Keys to Avoiding a Marketing Automation Meltdown

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B2B marketing departments everywhere are turning to marketing automation in droves, but many are finding out the hard way that adoption alone isn’t a guarantee for success.

If you’re currently struggling to implement a marketing automation platform, or are worried that you’re not maximizing your ROI, you’re not alone. The fact is while usage is soaring (Forrester predicted 19% of B2B organizations would be implementing marketing automation this year and another 17% would be expanding their usage), when it comes to initial execution many companies actually stumble.

That’s where consultant companies like LeadMD come in. We asked CEO Justin Gray to share his insights into dealing with the most common pain points for companies implementing marketing automation and provide tips for smoother adoption and long-term success.

What are some of the common problems companies come to you with in regards to implementing a new marketing automation platform? Is there any particular issue that typically drives them to finally seek help?

Some companies come to us when they’re initially looking into implementation of marketing automation programs, but still the majority come to us when they already have a system in place but are experiencing a lot of pain with it. The common problem we see with the first group is a lack of knowledge on where to start, or how to determine how to configure the platform to their particular needs. Marketers simply have not been technology buyers in the past and this means there is a distinct learning curve around planning, process documentation, and execution from a technical perspective – we can help them fill those gaps.

The second group often comes to us with the frustration rooted in not understanding the system or the fear that their spend is not being utilized in accordance with best practices. This group is typically not seeing any ROI and they know they’re not maximizing the capabilities of their investment. People usually seek help when they feel like they’re either losing money by not having marketing automation in place at all, or not making money back on the systems that have been put in place.

What about syncing up the platform to work with and pull data from current systems? What are some ways companies can clean up and prep their or other CRM systems to make implementation smoother?

If a company is working with a consultancy or an expert who is well versed in the various marketing automation platforms, syncing up a platform to work with and pull data from a current system will be one of the first areas to be addressed. For most companies attempting to handle this on their own, though, it can get messy – simply due to lack of planning. The best way for companies to clean up and prep their or other CRM system to make implementation of Marketo or another marketing automation program smoother is by evaluating all data inputs and silos.

Often we see clients who are either not familiar or don’t understand the importance of their org’s data flow. Data flow is determined by entry points on the web, through peripheral systems or manually by other employees. One example of this is a company’s shopping cart or online provisioning system.  Often there is no plan in place to capture this data – as it cannot be replaced by a simple form. We need to make sure all data entry points are addressed and aggregate through the marketing automation platform. Planning is again the key to this success.

How much nurturing content should a company have in hand before attempting to implement a marketing automation platform? Is it critical have a content strategy in place?

A content strategy is important, but not so important that you can’t start lead nurturing without a full-blown content flush. A company should know what specific goals it’s trying to reach through marketing automation, and which types and frequency of content can help in attaining those before embarking on this journey. One mistake we often see is businesses waiting to start any content marketing until they have loads of content crafted, but this isn’t necessary. Generate enough content to nurture appropriately, and start there.

Most companies do think this part through, but it often results in overthinking it. I’m not saying it’s simple or should be approached lightly, but there isn’t a magic formula for effective content – it just comes down to listening to what your leads want to receive, how they want to receive it, and how often they want to receive it.

Are the majority of companies ready to deliver that nurturing content via their websites and other social/content delivery channels? What kind of preparations should be made?

Most companies seem eager to deliver nurturing content via any channel at their disposal, such as websites, email, or social media. It seems many businesses have these channels in place, but often don’t know what content to push out where.

Marketers also struggle to get out of the “drip” campaign mentality.  Nurture is not a series of five emails where we evaluate response to an offer.  Instead, nurture is a (sometimes) lengthy conversation with your buyer which educates them and addresses needs and pains.

Companies can prepare for lead nurturing by developing buyer personas to determine the type and frequency of content their individual leads prefer. Buyer personas incorporate demographics but also go beyond them to include behaviors of leads for a more comprehensive look at the total person. If businesses take the time to establish solid buyer personas, designating which nurturing content should be delivered to which channels becomes more straightforward and ultimately far more effective.

Do you have any suggestions for companies having issues with either conflicting or a lack of project ownership?

This really depends on the buying process and again the amount of preparation in relation to resource planning. Often we see purchase decisions being made at the executive level, after which the marketing team is left to pick up the reigns and succeed. Frankly, that’s setting everyone up for failure.

Marketing Automation and the principals that drive modern day demand generation are not the norm. Chances are your team has not been exposed to these strategies or has had limited exposure to them. We often ask clients, “when is the last time your marketing team attended a training?” The answer is almost 100% “never.” Marketing has traditionally been a cost center with large amounts of “branding” dollars being invested with little expectation of tangible return.  This changed radically about a decade ago and it continues to evolve quickly. So why then do we expect our untrained, traditionally unaccountable teams to suddenly become revenue experts? The answer is that we shouldn’t. This is why we recommend that businesses need to realize there’s a large initial training and time investment to get the systems in place and the automation properly queued up – in other words, frontloading the work.

There will be time spent in content creation, refreshing of buyer personas, and checking in with analytics once the initial work is done, but the best way to make sure project ownership is adequately handled is by setting expectations of the change that will be involved with MA. This change includes staffing and or outsourcing. With the knowledge that there is help available and that goals are realistic, marketers are much more apt to take ownership of a project – when they know its not doomed for failure from the beginning.

Can you speak to the importance of alignment and cooperation between the sales and marketing teams?

Sales and marketing teams are like the right arm and left arm of an organization – each can accomplish tasks on its own, but their value is ratcheted up immensely when their efforts are synchronized.

A sales team can support its marketing team by providing consistent and relevant feedback into which marketing efforts are working for their customers and which aren’t. Perhaps no one (besides account managers later in the process) speaks with customers on a more regular basis, so the sales team has an insider view into the needs and wants of the customers, which can be passed along and fulfilled by the marketing team.

The marketing team can support the sales team by receiving feedback and responding quickly and appropriately to be sure marketing efforts are reaching customers and bolstering inbound leads for the sales team to manage. With a tag team approach and open communication, sales and marketing teams can be each other’s most crucial ally in growing the company.

What processes do companies sometimes forget to establish in order to ensure marketing automation is implemented and will be managed effectively for the long-term?

Even though the bulk of the work with marketing automation is handled right off the bat, many companies forget that an effective marketing automation program is something that requires nurturing, itself.

At the outset, businesses must establish clear designation of who is responsible for what pieces of the program, so nothing slips through the cracks. They also must enact a protocol that mandates checking in with analytics every few months to reassess and realign marketing automation practices, if need be.

Marketing automation should be something that evolves alongside your company, and fluidly responds to the needs of your customers.