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Marketing automation benefits can extend beyond automation and tracking

Marketing automation provides three core benefits and can extend into other areas of the business.

If marketing automation solutions help marketing teams design, deliver and track campaigns and customer behavior, what other benefits will automation software bring? Understanding the areas in which an enterprise can expect to find compelling gains is one of the first steps on the road to building a business case and successful launch plan.

R. "Ray" Wang, partner of enterprise strategy for Altimeter Group in San Mateo, Calif., said there are three core benefits of marketing automation solutions.

"The first is improved influence and engagement with customers and prospects," Wang said. "The second is the reduction of repetitive tasks so that marketing organizations can focus on marketing strategy."

The third is a direct impact on sales quality. The quality of sales is improved, of course, when marketing delivers compelling messages and offers that prep the sales channel for success.

Follow the money

Kim Collins, managing vice president of CRM as well as the agenda manager for marketing and sales strategies, processes and technologies with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, recommends that marketing teams consider both revenue and expense as they search for marketing automation benefits.

"[Find] solutions that help marketers drive revenue, be more effective in the market, and justify their investment," Collins said. For example, driving customer satisfaction and customer retention can help retain revenue, she said, even though associating that revenue with the efforts of marketing can be difficult.

"The other area [where] we see marketing organizations gain benefits is in efficiency -- automating marketing to become more efficient to reduce costs, to eliminate waste, to increase productivity," Collins added.

The quick takeaway here is that marketing teams need to consider both revenue and cost reduction as areas that can help drive value and create a foundation for a rock-solid business case.

Be careful with the big social marketing plans

The hot marketing technology of the day is social media marketing -- basically automation software that works with Web-powerhouse networks like Facebook or Twitter and the mass of blogs and forums. A marketing automation solution that simply blasts marketing messages out to these new channels may not bring benefit to the enterprise, but some automation solutions can provide other social benefits, such as greatly improving a company's ability to listen.

"There are vendors and solutions for what we call social media monitoring, which is basically listening to what people are saying about your company and your products and understanding how that might affect your brands -- and then actually taking action," Collins said. Of course, not all products or brands necessarily require sentiment analysis, and online chatter, either positive or negative, might have only a small effect on sales and profitability. Still, marketing teams that have social-minded CEOs should consider social media components to help gain executive buy-in.

Faster decisions

"One of the biggest complaints we hear is that it may take corporate marketing departments weeks to make decisions that can be made in hours from within a marketing department channel," Collins explained. "The reality is that while you need to be able to make the decisions fast, you also need checks and balances, and that's an area where automation can help. You can have a review and approval process, automated so executives or managers can look at a campaign, verify it, compare the list, and say, 'OK, this is good to go.'"

In addition, marketing automation solutions can often keep campaigns and projects available in a centralized system that can be logged so that business team members can see what's been done, what's happening, and what will happen.

"It can enable you to be nimble and quick -- and not contradict what's being marketed to customers in other channels," Collins added.

Automation for more automation

In an ironic twist, small and medium-sized businesses often find it difficult to define tangible business benefits when they don't have enough customer and campaign data accessible to make their case. In these situations, Gartner is seeing smaller customers that simply avoid multi-million-dollar on-premise solutions in favor of smaller, more tactical Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, purchased with the intent to help the company learn, gain data, and build a business case -- kind of like sticking a toe in the water before jumping in head first.

"I've seen companies that didn't have the in-house tools to model their data, so they used SaaS to help them learn and model -- and then make a more permanent, long-term cost-of-ownership equation for more marketing automation," Collins said.

The right offer at the right time

Another key area where marketing automation solutions can be efficient with thousands or even millions of customers is identifying and delivering the right offers at the right time.

"We had the epiphany with this in the call centers years ago, and now we're trying to put this online, to come up with the right offer in real time, paying attention to the changes that are coming in and using that to come up with the next best offer," said Adam Sarner, a research director for Gartner and a colleague of Collins.

More importantly, each marketing organization will need to generate its own list of must-have benefits; and for Sarner, this means looking for purpose.

"What we've found is [that] if there's not a clear purpose associated with a business result companies are looking for, and if there's not a clear purpose on the customer side -- why they are participating in the first place -- we usually see a failed project," he said. "So we look at this idea of mutual purpose: What's in it for us? Is it measurable? And what's in it for the customer? What's their motivation for participating? You should stick the idea of mutual purpose around a buying process and start there," Sarner said.

“For example, ask, 'Where does harnessing a social media component move customers along the buying process?'"

The same question, of course, helps identify benefits via almost any channel in a campaign.

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