2014-16-June-Cast-Net.jpgMarketing automation (MA) has shown that it can be a smart tool -- when done right -- for shepherding and converting leads and automating marketing processes. As MA technologies have become more sophisticated, its near future role has evolved to deliver customer-responsive interactions on any channel. If this evolution continues, the name "marketing automation" will become inadequate to describe what can be accomplished when these technologies are combined with customer-focused processes, practices and strategies.

Marketing automation capabilities are becoming an important component of integrated marketing and communications for seamless interaction management on any channel and support for omnichannel customer experiences. Marketing automation is also converging with cross-enterprise customer adaptive processes and "sense and respond" models, both of which have been in practice for quite some time for various enterprise functions, with customer needs as a strong focus.

Marketing automation has growing relationships with anything involving the customer, such as customer service and customer master data. Content marketing strategies and initiatives are essential partners for effective MA. To deliver better buying experiences, marketing automation integrated with other customer-focused systems can reveal a great deal about customer behavior, motivation and needs. Organizations can interact more authentically with customers anywhere using such intelligence.

Speeding Past ‘Sense and Respond’ to 'Predict and Act'

Retail and e-Commerce take advantage of customer adaptive processes to personalize and propel buying journeys. And supply chain management and retail have successfully utilized sense and respond, a.k.a. agile/lean or just-in-time management, to optimize supply chain functions while speedily fulfilling end customer requirements. For these models, important common denominators aren’t just responding to customers more quickly and accurately, but also delivering more value to customers -- on customer terms.

The increase in real time multichannel communications and interaction touchpoints has brought sense and respond processes to marketing. Mobile is a particular focal point for sense and respond, particularly with the increasing use of "in the moment" marketing and buying opportunities. Touchpoints become more effective with sense and respond and customer-adaptive processes behind them. The customer intelligence attained through integrating data and analytics from marketing automation, customer service and other customer-focused functions will power smarter touchpoints that include faster, more accurate responses. The implications for competitive advantage are clear.

The strategic combining of marketing automation with cross-functional integrations results in continuous highly personalized communications delivered to customers. Adaptive processes based on context continuously respond more accurately to every customer action on any channel. Marketing and other customer functions are now in the world of real time, location aware customer experiences, moving past the basic mechanics of interaction.

Predictive analytics behind both customer adaptive processes and sense and respond are moving organizations from analysis of past and in-process interactions to anticipation of near future activities in order to better understand and fulfill customer desires. The continuing transformation of marketing automation is rapidly changing to “predict and act.”

But all of this takes strategic commitment, the right experts, much preparation and testing, improved processes and a lot of hard work. Done right, there is much to be gained for nurturing and growing ongoing customer relationships. 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 great deal of research, analysis and segmentation at sophisticated levels -- all of which will have to be constantly refreshed.


Technologies as Evolutionary Tools

When marketing automation is first introduced into an organization it’s easy to get caught up in the tunnel vision of how to use new technologies and the tactical tasks that can be accomplished. It’s easy to miss the big picture of how all the pieces fit together to achieve higher level objectives and corporate strategies. Many businesses still struggle to connect these technologies to overall marketing functions and larger objectives -- and to add all of the right people: designers, marketing technologists, analytics experts, data managers, content professionals and strategists of all kinds.