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MarTech Landscape: What Is Marketing Automation Software?
Marketing automation software can improve marketing productivity and increase lead quality. Here's what you need to know before adopting a marketing automation platform.
Marketing automation software has become an integral part of today’s digital marketing department — whether for a small local business or a large enterprise. As digital marketing channels have evolved, so have marketing automation platforms. Ironically, by automating certain marketing functions, it’s possible to create a more relevant, engaging and personal experience for your prospects.
In this article, part of our MarTech Landscape Series, we look at B2B marketing automation software, which we’ve defined as:
A campaign management system that drives prospect interactions with the brand, measures prospect response to marketing programs, and delivers prospect information to sales representatives through the company’s CRM or salesforce automation (SFA) systems. When used effectively, marketing automation systems will deliver a continuous flow of qualified leads to the salesforce, as well as the data needed to close sales with those leads.
What Does Marketing Automation Do?
Most marketing automation platforms have their roots in one or two core competencies (e.g., email, CRM) and subsequently added capabilities (either through acquisition or organic growth) as new marketing channels have emerged. Virtually every B2B marketing automation platform provides the following core capabilities:
- Email marketing and landing page development.
- Website visitor tracking.
- Lead capture, scoring and nurturing.
- Centralized marketing database.
- Native CRM integration.
- Data analysis and reporting.
From there, vendors differentiate by providing additional tools — which may be add-ons or included in the base price — that offer the following advanced features:
- Dynamic content generation.
- Multichannel campaign management.
- Mobile optimization (i.e., responsive design).
- ROI and revenue reporting.
- Built-in independent software vendor (ISV) app integration.
What Are The Benefits And Challenges Of Marketing Automation?
Marketing automation can provide several benefits for a busy marketing department:
- Increased marketing efficiency. The software can improve productivity by automating time-consuming manual tasks around content creation, management and personalization, campaign scheduling and execution, data hygiene (i.e., fixing duplicate or inconsistent data residing in various silos), communication with sales teams and lead nurturing.
- Enhanced ability to generate more — and better-qualified — leads. Marketing automation combines multiple criteria, such as demographic and behavioral data (pages visited, downloads, filled-out forms) with a lead scoring system, to identify leads that are ready for the sales team to contact. You know more about your targets and can deliver a more relevant message.
- Multichannel view of prospect behavior. Today’s marketing automation platforms can integrate multiple channels (e.g., email, social, website) to create more comprehensive prospect profiles and more holistic views of prospect behavior.
- Better alignment of sales and marketing goals. Marketing automation software can help to align sales and marketing efforts to ensure that sales reps are working with sales-ready leads. By working cooperatively to set scoring parameters and define qualified leads, sales and marketing become one team. Marketing works on building relationships with early-stage leads to enable sales to focus their efforts on the most highly qualified prospects.
- Improved lead conversion and ROI. According to Forrester Research, B2B marketers that implement marketing automation experience a 10-percent increase in their sales pipeline contribution.
Adopting and implementing the software is not without its challenges:
- Training, onboarding and implementing take time. Identify who on your team will be using the software, and negotiate with the vendor for ample training hours to get the team up and running. Expect a learning curve, and allow time for transition to the new system.
- Underutilization of the platform. Marketing automation platforms can end up being expensive email systems if not used to their fullest capacity. Training is key, as is buy-in to use as much of the system’s capability as possible. Attend user conferences and participate in forums to keep up with new capabilities.
- Integration with existing marketing technology can be complicated. While the vendor may describe integration with other applications as “seamless,” integrating the new marketing automation platform with your existing marketing technology may hit some speed bumps.
- Marketing or sales staff resistance to changing marketing processes. Change can be difficult in any organization, and the adoption of marketing automation software can be disruptive for some team members.
How to Select a Marketing Automation Platform
Once you’ve determined that your organization needs marketing automation software, the next step is to do your homework and find out which vendors might be a good fit. Are you looking for an enterprise-level platform or something at the SMB level? What type of budget do you have? Pricing is often based on the number of contacts in your database, the number of emails sent per month or the number of users within your organization.
For an overview of the marketplace and profiles of enterprise vendors, check out B2B Marketing Automation Platforms: A Marketer’s Guide, published by our sister site, Digital Marketing Depot. It’s free in exchange for some registration information.
David Raab’s VEST report ($795) dives deeper and scores 23 vendors on 200 data points. It’s worth the investment if you are serious about adopting an enterprise-level marketing automation program.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to four or five vendors, it’s time to schedule a demo.
The Demo: What To Look For, What To Ask
Set up demos with your short list of vendors within a relatively short time frame to help make relevant comparisons. Make sure that all potential internal users are on the demo call, and pay attention to the following:
- How easy is the platform to use? Ask for a trial period (even if just a few days) after the demo, to see if you can replicate some of what’s shown to you on the demo call.
- Does the vendor seem to understand our business and our marketing needs? It’s important that you take the time to explain your business, why you need marketing automation, and how you expect to use it. This is something better done before the demo, either in an RFI (request for information) or in initial discussions with vendors.
- If we ask a specific question, can they demonstrate the answer on the call? If the sales rep can’t answer your question, don’t wait for an email explanation; schedule a call with someone who can answer the question.
- Are they showing us our “must-have” features? Make sure you are satisfied that everything you need is there — if you don’t see it, ask. Again, if the rep can’t show you, ask to re-schedule a call with someone who can.
Ask for a demonstration of the specific capabilities that you have identified in your preliminary discussions with the vendor, or in a more formal RFI/RFP process. Consider requesting product demos of basic tasks and core reports, such as:
- Create and edit a new email from scratch.
- Import a contact list from a CSV file.
- Create and edit a new landing page from scratch.
- Execute a simple campaign with an email, mailing list and landing page.
- See a report showing email opens and click-throughs.
- See a report showing web traffic and/or specific leads from an email campaign.
Finally, in addition to the product itself, ask about related services and product roadmaps:
- How easy is it to integrate this software into my organization?
- What is the onboarding process?
- How long does implementation take?
- What kind of support and training are included in the base price?
- How do I maximize adoption in my organization?
- Will we have a dedicated account rep available to us?
- Do current customers utilize the full functionality?
- What new features are you focusing on for the coming year?
- Can we do a test run for a few days on our own (i.e., a free trial)?
Once you’re satisfied that you’ve found the right software, ask the vendor for some customer references. Assuming they pan out, next step is to negotiate the contract and be on your way to a new and improved approach to marketing!
Who Are Some Leading Vendors Of Marketing Automation Software?
B2B Marketing Automation Platforms: A Marketer’s Guide profiles the following marketing automation software companies: Act-On Software, Adobe Campaign, AutopilotHQ, eTrigue, HubSpot, Infusionsoft, Marketo, Oracle Eloqua, Sales Engine Media, Salesforce (Pardot), Salesfusion, Silverpop (IBM), StrongView, Teradata.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech Today. Staff authors are listed here.