I had a big goal when I wrote my Master’s thesis: I wanted to uncover the “truth” behind marketing automation. By the “truth” I meant that I wanted to know why so many companies brag about the huge benefits of this technology while other ones are desperately trying to find out ways to get the return on their investment.
While looking for answers to this dilemma, I came to think that the chosen platform might explain success or failure. I also thought of the company size as an explaining factor. Small companies usually lack the resources for marketing automation while larger ones wish to have the flexibility that the small ones have.
At the end of the research, neither the platform nor the company size was found to be relevant. So what does the success of marketing automation depend on?
Based on my research, companies that succeed in marketing automation have adopted it instead of just implementing it. Implementation is related only to the operational or technical part while adoption includes both the strategic and the operational.
In my research, I found that companies that only focus on the implementation part struggle later to create a competitive advantage from marketing automation. Benefits such as aligning sales and marketing, enhancing marketing efficiency, and getting better visibility from marketing efforts are only achieved with adoption.
I interviewed marketing managers and directors from large, medium and small companies with different marketing automation platforms. I asked them about their process to get the tool in place, the challenges they faced, and the benefits they are getting. I will explain the main lessons I learned from their experiences dividing them into three adoption stages: initiation, implementation, and post-implementation.
The initiation stage – Start with your customers’ journey
If your company calls itself “customer-oriented”, then you probably understand that everything should be developed around that premise to make it true. When it comes to marketing automation, this isn’t an exception.
You should start the process with your customers’ buying journey. Think of your target market, how your typical customer looks like, how many people are involved in the decision-making, what role they play, and how they will engage with your company. Then, develop a strategy for each of the stages of the journey. How will you help your customer to move along the stages, which channels you will use, what type of content will help them to make a decision.
After your strategy is clear, define how marketing automation fits into your strategy. As one of the directors said, doing it the other way around increases the risk of building your business around a tool. Next, build your business case defining the objectives, how you plan to achieve those, what resources are required, and who will do what and when. Once all these steps are completed, you can think of which vendor satisfies your current and future needs (as you have identified them before) and you can continue to the implementation stage.
The implementation stage – Implementing is just a stage in the adoption
Have you been focusing only on implementing marketing automation? The thing is that when you implement, you simply install a tool and integrate it with other platforms. But, for marketing automation, installation isn’t enough, especially if you want to gain competitive advantage from it.
A best practice to get the implementation of marketing automation right is not to skip the initiation stage (the one we covered before). Doing a strategic implementation will simplify the installation process as you will have already clear what you want to achieve and you will have prepared all your resources and structures for it. It will also reduce the challenges you might face once you begin using marketing automation in the post-implementation stage.
The post-implementation stage – Strategic from the beginning until the end… And even after
In an ideal world, all companies would follow the strategic path of marketing automation adoption. But the reality is that defining the strategy in the initiation tends to be overlooked by marketing managers. This is not only expensive but it also affects competitiveness in the long-run. Also, in most of the cases, a well-defined strategy will become a failed one over time if a company focuses only on execution.
Defining and building a strategy is a never-ending process. You need to be simultaneously planning and executing. Otherwise, marketing automation will become just an expensive email tool. Measuring and analyzing the results of what you do will ensure continuous learning. With marketing automation, you probably won’t get everything right the first time, but you sure will learn.
How to move from implementing to adopting?
In this graph, I have summarised the journey towards successful adoption of marketing automation. In each of the adoption stages, I included the main questions you should ask yourself to know if you are ready to continue in the process.
Adapted from Juliana Tobon, 2017. Marketing automation adoption in B2B companies