Prevent a Marketing Automation Shipwreck

Fifteen years and 40 client projects later, we have seen some Marketing Automation (MA) and sales CRM implementations deliver significant revenue improvement for some clients, while others have struggled to achieve break-even.  Some clients have become top performers, while others are challenged to adapt.  What made the difference?

The answers can be sorted out three ways:  expectation, preparation, and perspiration.  Here we focus on the first issue:  Expectation.

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The Challenge of Change

Marketers usually enter a Marketing Automation (MA) implementation expecting to improve multi-channel communications, streamline email marketing, analyze response, centralize data, prioritize leads and meaningfully engage buyers throughout the buy cycle.

All this is possible, and more – assuming you expect deeper changes to business processes where the greatest improvement opportunity exists.  Hint: If you don’t have processes in place, but expect your new Marketing Automation solution to solve that, it’s not a good fit.  Technology probably won’t help, simply because you cannot automate a vacuum.  In that case, you might instead consider a “readiness” project involving an audit of current information flows, along with recommendations for adapting to keep pace with customer needs, competitive top performers and best practice. Yes, we can help there.  Try taking this self-assessment, for starters.

Perils of Not Changing

If you have rather well instituted processes but you don’t plan to examine process change opportunities during your MA implementation, preferring instead to have your new system mirror existing practice exactly “as is”, perhaps expecting that this path-of-least-resistance approach will ease implementation or make it more palatable to users, you may expect to take longer to see a return on your investment – and you may even have difficulty measuring it.  For example: using MA to do “batch and blast” email doesn’t leverage the technology, and you will likely miss out on the benefits of data analytics and audience segmentation available with most MA solutions and which could improve your audience response rates, shorten sales cycle time, and accelerate ROI.  Our top performing clients generally see this new “software layer” as a source of innovation and continuous, positive change.

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Downstream Effects

Marketers need to have reasonable expectations regarding the nature of workflow and how it could likely change.  Marketing Automation doesn’t always reduce the burden, and could actually increase it.  For example, the new software can be difficult to learn.  It often demands new content, or at least changes to existing content. It makes good/bad results more visible.  It often requires new skills, new ways of thinking and, consequently, changes to workflow. It requires flexibility and adaptability to make refinements as new discoveries occur.  It is, in other words, disruptive in many positive ways – but only if you the resilience to maintain a positive focus and the mindset to adapt.  This points to a need to communicate early and often to your organization and audiences about your marketing automation implementation, to avoid surprises and disruptions downstream.

Three big wins

Some of the greatest improvement opportunities in MA and, not too coincidentally, the three areas where the learning curve is most intense, are the areas of lead scoring, response triggers and workflow.   All three involve close collaboration among many internal stakeholders – starting with marketing and sales, but often expanding to the service and product teams, and to your executive team who consume the reports based on the complex information flows within your MA technology.  Expect, therefore, that your internal processes will be laid bare and examined closely by multiple stakeholders.  You all stand to gain from this new openness.  This is another great reason to widely communicate about your MA implementation plans, with an eye to extending its benefits to all your stakeholders.

You should expect to assume the role of chief communicator on behalf of all parties, which means more work for you, but the results can be well worth it.

Customers Weigh In

Customers and buyers, meanwhile, have new, more sophisticated expectations.  Just a scant decade ago, Sales and Marketing were the main information gateway for buyers.  Today, by contrast, a buyer can be substantially finished researching a purchase before you even become aware of their interest.  What are you doing to help nurture those potential buyers and help them buy?  How effective are you at competitively positioning your products and pricing?  Marketing automation solutions cannot fix a problem with a product, price, competitive position, or flat-out bad marketing.  Be honest with yourself about other shortcomings, and consider fixing them first.

Seek Counsel

Finally, it would be prudent to discuss your plans with someone experienced in marketing and sales technologies including SFA, CRM, marketing automation, email marketing, and mapping  their related business process flows.  You could gain perspective on the challenges and opportunities a marketing automation solution can offer.

How does your experience compare?  Is your marketing automation delivering its expected results?   I welcome your comments, ideas, tips stories.

If you have questions, feel free to contact us.

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