Marketing automation, if done right, works. 

A targeted email performs better than a generic email, and a personalized call to action will always work better than a generic one. So that’s the good news.

The not so good news is: everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Aberdeen Group says that nearly 70 percent of businesses are using a marketing automation platform or currently implementing one. 

That tells me that pretty soon virtually everybody will be sending targeted email campaigns and personalizing their calls to action.

The premise is that by automating and accelerating the lead-to-revenue process, marketers can drive deeper engagement with customers and ultimately help their companies sell more.

So how do you go beyond basic targeted emails and personalized calls to action in a way that drives increased revenue AND an improved end-to-end digital experience? What’s more, how do you do it at scale?

How to Up the Ante: Make Good on the Promise

When I speak with leaders about how their marketing automation tools impact the holistic digital experience for their companies, there's no clear answers.

As a former CMO and more recently as a strategist who works with clients to develop their digital roadmaps, I see two problems: 1) most marketing teams use only a fraction of the features their tools deliver; and 2) the platforms can become yet another data silo in the enterprise when there are only a handful of users who know how to run the tools, tune them and get the powerful insights they can deliver.

Ferraris Bring the Sizzle, But Hondas Also Get the Job Done

Leaders should have a shared vision of what the marketing automation platform needs to do, not what it can do.

What will it be used for and who should be in the driver’s seat? 

If the tools will be used by sales and marketing, those teams should have the skills and aptitude to dive deep into the system’s capabilities. To maximize the value returned, the goal should be to ensure that the system works efficiently with the other platforms those teams use on a regular basis like content management and CRM.

Simplify and Leverage What’s Already Fully Adopted

Think about how many platforms you use in a day to get the information you need to manage your programs. Who has time to learn and use yet another? What if you can work with what you already have to automate your marketing campaigns?

I was recently working with a client whose team had adopted one of the leading digital marketing suites. When asked if they were using the suite for their marketing automation needs, the answer was no. They have a platform at their fingertips to do what they want. Why not use it?

If people are already familiar with and trained on the platform — a multi-million dollar investment in most scenarios — maximize all that it has to offer. The platform will soon serve as a common interface providing data the team can access and use without the need for special expertise. 

There are not enough hours in the day to learn another platform! And even if you spend the hours and the dollars, high staff turnover in junior- to mid-level marketing roles will disrupt your nicely laid plans quicker than anything else.

The Writing On the Wall: Fully Integrated Marketing Suites are the Future

Sitecore, Adobe, Salesforce, SAP Hybris, Oracle, IBM and the like are investing in their platforms to broaden the scope of what they offer. SAP Hybris announced SAP® hybris Marketing, for example, to enable companies to improve marketing programs by providing real-time context-based data about individual customers. 

It’s a highly competitive landscape and this competition is good. With so many strong players in the market, the features and capabilities are bound to improve over time.

As these software companies continue to launch new marketing automation capabilities, companies will have to rely less on cobbling together diverse platforms to meet their needs. They will already have the capabilities at their fingertips with one platform that everyone is adept at using.

Hire Generalists Who Have the Aptitude to Support End-to-End Experiences

While specialists add tremendous value in most situations, today’s marketing team needs generalists who can learn and deliver highly integrated digital experiences across multiple channels.

Many companies can’t afford to hire people who can only write great email subject lines or who only have strong analytics experience or knowledge of mobile trends. Marketing leaders need people who can do all three and understand how they fit together to create an ideal digital experience. 

Leaders need a team with the aptitude to understand the full customer journey, integrate their online and offline touch-points, then extract the data from marketing automation software needed to better inform their marketing programs.

Marketing automation will continue to experience healthy growth. The key is for companies to align around a common and well-understood platform versus buying best of breed software that may provide the sizzle, but may be too sophisticated for the journey.

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