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Marketing automation isn't automatic

Marketing automation isn't automatic

Slack and Company | May 16, 2017

Four reasons you may not be ready

It's now the rare B2B company that doesn’t make a serious bet on a marketing automation platform (MAP).

It’s an exciting time for agencies like us as we help our clients plan strategies and roll out campaigns on Eloqua, Pardot, Marketo and other MAPs that enable more relevant, resonant and effective demand generation campaigns than ever before.

And yet…

What we are seeing time and again with clients—and more often with new business inquires than ever before—is marketers that sign on with a solution provider without first making sure their organization has the necessary infrastructure in place for their efforts to succeed.

“Without the right foundation, your MAP is just a very expensive alternative to MailChimp” says Marc Blumer, our director of demand generation strategy. “Which is not something you want to explain to your boss several years—and hundreds of thousands of dollars—later.”

In fact, per a study by Ascend2, only 32% of companies surveyed (the vast majority B2B) consider their marketing automation efforts "very successful" at achieving their goals.

In our experience, the difference between the B2B marketers that make MAPs work for their business (about one in three) and the rest who get stuck lies in whether a company has taken the time to truly think about what a MAP is, what they expect to gain from using one and—if all of that still lines up—whether they are prepared to solve four key challenges before going anywhere near signing on an expensive dotted line.

An approach, not a piece of software

A marketer interested in learning about marketing automation will probably spend a few hours perusing solution providers’ web sites. In the end, they will likely walk away with a MAP definition that looks like the one from Pardot:

“Marketing automation is a software platform that helps you to automate your marketing and sales engagements to generate more leads, close more deals, and better measure marketing success.”

Nothing against Pardot; We use the platform every day and they are a strong solution.

But as B2B marketing strategists—not SaaS providers—we respectfully disagree on that definition.

Here’s Slack and Company’s definition by way of Rich Dettmer, our Chief Digital Officer:

“Marketing automation is an approach used within demand generation strategy that plans for and enables efficient, buyer-led engagements to generate, nurture and qualify leads for sales by using data, content, channels and logic to deliver the right message to the right prospect at the right time on the right device.”

To understand marketing automation’s enormous potential to fundamentally change your organization’s marketing, you must first realize that a MAP works by automating processes in powerful ways. Those processes need a foundation (i.e. an approach) outside of the MAP to make it all work.

To build an effective foundation, you must answer 4 key questions before submitting an RFP to a MAP provider:

1. Is your customer data so dirty you hide it when company stops by?

Those one-to-one conversations at the heart of marketing automation’s promise? The ones you can deliver not just via email but omnichannel? Without clean, comprehensive data, they are never going to happen.

Look, just keeping B2B data up to date is hard. Back in 2013, a NetProspex study showed that more than 50 percent of companies work “with unreliable or risky data.” From our perspective, that hasn’t changed in the years since despite a surge in vendors like ReachForce, who offer services that automate data hygiene.

Step one, then, is committing to and investing in ongoing data hygiene and augmentation to ensure that all data fields needed to meet your segmentation and personalization objectives are clean and complete. No MAP can fix this for you. If your management rolls their eyes at funding the upkeep of excellent customer data, a MAP is not for you.

2. Is your content aligned with the way your customers actually buy?

If you jump back up to the official Slack and Company definition of marketing automation, you’ll notice the term “buyer led.”

Generating more buyer-led engagements is the goal of content marketing, inbound marketing and just about every other trend we’ve collectively been noodling since we realized that B2B customers take control of the whole engagement process (whether you fully trust the CEB’s oft-touted statistic that buyers are “67% through the buy cycle before contacting sales” or not).

When we think about content marketing and marketing automation at Slack and Company, we know that content platforms and their supporting content assets must enable the MAP campaign to guide the buyer through their own questions as they progress through the education phase (“What is...,” “How do I…”) to the information phase (“What providers can do…” “What solutions can do…”) to the confirmation phase (“Why should I buy from…”).

Before you jump into talking with MAP solution providers, do an audit of your existing content against your planned segments and/or personas across the life cycle.

How much work do you need to get done to deliver a relevant, buyer-led narrative across the full buy cycle? If you’re missing a lot of needed content, get the resources in place up front and start cranking. Otherwise, your pricy MAP will be serving up sell sheets. Riveting.

3. Do you have a true partner within sales management?

Like the rumbles between classic cartoon enemies, battles between marketing and sales are silly, and sometimes end with both combatants defeated and dejected (but hopefully involve fewer anvils).

Despite marketing automation’s promise to bridge the great divide between marketing and sales, we’ve found that success depends on having senior champions on both sides of the fence. A treaty must be reached if marketing automation has a fighting chance.

Marketing and sales need to agree to a shared vocabulary and exact definitions of funnel stages. The general categories of suspect, prospect, lead and opportunity need to be universally acknowledged—no take-backs.

Furthermore, marketing and sales need to agree to benchmark conversion rates for each of those phases and moreover, to the very idea of a “marketing pipeline” that can even be built using those assumptions.

Truth be told, it is more common than not that sales organizations bristle at the idea that a “lead” and a “prospect” could have a defined projected pipeline value measured in dollars. Yet without a mutual understanding, marketing cannot plan and optimize to drive conversions with ever higher ROI.

So once again, if someone in sales leadership is not willing to fully embrace your MAP initiative and be willing to enforce a service level agreement with his or her political capital, marketing automation may not make sense.

4. Do you know a good plumber?

Here’s a fun fact from the great folks at eMarketer: only 3% of marketers said all systems in the stack are integrated.

Integrating your MAP with your CRM, your analytics platform, etc. is something you need to plan well before you get close to the RFP stage, lest you fall prey to hidden consulting fees, limited functionality or other very expensive surprises that you thought (and promised your boss) were all part of the MAP offering.

Here’s a solid set of questions you need to ask your team before the first sales representative ever comes a calling:

  • What data needs to be shared between systems to target and segment to our desired strategy?
  • What data needs to be shared to meet our reporting and analysis objectives to justify the MAP investment?
  • What stakeholders must sign off? Will they?
  • What resources are required? Can we pay for them on top of the cost of the MAP?

Scared? Don’t be. Chastened? Good! (That’s our job.)

A MAP can fundamentally change your marketing for the better, but only if you get the foundation in place first.

Plan ahead and reap the benefits but race ahead at your peril. Not sure? Call your friendly B2B agency for some consulting. We just happen to know a pretty good one.

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