Friday, June 20, 2008

Defining The Value & Role Of Marketing Automation A Key To Achieving Results

By Ian Michiels, Senior Research Analyst, Aberdeen Group

Recent research from the Aberdeen Group revealed approximately 44% of all companies are using a marketing automation tool, and 37% plan to implement one in the future. For many organizations it’s difficult to identify the most valuable marketing automation features, functions, and processes to implement or use; particularly with all the ambiguous acronyms that commonly define the same or similar technology features and functions (MRM, MOM, EMM, MCM, etc.). Let’s face it--even the term ‘marketing automation’ is pretty ambiguous.

Today the most common marketing automation tools include campaign management and tools to automate marketing operations (across multiple campaigns). As a result, the ability to integrate across multiple marketing channels is critical. With all these complexities to think about, how do companies know what technology to implement? What are the true costs of implementing and using marketing automation?

Marketing automation requires a combination of organizational capabilities, process, and technology. You can’t flip a switch on technology and expect to see a higher ROI. Recent research from the Aberdeen Group revealed best practices in the use and implementation of marketing automation technology. By isolating Best-in-Class companies (organizations with superior return on marketing investments, annual revenue growth, and cost per lead), Aberdeen identified best practices in leveraging and implementing marketing automation technologies.

Best-in-Class companies focus on two primary strategies for adopting marketing automation technology; a tool marketing can own and maintain and most importantly, a tool that is easy to use. In many cases, companies must balance the need for robust features with the complexity of the marketing automation tool. Before talking to a vendor, organizations need to have a formal list of all the processes and performance metrics they would like the tool to support. Without this, marketing automation technology investments are a shot in the dark. Additionally, organizations should get input from senior and operational marketing contributors during the vendor assessment. Let these individuals use the potential tool(s) in a beta or demo environment and consider their input when selecting the final tool.

Training is typically part of initial implementation costs, but ongoing training can be challenging to support. Five years down the line, will your organization continue to train new hires with the same level of training a vendor will provide during the installation? Significantly, many Best-in-Class companies were early adopters of marketing automation tools, tools with extremely robust features and complex interfaces. These organizations now find themselves struggling to support the tool, and their departments and regions often seek their own easy to use and maintain solutions to support day to day operations. The goal of these tools is to centralize and automate the entire marketing process, so ease of use will be extremely important to continue realizing benefits from technology investments.

The organizational culture and processes are also important to consider before implementing a marketing automation tool. Vendor demo’s will wow with the promise of completely automated processes, however organizations need to think about what it takes to make these capabilities a reality inside a technology. Your organizational culture must be capable of supporting the technology; do you have a common definition of a ‘lead’ and a ‘prioritized lead’ between sales and marketing, do you make individuals accountable for key performance metrics, do you measure and benchmark key performance metrics, do you have a standard definition for how to calculate your key performance metrics, lead nurturing capabilities, brand consistency, etc? All of these components and more must be defined prior to implementing a marketing automation tool.

The proliferation of sales and marketing channels causes many organizations to struggle with disparate and siloed data sources. Even today, the technologies that support marketing are plentiful. However, vendors are finally starting to design technologies with purpose built integration. This will increasingly become essential to the future of marketing and sales technologies, so choose vendors that are focused on building tools that are designed to integrate. Thirty-seven percent of Best-in-Class companies plan to completely replace legacy solutions because they are difficult or impossible to integrate with other technologies. The ability to integrate and mesh marketing technologies with CRM, Web Analytics, Lead Management, and eMail is essential.

Before adopting a technology, sit down with sales and marketing and develop a list of the key components, measurements, and processes you would like the system to support. In many cases, if you don’t consider these capabilities up front they can be impossible or costly to implement after the tool is officially rolled out. Don’t worry about isolating every detail, even for Best-in-Class marketing automation requires constant optimization and learning from mistakes. You can always tweak and optimize the system, but it’s extremely hard to change the foundational elements of the solution after the fact.

Finally, whether the tool is on-demand or licensed, IT should be involved in the assessment to help isolate constraints in the design of the initial tool. IT should also be involved to help understand how to integrate the existing technologies in your organizations. Automation sounds great, but if it requires extensive manual work on the back end, sometimes it’s more expensive than it might seem.

Ian Michiels is a senior research analyst at the Aberdeen Group. Michiels covers Marketing Management and Digital Marketing in the Customer Experience Management Group. He can be reached at

The following Aberdeen reports are available for free on the Aberdeen Web site.
->The CMO Strategic Agenda: Automating Closed-Loop Marketing
->Next Generation Marketing Technologies: The Integrated Marketing Solution

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