Make Automation Work

July 7, 2015

Five tips to get the most out of your marketing automation tools

By Karen J. Bannan

Marketing automation, or as it's sometimes called, a lead-to-revenue management solution, holds great promise — and benefit. Leading vendors assert that marketers can use their solutions to improve efficiencies, conversion rates, and the overall end-to-end sales process.

However, what is promised and what actually occurs may be two entirely different things, according to users and analysts. For instance, a recent Forrester Research report found that most marketing automation programs will "hit the wall" within the first three years of their implementation. One big reason, says Lori Wizdo, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, is that many of the gains marketers see come from low-hanging fruit — finding and eliminating inefficiency and waste, as well as standardizing and scaling what are typically manual processes. Ongoing benefits, Wizdo adds, require a change in process and programs.

Another reason companies aren't fully utilizing marketing automation systems is the "lack of structure inside organizations," says Gabe Winslow, a partner with Sq1, a Dallas-based digital ad agency. This could be a result of having a poor business strategy, lacking knowledge and training about using the automation tool and designing programs for it, or failing to have a cross-channel strategy. "Good B-to-B marketing automation must have a thoughtful user experience strategy outlined before activating, and many companies don't flesh this out," Winslow points out.

And then there's the issue of trying to automate different marketing channels and integrating them at the same time, says Ken Wincko, senior vice president of marketing at PR Newswire. "In the digital economy, there has been a proliferation of channels to engage buyers, which has introduced increased complexity," he says.

Finally, marketers may become so excited about marketing automation technology that they forget what the tools are actually designed to do, according to a Forrester Research report, "Lead-To-Revenue Pioneers Discover It's Not Demand Generation On Steroids.Unfortunately, too many marketing automation implementations have underperformed because marketing execs have not devoted adequate attention to process definition.

To get the most out of marketing automation tools, consider these five tips:

  1. Pick your battles. Not every marketing task is suited for automation, even if the technology exists, says Alexander Ruggie, public relations director at 911 Restoration. "The very nature of social media sites is that they are human driven, inspired, dedicated, and run," he says. "They are entertainment for the people, of the people, and by the people, and when you start introducing bots into the mix that have no fundamental connection with the people they are targeting, things can get messy."
  2. Vet your vendors. Don't go with the most popular or the most well-known, Winslow says. "List [the vendors] out and have them come in and present to your marketing team. Have them spend time with your sales group and [help] develop a program with their tools," he notes.
  3. Put a plan in writing. "Create and document processes before getting started to get the most benefit from the system," says Adrienne Weissman, chief marketing officer at G2 Crowd, a business services and software review site that covers automation tools. "When you have a set process, you can better utilize the tools to make that process repeatable, and you'll be in a better position to start testing and optimizing what you're doing."
  4. Fix sales-to-marketing alignment issues. Marketing automation presents an opportunity to re-engineer the customer engagement strategy, which requires the simultaneous re-engineering of the end-to-end marketing andsales process. If you're using marketing automation to disseminate one type of information but your sales team wants to close with another, the system isn't going to work, says Forrester's Wizdo. "Unfortunately, engagement comes to a halt when the inside sales team is unable to continue the conversation and tries to close early-stage buyers with a proof of concept," she adds.
  5. Test frequently. Like any marketing program, marketing automation requires continuous testing and retooling, Winslow says. It also requires the right metrics to measure success.

"Make Automation Work." Karen J. Bannan. BMA Buzz. 7/7/15.