But still, as I noted last week, the growth rate is slowing – and for some vendors seems to have fallen considerably in the second half of 2012. The most notable is Eloqua, which as a public company has to report its results. Its year-on-year revenue was up 42% in first half of 2012 ($45 million vs. $31.7 million) but just 28% in the second half ($50.7 million vs. 39.6 million). That means even the absolute increase was down: $11.2 million vs. $13.3 million. Figures for other vendors are not publicly available but I've seen hints that several have slowed as well.
What really got me thinking about this was prepping for a Webinar I’ll be giving next Wednesday on the future of marketing automation (register here). I had figured to start off with my industry growth figures, but this led naturally to a question about long-term potential, which in turn leads to thoughts of market penetration rates.
We’ve recently been seeing surveys that suggest something close to 50% adoption of marketing automation. For example, LoopFuse reported 42% of respondents had marketing automation in place, a Forrester study reported 45% use among B2B enterprise marketers, and the Lenskold Group found 70% marketing automation usage.*
If true, these figures would actually be bad news for marketing automation vendors. They suggest the market is at least half way to saturation, after which growth would slow dramatically.
But most people in the industry are confident the potential is much larger than double the current market. The raw numbers suggest as much: according to data compiler Manta.com, there are nearly 1 million U.S. companies with $5 million or more revenue.** Of these, about 300,00 fall into B2B categories. Raab Associates' VEST report shows about 20,000 B2B marketing automation systems at those companies, yielding about 6% penetration. Not surprisingly, the rate is higher among larger firms. I’ve excluded business under $5 million revenue from this analysis because that’s a very different market.
What accounts for the discrepancy between actual data and survey results? One answer is that people who answer surveys about marketing automation are disproportionately likely to be users. So the untapped market is indeed much larger than surveys would suggest.
But here’s another, less comforting explanation. It’s a safe bet that at least half of current marketing automation users are in tech industries – call that 10,000 of the total. The Manta figures show 21,000 companies in the tech categories – computer hardware and software, ecommerce and IT outsourcing, electronics, and information technology. I know you can do this one in your head, but 10,000 clients among 21,000 companies means the tech sector is just under 50% penetrated. This is pretty much what the surveys are telling us. And, yes, survey respondents do tend to be concentrated among tech companies.
Why is this worrisome? Well, it suggests is that most B2B marketing automation growth is coming from mid-to-late adopters within the tech industry, not early adopters across a much larger universe. That’s scary because everyone has expected a huge take-off when marketing automation finally transitions beyond the early stages of market development. If the transition has already happened in tech and never gets started anywhere else, we'll never see that hyper growth.Quite the opposite: the tech pool will run dry in a year or two and growth will slow to a modest replacement rate.
A more tactical consideration is that mid-to-late buyers have different purchasing styles (more risk averse, more support oriented, more price sensitive, more brand driven) than early adopters. There’s some evidence that B2B marketing automation vendors are moving their sales and marketing in this direction. This makes it even harder for them to sell to pioneers in other industries, who need the original missionary approach.
If you want another hint that the sky may be falling, how about this: a recent Econsultancy survey found that marketing automation is now lower priority among marketers than a year ago (top three for 11% vs. 15%). Since priority presumably translates to purchase intent, that seems to foreshadow a decline in new sales. I don’t want to make too much of this – the survey was among UK marketers and it also showed a sharp increase marketers who ranked marketing automation among their most exciting digital opportunities. Econsultancy’s explanation for the apparent contradiction was that most marketers already own a marketing automation system, so now they’re turning to exploiting it. But while that's comforting on some levels, it still suggests lower future sales.
To be honest, I was less concerned about the year-to-year change in percentages than about marketing automation’s low rank in both years – next-to-last in 2012 and ninth of twelve in 2013. An IDC report from 2012 had similar results, ranking marketing automation seventh on a list of nine.
I have my own little theory about the low priority, which boils down to the fact that marketing automation only handles a fraction of marketers’ total activities. Specifically, it supports email and online events, which a 2011 MarketingSherpa study found account for just 20% of program spending. Even with direct mail and marketing automation itself, the total reaches only 37%. My theory is that marketing automation has a low priority because it is far from a complete customer management solution – or even a complete customer acquisition system.
There are other signs of early market maturity within my VEST data. One is greater concentration among the industry leaders. My primary measure is employee counts, which are revealed by more vendors than revenue. Last year, the top four industry vendors (Eloqua, Marketo, HubSpot, and Infusionsoft) added 49% more employees, compared with just 21% for the rest of the industry. My revenue estimates show a similar gap although it's less pronounced. Revenue per employee is also about 20% higher for the top four vendors than all others combined; this is a sign of tight margins at smaller vendors, which make it hard for many to survive without outside funding. (That gap has actually shrunk since last year.) Most tellingly, the past year hasn’t seen the rise of any fast-growing new challengers, in the way that Act-On and Pardot appeared in earlier years. This is yet another of industry stability and, perhaps, nascent consolidation.
So, is B2B marketing automation doomed to be no more than a niche application for tech marketers? Industry optimists would argue no, and point out that if half the clients are in tech, then the other half are not. Point taken. But it would be Panglossian to assume that other industries are simply waiting their turn to adopt marketing automation once the tech industry is saturated. In reality, I constantly discover new (to me) marketing automation products tailored to specific industries such as insurance, real estate, franchises, dentists, local retailers, and so on. I suspect the real reason the B2B marketing automation vendors haven’t had much success entering those territories is that they’re already occupied.
If that’s so, then the industry verticalization I’ve long expected has already happened and general purpose marketing automation vendors will have a much harder time than expected in selling to marketers outside of tech. As I suggested above, they’ll need a much more compelling story than one that leaves them at the bottom of priority lists even for tech marketers. Specifically, they’ll have to expand their scope to incorporate all marketing activities: a 20% solution just won’t be enough.
* Of course, the minute I posted this blog, I started to see additional figures. A ClickZ article quoted 25% use by 38 B2B companies within the Fortune 500. An Aberdeen study reported 30% adoption. A BuyerZone survey returned 13% usage, although it probably included mostly small businesses.
** Here's the Manta data if you want to play along at home.