It’s difficult to have a conversation about B2B marketing, especially for complex products and transactions, without also talking about marketing automation or lead nurturing. And while the category and its adoption has been accelerating recently, a select few stand out as both pioneers and thought leaders in the space.

Steve Woods is co-founder and chief technology officer for Eloqua, one of the leading providers of marketing automation technology to B2B and B2C organizations worldwide. As part of the launch of a new partnership between Heinz Marketing and Eloqua, Steve sat down with us to talk about where marketing automation began, why it’s so important now, and where it’s going.

As an Eloqua co-founder and author of Digital Body Language, you’ve seen the marketing automation promise & opportunity for several years. What drew you to this in the first place? What started it all for you?

We saw the general idea back in the first dot-com bubble at the end of 1999. There was a lot of excitement around e-commerce, and what the web was doing to the transaction that a buyer makes with a seller, but we saw an equal, if not greater opportunity to help with the information side of buying – especially in businesses where a bit more information needed to change hands before a buyer was ready to buy.

From there, the products we built helped organizations understand their buyers’ interests and intents – the concept of Digital Body Language – and then guide marketing or sales conversations based on that.

As we worked with the marketers who were early innovators in the space, they helped us form and shape the product to become what today is known as marketing automation; nurturing buyers based on their interests until they are ready to buy, and then passing the most qualified leads over to sales.

You have a 20-second elevator ride to explain marketing automation, and why it’s important, to a CMO that isn’t there yet. Go.

Today’s buyers have changed. They don’t come to your sales team to get educated on what your space is about, and what your products do, they get that information online. If you are not providing rich, meaningful content to those buyers, and then understanding which buyers are most interested and catering your conversation with them accordingly (including getting sales involved), you will lose those buyers to a competitor.

If you’re trying to guide the conversation’s content and timing, with each individual buyer, based on that buyer’s needs and interests, you can’t do that manually. You need a marketing automation platform like Eloqua to help you understand each buyer, and guide that unique conversation accordingly.

What do you see as the biggest barriers to adoption and successful implementation of marketing automation for most companies?

Shifting from a campaign-centered view of marketing, to a buyer-centered view is hard. It’s relatively simple to say “we’ll run campaigns on January 1, March 1, and June 1”, and then manage the creative and budgets to have that happen. It’s harder to say “these are the meaningful events in a buyer’s world, and how I will react to each buyer accordingly”. The marketer skill set is rapidly evolving to think in these terms, but it takes some time.

Most companies are used to making technology decisions through their IT department. Why is it so important that the CMO becomes a technology buyer today?

With Software as a Service (SaaS), the aspects of a technology purchase that used to require IT – like servers, networks, data centers, etc – are now not required. What is required, however, is thinking through the business changes that a new platform like marketing automation will require. New processes, new skills, new metrics are all possible. A CMO needs to own how their organization engages buyers, and in today’s world, that requires technology.

Much of the marketing automation conversation has centered around the sales process, but there’s at least an equal opportunity to optimize revenue and lifetime value after the purchase. Do you agree?

Absolutely. Purchasing one product is a highly meaningful event in the lifecycle of a customer. There are great opportunities to have them onboarded, brought to success, and potentially sold more products. We’ve seen a lot of successful organizations do exactly that to great success. Similarly, managing the renewal cycle for any customer engagement where there is an annual renewal or similar, is a large area of opportunity that many marketers are exploring successfully.

I’ve seen multiple statistics indicating that a high percentage of marketing automation users aren’t yet making use of the full lead nurturing features. How do you recommend they invest in the baby steps to get started and start seeing value quickly?

First, think of the world through the eyes of your buyers. How do they educate themselves, how do they find information, how do they discover new perspectives? For each of those, will you be discovered by them when they look? That will lead to great conversations around both content that is needed and the lifecycle of a buyer that can be managed.

Start simple, with the most obvious customer lifecycle event you can see in your business and build a communication path from that. From there, you can identify a few more customer lifecycle events and begin to evolve and experiment.

How will this technology evolve over the next few years?

Marketers can now understand who a buyer is, and what that buyer is interested in, based on their Digital Body Language. Now, however, we need to also understand who they trust. Understanding who a buyer is connected to, who they trust, and where they get their information from is critical to understanding their interest in making a purchase.

The connectivity between solutions is also very much of interest. In today’s world of modern SaaS software, it’s much easier to connect systems together than it ever has been. Today’s marketers must look for platforms that allow them to add in simple “Apps” to integrate webinar data, event data, social data, video data, etc. Without that, the marketers will be blind to a broader view of buyer behavior than they need to succeed.

Learn more about Heinz Marketing’s marketing automation services here.