How to succeed with Marketing Automation

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)

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