How to choose the best marketing automation system for your business
Whether you’re an existing user of marketing automation or you’re preparing to invest for the first time, the rush of acquisitions in the sector can be disruptive to your technology decision-making.
For those yet to invest, it can cloud the solutions in uncertainty. While existing users of one vendor have the disruption of suddenly finding themselves customers of a different company entirely. And if you’re an Eloqua user that isn’t happy about becoming an Oracle customer, then it means you’re back into the market for a new solution.
But the recent spate of activity is entirely reshaping the marketing automation landscape.
'In some ways, the discrete category of marketing automation is fading away a bit,'says Gerry Brown, Senior Digital Marketing Analyst at Ovum. 'IBM, Oracle, Salesforce.com, Adobe and Teradata have all been involved in mopping up best-of-breed marketing automation companies of various types and so you’re left with a consolidation. The big vendors are pushing marketing automation into part of a bigger, total enterprise stack, associated with digital. This leaves a small number of best-of-breed vendors like Act-On, Marketo and Responsys. But I would say that they are also looking to play with the bigger enterprise accounts as well because they are fundamentally more profitable than serving the SME community.
'So the vendor landscape is becoming more of an enterprise play. It is changing from being a long tail of best-of-breed vendors to a short tail of best-of-breed vendors but a longer tail of big vendors who have marketing automation has part of their total value proposition for anything customer-facing.'
The ‘big stack’ that Brown mentions, is increasingly often taking the form of a ‘Marketing Cloud’. First touted by Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff as an accompaniment to his company’s Sales Cloud and Service Cloud, other vendors have since announced Marketing Clouds of their own to almost create a bona fide solution category of its own, although there are some differences between the offerings.
'It hasn’t really got a clearly defined specific place within the marketing sphere at the moment, it is more the terminology combining what we traditionally called ‘the marketing mix’,' notes Sam Davies, the Lead Consultant and training course developer at Zoober Digital Training, 'It combines your CRM, your marketing automation and your email service provider and ensures that your data is good enough quality to be able to really target your customers with really good quality content.
'It is really consolidating all of your digital infrastructure compared to using an email service provider, a content management system for their website provided by another vendor, a CRM system from somebody like Salesforce.com, perhaps HubSpot as the marketing automation tool and then a provider like Sproutsocial for the social media activity. So instead of multiple platforms managing effectively one process, the major vendors are consolidating all of this into one place for companies to get the best ROI out of all of their activities.'
From a collaborative standpoint, the Marketing Cloud promises to solve some of the issues and challenges that marketers have traditionally faced, unifying the different data sources that they have across the different platforms and bridging siloes within the business.
Chris Fletcher, Research Director for enterprise applications at Gartner, notes other benefits of the stack. 'As a Cloud-based solution, it’s easier to deploy as you don’t have to implement it on a server, you can make it available to a wide range of users fairly quickly, and it also allows you to scale up more quickly,' he explains. 'Therefore, you can have a small development team with three to five licenses working so that when you're ready to go live it's projected out to 500 users immediately so there aren’t any issues with scaling. In general, there’s lot of credibility for the Marketing Cloud argument.'
Nonetheless, despite the same tag, the Marketing Cloud offerings are quite distinct from each other. Salesforce.com has got a heavy social marketing bent in its package courtesy of Buddy Media, Radian6 and Chatter, although its purchase of ExactTarget/Pardot brings it closer to being a one stop shop.
Meanwhile, Adobe has a slightly more creative angle on its proposition, and IBM has invested heavily in the likes of Unica for email and cross-channel marketing and Cormetrix for digital marketing optimisation and social analytics, to create a heavyweight offering.
Evaluating vendor/solution options
So, how do you decide which solution/vendor to plump for?
In its recent report, Evaluating Mega-Vendors’ Digital Marketing Platforms and Strategies, Ovum evaluated the products, services and brands of the six mega-vendors from the buying perspective of an enterprise CMO or a Head of Digital.
It concluded that in terms of overall product capabilities, all of the vendors are relatively comparable, reinforcing the importance of looking past functionality to the bigger picture when choosing a strategic partner.
'Don’t over-emphasise features and functions when evaluating digital marketing platforms. These are fast and easy for other vendors to replicate,' suggests Brown, Senior Digital Marketing Analyst at Ovum and author of the report. 'Focus more on the vendor’s strategic fit to your business, including the quality and depth of relationships and a shared vision for the future of modern marketing in a digital world.'
The Ovum research further recommends that vendor selection should revolve around compatibility with existing IT architectures and databases, ability to articulate a cogent solution to a defined marketing operations challenge, and the comfortableness of forming a long-term potentially highly intimate relationship with the vendor. 'CMOs are under pressure to consolidate and rationalise their many existing digital marketing products and services. CMOs need a single, unified and consistent platform for a complete real-time view of the customer activity to enable the activation of relevant and timely marketing campaigns and sales engagements,' continues Brown.
Beyond the enterprise offerings of the mega-vendors, Fletcher has the following advice for identifying the most appropriate marketing automation solution for your needs.
'Firstly, understand what it is you’re trying to accomplish – many times we’ve had clients comparing Marketo, Eloqua and Neolane, but they really haven’t thought clearly about what their vision is,' he says.
'For example, if you've got a company that sells primarily through direct sales organisation but are having challenges with margin, you may want to start to disaggregate some of your direct sales channel because you can't afford them anymore, frankly, and start directing some of these leads to your website or an e-commerce site. And if that's the business model you think is going to be in place in three years, then you should look to a vendor that has the capability or the vision of integrating with e-commerce. On the other hand, if you think that your sales organisation's going to continue to be your primary point of contact with the customer, that may lead you in a slightly different direction technically with your vendors category.
He adds: 'I would also say that for some organisations, a wider solution than a narrower lead management or campaign management solution may be appropriate. If you're a large bank, for example, you may have potentially millions of customer records to manage, and then you may need something a little bit broader than a Marketo to do your lead management. You may need some deep analytics capabilities in which case you'd probably be better with a Teradata-type product, possibly SAS, rather than Marketo or Neolane.'
Looking at your sales process
Davies recommends that to help differentiate the type of marketing automation that you are looking for, you should first look at your sales process and your own customer journey, looking internally and then externally.
'Before you go external you really need to map out your own customer journey – how long is your sales process; how many products are you selling; what is the ROI of each product,' he explains. 'You’d be surprised how many companies don’t do this and there’s often a very limited knowledge about how long it takes them from awareness to acquisition. But this really does determine the platform or vendor that you should be selecting.'
From a B2B perspective, the sales process is typically very linear – a prospect wants a solution to a problem so they’ll find three or four options, evaluate those, before that goes out to proposal and then a customer is brought in. At some point it is likely that it will be passed out to a sales team rather than the whole conversion process being done digitally, so at a particular juncture it will be necessary to score a lead, determine at what point that score is a sales-qualified lead and then that sales-qualified lead is passed to a telesales of field sales agent.
From a B2C perspective, there is a lot of emphasis on conversions on site – so the whole sales process and customer journey is done entirely through digital assets. This really differentiates the type of marketing automation that your company requires.
Davies continues: 'With B2B, you will be looking for a marketing automation tool that really drives top of the funnel marketing activity and then executes lead scoring and lead nurturing really effectively. So you’re scoring people based upon real behaviour, demographic results, the information you can get from them and so on. From a B2C point of view it is all about building long-term strong relationships with them, adopting more of the Amazon philosophy to your site, which is taking somebody through a process of almost awareness all the way through to acquisition.
He concludes: 'So depending on your own sales process and who you are targeting, the market will determine your needs in terms of the marketing automation platform. And that will then ultimately drive your demands when it comes to going out and selecting the right platform.'