Marketing automation (MA) is a hot topic right now -- it’s also in the early stages of potentially becoming an integral component of engendering positive customer interactions.
Quite a bit has been written about what comprises current marketing automation capabilities. Most use cases center on email drip marketing and lead management/nurturing -- done well, they can make a big difference for many companies.
Enterprises are beginning to understand how to use MA for more on-target "shepherding" of prospects during the buying cycle. And for enterprises with sophisticated buyer needs, marketing automation tools can provide a good means for building sustainable processes for continuous high quality leads and revenue growth.
There are stumbling blocks for marketing automation:
- Multi-channel customer experiences are fragmented and don’t always map well into MA
- Marketing automation is doomed if it retracts into a robotic email-blasting machine
- A customer focus aligned with marketing automation requires several interconnected strategies for customer, marketing, content, lead gen -- plus sales and marketing collaboration.
A further complication is this advice from Forrester: frequently the customer has completed 75 percent of the buyer journey before engaging with sales. Of course, not all buyer journeys are the same -- often marketing automation is the most useful for complex journeys. But there’s still a lot to do to be successful with marketing automation.
The Customer Perspective Always Matters
From the company perspective, enabling excellent (or even good) customer experiences can seem complicated, even ephemeral. Some marketing programs are trying to make the “customer experience” quite intricate, perhaps overly convoluted. Software solutions are being developed around marketing processes for “customer experience management,” where too much emphasis may be on the “management” part, and too little on what constitute positive or desirable experiences from the customer perspective.
The customer perspective should also drive the use of marketing automation. There’s a lot of activity for the development and adoption of MA technologies -- there’s also a lot of room for improvement regarding processes, practices and objectives.
All of this should swirl around what the customer needs and wants from the enterprise’s products and services. And that will take deep intelligence, constant measurement and improvement, and continuous analysis to achieve tangible results that benefit the customer and the enterprise.
A Forrester report from 2011 conveys some of what it takes for success with marketing automation:
‘Customer’ and the Buyer Journey
To achieve more valuable use of marketing automation, you have to start with thoroughly understanding customers, buyer journeys, trigger events and key touchpoints. This means a lot of research, analysis and segmentation at sophisticated levels -- all of which will have to be constantly refreshed. Behavioral and predictive analytics can provide useful insights, but these types of analytical modeling are not simple tasks. Collaboration with domain experts must be included to validate research, analysis and recommended steps to take.
Buyer journey mapping is a significant undertaking for engendering better customer buying experiences and for adding intelligence to marketing automation plans. Customer segmentation may yield multiple buyer journeys and maps, and possibly different customer experiences -- this will serve to take marketing automation further away from an undesirable one-size-fits-all. Buyer journey mapping helps better decision-making for aligning the interconnected strategies and processes needed to constantly refresh relevance for customers, particularly when marketing automation is in play.
Buyer journeys are not always linear progressions. Instead steps or phases in the journey can circle back on themselves. Different phases may be revisited until the buyer is ready to move to subsequent phases. Circle-back cycles can occur multiple times. All of which adds complexity to constructing effective marketing automation processes.
Forrester’s customer experience touchpoints flow captures the iterative nature of many buyer journeys:
Customer Intelligence: Data, Integration, Analytics
For almost all aspects of Marketing, data really matters for achieving sustained effectiveness. Data is needed from many different internal systems and also must be collected from external venues such as social sites. Data sources and business processes must be integrated to manage the constant need for up-to-date information on customers. Useful customer segmentation can only be achieved through such integration efforts.