Marketing Automation: Miracle or Myth?

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Craig Conard
Craig Conard

Marketing automation is all the rage, but is it right for you? Figuring that out is a matter of assessing your goals and capabilities—and making sure marketing automation will be a boon, not a burden. Ask yourself these 10 questions as you explore how marketing automation could fit into your organization.

1. Are you looking for lead generation? If so, don't expect marketing automation to be your savior. Marketing automation takes over after lead generation, not before. In fact, you'll probably find that more lead generation is necessary to feed the system and allow the intelligent response, tracking, and lead scoring to show tangible returns.

2. Are your campaigns clearly thought-out and diagrammed? Successful execution depends on this, whether automated or not. Automation may make lead nurturing more efficient, but it won't necessarily improve your open and click-through rates if your process is flawed from the start. Content needs to be compelling, offers need to be strong, and follow-up communication needs to build on previous communications. Do you really need marketing automation, or do you just need more effective marketing?

3. How much content do you create? How are you repurposing content? Are you routinely creating white papers and eBooks and hosting webinars? Is there enough value in this content to make a prospects part with their valuable personal information to obtain it? What is your content strategy? Do your internal experts contribute to the process? Are you continually tweaking existing content to keep it fresh and relevant? The need for content creation likely will be increased with a marketing automation system. Is your marketing team large enough or able to fulfill this need?

4. How well do you know your prospects? Do you know what your potential customers want and need? Have you identified their pain points and proposed solutions? If not, marketing automation can help guide you. Tracking of behavior, or lack thereof, can produce a test bed to discover what your audience responds to.

5. Do you have enough prospects, customers, and suspects in your database to make it work? Be realistic about the volume of responses you will see in any given campaign.  Let's say your campaign consists of 10,000 records, and your initial offer acceptance is 1%, equaling 100 people. The second trigger email also gets a 1% acceptance of offer, and you are at one person for the third email. The danger becomes over-engineering the if/then response rules for email triggers when the size of the database simply doesn't mathematically support many levels of actions. By overthinking campaign design, you could end up spending a lot of money for very few actionable responders.

6. Will your database become a battleground? You also may find that the targeted database of prospects and customers becomes a battleground. Commonly, organizations run a number of concurrent campaigns. Who decides what parts of the database are included in which campaign? Who polices the frequency in which a given record can be emailed?  What if a prospect's actions indicate interest in more than one of your products or services—who owns the follow-up? These can be complex issues that need to be addressed to avoid high rates of opt-outs or non-responders.

7. Are you prepared to sync your data between your CRM and your marketing automation system? Even with support from your internal IT team or system integrator, do you have the internal resources to undertake this often-cumbersome, difficult, and expensive IT integration? Don't underestimate the time and commitment this will take.

8. Are you realistic in your estimation of the human capital required to run a marketing automation package? Odds are, if you aren't planning to add a database administrator or a dedicated marketing person to be the owner and expert in the system, you're going to struggle from an operational perspective. These systems look brilliant in sales presentations, but they don't run themselves. Getting the return from marketing automation means committing to attention to detail and analysis of what's taking place across your campaigns. And that's after the campaign setup, rules, and content get created and loaded.

9. How will you evaluate marketing automation providers? Do the providers serve other businesses similar to yours—B2B or B2C, large or small? Is their support team engaged and geographically close enough to you to be available when you need them? Are they able to assist with both technical and marketing development if needed?  Are you going to be dependent on a third-party system integrator to customize the system for your organization, and, if so, what will that cost be and does it need to be a long-term engagement?

10. What will marketing automation really cost you and what are the returns you're expecting? There are many options to be considered. Make sure the product is the right size for your business. Don't pay for services you won't use. Most of all, don't overlook the critical resource of the time it will take the marketing team to manage the system. It's not something you simply deploy and leave. You'll need to continually invest time and attention, as well as financial resources, to make marketing automation a success for your company.

No matter what your business, the key to success in marketing is in asking the right questions.

Craig Conard is president of Sudden Impact Marketing

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