Most companies are using a customer relationship management platform -- or at the very least, portions of one --...
to increase their sales and marketing efficiency and effectiveness. Although CRM offers a competitive edge, organizations that want to quantify the performance of their marketing efforts must take the next step: marketing automation.
Marketing automation is a subset of CRM functionality that can make the design and management of marketing campaigns easier and more effective. Marketing automation tools organize customer data more efficiently and ease the transition from leads to customers.
Marketing automation also encompasses marketing intelligence, which includes mining social media for useful data in lead detection and campaign planning. Marketing automation tools can boost internal workflow and enhance collaboration with automated approval processes, digital asset creation and management, planning and scheduling resources, and budget management functionality.
As the name suggests, marketing automation can have many touch points within the marketing enterprise, as it heavily impacts sales, accounting and executive-level strategic planning. However, it isn't just an enterprise-level tool, as its complexity and scope would suggest. A surprising number of smaller companies are also taking advantage of the benefits of marketing automation.
Marketing vs. sales vs. everyone else
While CRM is primarily a suite of sales tools with marketing features on the side, marketing automation describes a suite of process timesavers that offer benefits across the enterprise but are owned by marketing. As marketing automation simplifies and enhances marketing operations, it also strengthens the bond between marketing and sales, and marketing and other enterprise domains. Put simply, marketing automation breaks down the silos that exist between these different groups.
Marketing automation offers a process and a mechanism for structuring customer data across the business where it's typically fragmented. This creates impetus for consolidating and simplifying disparate systems -- the creation of a marketing technology, martech, stack that combines the technologies and platforms used in CRM, marketing automation and content management.
Marketing automation under the hood
From a functionality standpoint, marketing automation tools streamline marketing workflow by automating repetitive tasks and aggregating important metrics, and focus marketing efforts on outcomes. At a deeper level, marketing automation is architecturally a platform consolidation, as it merges and restructures lead and customer data, assembles shared profiles and provides a unified scoring model.
But there's more to marketing automation than workflow and data architecture. Marketing automation not only unifies sales and marketing and the data they need to share, it also generates and integrates all the infrastructure marketing requires, including campaign presentation and management. This goes beyond leads to include email, social media integration, web pages, forms, integration with CRM, and customers and profiles.
Another facet of marketing automation is omnichannel marketing, which is a multichannel sales approach that considers the ways in which customers search for products and services. The automation then makes those channels its priority in content presentation. In other words, omnichannel marketing goes where customer's eyes and ears are already. This includes email, social media and more traditional channels such as in-store advertising, real-world events and snail mail, but also takes into account the devices the customer uses to access these channels. An effective marketing automation platform is fluent in them all and provides easy access, as well as content formatting.
And, as mentioned above, there is peripheral functionality beyond marketing automation platform standards. For example, marketing intelligence collects big data that's based on sales histories and customer profiles and then identifies sales opportunities via machine learning that actively assists a buyer in figuring out the next purchase.
Advanced workflow is also available in some marketing automation tools. These features improve the processes that are internal to marketing -- including planning, approvals, creation and management of digital assets, scheduling, collaboration support and budgeting -- and are all aimed at optimizing marketing processes themselves.
Bridging gaps through marketing automation tools
At face value, marketing automation connects the enterprise to the buyer on the street. But B2B is as hot a market for marketing automation as B2C, and its utility is just as powerful in connecting businesses buying products and services from other businesses.
Both B2C and B2B marketing automation are ultimately about boosting the bottom line, but while B2C gets there through aggressive brand promotion, B2B is more concerned with complexities in lead generation -- target buyers aren't simply customers at Costco, they're corporations with intricate needs and hard-to-breach bureaucracies. Like the Costco shopper, they have their own channels of preference when surfing for products and services and they aren't interested in the "customer journey" that drives B2C; they want to be educated. Getting that content in front of the B2B buyer prospect is the mission.
Another factor is onboarding. A B2B sale isn't about a checkout lane in a store; it's about what the cost and complications of taking up a new buying relationship or service integration will entail. To this end, campaign efforts in B2B marketing automation strongly focus on the ease with which a relationship can be implemented and the resulting value.
Using extensive research into the marketing automation market, TechTarget editors focus this article series on marketing automation vendors with leading market share. Our research included internal reports, as well as material from other respected research firms, including Gartner and Forrester.
The most common way to implement marketing automation is to plug it into an existing CRM deployment. But that integration isn't always seamless. There are several important points to consider.
First is the ubiquity of legacy enterprise resource planning systems (ERP). The idea behind such systems was to integrate data -- and customer data, in particular -- across silos in the enterprise, according to its own notions of structure and functionality. Those legacy systems tend to predate CRM itself, let alone marketing automation. The customization of these previous-generation applications required to retool the customer data model for CRM was expensive, adding to the CRM cost of ownership. Going through adopting next-gen marketing automation tools again is a challenge CMOs -- and their IT support staff -- have to solve before reaping the benefits of marketing automation.
Another key consideration in integrating marketing automation with existing CRM is what to pass along and under what circumstances. The main commodity that travels between the two is the lead and the data associated with it. This becomes a design consideration. For example, do all marketing automation leads get passed to CRM, or only some? And according to what criteria? This isn't just a technical decision; it's one that involves stakeholders on both sides.
Then there's synchronization between the two systems. If marketing automation is feeding CRM, is it sufficient to leave it at that? Or should CRM pass updates back to marketing automation? That's a more complex integration by far, and it is a technical decision, one that the nontechnical stakeholders must justify.
How quickly, effectively and cheaply a desired marketing automation platform can integrate with an existing CRM platform could be a defining decision. Some integrations are easier than others; it's largely a matter of what integration toolkit the marketing automation platform offers. Some offer a suite of CRM-vendor-specific connectors that speed data integration considerably. And there are third-party integration engines specifically architected to bridge marketing automation and CRM systems, with bidirectional sync a standard option.
Once integration has been achieved, and the marketing automation tools and CRM system are working together efficiently, the benefits are substantial. Customer data collection and analysis will kick into high gear, with more channels, richer data, and more robust and flexible structuring of that data. Marketing campaigns will likewise kick into high gear. The triggering of content, the creation of assets for its presentation and supporting infrastructure will all happen automatically, making campaigns more efficient. Lead management will be faster and more certain. Higher-quality leads convert more reliably, and the conversions themselves, being supported with automation, are more efficient. The marketing department will likewise become more efficient, as processes across the board become more deeply integrated.
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Today's marketing automation tools market
There are a variety of marketing automation software platforms available, including cloud-based and on-premises products, automation that's offered as an add-on to a vendor's CRM, and third-party products that accommodate integration.
Several marketing automation vendors stand out, as they hold the majority of market share and offer broad product options that accommodate almost every marketing scenario, as well as niche products focused on particular markets or specific functionality. Leading marketing automation vendors and their products include Adobe Marketing Cloud; HubSpot Marketing Automation; Marketo, which was recently purchased by Adobe; Microsoft Dynamics CRM; Oracle Marketing Cloud, which includes Eloqua; Salesforce Marketing Cloud; Salesforce Pardot and SAP Marketing Cloud.
Where the enterprise goes in making the best choice when selecting a marketing automation platform is largely a matter of what's already in place, what new functionality is most important and the considerations that come with integration. It's not an easy decision and the successful result will be based on careful study.