t we all doing it? Well, sales and marketing are two sides of the same coin but still on opposite sides. We do need each other and we do need to work together, in a joined-up process, for the most important person in our relationship — the customer.

So here are five key steps to take:

  1. Building jointly agreed go-to-market campaigns for awareness, pipeline and ultimately revenue
  2. Offer strong support through continuously improving sales enablement
  3. Clearly define and govern a seamless marketing and sales funnel where everyone contributes to pipeline
  4. Jointly agree KPIs around funnel quality, quantity & velocity — with real-time visibility, on a shared platform, for a single version of the truth
  5. Regular interlocks to improve communication, monitor results, share progress, course correct and build trust — working together as a team

To learn more about these five key steps, please join Dr Chris Boorman, CMO at Automic Software, on the following on-demand webcast, where we go through them in detail, and how they lead to Automic winning a sales and marketing alignment award: Improving alignment between B2B marketing and sales in 2017.

(a version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn on 2 December 2016)

Crucial questions most sales & marketing leaders can’t answer about their revenue funnel

You​ ​wouldn’t​ ​drive​ ​all​ ​the​ ​way​ ​to​ ​work​ ​only​ ​looking​ ​in​ ​your​ ​car’s​ ​rear-view​ ​mirror.​ ​But​ ​when​ ​you get​ ​to​ ​work​ ​you​ ​drive​ ​your​ ​business​ ​the​ ​same​ ​way.​ ​Looking​ ​back​ ​at​ ​historical​ ​data​ ​to​ ​make crucial​ ​decisions.​ ​Most​ ​marketing​ ​and​ ​sales​ ​leaders​ ​use​ ​historical​ ​CRM​ ​and​ ​marketing automation​ ​data,​ ​like​ ​how​ ​many​ ​leads​ ​were​ ​created,​ ​sales​ ​meetings​ ​completed​ ​or​ ​deals​ ​closed last​ ​week/month/quarter.​ ​​ ​While​ ​these​ ​metrics​ ​have​ ​their​ ​importance,​ ​as​ ​leading​ ​indicators,​ ​you shouldn’t​ ​drive​ ​your​ ​business​ ​only​ ​using​ ​a​ ​rear-view​ ​mirror.​ ​Best-in-class,​ ​high-growth businesses​ ​are​ ​using​ ​forward​ ​looking​ ​metrics​ ​to​ ​understand​ ​their​ ​complete​ ​lead-to-revenue funnel.​ ​The​ ​following​ ​four​ ​categories​ ​contain​ ​the​ ​most​ ​important​ ​forward​ ​looking​ ​questions you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​answer.​

As​ ​an​ ​aside,​ ​if​ ​you’re​ ​only​ ​looking​ ​at​ ​the​ ​metrics​ ​for​ ​your​ ​particular​ ​department,​ ​and​ ​not​ ​the entire​ ​​lead-to-revenue​ ​funnel​,​ ​then​​ ​it​ ​might​ ​be​ ​worth reading​ ​my​ ​previous​ ​post​ ​on​ ​​sales​ ​and​ ​marketing​ ​alignment​​​ first.  

1.​ ​Planning​ ​&​ ​goals 

  • Is​ ​revenue​ ​on​ ​track​ ​to​ ​hit​ ​future​ ​goals?
    To​ ​answer​ ​this​ ​you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​calculate​ ​if​ ​you​ ​are​ ​on​ ​track​ ​to​ ​hit​ ​your​ ​targets​ ​based​ ​on​ ​your​ ​current funnel​ ​momentum.​ ​So​ ​if​ ​you​ ​keep​ ​going,​ ​at​ ​your​ ​current​ ​pace,​ ​will​ ​you​ ​hit​ ​your​ ​future​ ​revenue goals​ ​or​ ​is​ ​there​ ​a​ ​gap​ ​you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​fill?
  • Are​ ​your​ ​goals​ ​realistic?
    Are​ ​your​ ​goals​ ​achievable​ ​and​ ​realistic?​ ​Possibly​ ​too​ ​high​ ​or​ ​surprisingly​ ​too​ ​low?​ ​And​ ​should they​ ​be​ ​adjusted?
  • If​ ​you​ ​are​ ​not​ ​on​ ​track,​ ​what​ ​changes​ ​do​ ​you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​make?
    What​ ​do​ ​you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​do​ ​now​ ​to​ ​hit​ ​future​ ​goals?​ ​Can​ ​you​ ​identify​ ​exactly​ ​where​ ​in​ ​the​ ​marketing and​ ​sales​ ​funnel​ ​the​ ​problem​ ​is​ ​occurring?​ ​​ ​Why​ ​is​ ​it​ ​occurring​ ​and​ ​what​ ​can​ ​you​ ​do​ ​about​ ​it?
  • Are​ ​you​ ​communicating​ ​the​ ​right​ ​information​ ​to​ ​management​ ​&​ ​the​ ​board?
    Does​ ​your​ ​leadership​ ​know​ ​what​ ​to​ ​expect​ ​from​ ​the​ ​revenue​ ​funnel​ ​in​ ​the​ ​future?​ ​Sales​ ​and marketing​ ​leaders​ ​need​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​the​ ​CEO​ ​informed​ ​and​ ​the​ ​CEO​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​the​ ​board​ ​and investors​ ​informed. 

2.​ ​Marketing​ ​strategy​ ​&​ ​demand​ ​generation 

  • Are​ ​you​ ​generating​ ​the​ ​right​ ​quantity​ ​and​ ​quality​ ​of​ ​leads​ ​today​ ​to​ ​hit​ ​future​ ​revenue targets?
    Are​ ​you​ ​reverse​ ​engineering​ ​your​ ​funnel,​ ​from​ ​revenue​ ​back​ ​to​ ​leads,​ ​to​ ​determine​ ​the​ ​exact number​ ​you​ ​need​ ​based​ ​on​ ​your​ ​current​ ​conversion​ ​rates?​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​improve​ ​conversion rates​ ​(quality)​ ​or​ ​increase​ ​the​ ​number​ ​of​ ​leads​ ​(quantity)​ ​and​ ​bringing​ ​them​ ​in​ ​at​ ​the​ ​right​ ​time​ ​to hit​ ​targets?
  • Which​ ​channels,​ ​programmes​ ​or​ ​campaigns​ ​are​ ​making​ ​the​ ​greatest​ ​impact?
    Can​ ​you​ ​identify​ ​what​ ​is​ ​having​ ​the​ ​greatest​ ​positive​ ​impact​ ​so​ ​you​ ​can​ ​invest​ ​more​ ​in​ ​this​ ​area?
  • Which​ ​channels,​ ​programmes​ ​or​ ​campaigns​ ​are​ ​making​ ​the​ ​least​ ​impact?
    Can​ ​you​ ​identify​ ​what​ ​is​ ​having​ ​the​ ​least​ ​impact​ ​so​ ​you​ ​can​ ​divert​ ​spend​ ​to​ ​the​ ​high​ ​performing activities?

3.​ ​Sales​ ​effort 

  • Are​ ​leads​ ​being​ ​followed​ ​up​ ​with​ ​the​ ​correct​ ​sales​ ​activities?
    When​ ​sales​ ​receive​ ​or​ ​create​ ​the​ ​adequate​ ​quantity​ ​and​ ​quality​ ​of​ ​leads​ ​are​ ​they​ ​being​ ​followed up​ ​correctly?​ ​Are​ ​they​ ​being​ ​contacting​ ​in​ ​time?​ ​Are​ ​they​ ​being​ ​contacted​ ​enough​ ​times​ ​with appropriate​ ​contact​ ​methods?​ ​Can​ ​you​ ​measure​ ​quality​ ​and​ ​quantity​ ​of​ ​touches​ ​and​ ​time​ ​to​ ​first touch​ ​or​ ​first​ ​contact?​ ​Are​ ​they​ ​taking​ ​too​ ​long​ ​or​ ​not​ ​enough​ ​effort?
  • Can​ ​you​ ​measure​ ​performance​ ​at​ ​each​ ​funnel​ ​stage​ ​per​ ​sales​ ​rep?
    Not​ ​every​ ​sales​ ​rep​ ​has​ ​the​ ​same​ ​level​ ​of​ ​performance.​ ​How​ ​do​ ​they​ ​compare​ ​across​ ​different stages​ ​of​ ​the​ ​funnel,​ ​who​ ​is​ ​performing​ ​the​ ​best/worst​ ​and​ ​why?
  • Where​ ​do​ ​you​ ​focus​ ​your​ ​efforts​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​your​ ​revenue​ ​faster?
    Every​ ​business​ ​has​ ​multiple​ ​levers​ ​and​ ​dials​ ​that​ ​can​ ​be​ ​pulled​ ​and​ ​turned​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​positive impact​ ​on​ ​revenue.​ ​Can​ ​you​ ​easily​ ​identify​ ​which​ ​ones​ ​to​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​to​ ​maximise​ ​results?

4.​ ​Return​ ​on​ ​investment​ ​(ROI)  

  • What​ ​is​ ​the​ ​total​ ​ROI​ ​of​ ​our​ ​joint​ ​sales​ ​and​ ​marketing​ ​efforts?
    There​ ​are​ ​multiple​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​measure​ ​ROI,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​customer​ ​acquisition​ ​cost​ ​to​ ​lifetime​ ​value (CAC:LTV),​ ​but​ ​are​ ​you​ ​getting​ ​the​ ​best​ ​return​ ​from​ ​your​ ​sales​ ​and​ ​marketing​ ​costs​ ​and​ ​is​ ​your ROI​ ​getting​ ​better​ ​or​ ​worse?
  • What​ ​activities​ ​generate​ ​the​ ​greatest​ ​return?
    Similar​ ​to​ ​looking​ ​at​ ​the​ ​best​ ​revenue​ ​generating​ ​campaigns,​ ​are​ ​you​ ​monitoring​ ​the​ ​actual return​ ​and​ ​factoring​ ​in​ ​the​ ​costs​ ​of​ ​sales​ ​and​ ​marketing​ ​time​ ​and​ ​efforts?
  • What​ ​should​ ​you​ ​spend​ ​in​ ​the​ ​future​ ​on​ ​sales​ ​and​ ​marketing​ ​investments?
    Should​ ​you​ ​spend​ ​more​ ​on​ ​sales​ ​and​ ​marketing​ ​activities​ ​and/or​ ​headcount​ ​to​ ​hit​ ​future​ ​goals?

As​ ​you​ ​look​ ​to​ ​drive​ ​your​ ​business​ ​forward,​ ​with​ ​a​ ​fully​ ​aligned​ ​sales​ ​and​ ​marketing​ ​team,​ ​I’m sure​ ​you​ ​agree​ ​these​ ​forward-looking​ ​questions​ ​need​ ​to​ ​be​ ​answered​ ​to​ ​give​ ​you​ ​the​ ​best possible​ ​chance​ ​of​ ​success.​ ​Many​ ​businesses​ ​have​ ​gaps​ ​in​ ​their​ ​business​ ​intelligence​ ​when​ ​it comes​ ​to​ ​forward-looking​ ​metrics.​ ​All​ ​too​ ​often​ ​the​ ​data​ ​is​ ​in​ ​outdated​ ​spreadsheets​ ​or​ ​static, rigid​ ​reports​ ​spread​ ​across​ ​too​ ​many​ ​dashboards.

As​ ​I’ve​ ​helped​ ​multiple​ ​clients​ ​manage​ ​the​ ​entire​ ​lead-to-funnel​ ​process​ ​and​ ​answer​ ​the​ ​above questions,​ ​you​ ​can​ ​be​ ​reassured​ ​it​ ​is​ ​possible.​ ​By​ ​using​ ​the​ ​Revenue​ ​Funnel​ ​Science framework​ ​you​ ​too​ ​can​ ​correctly​ ​measure,​ ​forecast​ ​and​ ​optimise​ ​your​ ​sales​ ​and​ ​marketing funnel​ ​to​ ​hit​ ​or​ ​exceed​ ​your​ ​future​ ​revenue​ ​targets.

 

6 Steps to Selecting a B2B Marketing Automation Platform

Marketing automation vendors are not one-size-fits-all. It is important that you choose the right vendor for your specific business requirements as B2B companies have more complex and longer buyer journeys and more people involved in the buying process. Your marketing automation platform selection should focus on finding the best fit with your business plans, resources and company culture. There are several ways to navigate the selection process, including a formal RFP (request for proposal) for shortlisting vendors to running in-depth demonstrations. Here are six steps that will help you in this process.

1. Define your business goals: In order to know what a marketing automation vendor should be able to deliver in terms of features and service, it is important to clearly define the business challenges or opportunities that you are facing. Describe the gap between the current situation and the desired state. This will be a great starting point for a list of requirements that summarise your needs, but also allows you to get internal feedback and build support from within your company.

2. Avoid shiny object syndrome: Looking at all the features of potential marketing automation platforms, it can be easy to get distracted and go for the vendor with that one beautiful feature. To avoid shiny object syndrome, summarise your wants and needs to determine what they will be assessed on. Try to split it into categories:

• Essential (deal-breakers)

• Key features (things that the solution should do)

• Desirables (nice to have but could do without)

3. Restrict your choices: After learning about the possibilities and making your first list of requirements, try to restrict your choices of vendors quickly. There are 161 marketing automation & campaign/lead management vendors as part of the total 3,874 marketing technology solutions in Scott Brinker’s infamous Marketing Technology Landscape super-graphic. Each and every extra vendor you research will take extra time to analyse, consider, meet and makes the selection more challenging. You can’t easily assess all the features from hundreds of vendors. You have to move to a shortlist. Ideally, you would focus on 4 to 6 vendors in your RFP.

WEBINAR: B2B Marketing Automation Best Practice – Choosing, Moving or Improving. B2B case studies, research & best practice for Marketing Automation success. From requirements gathering and vendor selection to implementation and platform optimisation. All focused on the goal of increasing pipeline, revenue and customer lifetime value.

Watch On demand…

4. Professionally manage your own team and the vendor: The vendors might be used to pitching in every type of situation, but a professional attitude can greatly improve the whole selection process. Include a realistic timeframe in your RFP, where you outline the steps in the process and how you expect the interactions to take place. Do your own homework and ask them to present the requirements that you are most interested in. Use the same requirements across all vendors so you can make a fair comparison.

5. Challenge vendors with a scenario: After you receive the RFPs back, and you’ve spoken to the vendors to get an introduction, it’s time to shortlist 2-3 vendors for an in-depth demonstration. You really want to get insight into the features and benefits of the product and how they match your requirements. Create a scenario, or test case, and ask them how they would handle it. You can even ask them to run an example campaign. This moves decision-making beyond a checklist and gives you a real tangible visualisation.

6. Services are as important as the product: The implementation, set-up and training are as important as the features and should be a key area of the selection process. Speak to similar companies that used the vendor’s product and services, with similar challenges, in the same industry as you. Ask the vendor to provide a high-level implementation plan and make sure you have the internal resources (people, time and budget) to smoothly move forward into implementation.

As B2B customers have longer and more complex buying processes with more people involved in the decision-making, it is essential that you have a clear strategy and plan in place. To choose the correct marketing automation platform you must first map out your business specific buyer journey, lead definitions, scoring and the service level agreements between marketing and sales.

(This article first appeared on SmartInsights.com, 24 August 2016)

What I learned today about marketing automation best practice

No matter how long you have worked in your field of expertise, you’ll always meet new people, in the same area, who will open your eyes to new views of your world. This is even greater when you interact with a large audience of like-minded professionals. Here is one example.

I’d like to start off by thanking everyone who attended my live webinar today, which is now available on demand. It was a good turn-out with some great questions and interesting survey results that I wanted to share with you as it’s a real eye-opener.

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As you can see from the first survey, most of the attendees are in the planning stage of marketing automating. Some had no plans — probably looking to understand the benefits — where a few have been doing it for a while and were there to understand how to improve.

We ran through my recent post on ‘6 steps to selecting a marketing automation platform’ but quickly moved onto the real meat of the presentation – namely, marketing automation strategies for optimising your marketing and sales funnel to increase revenue and customer lifetime value.

We ran through several best practice strategies and models — from funnel metrics to lead qualification/scoring, SLAs and nurturing. You can download all 12 templates here.

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When I asked what their top priorities were across the top 5 strategies the majority wanted to improve lead scoring and have more or better nurture tracks with half as many people concerned with funnel metrics and service level agreements with sales.

To me, this was a shocker! On reflection, the majority of attendees were planning to introduce marketing automation to their business for the first time, but they just want to nurture leads to score and pass to sales. No one was interested in how you qualify those leads and less interested in how you agree the lead stages and have it agreed with sales — which are crucial elements to successful implementation.

But things became clearer when I introduced the Marketing Value Transformation™ framework, to understand where they are on their journey today:

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As the majority of attendees were predominantly in the Lead Generation and Activity Generation stages, with only a few classifying themselves in Demand Generation mode. And no-one saw themselves as a Revenue Generation or Value Generation team.

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I suppose this is not surprising as companies that are just starting their automation journey are very early in their marketing growth and maturity. Does this make them immature? I don’t think so. Every company is unique. If you’re a start-up you’re just growing your company. Budgets are small and so is headcount. So it’s natural you don’t have the resources for marketing automation.

But, I have to say I saw quite a few big company names on the attendee list. So are these big companies going through a digital transformation? I’d say, yes! Especially B2B companies that have been traditionally sales led organisations. They now see that more needs to be invested in marketing and marketing, in turn, need to do more than just marketing activities and volume of leads. They need to strive for lead quality and partnering with sales and service to become revenue-centres that bring long-term value to clients and their company’s profitability.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these results. And to hear where you are on your Marketing Value Transformation™ journey.

(This article first appeared on linkedin.com, on 29 October 2016)

How to succeed with Marketing Automation

It may have started with automated messages but marketing automation platforms have gone beyond simple drip feed campaigns to multi-level, multi-track sophistication. Add to this the increase of online and offline functionality with thousands of supporting tools, it’s now a platform attempting to manage all-embracing, omnichannel campaigns. SiriusDecisions says 85% of B2B marketers believe they are not using their current Marketing Automation platform to it’s full potential (tweet that quote). And Venture Beat says 38% of Marketing Automation users are currently considering switching systems in the coming year (tweet that quote). So, whether you’re buying your first tool, optimising your current platform or looking to reassess your current vendor, here are four steps to achieving success with marketing automation.

1. Start with the end in mind. What are you trying to achieve? To automate marketing? That’s a bit vague! To reduce costs and increase efficiency in your marketing operations and monitor and measure ROI? That’s better but still not specific. Integrating marketing and sales with your specific customer journey to improve customer experience — leading to a consistently measured and predictive process for increasing revenue (by ‘x’) and customer lifetime value (by ‘y’)… That’s more like it — if a little wordy. But you get the point, right? It’s about your company’s goals and objectives.

What is your company trying to achieve today, next year and the year after? Usually increasing revenue and reducing costs. Usually at the same time! So how is marketing responding to these demands and what functionality do you require in your marketing automation platform to support this? Whether you are looking to invest in your first marketing automation platform or you already have one in place. Your business is changing (and hopefully growing), so is your marketing automation platform adapting as fast as your business and it’s goals and objectives? If not, it’s time to look at reassessing your current provider. But not before you’ve followed step two…

What is your company trying to achieve today, next year and the year after? Usually increasing revenue and reducing costs. Usually at the same time! So how is marketing responding to these demands and what functionality do you require in your marketing automation platform to support this? Whether you are looking to invest in your first marketing automation platform or you already have one in place. Your business is changing (and hopefully growing), so is your marketing automation platform adapting as fast as your business and it’s goals and objectives? If not, it’s time to look at reassessing your current provider. But not before you’ve followed step two…

2. Don’t just buy the bells and whistles. It’s all too easy to get excited by shiny things — especially for us creative marketing folks who are also a little bit geeky when it comes to new technology (or is that just me!?) Don’t let the tail wag the dog. First thing first (even though this is the second point!) You should not start with the technology. That’s your last consideration. First, you need to define a process that supports your people and the way they work — or should/could work. You must be objective. Revisit rule one — goals and objectives — and translate them into requirements. Think long-term. A three-year plan. Can the platform scale as your business grows? You don’t want to move to a new marketing automation platforms a year or two after go-live. Think about all the systems it plugs into (CRM, website, communities, BI…) This is not a simple rip and replace. And just because you buy a platform that has functionality for your future growth, you don’t need to use all the functionality today.

If, for example, one of your objectives is to build a closer relationship with sales, then maybe this objective can be translated into a closely aligned process across both teams. How do sales currently access your nurture programs to add the new contacts they’ve met — and hopefully added to the CRM system? How can they send their own micro-campaigns, that are a subset of your global campaigns? And even if you offer this functionality, will anyone use it? Your three-year plan should include time for cultural change too. Once you have mapped out the ideal process, and collected feedback from end-users, you can turn them into clear requirements to evaluate your current or future technology platform.

If, for example, one of your objectives is to build a closer relationship with sales, then maybe this objective can be translated into a closely aligned process across both teams. How do sales currently access your nurture programs to add the new contacts they’ve met — and hopefully added to the CRM system? How can they send their own micro-campaigns, that are a subset of your global campaigns? And even if you offer this functionality, will anyone use it? Your three-year plan should include time for cultural change too. Once you have mapped out the ideal process, and collected feedback from end-users, you can turn them into clear requirements to evaluate your current or future technology platform.

3. Know your limits. Even with the best strategy and strongest business case, you will always have limits on resources — like people, time and budget. Some of the more sophisticated platforms will require specialist people to manage them — either in-house or outsourced. And some of the lighter-weight platforms may have a broader spectrum of tools but with less depth of functionality. They could be easier to use but are you really going to use them all in the next three years? Either way, this equates to more time or budget. The best thing to do is rank your requirements in order of importance. Take a pragmatic approach and don’t over complicate things.

Once you have a list of requirements based on your clear goals and objectives you are ready to start assessing the merits of the different vendors. There are plenty of expensive resources to help you — like big analyst firms with their quadrants, waves and models. Some you can get for free. But beware of free guides from the vendors themselves as they will be biased towards their offering. As they are marketing automation providers they have some of the best content marketing writers. So, take vendor guides with a pinch of salt and focus on independent resources like analysts, specialist publishers, independent bloggers or online customer review sites (that have verified reviews from real customers).

4. Continuous delivery and improvement. Once you’ve chosen your new vendor, or stayed with your current investment, you have to keep innovating and improving. Take an Agile approach. Release a minimum viable product to get things up and running and communicate this to everyone — or they will think your first release is the final version (not good!) Even if you’ve had your platform for years, marketing automation is a competitive market and your vendor will, no doubt, be releasing new features with benefits you may now need. So keep iterating and improving your implementation — repeating the 3 steps above. Monitor the meaningful metrics in your campaigns. What’s working and what’s not. Are you A/B testing to find new ways to improve results?

Keeping working closely with sales. From agreeing a shared language to developing a lead scoring model — that needs to be updated as your business changes. Create relevant reports and dashboards for the right internal audience. Some reports will show details of ‘views and clicks’ which are great leading indicators for marketing — but sales don’t need to see it. Show them how you are impacting the pipeline and revenue. In return, ask them to agree to service levels on follow-up. Focus on increasing quality over quantity and velocity before volume. Prove the actual value of marketing sourced and influenced leads, opportunities and closed/won business.

Marketing is changing fast to keep up with the ever-increasing demands for a better experience across the customer journey. Make sure you enable your people to optimise this process inline with your company’s need to support it’s most important stakeholder — the customer. If you do this, you will be on the right path with marketing automation.

Where are you on your ongoing journey with marketing automation? What has been your personal experience? And what advice would you give to others? Leave your reply below.

(A version of this article first appeared in B2BMarketing.net on 28 June 2016, which requires free sign up to access)