Marketing automation has shown that it can be a smart tool (when done right) for shepherding and converting leads, and automating marketing processes. The near future role for marketing automation has begun evolving as MA technologies have become more sophisticated to deliver customer-responsive interactions on any channel. If this evolution continues, the name 'marketing automation' will become inadequate to describe what can be accomplished with these technologies when combined with customer-focused processes, practices and strategies.
Within the marketing realm, marketing automation capabilities are becoming an important component of integrated marketing and communications, for seamless interaction management on any channel and support for omnichannel customer experiences. Marketing automation is also converging with cross-enterprise customer-adaptive processes and 'sense and respond' models, both of which have been in practice for quite some time for various enterprise functions, with customer needs as a strong focus.
Marketing automation has growing relationships with 'anything customer', such as customer service and customer master data. Content marketing strategies and initiatives are essential partners for effective MA. To deliver better buying experiences, marketing automation integrated with other customer-focused systems can reveal a great deal about customer behavior, motivation, and needs. Organizations can interact more authentically with customers anywhere using such intelligence.
Speeding Past 'Sense and Respond' to "Predict and Act"
Retail and eCommerce take advantage of customer-adaptive processes to personalize and propel buying journeys. And supply chain management and retail have successfully utilized 'sense and respond', aka agile/lean or just-in-time management, to optimize supply chain functions while speedily fulfilling end customer requirements. For these models, important common denominators aren't just responding to customers more quickly and accurately, but also delivering more value to customers - on customer terms.
The increase in real-time multichannel communications and interaction touchpoints has brought 'sense and respond' processes to marketing. Mobile is a particular focal point for sense and respond, particularly with the increasing use of 'in the moment' marketing and buying opportunities. Touchpoints become more effective with sense and respond and customer-adaptive processes behind them. The customer intelligence attained through integrating data and analytics from marketing automation, customer service and other customer-focused functions will power smarter touchpoints that include faster, more customer-accurate responses. The implications for competitive advantage are clear.
The strategic combining of marketing automation with cross-functional integrations results in continuous highly personalized communications delivered to customers. Adaptive processes based on context continuously respond more accurately to every customer action on any channel. Marketing and other customer functions are now in the world of real-time, location-aware customer experiences, moving past the basic mechanics of interaction.
Predictive analytics behind both customer-adaptive processes and 'sense and respond' are moving organizations from analysis of past and in-process interactions to anticipation of near future activities in order to better understand and fulfill customer desires. The continuing transformation of marketing automation is rapidly changing to "predict and act".
But all of this takes strategic commitment, the right experts, much preparation and testing, improved processes, and a lot of hard work. Done right, there is much to be gained for nurturing and growing ongoing customer relationships. To achieve more valuable use of marketing automation, you have to start with thoroughly understanding customers, buyer journeys, trigger events and key touchpoints. This means a great deal of research, analysis and segmentation at sophisticated levels – all of which will have to be constantly refreshed.
Technologies as Evolutionary Tools
When marketing automation is first introduced into an organization it's easy to get caught up in the tunnel vision of how to use new technologies and the tactical tasks that can be accomplished. It's easy to fail to see the big picture of how all the pieces fit together to achieve higher level objectives and corporate strategies. Many are still struggling to connect these technologies to overall marketing functions, and larger objectives – and to add all of the right people: designers, marketing technologists, analytics experts, data managers, content professionals, and strategists of all kinds.
As marketing automation technologies have progressed to better manage multichannel interactions and an omnichannel customer experience, they're addressing the complexities of understanding interactions during buying journeys, accurate customer segmentation and better personalized communications. A comprehensive view of the customer requires more than what the marketing automation platform covers. Extensive integrations are essential with other systems and processes, such as CRM, content management, content marketing, and social media tools. Marketing automation works best when it includes bi-directional integrations with other customer and product focused systems to deliver the most accurate intelligence in real-time - to any function.
Business process design, automation and event processing must be done at sophisticated levels to respond to circumstances and participants that can change at any time. All of this comes into play to both manage and maintain response-ready processes for today's more complicated customer experience lifecycles.
Overcoming Organizational Obstacles
Like much in the enterprise, cross-functional collaboration and integration of business processes are key elements for successful outcomes. The entire organization must be empowered to make a strategic commitment to the customer and to nurturing improved experiences. Upper level management must ensure that the entire organization can focus on the customer first, with top notch execution of practices and processes.
Organizations that continue to see marketing as an add-on function will not achieve improved customer experiences. Organizations that allow functional silos to persist are equally destined for failure. Because of these organizational flaws, most obstacles to successful marketing automation and customer-adaptive processes are not directly related to marketing automation itself:
- Inadequate budget for all aspects of marketing automation and multichannel interactions
- Reluctance to invest in quality content creation for all customer interactions (which also impacts the content marketing strategy)
- Lack of the right staffing and skillsets -- and no budget to invest in them
- Poor cross-team integration and collaboration
- Lagging systems integration across the organization
- Deficient data quality and analytics processes
- Badly designed business processes across the organization
The Future is Now
The idea of the customer-focused organization has been around for a while, but there's still a lot to be done to do it well – and to earn value in the eyes of customers. Continuously positive customer interactions obviously create immeasurable return for an organization. Such experiences result in more resilient customer loyalty – but to achieve them requires sophisticated actions and orchestration of practices and processes across the organization. Non-integrated silos for communications, marketing, customer service, and product development cannot ever achieve a holistic customer experience that matters to customers.
The strategic potential of marketing automation isn't about a single campaign or even the marketing function, and it isn't about the technology platform. It's about customer experiences throughout the lifecycle of a customer with a particular organization. Customers and markets can change very quickly; agile and sophisticated technologies, processes and creative practices are needed to grow and sustain positive customer relationships. Marketing automation can evolve into a customer-focused platform that offers new possibilities as an orchestration hub for a significant portion of customer interactions and for nurturing improved customer experiences with a vendor.
Marketing automation has the potential to become an important catalyst for the multi-dimensional intelligence that is critical for digital marketing processes and many other corporate functions . To achieve this, not only is a change in the marketing mindset essential, but the overall corporate mindset where marketing objectives become an integral part of corporate strategies.
About the author: Julie is an independent consultant and industry analyst for B2B software solutions, providing services to vendors to improve strategies for customers and target markets, products and solutions, and future direction. Julie has expertise in several solution spaces including: data integration and data quality; analytics and BI; business process, workflow and collaboration; digital marketing, WCM and social media; and the pivotal importance of user and customer experiences. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitiveand on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategies for B2B Software Solutions: Working from the Customer Perspective