By Ian Liddicoat, Managing Director, EMB Marketing Sciences.
We live in a world that is constantly striving for real-time information and businesses seeking new ways to streamline their IT functions and strategies. Therefore, companies are increasingly focusing on automating their systems across sectors.
One specific business area that is often overlooked within the B2B industry is the automation of marketing strategies.
What is marketing automation?
Marketing automation is a set of software applications and standardised processes – linked to a single data repository. This would include internal marketing departments, media buying agencies and fulfilment channels both on and off line. These solutions include rigorous workflow and permission based techniques, to ensure that all parties have the same, often real-time view of the status of all campaign activity.
It would also focus on how this is affecting customer behaviour and key performance indicators captured within some form of dashboard. Marketing automation can also include automated applications within call centres, web sites and dedicated landing pages to largely remove human intervention and eradicate errors.
The benefits of marketing automation when successfully implemented, result in much faster campaign cycles, so that message content is tailored to previous responses on a shorter timescale and with a greater degree of personalisation.
This ultimately results in increased ROI per campaign, but tends to have greater benefits for B2C activity due to the greater variety of segments, campaign types and suppliers involved in a single campaign cycle.
The potential disadvantage of marketing automation for B2B marketing is the “black box” problem. There are examples of multi stage B2B campaigns in which the rules governing the next step in the campaign have not been defined correctly or in sufficient detail and valuable opportunities to tailor the message are lost.
The balance is the need for human resource versus the need for increasing cost efficiency, which is certainly a major topic in the current environment.
How to automate your marketing approach?
Marketing automation requires very mature campaign processes that have been fully documented and tested and include sophisticated rules that govern multi-step campaigns across multi channels.
Many B2B organisations are simply not in a position to achieve this level of sophistication with a detailed view of the entire customer journey. However, more B2B companies must start assessing their strategies in more detail and below are some key points on how businesses can begin automating their marketing approaches.
1. Pilot exercise
It is critical for those organisations embarking on full scale marketing automation to ensure that this level of sophistication is achievable and viable from a financial perspective. It is therefore advisable to work with the chosen software vendors on a small scale, pilot project (that is representative of the scale of campaign activity that will be generated) to test the assumptions and surrounding business case before attempting full roll out.
2. Enterprise level view
With a Pilot project completed it is then possible to create an Enterprise level view of what marketing automation would mean for the business – ie full cost benefit. This needs to include an assessment of the impact on the customer from this level of automation, as these projects must seek to enhance the relationship or dialogue with the customer and not damage it.
By this stage, a business must have established a detailed and compelling business case to move forward and include all costs and a realistic assessment of the benefits to be accrued. It is essential that all organisational impacts are evaluated at this stage.
3. Campaign cycles
With a Business Case definition completed it is important that a clear scope and project plan for a staged implementation is documented prior to the tender process for software vendors. This requires that reasonably complete views of all campaign cycles are clearly documented.
However, this is an area often neglected by businesses embarking on marketing automation. It is imperative that organisations recognise that software applications alone will not deliver the maximum benefits, unless the business has a clear view of which processes are being automated and the business drivers behind their selection.
4. Strategic overview
At this stage a business adopting marketing automation can undergo formal ITT, RFQ and select a software vendor. In selecting candidate vendors the business must have a view about the balance of internal resources versus external or outsourced services.
This is a strategic question that relates to the degree of control that will be required over campaign processes and will depend on their complexity, the number of stakeholders involved, the nature of the product or service and the nature of the ideal relationship with the customer.
Staged implementation, linking small numbers of entities and stakeholders with a review process against the cost benefit analyses.
6. Roll out
Controlled roll out to the wider user community must balance the risks associated with introducing automation, to what were once manual processes with more complex or higher profile campaign cycles being implemented later in the program.
Ultimately, the benefits of marketing automation when successfully implemented result in much faster campaign cycles, so that message content is tailored to previous responses on a shorter timescale and with a greater degree of personalisation.
It is vital that organisations recognise that automation for its own sake is not a route to success.
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