During the summer of 2016, B2BMarketing ran a survey on the use of Marketing Automation (MA) platforms by European B2B companies. The survey was called MA Sophistication Index 2016-2017, and it was completed by 129 marketers.
"Marketing automation (MA) has been adopted by the majority of B2B marketing departments - but using it to its full potential remains a significant challenge for many. This benchmarking report explores current trends in MA and provides a clear pathway for progression, allowing you to turn your MA investment into clear, tangible results."
Among the study’s key findings:
In one year–from 2015 to 2016–the total number of European B2B companies that have implemented an MA platform went from 43% to 56%.
While 81% of respondents said that marketing automation has helped them reach some of their goals, 42% of these companies are dissatisfied with their MA platform.
58% use only a minority of the features offered by their MA platform.
Responses showed that the single biggest challenge marketers face in getting the most out of their marketing automation platform is lack of skills.
29% of respondents named data integration as the most difficult aspect of implementation.
I’ve spent the last four months interviewing B2B marketers, consultants, and experts about marketing automation. A common trend identified by the interviewees–and corroborated by the survey results–is that many companies use only a small portion of MA’s features and, thus, fail to gain concrete benefits from it.
What is stopping marketing professionals from using MA to its full potential?
Lack of knowledge and skills
MA software vendors make the claim that the use of an MA platform increases productivity, decreasing the human resources required to perform the marketing function. Paradoxically, according to the survey, the biggest hinderance to getting the most out of an MA investment is the lack of human resources. But rather than a lack of people, the issue seems to be not having the right kind of people with the right kind of knowledge and skills in place.
One good example is MA workflows, which are the firmopraphics and behavior-specific flows of communication between the seller and the prospect enabled automatically by MA. Designing MA workflows is a new skill, requiring specific knowledge on how to work with data. Tasks like using data triggers to run automated communication flows are probably not skills that traditional marketing personnel have.
MA requires a learning and development program, not only for the marketing team but also for sales staff and other stakeholders. And don’t forget top management.
One way to alleviate growing pains is starting with a narrow focus: decide on one to three areas to work on in the first year. This gives your staff time and space to gain the new knowledge and skills required of them. When those area are running smoothly, you can expand your focus. The important thing is not to stretch yourself or your team too thin.
At some point, you may also decide that your current marketing employees just aren’t suited to these new more technical, data-oriented tasks. In that the case, you may need to reshuffle the makeup of your team by hiring new/additional staff and/or contracting a marketing automation consultant.
- Process misalignment between marketing and sales
According to the study, the success rate of MA platform implementation goes from 51% to 70% when salespeople are involved from Day One. Most of the B2B marketers I have interviewed say that marketing and sales processes–not to mention people–are not aligned.
This misalignment between sales and marketing is predominantly related to lead generation. Traditionally, the responsibility for generating leads has fallen mainly under the sales department, with salespeople finding their own leads through networking or using services like call centers to identify and verify prospects. Now, when a lead shows up as a new data entry in the CRM, sales staff tend to be suspicious. And often for good reason: many leads generated in the CRM by the MA platform aren’t ready to be contacted or, worse, will never be ready to buy your products.
When lead generation starts moving into the marketing department, a high level of cooperation with sales staff is needed in order to build trust. Marketing personnel need to learn how to incorporate already-proven and trusted tools for verifying leads (e.g., BANT) into the MA. At the same time, marketing needs to demonstrate and prove to sales that marketing automation is a powerful, efficient, and trustworthy tool for lead generation.
Difficulties in data integration
Transferring a new lead from MA to CRM is simple: native, built-in interfaces can take care of this by transferring a predefined set of fields from one system to the other. Old news, right? But this simple syncing of data rarely fulfills marketing and sales process requirements. Ensuring that the all the systems involved have the right information–no more and no less–at the right time during the more complex purchase and customer journey stages, is difficult.
Integrating marketing automation to other systems isn’t just another IT project. Database syncing does not equal system integration. Successful MA integration requires knowledge of the sales and marketing processes and an understanding of all the systems and data required to run these processes successfully and efficiently. Traditional large data dumps lack the agility and sophistication to get the job done.
Depending on your sales and marketing processes, you might also need to integrate MA into a number of other platforms, apps, and data sources. Some of these might even be run by third parties, which further complicates the integration.
To makes matters worse, sales and marketing processes seem to be in continuous flux in most companies. This leads to frequent changes in the “integration system.”
Marketing Automation Required a New Mindset
One of the main mistakes marketers make is to take their current marketing process and implement it in MA as-is. MA is much more than a set of campaigns. It’s a methodology. A methodology whose power lies within the automation and personalization of customer engagement, turning marketing into more of a science than an art.
MA is not a quick fix–it is processes, technology, and people. It takes knowledge and foresight to get it right. Plan carefully, educate stakeholders, be patient. Your investment will pay off handsomely.
These survey responses are from Central European B2B companies and were collected during the summer of 2016. We are running the same survey in cooperation with B2BMarketing during the fall of 2017 in the Nordic countries.