I have been spending a lot of time recently looking at marketing automation. Overall, I have been pretty impressed with what I have seen. These applications have developed extremely rapidly over the past few years in both usability and intelligence. The power that marketing automation solutions such as Marketo, Eloqua and Aprimo now place in the hands of marketeers is fantastic. They allow us to roll out campaigns faster than ever before, nurture leads and effectively directly measure return on investment on marketing programs without masses of manual labour and endless spreadsheets.
The long term vision of many of these solutions is to move business-to-business marketing on to a new plain entirely: revenue performance management or, in layman’s terms ‘managing a marketing pipeline just like a sales pipeline’. For every marketeer who has ever struggled to prove the return on investment for their marketing dollars, this promises to be the Holy Grail.
Once implemented, companies should be able to forecast the marketing activity required to generate sufficient incremental sales. Marketing ceases to be a cost center and finally gets the recognition it deserves as a contributor to top line growth, which is surely what any marketeers worth his or her salt really craves.
Despite this, I can see how marketing automation could become a victim of its own success, if it is implemented without strong marketing leadership, for two reasons:
- The reporting that it provides is, by its very nature, retrospective. The temptation to keep repeating campaigns that ‘worked well last time’ becomes very strong, because one of the key features of automation is, of course, repeatability. Campaign reporting is a powerful tool, but it must always be allied to understanding of the market and the major trends during marketing planning.
- The elements that marketing automation solutions can measure become the only elements considered when deploying marketing programs. The output of any program is reduced to an email, a landing page and a white paper – because they are the things that we can directly measure quickly. Other potentially more effective traditional channels to communicate our messages are ignored because they don’t provide us with the instant gratification of a click-through.
The danger is that we become obsessed with measurability and focusing all of our efforts on the programs that can be directly deployed through marketing automation, to the detriment of investment in other aspects of the marketing process. Which is great in the short term, but we may find that neglecting other important elements, such as brand investment and sales enabling leaves buyers increasingly unaware of why they would even want to engage with our companies and sellers unable to deal with those customers when they do.
The strongest B2B marketeers will have the backbone to stand up for the programs that add long-term strategic value to their business, not just those things that can be measured directly. If awareness of what separates your business from the crowd is low, then the most elegantly crafted automated marketing programs are unlikely to help you succeed.
Marketing automation has the potential to massively strengthen the deployment and measurement of marketing strategy: but it shouldn’t BECOME your marketing strategy. It’s vital that we, as professional marketeers, are constantly proving our value to our organizations in terms of top line contribution whenever we can. But we shouldn’t forget that not everything that has value can be measured in numbers. Marketing automation is no substitute for common sense.