Where Does Marketing Automation Fit into Your B2B Demand Generation Strategy?
For our final post on the Lead Management Framework we asked Adam Needles to discuss the importance of marketing automation and how it fits into your B2B Demand Generation Strategy. As the Director of Field Marketing and B2B evangelist for Silverpop, we we have done a lot of work and collaboration with Adam over the past year. His understanding of the B2B marketplace and the importance of process being the basis for technology is clear and is the reason we are excited about his guest post. Thanks to Adam for fitting this into his schedule and we know you will get a lot from this piece.
It's truly a 'brave new world' for us as B2B marketers — with new demands being put on us by our sales teams and senior management, new communication channels emerging, new strategies coming onto the radar and too many choices and decisions to make about where to invest our technology dollars. That's why it's more important than ever to focus on the basics of B2B demand generation, to have a clear sense of the center of our business environment and to use this clarity to rationalize our activities and our technology choices.
That center — to be crystal clear — is (and should be about) our changing B2B buyer, and the 'basics' means having an orchestrated marketing and sales strategy that is based on reaching out to and converting that targeted buyer on his/her terms. (And in case you weren't aware — in a Web 2.0 world — power has shifted and more is on the buyers' terms than before, so it's time to get with it!) This means all of our marketing and sales activities must be built around the buying process and anticipate our buyers' information consumption patterns. This focus is what should define your demand generation strategy. In fact, buyer-centric demand generation is essentially your 'solution' to making your way as a B2B marketer in this brave new world.
So where does marketing automation fit into your B2B demand generation strategy?
Marketing automation is the technology infrastructure you need to power buyer-centric demand generation. It is not the solution. Technology, by itself, cannot make you a better or more buyer-centric B2B marketer; however, technology innovation together with people, process and content innovation can completely change your marketing game — focusing it and helping you significantly improve the quality of opportunities delivered to sales. Marketing automation thus is the engine that underpins the solution and that is integral to its success. It is a critical element in scaling and managing a pattern of dynamic campaigning that is buyer led and that engages buyers on a 'mass one-to-one' basis.
It's important to understand marketing automation in this integral fashion, not as a stand-alone technology. I characterized this point of view in a MarketingProfs post as the 'strategic' (versus 'operational') view of marketing automation. Why the distinction? Many who look at marketing automation lean towards a definition rooted simply in how marketing automation improves the operational efficiency of a B2B marketing organization — almost as though the technology were a way simply to push more, traditional/linear email campaigns. There is no question that there are significant operational benefits to using marketing automation. Operational efficiency is very important, but marketing automation is more than this. We can't efficiently conduct mass one-to-one campaigns without some horsepower, but what differentiates demand generation from traditional email 'mass marketing' or top-of-funnel lead generation? It's the one-to-one part … the buyer-led part … the semantic capability to engage a buyer on his/her own terms and at his/her own pace. This is the strategic part. This is the part of automation that enables us to better manage middle-of-the-funnel dynamics — improving overall demand generation effectiveness — and to focus on educating the buyer as the appropriate way to nurture relationships and deliver sales-ready opportunities in the modern era.
So what does this look like, what are the capabilities of marketing automation and what other marketing technology systems does it complement? To better understand marketing automation's role in demand generation at a more-granular level, it's necessary to dig into the core demand generation building blocks, look at the key components of a marketing automation platform and get a sense of where marketing automation fits into the total marketing technology ecosystem.
Demand Generation Building Blocks
We've covered the fact that your marketing automation technology should complement people, processes and content innovation, but what are the specifics of a successful demand generation program? This brings us to what I refer to as the core 'building blocks' for buyer-centric demand generation. Finding success with and developing buyer-centric demand generation programs — especially improving middle-of-funnel dynamics and enabling buyer education — requires three core components. These are a lead management framework, a marketing automation platform and a content marketing strategy.
So what are these elements, and how do they work together?
> Lead management: Holistic lead management — championed by The Annuitas Group here on their blog, in all of their engagements and in numerous thought leadership venues — is a critical building block for a demand generation strategy. This framework defines the operational view of a lead from early entry into an organization, through marketing nurturing, to hand-off from marketing to sales, through additional sales nurturing and finally to close. Lead-stage definitions and lead management processes serve as a key lingua franca between marketing and sales; thus, holistic lead management represents how a sales team member views the demand generation process. And this translates insights into the buyer’s current status into what this means for marketing and sales processes.
“Lead management is a process,” explains Carlos Hidalgo of The Annuitas Group in a recent post on this site, “Where Do You Start with Lead Management.” “It’s not software.” And this is a critical point. Lead management is a method of operation for how marketing and sales will move a lead from upstream nascence to downstream maturity. Moreover, lead management defines critical parameters for lead scoring, routing and nurturing. This is critical logic for guiding demand generation activities. Lead management is critical to finding success with marketing automation, and it is critical to informing the routes and stages that relate to buyers’ information needs and thus to content marketing.
> Marketing automation: Given a well-defined lead management process, marketing automation becomes the engine for moving the process forward. It monitors our engagement with buyers; it semantically serves up content offers and/or responds to buyer-initiated page views and downloads; it learns from interactions with the buyer, developing an understanding of where (s)he is in the buying process; it uses this to nurture prospects; and it eventually governs hand-off of a buyer from the marketing to the sales organization. This ultimately makes sure that sales engages with a prospective buyer only when the time is right … and with the buyer already having been nurtured and educated.
To do this, the marketing automation engine takes continual cues from lead scores — driven both by buyer demographics and by behavioral cues (e.g., downloading a whitepaper) — as well as segmentation and routing logic. It uses these cues to make sure that leads are moved forward through the lead management process. And this is an intelligent, ’semantic’ sorting that the marketing automation engine does very quickly — triggering content actions, nurturing steps and sales-team routings that are based on what it learns.
> Content marketing: The third element is content marketing. In a world where buyers are doing more education on their own timeframe and ahead of speaking with a sales representative, it’s more critical than ever to take advantage of this gap and to fill it with information buyers can use to propel their process forward. Holistic content marketing thus represents the dialogue view of demand generation. It is the architecture behind the information exchanged with the buyer; it is the rationalization of what content buyers need at various buying stages and what media and channels are going to convey this content.
I explained in a recent post, “What Are the Keys to Finding Success with B2B Content Marketing”:
Content marketing is not merely something to do in addition to the other marketing tactics you are deploying; rather, it’s meant to be a unifying mindset — raising content to a more strategic level. I detailed this in my recent Propelling Brands post, “Content is no longer the static prose of taglines and brochures; rather, it is the connective tissue of a new era of ‘bottoms-up’ B2B marketing … and powers buyer dialogue.” My colleague, Kristin McKenna, put it a bit more succinctly in her own recent post on this site: “Essentially, content marketing is the notion that delivering (through sharing) high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable buyer actions.”
Content is not only critical to educating the buyer, but the content consumed also can tell you something about where a buyer is in his/her process. Behavioral cues based on Web pages accessed and documents downloaded then become critical information for your marketing automation platform to score against and to drive where a lead sits in your lead management process. And thus you can see how much these three elements are really intertwined.
Marketing Automation Key Components
So what's under the hood? What are the key components of a marketing automation platform?
The diagram below identifies the major pieces of functionality in a typical marketing automation platform, and it loosely maps these back to a.) how these support the key processes of lead management and content marketing b.) how these interact with your underlying marketing data.
One note is that your campaign management interface is and should be a critical way to integrate all of the elements and to orchestrate your demand generation activities. For example, at Silverpop, via our Engage Programs drag-and-drop interface, it's easy to set up buyer triggers, content offers, nurturing emails and score-based routing from a single view. These are not the traditional view of campaigns but instead are dynamic campaigns — which buyers are constantly flowing through and within which buyers' actions and interests determine their paths.
An additional note is that CRM synchronization is a critical element of marketing automation. This enables you to connect marketing data —particularly behavioral data and campaign history — with your sales record. One result is continuity in the hand-off, dialogue and nurturing as a buyer moves from engaging with marketing to engaging with your sales team. A second result is the ability to tie marketing influence to closed revenue — getting a better sense of what specific marketing activities (and sequence of activities) are most predictive of a positive outcome.
Marketing Technology Ecosystem
Marketing automation technology is the keystone of your marketing technology infrastructure and the engine of your buyer-centric demand generation, but it does not live in a vacuum. It is integral to a number of platforms and capabilities you are likely already leveraging as a B2B marketer in the Web 2.0 era.
The diagram below — developed by B2B marketing blogger and frequent B2B Marketing University contributor Jep Castelein, a.k.a., the "Lead Sloth" — provides a sense of how marketing automation might link to other marketing technology systems in a typical B2B marketing and sales organization. (To clarify: Jep did not develop this to show a 'best-in-class' set-up; rather, it is meant to illustrate what you commonly see.)
This diagram does a particularly good job of capturing the position marketing automation plays with respect to upstream/inbound marketing — particularly via social media and search, as well as via your corporate Website.
What are your own experiences with marketing automation and with integrating it into your B2B demand generation activities? What are the opportunities and challenges you've faced when it comes to developing your lead management and content marketing practices — and then mapping them into your marketing automation platform?