Players in the 2015 marketing automation software market

CRM platforms are reaching further and further into the marketing domain. What does the merging of capabilities mean for 2015?

With the shift to online publishing and mobile devices, marketing has changed dramatically over the past several years. One of the principal tools of the trade -- marketing automation software -- has had to adjust to shifts to digital content, the proliferation of new channels available to reach audiences and, of course, new preferences in audience consumption.

Marketing automation software is designed to automate marketing processes such as customer segmentation, customer data integration (CDI) and campaign management. As these processes become more digitized and automated, companies can reach a larger audience and also personalize their communications with segments of their constituency who are often at different phases of the customer lifecycle -- some may be existing customers, while others are just prospects. Because companies need to customize interactions to an ever-broadening base, marketing automation software is becoming increasingly essential to the art of customer communication and experience. As marketing automation becomes more multichannel and personalized, companies need to consider which platform makes sense in terms of their audience needs.

As CRM capabilities reach further into the marketing domain , marketers and salespeople can work more seamlessly with one another.

As 2015 approaches, let's explore the marketing automation market and the shifts that have taken place this year. First, Microsoft Dynamics launched a marketing system called Dynamics Marketing, and Salesforce.com acquired ExactTarget and then combined it with Radian6 to launch the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. These developments demonstrate an expansion of customer relationship management (CRM) into the marketing sphere.

As CRM capabilities reach further into the marketing domain , marketers and salespeople can work more seamlessly with one another and executives can gain insight into multiple departments' operations. The product launches were focal points of the Microsoft and Salesforce conferences this year, Convergence and Dreamforce, respectively. The central roles these played at the shows illustrate how important marketing automation is to CRM platforms moving forward.

Microsoft Dynamics and marketing

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 was launched late last year, and Dynamics Marketing was promoted as an added license starting in the first quarter of 2014. During Convergence, the platform was debuted during the opening keynote, partnering with Delta's  inflight concession services. Microsoft already had strong footholds in the enterprise resource planning world with its Dynamics AX and in CRM with Dynamics CRM, so having a marketing service that can be integrated with existing licenses is a desirable prospect for marketers using the platform. Dynamics Marketing still has a separate framework from the CRM, but through linkage with Azure, Microsoft's platform as a service offering, and Office 365, its business productivity applications, the two talk to each other and are covered under one license. This enables marketing and sales to work with data in the way they need to, while updating other departments' data in real time. Dynamics Marketing competes with its partners -- including Marketo, Silverpop's CoreMotives and Pardot -- offering similar qualities, but it features a one-page, rather than a two-page, customer profile , which offers broader insight into a potential or current client. This platform's strength is on the business analytics side for marketing as well, with dashboards that have many options for viewing and organizing data.

Salesforce.com and marketing

In contrast to Microsoft, Marketing Cloud emphasizes the social aspect of marketing. With the purchase of Pardot, ExactTarget and Radian6, Salesforce has built this platform with mobile in mind, focusing on personalized content that can be accessed on the go. Salesforce is less concerned about competing with the Marketos and Eloquas of the world in email marketing -- a fairly saturated market -- and has decided to add features to assist in this and other areas already in use. While email is not the main focus, it is included in the system and can be part of the complete customer experience.

Salesforce has named this process builder a Journey. Using visual representation, marketers can click and drag information into a flow, similar to tasks in a Visio application. But Journeys are dynamic and automate these processes as they are built. Marketers can see every step that a customer can take before being contacted by a sales representative and can specify actions based on customer behavior.

This kind of tool enables sales to have a broader picture of the prospect before making the first call. The biggest hurdle for this product is price for non-Fortune 500 companies. For smaller companies that are not as social online, and for those used to the prices of Marketo or Silverpop, or the like, Salesforce.com's option is costly, especially on top of potential Sales and Service Cloud licenses.

With Microsoft and Salesforce making a bid for the marketing department, other marketing automation providers will have to step up and mature past the traditional email content and campaign tracking capabilities they have relied on. In April, Marketo announced a new marketing platform that is a response to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and others are likely to follow suit. Communication between teams is vital for organizations to thrive in a fast-paced market. Industry watchers will follow 2015 developments closely to see how these traditionally CRM-focused products will fare in the marketing automation world. 

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