Guest post by Brian Hansford, president, Zephyr 47

Marketing automation follows the trends similar to the early stages of other business automation technologies including Customer Relationship Management to Supply Chain Management to the pre-Web 1.0 era of client-server development projects before that. All those technologies were promised to solve problems, make jobs easier, and generate revenue.

But even today, the successful utilization of CRM solutions is low, regardless of current SaaS services and technologies. Michael Krigsman, CEO of Asuret, Inc., reports 47% of CRM implementations in 2009 are judged as failures. The good news is marketing executives can learn from the mistakes and best practices of predecessor systems in business automation. Marketing is generally the last department in an organization to automate business processes and faces many of the same challenges other departments and functions faced.

However, DemandGen Report quotes Jonathan Block, Sirius Decisions, estimating that the success rate for companies adopting marketing automation is approximately 18%. When used primarily as an email engine, adoption is “probably more than 50% (DemandGen Report, October 5, 2010). There are many reasons for partial utilization or outright failure and system abandonment. Most of the issues come from people – simple as that. Don’t let this be your company!

When executed well, marketing automation platforms enable a well planned demand generation and lead management process and help organizations connect with customers at the right point in buying process. Higher quality leads are sent to sales with sales cycles that are accelerated which drive more revenue. However, implementing workflow and business process tools are difficult. Proper strategic planning and organizational mobilization can greatly enhance the value and revenue driven by a marketing automation platform. Don’t make the mistake of using a marketing automation platform purely as an expensive e-mail marketing system. Here are 5 steps to follow before buying a marketing automation solution.

1. Secure Executive Sponsorship
Any successful business strategy requires executive sponsorship, support, and even enforcement and marketing automation initiatives are no exception. Marketing automation impacts an entire enterprise and these champions are critical because they help mobilize the hearts and minds of people across the organization. To get the CEO and CFO on board, you will need to explain the “why”—the business case for a marketing automation initiative. This is the time for executives and marketing managers to focus strategically on how to directly grow revenue through sophisticated and measurable demand generation. Build the business case that shows how marketing automation drives revenue.

2. Develop a Demand Generation Strategy and Lead Management Process
Before even beginning to evaluate marketing automation solutions, the marketing and sales managers must develop an initial demand generation strategy and lead management workflow. Every organization will do things differently and the better defined the demand generation strategy with supporting lead management process, the greater the chance of success using the right marketing automation system.

A marketing team won’t flip a switch and magically have a funnel of highly qualified leads instantly flowing into the sales department. The workflow should identify where inquiries come from and how they move through a buying cycle and different treatments. A well planned marketing automation implementation can cultivate or nurture these leads to a point and then hand off to sales for direct follow up. The process should map how campaigns will support the required flow of qualified lead flow which ultimately leads to revenue generation. The strategy provides the direction and vision which will be supported by the rights tools and people.

3. Establish a Collaboration Channel and Service Level Agreement with Sales
Before a marketing team even engages in an automation solution evaluation, the sales management team should be involved along with the support of the executive sponsor. Marketing automation enables new levels of revenue generation by helping develop high-quality leads more efficiently, while preventing funnel leakage. Marketing has the fantastic opportunity to hold themselves and sales accountable for revenue generation. Collaboration and buy-in from sales management is a critical success factor. This step should also include coming to agreement, as much as possible, on what a “marketing qualified lead” is and the expectations, or service level agreement, by which sales will contact those leads and track opportunities or pass back to marketing for nurturing.

4. Test and Evaluate the CRM Integration
Generating high quality leads without a systematic way to hand them off to sales is pointless. Cloud-based CRM systems like and Microsoft Dynamics CRM are prolific and many marketing automation systems provide efficient technology integrations with most of the major CRM players. This is where organizations derive massive value from the advanced heavy lifting of developing a lead management process. To be clear, this step is not as easy as mapping fields. The process must be in place at least 80% of the way for this to work. Sales management and the sales representatives must buy into the process. Sales must follow up on the marketing qualified leads and provide data back to help measure whether the right leads are flowing, or not. Marketing automation integrated with CRM supports the full cycle of developing and managing leads and measuring effectiveness. Marketing executives can directly measure their performance on revenue generation. Both marketing and sales are held accountable with this integration, and that is good! This critical information must be captured within a CRM system.

5. Comprehensive Content Marketing Strategy
Content is often the most overlooked and underestimated ingredient for a successful marketing automation strategy. A well run marketing organization must have an annual campaign strategy and calendar, regardless of whether or not a marketing automation system is employed. Without a strategy and calendar, lead flow will be inconsistent and the content requirements will be unknown. Without content, the campaigns won’t get off the ground and the investment in marketing automation will be wasted. Consider the content required to run campaigns for leads at various stages in the buying cycle. And from there additional content will be required to support nurturing campaigns that help prevent leakage in the marketing funnel. Depending on which industry in B2B marketing, there will be different individuals at a target company that will require content suited to their roles and influence. Develop the right content for the right audience to be delivered at the right time using a marketing automation platform.

Marketing automation platforms and solutions provide a powerful resource for organizations to drive revenue and strengthen customer relationships. The unstructured methods of activity-based marketing behavior are extinct—at least for those marketing executives who want to continue their careers and help organizations grow revenues. Marketing executives and Chief Marketing Officers must show how they will use their people, process, budget and technology to impact revenue cycles. Marketing automation solutions provide the foundation to accomplish this mission. Strong planning, preparation, process development, and creativity will greatly enhance the magnitude of success using marketing automation. The 5 steps here are a great steps before buying the marketing automation solution.

About Brian Hansford: Brian is the president and CMO of Zephyr 47 headquartered in Redmond, Washington. Brian has worked for 20 years in B2B technology marketing with successful tenure at companies like Open Text, Citrix and Captaris. Zephyr 47 is a marketing service provider that helps organizations evaluate, implement and administer marketing automation platforms.