After personally using 4 different email management systems over the past 7 years to create, launch, and track over 650 email campaigns in both the B2C and B2B worlds, I can assuredly tell you, there are differences between them. There are differences between the little guys that charge nominal fees, and the marketing automation systems that will cost you thousands of dollars per month and pick up your dry-cleaning.
The decision to purchase a true marketing automation solution is not only about price. It’s about what it does, including what it does to your resource requirements, and other factors that should not be ignored prior to making this investment of time and money.
How intense are your lead management requirements?
While marketing automation is about more than plain email, email is often at the heart of most implementations. However, you may also plan to use a system to automate landing pages. Bottom line, many companies are attempting to automate how they attract the attention of, and nurture, prospects and customers. In some areas, there are critical differences between how B2C companies, versus B2B, can leverage marketing automation. Here are some points that will help you decide if a marketing automation investment should be in your future.
Do you manage high volumes of leads? B2C companies, whether they are start-ups, or well-established brands, are often managing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of leads per month. They can easily have those numbers of subscribers in their database, and automatically pick up many thousands of new users per day. Automation, either off-the-shelf, or proprietary, is necessary to manage that kind of traffic. B2B systems do not normally need to support those numbers. In my experience, any complex B2B technology company is doing well if they’ve accumulated a prospect and client database of several thousand.
How many flavors do your prospects come in? In the B2C world, you can’t afford to collect new leads in one bucket, and update your subscribership manually once a week or less, like some B2B companies do. You can’t wait a day or two to acknowledge, inform, or thank your users. And you are usually interested in segmenting your audience, which can be done to the extreme in most B2C settings. This leaves room for dozens of email campaigns and online experiences that may require dozens of landing pages. If you don’t have the internal support to do this, automation can really speed up your ability to communicate more meaningfully with specific demographics.
Do you cash in on clicks? Some B2C companies generate revenue by the click, or some other online conversion event. As we know, it’s great work if you can get it, but it’s not usually the case for B2B technology firms, especially if they require more complex sales. Like it or not, human involvement is required to generate high-end B2B revenue, so any “cold-calling” naysayers can save that tread-bare discussion for LinkedIn! If you are running a seven- or eight-figure email program, the investment in a higher-end marketing automation system is much easier to justify. Especially as it helps you generate more clicks/conversions, etc.
Do you need to support “If X then Y” communications? This type of communication in usually based in behavior, demographics, or other qualifiers. For example, every consumer who clicks on X gets the Y follow-up. In the B2B world, perhaps every prospect who downloaded X gets the Y follow-up. These triggers can get pretty specific with regards to content and timing in the B2C world, less so for B2B. B2B companies need to think through exactly which aspects of their lead generation strategy need further automation and what they stand to gain from it. In some cases, one annual sale may pay for the system, but as I mentioned, the consideration to automate goes beyond the financial cost of the system.
Are there enough cooks in your kitchen?
How are you set for resources that will “support” the “support system”? These requirements pull from your marketing bevy, reach into sales, and could potentially involve IT. As my friend Jeff Ernst, Principal at Forrester Research, says, “Marketing automation can be a catalyst for sales and marketing alignment”.
Bake brownies for IT: It may happen when you are transferring your databases, or it may happen when you are trying to figure out when a prospect entered your system. At some point you will need IT support. It’s always good to involve IT before you sign on the dotted line with a marketing automation vendor. They may bring up data management issues nobody else considered.
Launching your first campaign: While marketing automation vendors are doing their best to be user-friendly and to shorten your learning curve, you may not be launching your first campaign within a couple of hours of sitting down in front of your new system. You will require training. I highly recommend getting names and phone numbers of support specialists at the vendor firm. Don’t rely on automated training, generic training con calls, or online libraries. Speaking to someone live will speed up the learning process.
Better use a flow chart: To take advantage of true automation, you need to think through all of your potential communications paths. For example, if someone enters the system on day 1, they’ll get the day 5 message, then the day 12 message, and repeat in six months. If they click on option A, then they get live sales follow up, etc. Be sure to sit down with all stakeholders when you devise this plan. It can get pretty detailed, and you want to make sure everyone is on board with the approach.
The write stuff: As I mentioned earlier, a marketing automation system is only as powerful as the messaging it conveys. It’s not “writing automation”. That responsibility still rests with you, your staff, or your contractors. When it comes to online messaging, the verbiage is only part of the battle, attention must be given to usability, SEO (if you are going to archive your email messages or post them to your blog), and landing pages.
Making it look good: Some degree of graphic design and formatting will still be required to make the most of your messaging, branding and usability. Marketing automation systems that do not have WYSIWYG editors will require you to produce your own HTML.
Involving sales: It is mission critical, especially in B2B settings, that sales leadership be on the same page as marketing in determining how to best handle the impact marketing automation will have on your sales funnel. This is a great time to re-think your lead qualification process, and to determine at which junctures sales will engage the prospect or customer.
What are your “must-have” features?
Be sure to know what you are looking for, on the feature level, before you entertain a new marketing automation system. Your vendor selection process can go a long way toward predicting how effectively the system will be leveraged going forward.
Have you hugged your power user today? Once you have identified your power user/s, be sure to involve them in the selection process. For example, if they have historically been launching your email campaigns, they will have a valuable perspective. Make sure you are essentially giving them a system they can readily use. For example, some vendors have WYSIWYG editors for composing email, others do not. The latter is fine if you are prepared to support HTML creation via some other resource. If you have limited support resources, the former will be a time and money saver. It’s this type of feature that can really help or hurt those responsible for the success of your system.
What type of reporting will satisfy stakeholders? Most marketing automation systems come with satisfactory reporting features. However the true power user may want to keep track of results, multivariate tests, and subscribership growth in their own spreadsheets. This makes changes over time more apparent as well as making it easier to customize charts for stakeholders. It’s important that all contingents agree upon which data they would like to see. They should also set expectations for reporting frequency and accessibility of reports. A common scenario: that one executive would like to see something different from what the standard system reports include. Marketing needs to be prepared to support that.
Marketing automation systems, while powerful, are only as strong as the marketing muscle put behind them. Your answers to the questions posed will help determine if you would use a marketing automation system to its fullest potential, or if it would sit in the cloud, collecting cyberdust! I hope you arrive at the best conclusion for your company.
Thank you for your interest and your comments.
Kathy Tito Dunlay
President and Founder, New England Sales & Marketing