Marketing automation is all the rage among marketing types like me. There are good reasons for this. When I led the marketing function in the 90s for a technology consulting firm, I tried to develop a suite of tools that would behave much the same way marketing automation does today: build campaigns, track everything, score everything and give the hottest leads to sales people.
But it never really worked. I had a guy on retainer to build crystal reports that would allow me to glean data from several different tools. But the reporting was always lagging. By the time I discovered the hot leads, the ones who were really engaging us, they were already knee-deep in negotiations with sales people or they had cooled off. It was frustrating.
But that has all changed. Today’s out-of-the-box marketing automation tools have more whiz-bang features than I could have envisioned back then. It’s actually amazing to me what these tools can do and how much visibility they give marketers into how campaigns are performing.
So I wonder… Why is it that so many companies are struggling to realize their desired returns on marketing automation? Why does marketing automation have this black-mark on its reputation? Why are so many marketing executives hesitant to throw their full weight behind these tools?
I’ve lead the charge on 6 different marketing automation implementations over the last 3 years and on more than one platform. I’ve seen how difficult these implementations can be. Yet every one of our projects has been successful, some more than others. We’ve learned a lot of difficult lessons out of these implementations and I’d like to share them with you here. Whether you’ve already implemented marketing automation and are trying to get more out of it, or if you are thinking about implementing marketing automation and want to be as prepared as possible, I believe these steps will help you.
The seven steps
Define what you want marketing automation to do for your firm
When most of these implementations start, there is one idea, one piece of functionality, that really gets people excited. But then people start looking at the entire feature-set and something happens. I call this losing your McGuffin. A McGuffin, in movie-making terms, is whatever moves the plot forward. It is the compelling reason to do something.
If you are not crystal clear about your McGuffin, you will likely lose your way and not get the desired returns you were hoping for. You see, the problem is that marketing automation tools do too much – way too much. Most of them do more than you’ll need. So to be successful, you have to focus on what you want the tool to do for your firm. So I encourage you to be very clear on what success looks like to you – not to the manufacturer who wants to sell you the tool based on everything it can do.
Define your expectations of how sales and marketing staff will use the tool
This is probably the single biggest issue. I’ve written other articles on the topic of sales and marketing alignment. Many marketing executives mistakenly believe that a marketing automation implementation will help bring alignment with the sales team. Usually this is not true. You have to create this alignment before implementing the marketing automation tool or else the problem will likely become worse, not better.
You see, marketing automation does empower sales and marketing teams to be in much closer collaboration. But if they have completely different notions of what a lead looks like, how leads should be followed-up with and who the ideal client is – well marketing automation won’t fix that.
Once you create a common vision for these key questions, the marketing automation tool will help you convert more leads to clients. But you have to be careful about your expectations of how sales and marketing staff will use the tool. Marketing staff generally have a higher tolerance for learning new tools. But sales staff usually don’t have time or the inclination. So make sure you are delivering actionable data from your tool in ways that work for both functions.
Define your technology requirements
This is where most companies start. But you’ll notice that it’s third down on my list. Why? Because I don’t believe in “technology cool.” I believe in “business cool.” In other words, just because a piece of technology does something cool, that doesn’t mean it will help your business.
I encourage you to carefully consider answers to these key questions:
Evaluate the available tools in the market
If you’ve already contracted with a marketing automation vendor, this decision is made. But there is nothing wrong with keeping your eye on developments that are coming out from competitive tools. We do this all the time. If you haven’t chosen your tool yet, I’d like to recommend these steps:
Build and execute your implementation plan
This step is primarily for those who have not yet implemented marketing automation. But that being said, I do want to make this one point. Most marketing automation systems that under-perform have the seeds of failure planted during their implementation. One of the reasons we’ve been successful with our marketing automation implementations is because we spend so much time and effort in the due diligence phase. Due diligence and up-front research will prevent dozens of headaches on the back-end. A solid implementation plan contains at least these elements:
Collect and analyze your data to see where you need to make changes
The beauty of marketing automation is that you have data – tons of data – at your finger-tips at all times. But this is also a problem. What data is indicative of the success you are trying to create and what data is simply noise? If you don’t focus on the right data, you’ll struggle to make the course corrections that are critical to success.
Build and deploy automated campaigns using content and market segmentation
This is the reason, I believe, most marketers implement marketing automation. These tools empower you to run campaigns that generate real leads and create client-collisions. There are many different types of campaigns you can run and they all can be automated. The key is to have great content that is on-target for your ideal client and to create a path that pulls them toward a meaningful conversation.
I’ve develop an Action Guide that goes into much greater details on all 7 of these steps. It’s called 7 Steps To Optimize Marketing Automation For Service Firms. But you don’t have to be a service firm to benefit from this guide. The principle are applicable to virtually all B2B companies.
The Action Guide contains 7 videos that go into much greater detail about each of the steps above. Each video has a corresponding Action Plan that you can download and fill out so you can apply the ideas to your firm. It’s all free and it’s a great resource for anyone wanting to realize the optimal return on their marketing automation efforts.