- training. This is the most direct approach: if users don’t have enough skills, then teach them. I’m using “training” in a broad sense to include all types of preparation before deployment: these include marketing planning, process change, content development, metrics definition, and organizational realignment as well as actual training in system use. This is the traditional strategy for B2C marketing automation and at B2B firms large enough to afford substantial pre-deployment investments. It’s also the preferred option of most industry consultants (myself included) because it provides the strongest platform for future success. Among B2B vendors, Eloqua is the poster child for this approach. (And I should note that many vendors are supporting the Marketing Automation Institute's training program too.)
- ease of use. Simple systems let marketers get started with minimum preparation. This is by far the most popular strategy among vendors, presumably because it increases sales by placing the fewest demands on buyers. It's applied by Marketo, Pardot, Act-On Software, Genius, Net-Results, and many others. It’s also the most popular strategy among buyers, judging by how many installations never grow past the basic functions. But the approach is also probably the reason for high dissatisfaction: marketers must find they face a much steeper learning curve than they expected to use their systems' fully. For long-term success, vendors who take this approach must ensure that their clients keep growing after the initial deployment.
- automation. Instead of training marketers to do hard things or making those things easier, automation has the system do them instead. This is a much less common strategy, in part because it's technically demanding and expensive to execute. It's also a partial solution at best, since no one thinks marketing can be fully automated. Still, it's being applied to lead scoring (creating the actual scoring formulas automatically, instead of asking users to define them); to content selection (letting the system predict which content a visitor is likely to want); and to contact frequency (letting the system determine how often a lead should be contacted). HubSpot is following this approach most aggressively although others are also applying it in places.
- full service. This strategy argues that it’s ultimately more efficient for the vendor to do complex marketing automation tasks than to teach marketers to do the tasks for themselves. That’s not as crazy as it sounds: marketing automation tasks like setting up a new program are often complex, rarely required, and quick for a well-practiced expert. So buying a couple of hours or days of service each month really does save time and money. It also gives access to more expertise than a small marketing department could ever build internally. As you might expect, this approach is most common among at the small business end of the marketing automation spectrum: Genoo, MakesBridge, and OfficeAutoPilot are good examples. But it seems to be creeping upstream: LeadLife, Treehouse Interactive, and Manticore Technology apply it to larger customers.
This doesn’t mean that vendors can get away with being sloppy. The market is too competitive and marketing automation is too complex to succeed despite poor execution. It’s also likely that a dominant approach will emerge within each customer segment.
But even then, one size won’t fit everyone. Both vendors and buyers will still need to match the deployment strategy to the buyer’s situation.