Any significant software implementation presents the prospect of failure, and marketing automation solutions have their fair share of potential pitfalls.
With some handy best practices, however, smart marketing automation implementation teams can avoid the deep, dark holes by charting a clear path to their desired destinations. Most importantly, many of the truly critical best practices depend on advance preparation to ensure implementation success as marketing automation technologies go from purchase to getting put to work. Here's a closer look at 10 best practices:
Define problems, then work through solutions
According to Warren Wilson, research director for Ovum, a London-based research firm, a common mistake is looking to technology to magically solve an ill-defined business problem.
"It’s crucial that companies define exactly what problem they’re facing, how they’ll measure success, what milestones along the way will tell them if their project is on track, as well as what ongoing metrics will tell them if it’s delivering the benefits they sought," Wilson said.
Don't skimp on the user interface
User adoption is crucial, Wilson notes, and many marketing automation vendors have been focusing on making their user interfaces (UIs) more intuitive. If a marketing automation solution has powerful analytics and is priced right, for example, it could all come to naught if end users can't understand it or are unable to get their jobs done. In addition, some vendors are doing a better job of tailoring their applications to specific user roles, Wilson explained, so the user sees only the functionality that is relevant to his or her job.
Make a clear path to sales
According to recent research from IDC, as much as 80% of the content that marketing generates is not used by sales, even though much of it is specifically created for sales and channel enablement. Similarly, IDC believes that in typical organizations, as much as 20% of total sales and marketing expenses can be saved by streamlining and automating key sales and marketing processes.
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How to get there? Use a framework that defines a common set of definitions for inputs and outputs, such as suspects, responses, leads, sales qualified leads, opportunities, and wins.
"Automating these processes is an opportunity to achieve better operational and cultural alignment between marketing and sales," said Gerry Murray, research manager of IDC's CMO Advisory Service. "Successful implementation will require executives to institute standard definitions for lead qualification and escalation, establish joint teams to drive sales enablement, coordinate metrics across the two groups, and increase transparency and reporting. The end result should be a shared set of objectives and tools to help both organizations optimize the customer experience."
Marketers must sell or provide customer service
For R. "Ray" Wang, partner of enterprise strategy for Altimeter Group, marketers must understand how to seal the deal and support customers. "I think everyone in marketing or in a company should at least serve a tour of duty in customer support and sales," Wang said. "If not, at least sit in on the calls. It helps put marketing in perspective for the end customers, which is the sales, service, and related product teams."
Don't be a social lemming -- look before you leap
"Organizations are looking to leverage social communities for marketing, but all too often, people just jump into it," said Kim Collins, Gartner's managing vice president of CRM and agenda manager for marketing and sales strategies, processes and technologies.
"I recommend that you first listen -- listen to what's going on and learn how people are using those social media channels," Collins added. "You want to hear them before you take action. Because marketers have tended to abuse every channel -- telemarketing is now the bane of everybody, we have tons of mail that just gets thrown away, and we all get spam -- jumping in can get you into trouble with your customers."
The takeaway, she said, is to figure out how people want to be communicated with, how often, and where before you attempt to implement a solution.
Educate early, train for success
According to Collins, organizations that achieve the most success with marketing automation solutions tend to invest heavily in training and education.
"Before you even start looking for a solution, you should start educating your people about the changes that will be coming, of the strategy that's changing, how the processes will change, and how the solutions will make them more efficient," she said. ”[And] you have to sell it to them and actually get their input early on in terms of what a user might want to see in a system and what might help them. By the time you've selected the solution, the training becomes more about how to drive value out of the solution."
Be ready to act
In addition to creating a technological framework and process alignment with sales, marketing organizations need to move their campaign efforts beyond the catalysts that drive customers to act. "A common issue with event-triggered offers is execution," Collins said. For example, a well-structured offer for a new service plan could easily spark a customer to call sales to sign up, but if your sales team isn't familiar with the offer, they might not only lose the deal but paint a picture of incompetence. "You need to have all of your people well trained and ready for the customer," Collins said.
Get executive sponsorship
A common must-have best practice for successful software implementations across industries and around the world, marketing organizations must also find executive sponsors who understand the value of marketing automation solutions, as well as the far-reaching requirements for the process changes that make them effective. "You've got to have someone in a senior leadership role to take responsibility and drive those changes," Collins stressed.
Follow the CEO
Similar to nailing down executive leadership is the notion of CEO alignment. "For the marketing automation solution you want to implement, make sure that it ties into some of the larger company goals," said Adam Sarner, a director of research for Gartner and a colleague of Collins. "If your CEO is talking about retention, then your marketing automation plan should be focused on retention. We still see a lot of mistakes where a group will go after something that has nothing to do with the top-line interests, and guess what, it doesn't get funded."
Set yourself up for quick wins
Because budgets have been so tight over recent years, marketing groups are now facing accountability requirements where they have to prove the value of their efforts, according to Sarner.
"The cat is out of the bag -- before you get these big marketing budgets, you have to prove the effectiveness of where the money is going and why," he said. But how? "Start small and come up with quick wins. Show those wins to expand marketing projects to get more budget -- show the ROI -- and create milestones and identify the purpose of what you're going for. Is it retention? Acquisition? Get much more focused on the business goals and then prove them," Sarner suggested. "That's the best way to get started on marketing automation."
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