An Interview with Jonathan Block from SiriusDecisions

This week, we are pleased to have Jonathan Block from SiriusDecisions joining us to discuss marketing automation, lead management and B2B marketing.

Jonathan in his role as Vice President and Service Director of SiriusDecisions is no stranger those of us in B2B marketing. He has worked for more than 20 years in a variety of marketing roles and as an industry analyst. While at SiriusDecisions, he has helped many B2B organizations expand their traditional reputation management initiatives with the integration of social media strategies and tactics into the communications mix, as well as advised clients on evaluating and choosing appropriate marketing technology and services providers.
We would like to thank Jonathan for taking the time to speak to us and appreciate his candor and sharing his insights with our readers.

TAG: Recent studies at the end of last year showed that B2B marketers are challenged to produce quality leads, measure ROI and generate enough leads.  Many of these issues are the same ones marketers struggled with 10 years ago.  Why do these issues continue to persist despite the focus on new technologies and process?

JB: The simple answer is because a focus on new technologies and processes alone is not enough. Organizations also need to evaluate and elevate their marketing skills to be able to take advantage of such advances. Marketers must have a fair level of campaign management skill (particularly in the area of portfolio/multi-touch campaigns) to leverage a useful measure of a technology’s effectiveness. Take a look back at the not-too-distant past of field marketing in the lion’s share of companies and you will see a world dominated by a single goal: Quantity.

The thought was to create as many outbound programs as possible in a given time frame, gather all the hand-raisers you could, dump them into sales and repeat as much as your budget would allow. Today, the field marketing mantra has changed to one of quality, embracing the concept that better leads will be worked more reliably by sales, lead to opportunity and closed business more often, and consequently improve marketing’s measurable contribution to the business. However, making the move from quantity to quality isn’t just like flipping a switch. With all of this change and a major shift in expectations, one would assume that companies have stepped forward to re-train not only marketing managers, but the directors and above that oversee them. However, just 5 percent of B2B organizations have a formal, systematic marketing training program; in 75 percent of companies, the only way that marketers learn is through trial and error.

TAG: You recently wrote a piece about calculating the ROI of marketing automation platforms.  With companies struggling to measure campaign ROI, how can they go about measuring the ROI of their automation solution?

JB: On the surface it would be easy to compare the performance of your campaigns before and after using a marketing automation solution. However, few organizations have a reliable benchmark of their campaign performance or how that compares to their peers. One of the roadblocks to establishing technological ROI is the lack of an agreed-upon framework that will be used to measure performance. The SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall model is a multistage, end-to-end view of an organization’s new business health shared by marketing and sales. We use this model as a beachhead for measuring processes, metrics and strategy — assuming that the worth of specific demand creation-related moves that an organization makes must manifest themselves in waterfall performance improvement. This assumption certainly doesn’t change when it comes to enabling technologies, and comparing changes in conversion rates between waterfall stages — both an organization’s and industry benchmarks — is an effective way to determine the impact of a marketing automation solution. Unfortunately, we still see organizations purchase a marketing automation solution in an attempt to automate processes that don’t exist; in instances where this has occurred, the technology has struggled to demonstrate results.

TAG: In the same research you compare three scenarios: a) companies with no automation or process; b) companies with automation and weak or no process; and c) companies with automation and average process.  In the end, the companies with both automation and process showed a dramatic advantage in both conversions and revenues. Given automation plus process provides such a huge advantage, why don’t more companies adopt this approach?

JB: One aspect is that many organizations still subscribe to the notion that the technology itself will transform how they do marketing rather than viewing it as an enabler. Remember, the key word here is “automation.” The marketing automation platform doesn’t care whether your processes and skills are optimized or not, it will automate them either way. Just as important is change management. While overcoming organizational inertia to transform marketing is challenging enough, it’s equally difficult to come to terms with the fact that not all staff members are willing (or able) to buy into a new way of marketing or have the expertise to develop new processes.

TAG: In addition to a solid business process, what else should organizations consider when looking to adopt marketing automation?

JB: I’ve talked above about the importance of skills, so providing the time and resources to evolve your marketing staff’s skills is invaluable. It’s also imperative to see where marketing automation fits not just within marketing but also as part of an overall enterprise technology ecosystem. Integration with other marketing and enterprise systems continues to plague over 80 percent of marketing automation adopters according to our SiriusDecisions research. And this isn’t just integration with CRM systems, but the ability of marketing automation platforms to share and receive data with other applications, such as social media monitoring tools, ERP systems or business intelligence solutions. For instance, it is necessary for a marketing automation solution to feed broader dashboards and reporting; the more integrated the data from the automation solution, the easier it will be to deliver accurate “big picture” visibility into the entire marketing organization and beyond.

TAG: The name “marketing automation” would assume it is solely a marketing discipline.  However that is far from accurate.  What role do you see sales playing in the success of marketing automation?

JB: If an organization wishes to begin taking advantage of the functionality of a marketing automation platform – including lead scoring and lead routing – it must involve sales and build simple service-level agreements to construct more of a closed loop. Broader lead scoring, lead routing, lead handoff and nurturing processes must be forged with the sales function, requiring a greater level of sales/marketing cooperation than ever before. The reason? For many organizations “sales fatigue” sets in over time in terms of leads that come from marketing. If sales comes to find out these leads are of low quality, reps will turn to cold calling, preferring to control the quality of their lead destiny themselves and will likely ignore marketing’s output even more. If marketing raises expectations through a marketing automation platform purchase that lead quality will increase without building joint processes and alignment with sales, a situation where negative return and even greater friction between the two functions is bound to occur.

TAG: If you could provide one piece of advice to an organization looking to adopt marketing automation, what would you tell them?

JB: Two words: data quality. A database is the fuel that powers every marketing function. Maintaining quality data and applying it analytically to define patterns that lead to better responses, higher qualification/conversions and ultimately closed business form the foundation of marketing success and can make or break any marketing automation initiative. If I can point to one positive effect of the recent economic downturn, it is that marketers have learned the importance of focusing on data quality and the advantages such an enterprise mindset can bring. Achieving this means that marketing must align with an enterprise-wide data policy that stresses data maintenance (ongoing policies and procedures to maintain data quality) vs. data cleansing (disconnected projects with a set completion date that must be executed over and over).