DO believe the hype: marketing automation works… but its no easy ride

Marketing automation is without doubt one of the most hyped topics in B2B marketing right now. And with good reason: at a time when most marketers are struggling to demonstrate their relevance and prove their worth, here’s a technology which promises to enable them to do just that – albeit at a cost.

But whilst the vendors and consultants have been talking it up, there have been rumblings of discontent from elsewhere. Although no-one with any clout has stood up to decry automation, and there’s certainly no such thing as an ‘anti-MA’ camp, as the vendors are gaining more traction, the negative voices are becoming more audible.

The events that I attend marketing automation are generally either organised by, or sponsored by, vendors or consultants (and attended by those enthusiastic about the topic) so to date I’ve found it impossible to gain a truly objective perspective about the technology.

That was something I was eager to put right at our recent roundtable. Taking part were six marketers who were interested in the topic, but at very different levels of understanding and implementation (names are strictly off the record). Two of the attendees were exploring the subject with a view to future implementation; two further were in the processes of implementing this technology; whilst the final two had experience of working with it in a live environment (in one case, on two separate systems). To my mind, this mix was ideal – we couldn’t have planned it better if we’d tried.

Attendees arrived ready and willing to share, and to openly discuss their thoughts and experiences. The discussion that ensued was, in short, fascinating and revelatory.

The clearest and most obvious conclusion to emerge was that, without question, marketing automation absolutely can work, and deliver enormous benefits. However, that is tempered by the fact that it is absolutely no easy ride: implementation difficult, convoluted and suck up a huge amount of resources. And when rollout is completed the fun doesn’t stop – it’s an ongoing challenge to ensure the system is delivering and results are being achieved.

Having said that, the potential benefits do not only relate directly to the use of the technology, as one of the experience MA users pointed out, implementation forces users to think about processes and procedures and provides an opportunity to improve these dramatically. This relates, in particular, to storytelling and narratives, which for big companies can become confusing and convoluted.

But whilst there were ringing endorsements for MA from those who have used the technology, there was a serious note of caution for those considering it: it’s certainly not necessarily right for all marketers and all companies. Indeed, for some it will be a massive and unwelcome distraction that could have significant negative implications for the organisation as a whole. To paraphrase one attendee, ‘I’m tying to build a Ferrari engine, but my company is a Mini Cooper which is running well but needs a lot of attention to keep going.’

In other words, marketers can’t afford to take their eye off the ball, or give up their dayjobs. There will still be targets to hit and revenue to generate. Here is some additional advice for prospective MA users from attendees:

• Don’t assume it will be a quick fix for all your marketing problems – it won’t.
• Don’t assume it will sort out your data issues – it certainly won’t, and if your data’s bad before automation it may be worse afterwards.
• Don’t bother with marketing automation if you don’t have a large volume of customers/prospects.
• Do ensure whichever platform you use integrates with your CRM system.
• Do be very clear about what you’re trying to achieve before you even start thinking about MA.
• Do make sure it’s part of your marketing plans and processes.
• Do consider the international implications of an MA system – decision makers in different markets require nurturing in different ways.