The problem with marketing automation is that it takes people and processes to use the technology and companies often treat that as more of an afterthought. The result is a much higher percentage of failed programs and implementations.
The problem is not the technology. The problem is being prepared to use it.
The Potential of Marketing Automation
Once upon a time, automation was defined as the application of machines to tasks once performed by human beings. The definition evolved to imply referring to tasks that would be otherwise impossible without the technology. In marketing, automation is explicitly tied to software platforms, applications and technology. It can mean campaign management, CRM, CMS, multiple varieties of analytics and many channel specific tools for social media, email and search …. But it still comes down to enabling marketers to do things they couldn’t do on their own.
Billions and billions are being spent on software licenses, implementation and training -- not to mention the internal time, money and resources expended in the name of marketing automation. And it’s growing. According to a recent Forrester Research report, B2B marketing budgets are reported to be increasing spend on digital advertising/marketing by 70 percent, content marketing by 59 percent and websites by 45 percent in 2014. Marketing automation enables personalization. Personalization drives conversions. Conversions make brands money. It should be worth the cost.
But for all the effort, most companies are not seeing a clear return on their investment. Most of the results do not live up to the hype or produce the desired results. And it’s not because of the technology. The weak link is how the technology is used.
Marketing automation enables cross channel marketing even though most marketing departments are siloed into channel specific groups. Many companies are following the same approval and compliance processes they used for direct mail when real time wasn’t even a part of the vocabulary. And few companies are taking advantage of the power built into the technology to deliver personalized digital experiences while promoting the sharing and re-use of digital assets across groups, channels and markets.
Is Your Organization Ready?
The first step in preparing for successful deployments of marketing automation applications -- such as analytics, campaign management, CMS and CRM systems and the full contingent of social, mobile and real time -- is to assess how ready your organization is to incorporate new technologies and more importantly, how ready you are to adopt new processes and manage the change that comes with doing things differently.
The best way to determine your readiness is to go through the process of a digital marketing maturity assessment. It can be as simple as taking a online self-test like Adobe’s Digital Marketing Self-Assessment Tool. Forrester Research has created a number of maturity models over the years, starting nearly a decade ago with their Interactive Marketing Maturity Model.
As with any DIY approach, you’re limited by your own level of maturity. I highly recommend you connect with an experienced consultant who can take you through a complete assessment guided by what your business objectives are, where the company is going and what’s realistic in your situation.
Armed with a good baseline understanding of where you are and potentially where you want to go, you’re almost in a good position to begin to study the world of marketing automation vendors. But you're not quite there yet.
Know What Your Customers Want to Do
One more step to take: understand what you are trying to accomplish and more importantly, what your customers or prospects need and want to do. You may implement the most sophisticated e-commerce suite, but if most of your prospects are coming to your website to conduct research and not purchase, you’ve missed the boat. If you create the coolest gamified experience when your customers simply want to get in and out as quickly as possible, you score a zero. You need to use the right customer stories.
People tend to visit web properties for one of six reasons. They come to be entertained, to search for specific information, to conduct research about a topic or product, to discover something they didn’t even know they didn’t know, to purchase or rent a good or service and of course to get support and service for what they’ve already bought. If you don’t know what your customers want to do, you won’t be able to deliver the experience, let alone automate it.
But it’s not just about what people want to do when they engage digitally. It’s also about what the business wants them to do. Typically, businesses want to drive a combination of the following: awareness, consideration, conversion and loyalty. If it accomplishes that, the business will thrive and make money. If it doesn’t succeed, it withers and dies. When both customer and business needs are in sync, you’re poised for success. We call it the fair exchange.
Once you are armed with good answers as to why people want to engage with you and why you want them to engage, you can discover the user stories you want to deliver, design relevant user experiences and can think about what technologies you require to deliver the right content to the right person, at the right time, on the right device. You’re finally ready for vendor selection (which is another topic altogether).
Regardless of which vendors you end up choosing, the key to success is preparing for whatever changes the new technology and processes require. If you’re not ready for a healthy dose of change management, hold off on the automation and focus on the marketing. A word of warning: you may not be ready now, but your competition is. They embrace change instead of running from it. Good luck.