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It’s the ultimate marketing weapon. No wonder we have a guilty conscience.

To past generations of marketers, marketing automation is the equivalent of a lunar landing. Imagine a JFK Jr. CMO speaking at a marketing convention ca. 2005:

"Within a decade, we shall be able to determine exactly who does what with our web-page, our on-site and off-site content and our email campaigns. We shall be able to track our prospects' activity, and bring them back safely to valuable content and propositions that suit their specific needs and experiences. Then measure our impact on the bottom line".

Well, we’re there. It’s called marketing automation.

It is the rocket science of 21st century B2B marketing. It is the one true path to personalised, data-driven marketing. All this, and few marketers use it. Fewer still use it well.

Marketing automation is more than marketing’s deliverance. It’s our bad conscience.

Is it our fault? Or is it theirs?

Marketing automation companies are ballooning. Marketo, Eloqua and Hubspot – the three biggies – are all growing their revenues by 100%+ year-on-year. The fourth-runner, Pardot, was snapped up by ExactTarget for nearly $95.5m. The market's romping.

However, there’s another side to the story. Only a fraction of the companies that should have marketing automation, have bought it and a fraction of those who have bought it are using it to anywhere near its full potential.

At a recent event, our managing director asked the several hundred attendees (mostly B2B tech companies) how many used marketing automation: A handful.

One of Europe’s first full-scale adopters of marketing automation technology, John Watton, wondered whether the early majority were failing to see the point of marketing automation. That is, most people still see this moonshot as NASA-level work. “Not for the likes of you and me”.

And they may be right. Among the number of companies that have started down the road of marketing automation, there’s a disappointing number of wrecks and abandonments. It’s an open secret that a fair number of marketing automation licenses are not renewed.

It's very much like the early days of CRM: the hype, the rapid uptake, the disillusionment, the backlash and, finally, mass market adoption. And we're moving from hype to disillusionment.

The pain before the gain

There’s a sense that Prometheus has brought fire to marketers, and marketers are grabbing it by the bright and shiny end. It’s no wonder they drop it.

Fortunately, there’s a healthy undergrowth of consultants and advisors who are getting better and better at teaching businesses how to apply marketing automation.

Further, events like next week’s Funnel are bringing both the heat and light of marketing automation to broader audiences. At a glance, something like 17 of the 24 sessions are either directly about marketing automation or relate closely to it.

Econsultancy itself will advise on choosing a marketing automation partner. (And our own MD Stan Woods will share an intriguing content marketing and marketing automation case study with Canonical).

What’s tougher than listening to a bunch of experts share expertise is earning that expertise yourself. Put simply, doing the stuff that makes marketing automation something greater than just a Google Analytics or email blast tool is exactly the stuff that takes a while to learn. You can tell those who’ve done the time by their scars.

The five things to get a grip on

Like wise zen masters, those savvy to the intricacies of marketing automation systems chuckle wisely when one tries to identify rules of thumb for running a system. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

Here are five issues that marketing automation is immediately going to drop in your lap:

1. What does your database look like?

Thanks to over a decade of outbound marketing, many marketing organizations have already got a database of prospects. Unfortunately, after years of willy-nilly email campaigns, that data’s pretty much scorched earth. Pumping tens of thousands of scruffy leads into a marketing automation that charges by the lead (as some do) feels like a rookie mistake.

Weed out that list by segmenting, cleaning and applying filters to the data (region, title, dead addresses, etc.). Then do as one client did: send an opt-out to your whole database. If they ask out, strike them.

2. Sales hand-off

So the whole purpose of this exercise is to groom undifferentiated prospects into great sales leads. Doyens of marketing automation have been saying this for years and it bears repeating: you need to work out with sales what a sales-ready lead looks like for your business. Your sales people will know

Once you’ve worked that out, you’ll have a much better idea of how to score your leads (see next point) and what to do with prospects that return to the leads pool.

On the technical side, marketing automation will need to be integrated with a CRM (at least if you want to be able to map eventual sales and revenue back to marketing activities – and who doesn't want that?).

3. Scoring

The whole nurturing aspect of marketing automation systems is facilitated by applying a scoring system to different actions that relate to prospect demographics and most importantly, behaviour – across your site, emails, content, social channels, events and beyond.

Obviously, you can’t manage scores of thousands of leads by hand; you’ll need good rules.

At first blush, you’ll want to start giving people points for everything. But it might not make sense – the guy who comes to your site daily may not be much of a sales prospect. Every point you score should ideally indicate significant progression to a buy. (And this may also differ by demographic – another scoring dimension).

In our own experience – for Velocity and for clients – a nurtured lead converts 5-10 times better than a cold one.

4. The flows

Every single campaign within a marketing automation system requires a flow, or multiple flows. There are two very time-consuming parts to this: 1) Understanding what logic you want to apply to your flows (what happens to who, when?) and 2) Building those flows.

For all their efforts to make their tools simple, complex actions are complex. I’ve built the kinds of simple flows that draw the veil to one side – this sucker gets very, very complex in a big hurry.

Our own experience states that you want only to automate and create a flow where automation is called for. Look at your existing marketing and sales processes. Try to simply speed up or improve what you’re already doing to begin with. Too many companies that start with marketing automation set up flows and processes for their own sake, because they can.

5. Mapped content

There’s content that draws in new leads (stuff that’s good enough to get an unknown to fill out a form), there’s content that gives a known lead greater understanding of your story or value proposition, there’s content that quashes those niggling doubts in the hearts of someone close to buying, and all kinds of content in between.

Marketing automation’s a hungry content beast, as an expert on the topic wrote recently. There’s a pretty linear relationship between the sophistication/complexity of your marketing automation system, the amount of content you need to incorporate in it and the beauty of what comes out.

Conclusion

Right now, getting marketing automation’s a bit like winning an Oscar or an Emmy. You’ve been hungering for it for a long time, and when you finally get it it sits there on the shelf looking nice and you wonder what you’re going to do with it.

My advice: The first 30 days are critical (we're developing a "First 30 Days" program now). So roll up your sleeves. The hard work, and stellar returns, have only just begun.

FUNNEL, Econsultancy's B2B marketing conference takes place at Emirates Stadium, 13 November 2012. FUNNEL was created to help bring together sales and marketing teams to define better ways of turning awareness into interest and interest into revenue – while tracking the entire cycle.

Find out how you can align your marketing and sales efforts at FUNNEL.

Ryan Skinner

Published 9 November, 2012 by Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner is AD at B2B marketing agency Velocity and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Ryan on Twitter or Google+

4 more posts from this author

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Anne Marsden, Principal at Marsden & Associates

Amen. These are early days for marketing automation, and the tools are evolving faster than the marketing organizational processes to gain maximum value from the capabilities. We preach the value and the challenges of implementing effective lead generation and nurturing programs to our B2B clients. And we see day in and day out how hard it is to do well, even with the breadth of marketing automation tools available. (Note: we are Hubspot, Pardot partners and work on a number of other systems with our clients)

It's an exciting time to be in marketing, but like the Old West, the ground is littered with pioneers with arrows in their backs.

over 3 years ago

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Peter Johnston

Marketing Automation is an automated spam delivery method, designed around 20th century push marketing methods.

It is like attaching a rocket to your horse and cart.

It's not clever and it's not funny how much people waste on companies like Velocity producing the spam which goes on it.

over 3 years ago

Bob Apollo

Bob Apollo, Director at Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners

To extend the rocket ship analogy, I'm not sure what planet Peter is on but I think we would be best to leave him there, and to forget the second half of Kennedy's promise to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely to earth again.

Marketing Automation, well and thoughtfully implemented is about as far away as you can get from an automated S**M delivery method. I'm a consumer of the work that Velocity produce, and I'm always taken by how well articulated and impactful it is.

The role of MA in the 21st Century is, at least in part, to help shape the thinking of the reader in a positive way. Let's hope that it eventually does the same for Peter.

over 3 years ago

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Gerry Brown

Hi Ryan

Can you please verify your comment "It’s an open secret that a fair number of marketing automation licenses are not renewed". I am not sure any of the leading vendors would agree with this. Thanks, Gerry

over 3 years ago

Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner, AD at Velocity

You can tell something's transformative when it draws strong, and contrasting, opinions.

Anne's feeling the pain of that transformation from the front lines, it would seem. Arrows in the back, indeed. It's risky to lead.

Peter: You're right. Marketing automation can definitely be used as an engine to push even more low-value content, faster. However, it does not need to be. In fact, it can power a form of marketing that feels much more beneficial to the end-user, by helping them find the kinds of information that they want. Your attack on Velocity seems to come a bit out of left field; to be honest, I don't think you know us (I certainly don't know you). Our customers would attest that our content's the furthest thing from spam, and their investment valuable.

Bob: Thanks for the support. We're clearly at a similar point in this "mission".

Gerry: I can hardly verify the comment. It's one that I've heard from different sources, and applied to more than one vendor. The vendors would not agree with it even if it were true, now would they? They don't publish how many new licenses they sell, much less how many are left unrenewed, do they? Sans source, I guess people will have to take it for what it is: hearsay. And determine for themselves if it has (or feels like it has) truth to it.

over 3 years ago

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Adam Sharp

Thanks Ryan,
really good article- you summed up the issues and the risks nicely. Your point about 'time to first campiagn' is spot on.

I would also like to add where Marketing Automation is going. It is so much more than outbound lead gen. For example as well as lead gen programmes, we use our own MA for lead management and deal registration, for our data governance around the eprivacy policy and very shortly our HR recruitment and onboarding process will be managed thru MA. The possibilities are huge.

For a client of ours in the financial services industry we recently implemented their customer feedback programme through MA- it reinforces the view that not all nurturing has to start with an email or be focussed on lead gen only.

As Anne says it is exciting times to be a marketer, the opportunities are huge and the biggest opportunity in 2013 for MA is the idea of social sign-on. It means campaigns in MA can, for the first time, really be balanced nicely between outbound and inbound.

I do have an interest that MA does well (disclosure: we provide the econsultancy MA training) but I also believe thst those that don't deploy will simply be left behind.
regards, Adam

over 3 years ago

Maria Wasing

Maria Wasing, VP of Marketing Europe at EPiServer

Thanks Ryan, a great post and really appreciate you sharing your experience on this topic. In addition to the integration to the CRM, do you see any other integration points that are key to success? And any recommendations on how to make the most of the content that you have on your website today to make sure that it gets included in lead nurturing processes without duplication of content? I would think that the funnel should be covered in both the MA solution and on the sites, which can lead to inefficiencies if the process is not well-defined.

over 3 years ago

Adam Candlish

Adam Candlish, Commercial Director at DataIQ

Hi Maria - I'll leave Ryan to answer your direct questions, but we will be publishing the presentations from FUNNEL (which was yesterday) which you will be able to access as a paid subscriber of Econsultancy. I think you will find lot's of useful insights and tips amongst the decks.

Make sure you come along next year!;)

Adam

over 3 years ago

Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner, AD at Velocity

Hi Maria,

Google Analytics would be a definite integration point, together with Google URL tagging. Also people may want to use a bitly PRO account to track some social activity - not sure how far & robust all of the different MA platforms are with social media yet. Then there's the CMS - your home territory.

Re. use of content in lead nurturing on website: I think we generally approach the main web estate as pretty high in the funnel territory. Get 'em in, get 'em interested, get 'em to lean forward. You can offer up content for leads further down the funnel via widgets or sidebars - the MA system will pick up the download of a case study or objection-killing ebook for example. You can merchandise your nurture content as much as you want on your site, I guess, as long as it lives in only one place. Each instance would need some rigorous IA planning, though.

Hope that helps. I can only imagine a CMS like EpiServer would be doing what it can to make MA integration as easy as possible (or working on a native solution - Marketing Arena?).

over 3 years ago

Maria Wasing

Maria Wasing, VP of Marketing Europe at EPiServer

Ryan, thanks it helps. Of course it is an area of great interest to us at EPiServer.

@Adam - Yes, on the agenda for next year! For now, thanks for making all the material available online.

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