Marketing Automation Still a Work-in-Progress for Most B2B Firms

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Marketing Automation

Modern B2B marketers seem to understand what marketing is about these days: it has become a process of collecting and using data from a series of touchpoints that customers and prospects have with brands. These touchpoints are individual tiles in a larger mosaic, that when viewed collectively, reveal precise and timely insights about customer sentiment and intentions. For marketers, it’s an increasingly complex process to navigate for a couple of key reasons: there are myriad channels and marketers are prolific content creators. These two things intersect to produce a dizzying array of touchpoints that produces lots of data about customers on their journeys.

Our customers understand this ecosystem better than we do. They know we have data about their preferences and buying journey. Furthermore, they expect us to use that data to serve them better with the content they want, that they can easily find (or we’ll deliver when they want it,) and through their preferred channels – creating more personalized interactions. The ability to do this well is crucial to creating a positive, differentiating customer experience. Companies that fail to do this well put themselves into the category of those who don’t get it – a status that is hard to overcome.

The task of executing against these lofty expectations would be daunting, were it not for marketing automation software. Without the technology assist marketing automation provides, marketers are left to carpet bomb customers and prospects with content they hope resonates, through channels that may or may not reach those customers. With marketing automation, we have the tools and data to not only meet customer expectations, but consistently exceed them.

Act-On and Econsultancy have just completed a joint study on the state of B2B marketing automation, and the conclusions that the study drew need to be understood by all B2B marketers, whether or not they are using marketing automation. For those that are not yet using it, the message is simple: you’re now in the late majority of adoption. The benefits of marketing automation are so well documented, there are few valid reasons a company can come up with for not using it. For example, cost is often cited as a barrier to adopting any marketing technology. But as the study shows, that reasoning doesn’t hold up for marketing automation, because of how properly implemented marketing automation positively impacts the revenue pipeline.

One of the most insightful findings from the study applies to firms that are using marketing automation. There’s a spectrum of maturity where usage is concerned, and the study found that not all organizations are fully utilizing the capabilities of the software. In fact, less than half of the B2B organizations in the study feel they are using marketing automation to its fullest capacity. Many organizations confess to not having progressed beyond leveraging their platforms for email, web forms and landing pages, functions that the study report refers to as low-hanging fruit. These functions represent the low end of the maturity spectrum, and the platforms can certainly do these things well. But if their usage is limited to these functions, the biggest benefits of marketing automation are unrealized. Companies that halt their implementations at this level are like the neighbor that buys a sparkling, new RV but never takes it out of the driveway. What’s the point of that?

Completing this maturation is where the biggest opportunity lies, because doing so is what allows a marketing organization to transform itself from an expense to a revenue-generating center. Here’s why:

1. A properly implemented marketing automation system becomes the most important repository of customer data. If it doesn’t contain the data directly, it can integrate with other, important customer data sources. It logs the customer’s buying journey, recording all the touchpoints, and as such, this data is a massive source of potential energy.

2. Marketing automation systems have the tools to turn this customer data into kinetic energy, in a way that measurably impacts revenue.

The study report makes it clear that for many companies, the marketing automation toolbox is under-utilized, but in which areas? Companies that are leaders in the use of marketing automation are exploiting account-based marketing, doing sophisticated lead scoring and nurturing, integrating business intelligence and social data to get precise insights into individual customers. These insights are actionable, allowing sales and marketing team members to do things that accelerate sales, expand deal sizes, increase retention and loyalty, get referrals, or all of these outcomes.

So, what does it take for marketing automation users to gain maturity, to completely open up the toolbox and fully utilize all that lies within? There are two, broad critical success factors for a marketing automation implementation:

1. A vision. It is important to approach implementing marketing automation with a vision that lives up to what the solution can attain. The results of this study seem to imply that many organizations are thinking too small where the vision was concerned. To be more specific, recent Demand Metric research reveals a big difference in the reasons why companies implement marketing technology.

  • Firms that identify themselves as “Innovators” cite gaining a competitive advantage as the primary motivation for implementing marketing technology.
  • Firms that identify themselves as “Laggards” have boosting productivity as their primary motivation.

These motivations are very different. Innovators are essentially using technology to play offense, while Laggards are using it to play defense. Specific to marketing automation, the highest and best use of the platform is to grow revenue. If saving some time and executing email campaigns more efficiently by using marketing automation is your vision, you’re not dreaming big enough.

2. Half of the respondents in the Act-On/Econsultancy study identified skilled experience as a barrier to success. Investing in skills is too often seen as optional, training as something to do when time permits. Anyone who has been in marketing for any length of time knows the truth: time never becomes available for training to build skills. The skills gap that exists in so many companies is really rooted in culture. Innovators understand that an investment in skills flattens almost all other barriers to success, and they view learning as one of the few ways to gain a sustainable competitive advantage. Laggards see training as a luxury they can’t afford.

If the thoughts I’ve shared here are perceived as an attempt to shame companies who are under-utilizing their marketing automation investment into stepping up their games, then I’ve failed. The message for those companies is this: a mature marketing automation implementation can transform marketing into a formidable revenue engine. If you are still climbing to the summit of the implementation peak, the view from the top is worth the climb. Keep going, and download a copy of “The State of B2B Marketing Automation” report for practical insights and advice about how to get there.