Why marketing automation isn’t bringing you immediate success

Nearly every organization is using some sort of marketing automation today. Just like CRM helped automate sales during the previous decade, today marketing automation promises to help create a more analytic- and process-driven approach for marketing teams. But in our experience across both B2C and B2B companies, we see that usage, and even overall adoption, is stalling.

The issue isn’t that companies fail to see the possible benefits. Whether you admit it or not, most of us know it: Only 25 percent report success in using marketing automation and 85 percent admit not using it to its full potential.

Functionality is rarely the issue

Marketing automation tools have more than enough functionality to manage programs at scale and at the pace of business. The problem starts early: when teams implement feature after feature instead of focusing on the supporting data requirements and enabling the most valuable end-to-end processes.

Our work with clients is often to implement marketing technology stacks that enable data-driven and next-generation marketing.  We are called in to implement 2nd and 3rd generation deployments to help teams consolidate platforms, adopt new modules, integrate more complex analytics and move toward real-time capability. And yet, once we’re successful with the technology side, the largest pain points and gaps are with people, processes, data management, and most importantly, organizational alignment.

Marketing is evolving

From the days of lead generation and press releases to filling the sales pipeline, building social engagement and even attacking account-based processes, marketing is aligning to new realities. But as we take on these new approaches, the largest determiner of success lies in the alignment between marketing and sales.

Companies that focus on this alignment drive up to 20 percent higher revenue growth; companies with poor alignment see a 4 percent revenue decline. But marketing automation, which could help with that coordination and alignment, is usually relegated to marketing alone preventing teams from meeting their objectives. Customer experience, acquisition and retention are all holistic company-wide activities and increasingly, it’s expected that marketing will drive these end-to-end processes across the company. That’s why we start from the key customer segments and define the end-to-end go-to-market. Only then do we align the systems and processes under that. Successful implementations lead to both a more appropriately tuned deployment and a stronger sense of team focus.

B2C vs. B2B: less different than you might think

Companies in the consumer space today are focused on delivering a personalized mobile-first multichannel experience. This demands a sophisticated data management strategy and extensive marketing technology stack that goes well beyond marketing automation. Often, this means enabling retail in-store and multichannel coordination.

In B2C, success is determined by how well your organization understands and aligns your marketing processes to your specific target segments and customers – and makes the purchase process seamless. We recommend advanced attribution analytics to optimize go-to-market processes and user engagement. If you can build your teams for this type of data-driven agility, you’ll deliver dramatically more to the bottom line and marketing automation will be a key piece of the toolkit.

B2B clients face a slightly more challenging environment and often miss the key success factor: how strongly marketing and sales collaborate. Even inbound content marketing and account-based marketing are only Band-Aids. If marketing activities and content delivered don’t mesh with sales’ priorities, the impact will be negligible. And marketing’s perceived value to sales will suffer. Most companies haven’t cracked the code.

The key is for marketing to organize the end-to-end selling process around the customer buying process – with marketing coordinating appropriate activities and deliverables across each team. It’s not easy, especially when revenue is at stake. But successful B2B companies are working toward a single set of processes—appropriate to their segments and account focus—that pull marketing automation, CRM and even channel management into tighter synchronization. Start with the most important 20 percent of the marketing automation functionality and spend 80 percent of your efforts aligning your processes with sales.  

A word of warning

CRM exploded because executives got immediate and ongoing insight into their sales teams’ activity and revenue position. But a weakness of CRM is that it relies on manual data entry, in a timely fashion. Data that affects commissions and forecasts is nearly always correct; other data is not consistent and affects the ability to turn account data into institutional knowledge.

Marketing automation can easily head in this same direction: too much data entry will reduce adoption and the quality of potential insights. We approach this in two ways:

  1. Automate as much data collection and management as possible and prioritize qualitative data-entry.
  2. Use analytics and reporting to set a workable amount of data-entry and process automation for each phase.

This step-wise approach leads to success at each milestone as your organization matures in its use of marketing automation and data-driven capabilities.

So where should you go from here? Every organization will find itself at a different maturity level and with a different set of immediate opportunities. Our advice is to focus on the most important and valuable set of processes, identify specific gaps and then leverage the software and its data in as specific and actionable way possible. I hate the expression “don’t boil the ocean,” but that often happens without a narrower initial focus. Prove success—even in a small area—to gain momentum within your teams and across the larger organization.