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Marketing automation - beyond the hype

As an editor, my primary role is to provide my audience with objective, unbiased opinions about key issues, events or trends, through research, evaluation and informed comment - although quite often this defaults to cynicism! Inevitably I'm often required to comment on suppliers, vendors and/or technology, and one particular type of solution that I’ve found myself focusing on time and time again over the last three years is marketing automation.

And in my attitude to this technology, I’ve consistently found myself bucking my natural inclination towards cynicism. Ever since I was first introduced to the concept, I’ve been a buyer – conceptually at any rate.

Having been (and continuing to be) involved in detailed discussions about email response rates and web analytics for my company, the idea of a solution that could bind the two together, providing huge leaps forward in transparency in audience behaviour as a consequence a no-brainer. And when you add on additional functionality, specifically the central ability to automate communications and content flows based on an individual’s behaviour, and feed this back seamlessly to the sales team, the arguments in favour of marketing automation became even more compelling. To my mind this functionality allowed marketing automation to make the leap from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’.

With this in mind, I find it even more staggering that, three years after I was first introduced to the concept, and after a long recession which has forced most B2B marketers to focus more and more on working with sales and driving conversions, adoption rates for marketing automation platforms remains so low. According to our new Lead Generation & Nurturing Benchmarking Report (coming soon!) only 20 per cent of respondents had implemented a marketing automation platform, and only a further eight per cent were currently considering implementation. A quarter of respondents had ruled it out altogether – I find this extraordinary bearing in mind how game-changing this technology could be, and even more when you consider that respondents to this survey were high focused on leads.

These statistics lead me to conclude that too many companies either don’t understand the benefits that marketing automation can deliver, or they regard the obstacles inherent in implementation, in terms of sales force integration, too challenging to countenance. Without question, marketing automation is complex solution to implement and utilise, requiring a thorough evaluation of processes and a greater level of co-operation and interaction with the sales team. Some marketers (or perhaps some brands) simply don’t have the stomach for this. For those that do, the benefits can be enormous – as was clear to see last year at the Eloqua user conference in London. It was more like the meeting of an evangelical religious group than a software summit! The news that Marketo is finally following Eloqua, Silverpop and Pardot to launch a European operation is clearly good news for marketers on this side of the pond, and will hopefully drive greater awareness.

Of course, if you are using or starting to use marketing automation now, this low level of adoption is good news: it means your marketing is likely to be more effective than that of your competitors, and your sales team more effective in converting those leads.

On the other hand, if you’re considering this software, but are confused by the vendor landscape and the different options available: don’t worry, help is at hand. At B2B Marketing we have produced a Marketing Automation Tech Evaluation Guide, which offers indepth information about the leading solutions allowing prospective purchasers to make a informed comparisons functional, fiscal and intellectual basis. The Guide outlines solutions from 12 different vendors, ranging from state-of-the-art, Rolls Royce style top end systems, to more simple and accessible applications with price points to match, designed for smaller companies.

Like CRM before it, I firmly believe that marketing automation is a technology with a genuine ability to transform how we work, and will become a universal tool for B2B brands. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’, and the sooner brands acknowledge this, the sooner they can start reaping the benefits.