Jeff Ernst, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, explains that Marketing Automation can help move your lead development process from the bunny slopes to the black diamond zone. It’s our pleasure to interview Jeff about this hot topic in B2B marketing at technology companies.
Kathy Dunlay: Jeff, how does Forrester define marketing automation, and what are some key vendors that you follow in this area?
Jeff Ernst: Forrester defines marketing automation in terms of what you can do with it rather than the functional components. In the B2B context, we define it as follows:
“Tooling and process that help generate new business opportunities, manage volumes of business inquiries, improve potential buyers’ propensity to purchase, and increase alignment between marketing activity and sales results.”
This is a very broad and fragmented vendor category, so we follow marketing suite vendors such as Aprimo, Unica, and Neolane; lead management vendors such as Eloqua, Manticore, Marketo, and Silverpop; as well as niche players in social media, analytics, asset management, listening, and database services.
Kathy Dunlay: What would you say are the primary reasons a B2B tech firm looks at Marketing Automation? In other words, what does a prospective user “look like”?
Jeff Ernst: I do a couple of inquiry calls a week with B2B companies thinking about embarking on marketing automation, and the most common situation I see goes like this: “We’ve been a sales-driven company, marketing has been focused mostly on brand awareness and not on lead generation. The company has done well in the past but we’re having a harder time hitting revenue goals, and we want marketing to have a greater impact on the strategic growth of the company.” Does that sound familiar to you, too?
Kathy Dunlay: That absolutely sounds familiar! I’ve always said “it takes a village to generate a lead”. Fortunately the villagers have been handed a number of new tools in recent years to manage the sales pipeline from several different angles – inbound and outbound.
Jeff Ernst: Sometimes this goal is being driven by a new CMO looking to make a mark, other times it’s coming down from the CEO who’s trying to drive better sales and marketing alignment. I’ve even seen cases where the CFO is looking to lower the cost of customer acquisition. So B2B marketers set out on the path to automate with the best intentions of creating higher quality leads, getting better insight into their campaign performance, and getting more visibility into how their marketing efforts are impacting pipeline.
“B2B marketers set out on the path to automate with the best intentions of creating higher quality leads, getting better insight into their campaign performance, and getting more visibility into how their marketing efforts are impacting pipeline.”
Kathy Dunlay: How would you characterize the adoption of Marketing Automation at B2B technology firms? Where are most firms in the process? Are they at the consideration phase, making a purchase, or using their systems day to day?
Jeff Ernst: It’s funny, I just wrote a report on Marketing Automation Maturity and when I set out to do the research for this topic, I was expecting to find companies distributed across all stages of my maturity model in their adoption. But what I found is most companies are still at the very early stages, and way too many have invested in marketing automation platforms only to use them as expensive email blasters.
I like to compare it to skiing. Beginner skiers go out and buy the latest high-performance skis, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be skiing double-black diamonds on the first day. It takes time, patience, and persistence. Likewise, marketing automation doesn’t automatically make you a better marketer.
Kathy Dunlay: Why are so many firms underutilizing Marketing Automation? What gets in the way?
Jeff Ernst: One thing I’ve noticed about every company that I’ve talked with that has gone down the automation path, is that they didn’t anticipate the extent of the change management issues they have to deal with. Companies fall into several traps along the way:
The process trap – they don’t get buy-in and support from the sales organization, so they generate more leads in the marketing silo, without making changes to how sales works those leads. Often this is the first time that marketing has really had to work with sales, so they lack the credibility to get sales to the table to have the conversations, make the decisions, and get the behavioral changes required within sales.
The content trap – they don’t anticipate that effective, targeted lead nurturing greatly increases the amount and the type of content companies need. The marketing teams never have this content in hand, and get stuck doing one-of campaigns promoting product features.
The skills trap – they don’t have people with the skill sets to define their customer buying cycles and information needs at each stage. So at best they guess.
Kathy Dunlay: Would you like to share some pearls of wisdom related to the full-blown adoption of Marketing Automation in a company that has made the financial investment?
Jeff Ernst: My biggest piece of advice is to make Marketing Automation a catalyst for aligning with sales. That doesn’t mean you have to have everything figured out before taking the first step, in fact you want to take baby steps, just like skiers first learn to snow plow, then parallel ski, then carve turns. But it is critical that your sales leadership counterpart understands why you’re going down this path, and the positive impact that it can have on sales performance, so you can introduce new capabilities and get the behavioral changes you’ll need over time.
Kathy Dunlay: Thank you Jeff. And when you are not advising CMOs in the coming months, I’m guessing we can find you on the ski slopes!
Jeff is the CEO and Co-founder of SlapFive. At the time of this writing he was a Principal Analyst then VP Marketing at Forrester Research, where he provided advisory services to CMOs. Prior to joining Forrester, he served as VP of Marketing for B2B technology firms Kadient and Fatwire. Jeff is also co-founder and social media recruiting evangelist for Talent Reef. He was a product manager and strategist at Infinium Software for over ten years.
Kathy Tito Dunlay
President and Founder, New England Sales & Marketing