Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Marketing Automation Skills are Scarce: Vendor Strategies to Close the Gap

The marketing automation industry continues to grow quickly, with many vendors announcing their client bases have more than doubled in 2011. But there’s also a growing realization that many marketing automation systems are used for only simple tasks – often no more than email, landing pages, and CRM integration. For example, LoopFuse found that nearly twice as many used email and web landing pages as lead scoring.

Even more worrisome are increasing reports of user dissatisfaction – not enough to stop people from using the systems, but perhaps enough to prevent them from expanding their deployments or recommending marketing automation to their friends. Act-On Software recently reported that 40% of marketers are dissatisfied with their campaign management program.

Surveys, like this one from IBM, show many obstacles to successful deployment.  But the ultimate problem is staff skills: marketers who know how to use their systems and understand their benefits can make a compelling case for investments in programs, integration, technology, data, process change, and whatever else is required.

Marketing automation vendors are painfully aware of these issues. They've taken a range of approaches to addressing them. I've seen four distinct strategies:
  • 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.)
But not everyone can afford through training and preparation for a marketing automation deployment. The remaining strategies are designed to help those who cannot.
  • 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.
Although I’ve associated specific vendors with each strategy, the reality is that most companies apply a mix of several. This violates the classic strategy rule to select one clear goal and focus all resources on reaching it.   But a mixed approach probably makes sense for marketing automation, where a tactical choice like making your system easier can support several strategies and where different buyers may need different treatments.

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.

1 comment:

Bryan E. said...

Hi David,

Very timely and consistent with my observations from the SiriusDecisions “Maximizing the Impact of Marketing Automation Investments” Executive Advisory Forum I attended recently. bit.ly/smQcPj

Another solution to fill the skills void many companies are embracing is outsourcing either all or part of the marketing automation to specialized agency partners. With the economic challenges over the past few years marketing departments were one of the first areas to be cut resulting in many companies not having the internal resources and experience necessary now to effectively deploy, execute and manage marketing automation. Outsourcing and bringing in qualified consulting partners to augment and support is another very effective option to quickly execute and optimize marketing automation investments.