What should you expect from a B2B marketing automation platform?
If you're in the market for a B2B Marketing Automation platform, here's how to make sense of the vendor marketplace.
Virtually every B2B marketing automation vendor provides tools for email campaign development and execution (including landing pages), as well as lead capture, scoring and nurturing. The platforms also typically provide centralized marketing databases and a basic level of reporting on web traffic, visitor behavior and campaign results.
Combined, the core features offered by most B2B marketing automation platforms include:
- Email marketing and landing page development;
- Lead management (i.e., capture, scoring and nurturing);
- Native CRM integration; and APIs or app marketplaces for faster martech system access.
The market is quickly evolving, as B2B marketers demand integrated marketing functionality that rapidly translates into bottom-line return. Vendors continue to add more advanced features to provide marketing end-users with the ability to build, track and manage campaigns across channels and/or devices, and monitor the flow of leads as they move from marketing to sales.
These features include, but are not limited to:
- Dynamic content generation (email, landing pages and/or website);Account-based marketing (ABM);
- Mobile marketing; AI-based predictive analytics; and
- Social/lead profile integration.
The following section discusses several of these core and advanced marketing automation capabilities in more depth .
Dynamic content creation
Virtually all marketing automation platforms provide the ability to create, send and measure personalized email campaigns. Where they differ is in how email, landing page and website content is created and personalized. Some vendors offer wizard-based campaign design or content templates, while others provide a more customized approach.
There are also differences in static vs. dynamically generated content, which adjusts on the fly as prospects interact with a website or form. Progressive profiling is often offered to prepopulate forms with known data and use a drip approach to capture additional prospect information each time they interact with campaigns.
Message deliverability is also an important factor to consider. Some B2B marketing automation vendors offer dedicated IP addresses to improve deliverability, and/or monitor deliverability by including ReturnPath or other email deliverability services. Email previewing is an advanced function but may be critical to marketers that want to reach their audience through mobile devices and see what their message will look like on smaller screens.
The market is quickly evolving, as B2B marketers demand integrated marketing functionality that rapidly translates into bottom-line return.
Lead management comprises three functions: lead capture, lead scoring and lead nurturing. Leads are captured from a variety of sources that feed the marketing automation database, including (but not limited to) website visitors, social media, paid digital campaigns, email marketing respondents, trade show attendees and purchased third-party lists. Platforms will vary based on the ease with which additional lead sources can be captured, such as through an open API, or whether the platform offers landing page optimization.
Lead scoring assigns a value to each lead based on a predetermined set of rules or criteria. Traditional lead scoring models are generally based on two sets of data values: behavior (i.e., site purchases, browsing, social posts) and demographics/firmographics. Many B2B marketing automation platforms now offer predictive scoring, which can incorporate hundreds of data points by sourcing websites, social networks and internal systems such as the CRM and marketing database itself to calculate scores.
Lead nurturing is the process of keeping prospects engaged with the brand through periodic, personalized communications or campaigns until they are ready to buy. Marketing automation platforms may offer a number of pre-built nurturing steps or actions, as well as allow users to customize their content and process. These efforts are meant to build a relationship between the brand and its prospects, and drive interaction with sales if and when the prospect is ready
Most B2B marketing automation platforms provide a standard set of analytics that track quantifiable data such as website visitor activity, pages viewed, time spent on site, emails opened, content downloaded and campaign responses.
More vendors are offering predictive analytics and models based on machine learning, which uses algorithms to process data and surface trends or insights that enable marketers to customize visitor experiences and marketing campaigns.
Several platforms have invested in artificial intelligence (AI) to go a step beyond machine learning and use technology to “mimic” human intelligence and recommend marketing actions or outcomes. These may include highly personalized website content or product recommendations based on analysis of consumption trends, on-site behavior, firmographics and CRM data. Other vendors rely on plug-and-play integration with predictive analytics tools to offer greater analytics and personalization capabilities.
Creating an engaging experience for mobile prospects and customers is a must-have capability. As a result, many B2B marketing automation platforms include responsive templates for email, landing pages and web forms. Several vendors integrate with email testing tools such as Litmus, to allow users to preview email marketing messages across email clients and devices.
More advanced mobile marketing features include SMS/texting, in-app marketing and remote platform management from mobile devices. In-app marketing features can include “push” notifications or ads based on geography (i.e., geo-fencing or beaconing) or during events. B2B marketing automation vendors have also expanded platform access to mobile users, moving beyond automated alerts and remote data collection to full platform management.
Virtually all B2B marketing automation platforms provide a standard set of analytics that track quantifiable data such as website visitor activity, pages viewed, time spent on site, emails opened, content downloaded and campaign responses.
Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
Aligning marketing initiatives with sales teams has become a leading ABM priority for marketers. The goal is to target marketing programs to prospect or customer buying teams,rather than individuals who may have moved into new positions or firms.
Many times, a B2B buyer is not a single person. The larger the purchase, the more people and departments are involved. B2B marketing automation vendors continue to add new ABM features to their platforms to enable this strategy, including enhanced account nurturing and predictive scoring capabilities.
Social lead/profile integration
Most of the B2B marketing automation vendors profiled in this report provide some level of social media publishing, sharing and tracking within the platform for networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Some platforms provide more advanced social media tools to monitor social posts and add social behavior to lead profiles, often using social engagement as a scoring factor. Other platforms enable the use of social media sign-on to capture social profile data and build lead profiles.
Native CRM integration
With more businesses seeking to align marketing with sales, native or out-of-the-box integration with CRM systems has become a critical feature for B2B marketing automation platforms. Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Oracle NetSuite and SugarCRM are some of the most commonly available connectors.
Data is synchronized between the two systems and shared in both directions at frequent intervals. For example, data that is added by a sales rep to an account record in the CRM will be automatically added to the record in the marketing automation platform for marketing end users to view and act upon, as well.
Third-party software connectivity
B2B marketing automation vendors continue to open their platform architectures through APIs and app marketplaces to offer customers access to an expansive array of third-party martech software systems. The app marketplaces provide faster “plug-and-play” access between the systems, although there may be additional fees to purchase the marketplace apps.
If a preferred martech app is not available on a marketing automation vendor’s marketplace it doesn’t mean that the two systems won’t connect – it means that some customization will be required. API use does incur additional charges, generally on a per-call basis for each data download.
Proactive recommendations based on AI
Martech vendors in many categories, including B2B marketing automation, are working to incorporate functionality that smooths the workflow for marketers using their software. One significant focus is providing users with proactive recommendations or suggestions for best next steps based on aggregated data and historical usage patterns.
For more in-depth info on B2B Marketing Automation Platforms, including a chart that shows the capabilities of 13 different vendors, download our Martech Intelligence Report!