How will it benefit your business?
by Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group
Marketing automation is a sweeping trend in a variety of industry verticals. Service organizations are adopting marketing automation tools in droves. I’ll bet you’re already either considering or have implemented a marketing automation platform for your business. But, what benefits do these tools really offer your unique company? In my opinion, that’s the most important question you should be asking yourself as you either execute or plan for marketing automation in 2012. Here are some points to consider.
If you do a search on the term “marketing automation,” you’ll encounter nearly nine million records. Since I assume you don’t have time to read all those records, I’ll give you the short list. There are dozens of software companies who claim to do marketing automation and new competitors pop up every day. I’m sure, by the time this article is published, five more new companies will emerge. So this is not a definitive list, by any means.
Organizations like Eloqua, Aprimo, ActOn, Marketo and Hubspot all claim to have the best marketing automation products on the market. Well … it depends. I think of these companies as divided into two buckets: small medium business (SMB) and enterprise. While they all try to play at the low end of the market, I believe only a handful do that well. SMB marketing automation providers tend to offer lower prices and ease of deployment. Enterprise marketing automation providers offer rich feature sets with more complex deployment requirements and much bigger price tags. Speaking of price tags, be sure to factor in the cost of a customer relationship management (CRM) system if you are thinking of marketing automation.
So the first question you have to ask yourself is – what do I want marketing automation to do for my firm?
While all marketing automation tools make a lot of promises, as it relates to professional service firms, these are the most compelling benefits to me and other marketing professionals with whom I speak.
- Marketing automation tightens integration between sales and marketing. Marketing can now more fully qualify leads and prep them for sales dialogue. This improves the productivity of your most important sales resources and truly brings marketing into the revenue generation business.
- Marketing automation improves management of the sales funnel with more suspects becoming prospects becoming clients. Now marketers can track movement in the sales funnel and automate message delivery to prospects to draw them through the sales funnel more effectively. Learning your “trigger events” (messages that prompt prospects to move to the next stage in the sales funnel) is key.
- Marketing automation increases the velocity of prospects moving through the sales funnel. Wouldn’t we all love a shorter sales cycle and faster time to revenue?
- Marketing automation allows you to provision emails, landing pages,
webinars, articles, newsletters and other content with the greatest of
ease — so they claim. But from one platform to the next, the way they handle provisioning can be quite different. So do your homework here. Also, if flexibility is really important to you, pay particular attention to workflow options in these toolsets.
- Marketing automation automates lead nurturing. This allows you to send a pre-sequenced set of messages by email on a pre-determined schedule to leads that enter the top of the sales funnel. The net effect should be that those leads “self-nurture” by feeding on your content until they are ready to opt-in to sales dialogue.
- Marketing automation integrates reporting. Dashboards display analytic data for web traffic, email opens and clicks, landing page forms, webinars and other key data points. This saves a lot of time versus using the reporting analytics of various tools. It also allows you to drill-down and track an individual’s progress through the sales funnel — something I tried to build systems to do back in the ’90s. Very painful!
- Marketing automation makes list management easy. Every good marketer
knows that you have to manage a variety of lists and keep them updated,
cleaned, cross-referenced and ready for new campaigns. Most marketing
automation solutions offer some level of list management that ranges
from brilliant to better than Excel.
- Marketing automation lets you monitor leads in your sales funnel and
track their “digital footprint” like never before. It’s a little creepy, but
virtually every marketing automation tool lets you see exactly how people
are interacting with nearly every point of contact with your brand — from
email opens and clicks to landing page visits to white paper downloads and
social media posts.
- Marketing automation lets you score the digital behavior of leads so you can tell who is a hot prospect and who you should allow to self-nurture in the funnel a while longer. Even more creepy — marketing automation positions you to contact hot leads even if they don’t request it. I recently got a phone call from a marketing automation company because I looked at their pricing page. Their rep could tell me exactly how many emails they’d sent me, how many I had opened, how many webinars I had attended and how many of their web pages I had viewed. Like I said — kind of creepy. Because I clicked on the pricing page, I became a hot prospect and the rep called me immediately.
- Marketing automation lets you rinse and repeat successful campaigns and dump the losers.
Hold on a minute
With the promise of all these great benefits, it’s no wonder that marketing automation businesses are growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, it’s tempting to see these tools as justification for greatly reducing marketing staff. But, there are a few things to consider here before making bold moves.
In my opinion, marketing automation is really effective at streamlining low-level tasks, like HTML creation and email broadcasts. However, there are a few important functions that marketing automation cannot help. Here is a short list.
Marketing automation tools will not improve your thought leadership. If you deploy content marketing as a strategy for lead generation, all a marketing automation tool will do is increase the efficiency of content deployment. At the end of the day, it’s the quality of the thinking, the clarity of the strategies you recommend and your credibility that will convince prospects to work with you.
Marketing automation tools won’t improve your value proposition. Sure, you can get your message out faster and with greater ease. This might even fill the top of your sales funnel with more “leads” than you’ve ever had before. But, if they don’t convert, or if they buy your least profitable service, you’ve spent money on a tool that still hasn’t fixed your business problem. In my experience, too many service firms leave way too much money on the table by not working on their service offerings and value propositions.
Marketing automation tools won’t improve your targeting. While list management capabilities make it easier to cull lists, it’s still marketing’s job to understand the ideal client and build a profile of what matters to the client. A perfect message targeted at the wrong audience still falls flat. A so-so message targeted at the right audience is equally weak.
As you evaluate and implement marketing automation at your firm, I’d love to hear from you. This is one of those areas that I plan to monitor closely over the coming year. So please email your experiences to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d genuinely like to hear how it’s going for your company.
About the author
Randy Shattuck is a senior marketing executive and founder of The Shattuck Group, a full-service marketing firm that specializes in growing professional services firms. You can reach him at email@example.com.