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While it is incredibly useful, Marketing Automation Software isn’t the sexiest of tech.

MA needs to be solid and dependable. It can align sales with marketing, it can help personalise content, but it isn’t likely to rank alongside the iPad in the wider consciousness anytime soon.

In short, it has an image problem. This may not seem like a huge concern, but it is contributing to a slow uptake by a hugely important market sector: SMEs

Whether you are a vendor or an internal marketer looking to streamline processes, selling marketing automation, both the concept and the software itself, can be an uphill struggle.

Small-to-midsize businesses might not have the endless chequebooks of the mega-concerns who initially championed automation, but the sheer number of SMEs makes them an attractive target to vendors, and their agile business models are ideally suited to benefit from automation and increased integration.

Unfortunately, there's often a lack an understanding regarding how smaller businesses function on a day-to-day basis, even from some internal departments.

Vendors tend to promote solutions based on mass marketing models, whereas most SMEs will prospect on a highly targeted level, meaning that knowledge of individual customers can be more important than saving time through enterprise-level automation.

It’s a shame, as this valuable information is usually available but is often segmented by software, filed away as a CRM function which isn’t made available to Sales, so they end up with a different view of things compared to Marketing.

This is a huge problem; complete access to the bigger picture has become essential as teams integrate and job lines blur.

MA software really does need to have a more robust analytics capability, with granular information available to all users. This means that there’s a reluctance to adopt the technology, despite the advantages it can offer.

The reasons behind this are straightforward enough. For one thing, most buyers aren't fluent in marketing-speak.

Indeed, some recent surveys have shown that many feel marketing teams are unreliable because of their failure to measure and report campaign success accurately.

This isn't to say that marketers aren't filling out their reports properly, merely that there's still a tendency to cram in the odd buzzword and esoteric measurement that won't impress those outside the marketing sphere.

These people don’t really care about the mysterious arts of engagement and emotional response, they care about making money.

If you want to sell them on marketing automation, you need to show how it will realistically affect business costs and conversion.

Approaching the problem strategically

Automation needs to be matched to business goals and tied directly into the prospecting process.

Vendors and marketers should start talking about ways automation processes can increase leads, and show exactly how personalisation can increase conversion.

Come armed with case studies, not buzzwords.

In addition, most SMEs probably won’t see automation software as essential, and they probably won’t have read up on the latest advances in the field. Just finding the time to listen to your pitch is a significant investment for many, so don’t waste it by being overly salesy or simply reeling off uninformative technical details. Instead, look at providing practical examples.

How can automation software make them money? That’s your elevator pitch.

You also won't find readily available research budgets, so show off the short-term benefits first.

Show how you can redirect customer focus so that they really pay attention to high margin products, and ways to reduce expenditure on individual sales. How quickly will the software pay for itself if it’s used properly? 

Underline its ease of use. It should have a straightforward, intuitive UI so it can be put straight to work with minimal resourcing.

Overall, pitching to an SME is about realising that they may have very limited resources. Most of the people you’ll be speaking to will be an expert in their field, but it’s unlikely that the field is marketing.

Marketing automation can ultimately provide fantastic long-term returns, helping with expansion strategies and overall growth, but in order to convince smaller businesses that it's worth experimenting with, make sure you can show the quick returns too.

It doesn’t matter how shiny and lovely the product is, if you can’t demonstrate raw ROI then you could be dead in the water.

Matt Owen

Published 12 August, 2011 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

203 more posts from this author

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Peter Johnston

The problem with marketing Automation is that while the technology is new, the thinking behind it is old fashioned and out of date.

It believes marketing and sales works in silos and the only way to solve this is for marketing to make leads and hand them over to sales to close. While a lot of lip service is paid to "alignment", this is of the "parallel lines never meet" style and throws away all the clever work that sales people do before the closing stage.

It believes marketing is about push campaigns.

It treats prospects as data for mass marketing campaigns.

It uses email as its main communication method, with social media only as a sideshow.

It throws away the most powerful thing about the internet - its interactivity - by keeping company distanced from customer.

These may have been best practice in the 1990s, but have been an anachronism for years.

The future is in Technology Aided Prospecting, where sales and marketing work together with technology as an aide, providing intelligence, automation and analytics.

about 5 years ago

Sanjit Chudha

Sanjit Chudha, Integrated Marketing & Communications Consultant at Personal

@Matt - Some good points in your piece about how SMEs are left in the cold. @Peter - some good points which accord with my view. SMEs (as the article notes) are agile.

Silos have no place in smaller companies - the luxury cannot be afforded. So, what solution would work best? I'd be interested to hear of some recommendations which embrace social media (and can manage the rich data that provides), enable sales and marketing to work together and offers granular data and pull marketing capabilities rather than mass market push functionality.

about 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Thanks for your comment Peter, and all great points.Increased integration is all-important, as is granular interaction with customers. Despite the name, I believe Marketing Automation should be about facilitating conversations with customers and filling in the gaps between departments.

about 5 years ago

John Sweeney

John Sweeney, Customer Success Director at DemandGen UK

Hi Matt,

I enjoyed your article and like to add a few thoughts. I’ve been in the Marketing Automation space for a few years now so see the issues you raised close-up.

Firstly, there’s a hatful of independent studies (Aberdeen Group, Sirius Decisions and Forester to name but a few) consistently reporting, with data to back it up, that companies who adopt Marketing Automation consistently outgrow, outsell and outperform their competition. These kinds of facts are pretty sexy for the CEO and the CFO and they pay the Marketing Dept’s wages.

It’s not Marketing Automation that has an image problem but the Marketing Dept. These are interesting times for Marketing what with buyer’s behaviour changing and ‘old school’ methods increasingly less effective. However, marketing people find it difficult to be taken seriously.

Marketing Automation is the ticket into the boardroom (or your bosses corner office). The ROI for Marketing Automation is attractive but many will fail because they wanted all the “R” but did not throw down enough ”I” to ever get it.

In my experience it’s never the technology that comes up short. There are products out there for companies of all sizes. However, what is not always discussed honestly, is the amount of additional resource Marketing Automation needs, the change to processes it requires and the considerable perseverance it demands.

Mark, I fear that you advice on showing “quick-wins” and “short-term benefits” sets the wrong expectations. The truth is that for most companies in B2B – sales cycles are long and complex. This creates unpredictable pipelines and an unrealistic expectation that marketing can pull off a few tricks to fill this quarter’s sales gap. Marketing Automation will break this cycle for those willing to address the underlying issues – that’s people, process as well as technology. In truth, Marketing Automation is a journey not a software product.

about 5 years ago

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UK Suppliers

Hi,
I do agree with peter that with the change in technology, the MA thinking becomes older. In most of the organization, it has become a major problem that they could not take a stand wit the change in new techniques for marketing automation. Specially the points that you discussed in this post are really useful and informative for marketer.

It uses email as its main communication method, with social media only as a sideshow. It is the point that is discussed by peter and It is the most strong and preferable thing in MA. Over all its nice and useful within Matt and the comments on it are also lovely....

about 5 years ago

Jeff Barnes

Jeff Barnes, Partner at Keynet

I have no doubt that Marketing Automation will go from strength to strength in the UK for a number of reasons and it is quite likely that the group at the forefront of this surge will be the SME community. This is primarily because their very size allows for the decision to adopt, and the implementation process, to be much quicker than within the Enterprise. Don't get me wrong - there are many Enterprise accounts that are making great use of Marketing Automation but the time from vendor decision to ROI may be longer because the processes that need to be adopted are complex and there could be a gap between the goals of the marketing and sales operations. Whilst there may be similar issues to overcome within an SME they will be smaller for sure.
The other positive sign for the future is that Marketing Automation is a fast growing business in the US with the main players implementing hundreds of new clients a quarter across a wide variety of vertical markets and it is normal that the UK and EU follow the US trend, albeit one or two years behind them.
I'm reminded that email marketing was in a similar state when it started with companies saying it wouldn't take off because of spam, lack of email addresses in their client database, cost etc, etc. and now the sector is established and still growing. I believe that if you are a B2B company using an email marketing solution you should be looking at Marketing Automation as well or instead.
The pricing model for most Marketing Automation companies is done on a monthly basis (ours at Pardot being non-contract as well) so this allows SME's to take the plunge, as it were, without a big upfront commitment and see if they get the ROI they are looking for.
Lastly there are a number of 'tips and tricks' and 'best practices' that will allow adopters of Marketing Automation to get a quicker and better return on their investment and there are now an increasing number of excellent consultants and companies around to help them.

about 5 years ago

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