Key to Marketing Automation Success: Process First, then Campaigns

In a phone call this week I was swapping war stories with a well-known sales and marketing consultant, who, like us, works with B2B companies to improve their return on marketing automation. Interestingly, our experiences in the rapidly evolving marketing automation category were quite common, especially in one area:

A year ago, most of the client engagements for both our firms were what my consultant friend called “rescues” – that is, companies who purchased marketing automation software, jumped immediately into tactical campaign mode, and then needed help six or nine months later when they realized they were achieving only a fraction of the platform’s potential.

In the case of our agency, though we still get our fair share of calls from companies who find themselves saddled with what amounts to an expensive email broadcast system, a growing percentage of our engagements are with companies who have yet to even purchase the software. And that fact, I would propose, is a good sign for a maturing market. It would appear that companies are now waking up to the fact that no marketing automation software can be successful without a proper strategic foundation.

This same point was brought home by an insightful article, “Calculating the ROI of Marketing Automation Platforms,” published late last year by Sirius Decisions. In the post, author Jonathan Block makes a number of cogent points, but I would highlight two:

“It’s clear that many B2B organizations now understand the need for marketing automation technologies, and the need for optimized processes and skills to leverage them.” (emphasis mine)

“Unfortunately, we still see organizations purchase a marketing automation platform (MAP) in an attempt to automate processes that don’t exist; in instances where this has occurred, the technology has struggled to demonstrate results.”

The bad news here is that marketing automation isn’t the magic wand that some companies apparently thought it was. The good news is that as more and more stories (and posts, and tweets) proliferate about the marketing automation experience, those companies who have yet to take the leap now do so armed with the lessons of their forebears, and are taking action to ensure that the appropriate processes, strategy, and skills are in place to ensure marketing automation makes a real difference to their organization.

Does all this mean that buying into marketing automation requires you to first hire an agency or consultant? No, not necessarily. What it does mean, I would argue, is that no matter the inevitable pressure to start generating campaigns (to quickly prove the system’s worth, presumably), marketing automation is most effective when it’s preceded by a strategy and plan that reflects clear, defined business goals and metrics for success.


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