Multichannel marketing automation software needs business process focus

With multichannel marketing automation software a reality, the tools still need to align with user expectations and reflect business processes.

Marketing automation isn't new to the market, but multichannel is.

When it comes to reaching customers in more places than just their inboxes, using multichannel marketing automation software and an integrated approach can help. Experts advise knowing where customers congregate and ensuring the software aligns with user expectations before rolling out multichannel marketing automation software.

Marketing automation software better integrates with CRM systems and offers advanced closed-loop reporting to prove ROI.

Stephen Murphy

In large part, successful multichannel marketing automation requires a command center that allows monitoring and management of programs and offers them across all channels that the company uses, according to Denis Pombriant, president and CEO of CRM analyst firm Beagle Research Group LLC. "Very often, a multichannel dashboard is necessary when you start to consider the different requirements of media types," he added. For example, Twitter's 140-character limitation needs to be treated differently from an email campaign.

But with multichannel, companies still need to keep their eyes on the prize: Qualified leads trump any speed gains from marketing automation, particularly if companies are viewing multichannel marketing as a way to push rather than to engage, according to Pombriant. "Marketing automation, when you get right down to it, isn't just about broadcast. It should be a closed loop of listening and making relatively targeted offers so you can nurture leads," he said.

Returning to core values

This approach may mean having fewer leads for marketing to hand over to sales, but these leads should be better prospects than those plucked from a single channel. "If you're going to use marketing automation, you're going to use better leads going into the sales process," Pombriant said. These leads will meet the company's sales criteria and have the budget, needs and internal sponsors that make them worthy of investing sales resources.

Additionally, marketing automation software offers sales departments the opportunity to see where leads are traveling, starting with the initial download of a white paper to each page visit and social media interaction, to better target conversations, according to Stephen Murphy, founder and principal consultant of digital marketing consultancy Bamboo Interactive. "It enables them to sell more instantly and provides rich sales information that they never would have seen in the past," he said.

This allows marketing departments to prove their value in the organization as well, because marketing automation software has matured to better integrate with CRM systems and offer more advanced closed-loop reporting to prove ROI, according to Murphy. "You could make a conjecture in the past, but today you have absolute knowledge, and full-on reporting proves ROI," he said.

"It's a blessing for lifecycle management," Murphy said. Marketing automation tools today end up being the great equalizer for SMBs [small and medium-sized businesses] and nonenterprise groups, enabling them to create nurturing programs post-sale to retain customers and cross-market to them based on their interests.

Yet as with all technology implementations, marketing automation software needs to support existing business processes and what the sales and marketing teams are actually doing, as opposed to an idealized version of the departments' workload. For example, Marketo is a product that works well for marketing departments that rely heavily on complex reporting and customization, while HubSpot software has the best user interface and is easiest to learn regardless of technical skills, according to Murphy. "For an organization to figure out which system works best, evaluate the pros and cons, and … look past the sales pitch," he advised. Companies that pick the wrong player risk locking themselves into a year-long contract, particularly with cloud-based systems, and essentially wasting 10 months of money.

For some companies, a piecemeal approach may provide the best results, particularly if marketing automation components are already in place and they just want to add more channels. That was the case for Portland, Ore.-based secure ID solution provider AlphaCard, which uses multiple online marketing tools such as search engine optimization, pay-per-click ads, social media and email marketing. AlphaCard needed to understand how customers were interacting with the company and how that related to the sales and prospecting teams, particularly with online and offline touchpoints, according to Amber Hanson, senior manager of e-commerce.

Instead of choosing an all-in-one software provider, AlphaCard chose several tools to plug gaps in its existing systems. "We already had a system in place that worked well; we didn't need the full package. We just needed to address specific needs not being met with existing solutions," Hanson said. That also led to the development of proprietary tools, particularly around tracking to tie together online and offline activity.

Once the technology was in place, it allowed AlphaCard to automate tasks like targeting, email and lead scoring, according to Hansen. "There are all different technologies that can do that better than a human and lets humans do what they're best at," she said.

Ultimately, multichannel marketing automation comes down to what a company is trying to accomplish and which channels it is using, but experts agreed on one thing: Any technology needs to align with the business processes, whether the business chooses an all-in-one platform or a combination of tools.

This was first published in April 2014

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