Marketing Automation in the Digital Enterprise

With all of its promise, marketing automation is still an enigma for some enterprise companies.

While the appeal is as strong and the rewards as high as any software solution before it, there remains a certain hesitation on the part of many businesses to make a commitment to marketing automation.

One likely reason is that the terms "marketing" and "automation" were considered mutually exclusive in the early days of software development. A business' marketing and sales departments consisted of the company's most outgoing, people-oriented employees for a reason. To implement a wholesale automation of the marketing processes, for some businesses, represents a fairly drastic ideological change - an intimidating prospect for a corporation that is established in its ways.

But the fact of the matter is, marketing automation (MA) does anything but take power away from a company's best marketers - it just gives them more.

"It's really a combination of people, processes and technology working towards the goal of automating the functions that marketers do on a daily basis," says David Cummings, founder and CEO of MA vendor Pardot. "You need to have the right people and their familiarity with the right processes to put the best practices into place, and the right technology that provides the automation. Marketing is really the last bastion of unautomated business functions, so it's a truly revolutionary thing for the department."

The vendor landscape

But hesitation remains on the part of many enterprises, and perhaps another reason is an overall lack of understanding. The Web business and technology worlds are filled with vague terms that mean different things to different people, and marketing automation is certainly one of them.

"It's a very broad category that involves a technologically automated system to develop leads and convert them into customers," says Brian Goffman, co-founder and CEO of Optify. "It can include all aspects of inbound marketing such as SEO and social media marketing, email nurturing and all of the related analytics, but some companies in the space put their focus primarily on email."

So, let's explore the different ways that automation can improve your enterprise-class marketing efforts. But first, we should mention some of the top vendors in a crowded and growing field.

In addition to the previously mentioned Pardot and Optify, respected vendors in the MA space include HubSpot, Eloqua, Silverpop, Marketo, Sitecore, Aprimo, LoopFuse, Genoo and LeadFormix. As Optify's Goffman said earlier, you will find some companies that offer a full, all-in-one suite of automated inbound marketing tools including content marketing, SEO, social media, etc. Others are known more for their email solutions that generate, capture, manage and nurture leads in ways that most of today's email marketing products cannot.

"Marketing automation introduced the nurture email," says Pardot's Cummings. "In email marketing, you historically had the batch-and-blast method and the autoresponder, but marketing automation allows you to send emails based on the behavior of the recipients and their individual timelines. It can be a set-it-and-forget-it automated process, but it's done on an individual basis and based on the digital footprint left by an individual's previous actions and interactions. And marketing automation allows you to have the visibility to make those decisions, select those timelines and automate all of those activities."

Automation in action

A good example of email and marketing automation products at work comes from The Jackson Laboratory, a biomedical research firm with more than 1,400 employees and offices on the eastern and western U.S. coasts. The company wanted to upgrade to a solution that would allow it to easily create and send highly targeted and relevant automated messages based on lead scores and the past behaviors of the contacts in their database.

"When we were looking to move to a more sophisticated solution," explains Jackson Labs marketing director Peter Murphy, "our focus was on finding one with which we could grow our programs as we worked to integrate our CRM and increase our focus on scoring and nurturing leads." The company selected Silverpop's Engage solution for its user interface, automation features, integration with, and capabilities to merge and manage data and improve deliverability. Since using the Engage Field Values report to clean its data, and then implementing an email preference center in which users could opt in or out of selected methods and timing of communications, Jackson Labs began seeing an average deliverability rate of 99.6 percent - a 42-percent increase since before it made the switch.

Due to the preference center, the firm has also seen a reduction in users' abandonment of form registrations and garnered a 10-percent database growth in the first three months, including an increase in newsletter sign-ups within the first week of the preference center's launch. Additionally, Jackson Labs is sending fewer mailings than prior to using Engage and achieving better campaign results, including a 57-percent completion rate for its Engage programs.

"By using Engage programs to launch automated nurture campaigns, we have been able to increase the effectiveness of our marketing communications without increasing the volume of our messages," says Murphy. "The results of our email communications have increased exponentially."

While The Jackson Laboratory was primarily interested in improving its email marketing success through automated nurture campaigns, a complete suite of MA software will address all three parts of the conversion funnel. An MA solution can generate higher traffic and create more leads for your enterprise at the top of the funnel with automated content marketing that includes keyword analysis and other SEO practices, as well as social media optimization and more. Automatically scoring leads and separating email lists is part of the nurturing process that takes place in the middle of the funnel, and the final piece comes with a set of automated CRM steps that help push customers through the bottom of the funnel to create actual sales.

So, what's the holdup?

Now that you know how marketing automation can help your enterprise-class business, what could be holding you back? A common concern, especially for larger corporations, is the fear that they will be reinventing the wheel. Well, that can be true, but the choice is yours.

More accurately, you can introduce a whole new culture to your business that will be highly beneficial in the long run - but you don't have to. Or, you can do it gradually. "A lot of companies get hung up on how to get started and all the changes they will have to make," says Silverpop's director of product strategy, Bryan Brown. "It's true that you can't just turn it on and expect results overnight, but there are so many things you can do right out of the box without making wholesale changes.

"The promise is that once you integrate the social, email, Web and CRM components, then you will really understand who you are marketing to and be able to turn those leads into real sales opportunities. If you're not ready for that, why not just start by taking your email marketing to the next level?"