Recently, Act-On Software sponsored an online, interactive discussion titled, “How to sell marketing automation to your boss.” Facilitated by the Funnelholic, Craig Rosenberg, the roundtable featured myself, Carlos Hidalgo and Steve Gershik.

It was a fascinating discussion, and we’ve broken down the highlights of the event into a three-part blog series.

This first part focuses on where to get started, who within the executive team needs to be involved, how to speak their language, and other factors to consider in a successful marketing automation implementation.

Craig: The topic today is how to sell marketing automation to your boss. I think this is actually a very interesting topic because I think we’ve spent a number of years trying to help everyone understand why they needed marketing automation for themselves.

Matt, you said that you believe that companies can actually – it’s more important for them to have marketing automation and they could do marketing automation and live with a lite-weight CRM as a way to get started on their demand platform. I didn’t plan to talk about this first but I thought that was really interesting and I wonder if you could just talk about that really quick and just expand on that.

Matt: Well, to take a step back, all of this is just technology, right? And technology is nothing unless you’ve got A) a good strategy and B) you’ve got a good message to get in front of whoever you’re trying to sell to. There are some world-class CRM systems out there and I don’t want to imply that they’re not valuable. I think they also are table stakes and most organizations need to do more.

Steve: I think that the problem with most CRM systems is there’s no R in it at all, right? The whole point of a CRM system was to manage customer relationships and there’s no R there. Like Matt said, you manage your pipeline. In many cases, it’s a glorified spreadsheet; it’s a contact management program. Before you can manage your contacts, you have to create those relationships and you have to nurture them along. CRM software is not engineered for that; marketing automation software is. And I think we’re seeing today that companies are thinking about building a pipeline before they expand their sales team and I think that’s one of the big shifts that’s going on in B2B sales and marketing these days where companies are looking to develop that pipeline so that they’ve got a much quicker ramp-up for a new sales rep to stay on board and much more effective use of whatever SFA or CRM system they’re using.

Carlos: I think when you talk about pipeline – and I was just on the phone with a potential client right before this call. We talked about the value of enabling sales as they’re managing their pipeline. When we talked about enablement, it was, “What kind of nurture campaigns are you going to be delivering to that pipeline so you can increase your deal velocity?” And too many times when it goes into that pipeline, it’s just – leave it alone, sales doesn’t want you to touch it. Bottom line is that it’s the corporation’s customer, not sales’ customer. So we’ve got to understand, how is that done? That is done through marketing automation done well. To echo Matt’s comment, it’s not just about the technology, it’s about the process behind it, the relevant content and the people that know how to use it effectively.

Craig: So Carlos, tell us what you see typically from your clients on the enterprise level from the buying process perspective.

Carlos: I think typically what we’re seeing is you’ve got folks who are in the proverbial trenches in the day-to-day work, and they’re sitting there saying, “We have to buy technology” or “We need technology in order to engage and interact with our prospects effectively.” Very rarely have I encountered a CMO who initiates and says, “Hey, we need marketing automation on the enterprise scale.” It’s more those director levels who understand the pain, understand the pressure that they are under to deliver that high-quality lead to sales because it’s no longer “let’s just send all the inquiries to sales and have them read through.”

So we usually see that director level and then our approach is saying, “If you can’t articulate the value that this technology and the strategy in which it’s going to enable – if you can’t articulate that up the ranks, you’re not going to get the approval. Sometimes it is a CFO decision because the CMO is under pressure as well to justify these types of expenses and also is being pushed by the CEO and the CFO to talk the language of the rest of the business which is revenue.

So we really see it starting at the director level to enable their programs, enable their teams and then it goes upstream from there to get the necessary approvals.

Craig: Got it.

Carlos: I would like to say I wish more CMOs would start to wake up to the fact that this is something we need and something that is necessary for our organization.

Craig: So just to recap – that’s interesting to me so we’ll dig into this as we go. So actually you’re helping internal marketing folks sell to the CMO still it sounds like.

Carlos: Well, I think you’re helping educate the CMO but you’re selling to the rest of the business because, let’s be honest – and I speak as a marketer – traditionally we’ve not really done a great job from a marketing perspective in enabling sales in any way, shape, or form. Marketers who spend the bulk of their time on what color should go into the brochure, how many pages, what does the brand look like — sales and the rest of the business doesn’t see a whole lot of value as it pertains to revenue production in those discussions. So not only do we have the legacy reputation to overcome, you have to start to talk that language. Many times, you have to educate the CMO on how to speak that language and how to talk about it. So you’re really selling it to the rest of the business but educating and arming your CMO and teaching them how to sell it to the organization.

Craig: Got it. Interesting.

Matt: The other piece of that – in addition to selling the budget is really having the solid sense for the full resource requirement to leverage a marketing automation system. A lot of times, the focus is on, “Hey, we need to choose a platform and here’s how much it’s going to cost and it’s X amount a month and let’s justify that as a budget.” But it’s kind of like saying, “Hey, we’re going to go to a trade show and it’s $5,000 for a booth so our trade show budget is $5,000 that year.”

Yeah, you’ve got a booth but you’ve got to have a strategy for what you’re going to do there. You need to have a means to get people there, you need to have some sort of a giveaway and there’s other things that you need to invest in to make that core investment and core opportunity successful.

And marketing automation is no different; if you only buy the technology and you don’t invest in people, invest in creating and maintaining a good process, and invest in constant new content to feed that automation system – the platform may be the plumbing that does the work but the content is the currency in marketing overall let alone marketing automation strategy and marketing automation systems. Very few companies invest in the content or the people effectively beyond the technology component.

Craig: Yeah. Carlos, what does it look like when you’re trying to buy marketing automation? What’s going through the CMO’s head? And in some cases we’re trying to sell to the whole organization. I thought you made a really good point about we built our own reputation, right?

Carlos: I think the question you ask is, “Why do you want to buy marketing automation?” And a lot of times, you get that deer in the headlights and it’s almost like, “Well, it’s out there. I know it’s there. I know colleagues who are running a solution so I know we need it.” So what are your goals and objectives? So it’s understanding what are the goals and objectives of any marketing organization. It needs to help drive more revenue through quality leads and quality customer engagement.

So if you can start there and articulate that value, then you can start to build the revenue case on top of that and really have an understanding of telling the rest of the organization why you should buy automation.

Matt: Carlos I totally agree. I think you could probably boil that down to three words, right? Just do the math. If I’m a CFO or if I’m anyone in the C suite evaluating an investment, unless you tell me otherwise, it feels like money out of my pocket. So help me understand how you’re helping me spend money to make money. And with marketing automation, I think it can not only be a means by which you can increase overall yield and input into the pipeline – so you generate a set of leads. If you’re just going to have sales people follow up with every lead that comes in and not nurture those long-term, you’re going to have a much lower overall yield on sales. And so you can do that math very quickly.

The math that a lot of people don’t do though is on the cost side. So even though, yes, it’s going to cost money to have a marketing automation platform and to pay the monthly fees and whatever but I’ve seen many organizations slow down the rate at which they’re hiring sales people because they’ve got a marketing automation system doing some of the heavy lifting and some of the prospecting work. I’ve seen companies slow down the number of tele-prospecting reps that they’re putting in front of the sales executives. So there’s an awful lot of places where effective marketing automation execution can actually save a company money at the same time as it’s increasing their overall opportunity and conversion yield on the pipeline.

Craig: Yeah. Hey Matt, you mentioned the fact that there’s an investment that needs to be made in people, content – but isn’t that an objection? Like, wouldn’t that – I mean, how does that work in the buying process? Do you guys lay that out for everyone and say, “Look, you’re going to buy this automation and here’s all the things that are going to come with that investment?”

Matt: Oh yeah. You have to! You have to because otherwise – to Carlos’ point – you end up buying software that you’re spending thousands of dollars a month on and you’re one of those 70-75% of people that are using it for batch and send emails only! So unless you think about upfront what it’s going to cost to actually manage the system – marketing automation as a category name is perhaps one of the worst category names in history because it implies, “Oh great! I’m going to set it and forget it.” I’m going to set this up and all of this stuff is just going to go and I’m not going to have to touch it!” There’s constant feeding; there’s constant updating of your content. Constantly looking at what’s working, what’s not working, improving on the process.

So up front – and clearly if I’m in a marketing automation company and I’m selling the software, it’s difficult to have that conversation because it is an objection. It might slow down the sale. The prospect could say, “Oh wow, this is more expensive than I thought.” But at the same time, if someone buys the technology and basically has a really, really expensive batch and send email tool, that’s a recipe for high churn those marketing automation vendors as well. So whether you’re selling a software or whether you’re folks like Carlos and I that are helping people with their overall strategy and execution, it’s incumbent on us to make sure people understand the full cost of executing.

Craig: Got it. Okay. Steve, best practices for a business case for marketing automation?

Steve: Well, your business has problems, right? Every business has problems. Your business has unique problems to it and you have a different sense of priorities of how you’re going to address those problems. So when you’re creating a business case for marketing automation purchase, start with the problem that your business is having now. Start with the headache that your CMO has every night when she goes home and is trying to figure out how to fix it. Start with what the CEO announced during your company’s annual meeting and said are his or her priorities.

And marketing automation can often help fix those things. If you’ve got sales people who aren’t making quota, then you can use marketing automation to assist along with process and people and content toward solving those problems. If you have too many leads, if you have not enough leads, there are technologies in the marketing automation space that can help solve those problems. But if you try and articulate a business case outside of what your organization’s needs are, then chances are you’re going to get pushed off because they don’t see that as a priority now. And there are a million different things that a company can do and if you latch on to what the problems are that you’re seeing today, you’re going to see that priority go up.

Craig: Yeah. Carlos, Matt, what would you add to that?

Carlos: I think about the Fournaise group study that came out recently that showed that 80% of CEOs say that they don’t trust their marketing department. That is not a good number.

Steve: Just 80%?

Carlos: Yeah, only 80%. But if you think about that number, you’re going to ask the question, “Well, why don’t they trust?” And I think marketing, for the large part, gets so much in a silo of, “Well, we’ve got to do programs and we’ve been given this budget so we’ve got to spend this budget.” We call it “Because” marketing. “I’m marketing because I have to, that’s what I’m here for.” It’s really understanding – to Steve’s point – the management objectives. What are the objectives for the year? Is it increasing margin? Is it increasing revenue? Is it gaining market share? Is it getting more money out of the install base? Once you understand the objective of the business – the CFO, the CEO, the EVP, the CRO – from the sales perspective – then you can start to build that business case.

If your business case revolves around, “We’re going to be able to do more marketing better,” – well, that’s great; then I’m going to have more marketing that sucks at a faster rate. How does that help you sell that internally? It doesn’t and so I think it’s really understanding management objectives and getting to their point of view versus a marketing-siloed point of view.

Craig: Matt?

Matt: Yeah, I’ve heard marketers today – and I’m including CMOs and even CMOs of large, Fortune 500 companies – sort of generally bucketed into one of two categories: you’ve got what some call the arts and crafts marketers, right? Which are the, “Okay, we’ve got to worry about the look and feel and we’ve got to worry about the brand and the angle on our logo and how the angle on the A needs to be 30 degrees.” I’m not poo-pooing that at all because there’s a lot of value in that but the arts and crafts marketers tend not to be able to speak the CEO and CFO’s language very well, right? And they’re not able to translate what they’re doing into what makes money and reduces cost that the C suite cares about.

The marketers that tend to work better today – and I think it’s a skill set that anyone can get, even if you don’t have a math mentality or background – is to be the math marketer. To be the kind of marketer that’s able to leverage all of the creative moments – the content and branding and everything else – and be able to quantify that into specific numbers that you can put in front of your C-suite, that you can put in a dashboard, that talks dollars and cents and translates what you’re doing – which manifests itself in very creative, visual, whatever – but breaks that down into specific numbers. It’s surprising to me how many marketers and even Fortune 500 leaders there are that still aren’t very good at doing that, but this is going to be a required skill more so moving forward for marketing leaders.

In part two, the roundtable tackles the topic of “revenue performance management” and how it can be applied across the organization, not just in sales & marketing, to make the case for marketing automation.