FunnelWith the release of our first Marketing Automation Buyer’s Guide this week, we aim to shed some light on the trends and issues affecting this fast-developing sector, as well as provide information about best practice and tips for successful marketing automation implementations.

Marketing automation has risen higher up the business agenda in recent months, with vendors providing more compelling technology and companies eager to optimise the sales and marketing funnel against a difficult economic backdrop.

Forward-thinking businesses are treating areas such as lead nurturing, lead scoring, dynamic segmentation and triggered communications much more as a science. 

Once seen as technology mainly for B2B marketers working for just the largest companies, marketing automation is increasingly being harnessed by consumer-focused businesses and gaining traction among small and medium-sized firms as well.

Where some vendors are still falling short is their promotion of advanced technical features instead of ease of use and short-term benefits. This not only deters small businesses from taking the time to understand the many facets of this technology, but also fuels the misconception that marketing automation is just a software solution, rather than a complex set of processes and tactics created to optimise the marketing-sales pipeline.

Here we outline five of the most important things you need to consider before you start looking for a marketing automation solution or commit to implementing one.

Have you taken any steps towards aligning marketing and sales?

Research from The Bridge Group and  Vorsight has revealed that sales and marketing alignment is still in its infancy, with just over a quarter of companies surveyed (26%) having a service level agreement for the lead follow-up process.

Do you think that “marketing can’t be measured”? Are your sales reps attributing every decline in close rates to the marketing department? Have you created a single customer view through inter-departmental collaboration and data integration?

If the answer to at least one of these questions is negative, you need to go back to the drawing board and take adequate steps to foster a business culture that is ready to support the technology. 

According to Jeff Barnes, Director at Pardot Europe:

It is important that companies that adopt marketing automation pay full consideration and planning to the online sales and marketing process and content and don’t expect marketing automation to be a Holy Grail that will achieve success on its own.

Do you have a coherent lead management strategy in place?

While marketing automation technology can certainly make marketing processes more efficient and at the same time increase campaign relevancy and effectiveness, it is by no means a silver bullet solution. Typically, lead-to-revenue processes are established long before the software is implemented and the technology primarily acts as a support system.

Clear strategy and processes can also help a great deal in choosing the best fit for your organisation by knowing exactly what features you are looking for and what’s needed to optimise customer interactions across the entire funnel.

Does the solution facilitate cross-channel personalisation?

Long gone are the days of relying on email marketing automation alone. There is no doubt that the traditional purchase path is no longer linear and that clear boundaries between channels are a thing of the past. If you want to keep pace with these changes and increase the effectiveness of your marketing initiatives, you need to make sure your marketing automation provider is up to speed as well.

With mobile and social media increasingly playing an important role in the buying cycle, leading vendors operating in this space are already taking steps to integrate inbound and outbound marketing channels. Or as Kirsten Knipp, Director of Product Evangelism at HubSpot, calls it, “moving beyond just smarter email”.

So why settle for less? Make sure that the solution you choose does not only facilitate tracking of customer interactions across multiple channels, but also supports open standards for integration (including availability of custom, out-of the box integrations).

According to Francois Laxalt, Market Intelligence Manager at Neolane:

Be careful not to invest in a solution that offers personalisation in just a single channel (like email). That’s no longer enough. The solution must be capable of cross-channel personalisation. It must be able to act as a single centre for coordinated, ongoing and one-to-one conversations that are unified across all the channels via which you might expect inbound or outbound customer contact: email, mobile, social, direct, call centre and the web.

Have you carefully considered the actual deployment time?

Based on the complexity of your business model and your internal processes and systems, this can vary a lot. You need to work closely together with your chosen provider to develop realistic deployment schedules and roadmaps.

Approaching marketing automation in the same way you would approach a point solution by rushing into implementation to quickly solve a tactical problem is a major trap that companies often fall into. Taking the time to manage internal expectations and develop a well-thought implementation roadmap is a key success factor. As Bryan Brown, Director of Product Strategy at Silverpop, notes:

Marketing automation should be part of a long-term strategy, it is not a short-term panacea. Companies need to understand that success is as much about changing processes and marketing and sales alignment as it is about choosing the right technology. Companies that do not take a holistic view run the risk of unsuccessful projects and unmet expectations which could have a negative impact on overall market perception.

Have you factored in all costs?

While marketing automation software has become more affordable, pricing methods and fees vary quite a lot, according to client requirements and project complexity. Before you implement this technology, make sure you’re aware of all the costs involved, including those associated with training and support.

Your vendor needs to clarify if ongoing support costs associated with adjustments (required, for example, when business requirements change or the organisation expands) are part of the agreed purchase price or you need specialised resources at an additional cost.

Initial training and creation of the first campaigns are sometimes included in the ‘on-boarding’ process or can have a separate price tag. If you need third-party consulting services throughout the project to fully understand the technology and benefit from its capabilities, this can significantly add to the total cost and should be included in the initial budget.

Don’t get caught up in features that are not critical to your company’s success, do your due diligence and be realistic. Thinking that you can instantly solve the sales and marketing disconnect by just implementing a marketing automation solution can be an expensive mistake with tremendous consequences.