B2B Marketing Automation Challenges, Rewards Businesses

Companies that are challenged by marketing automation (MA) deployments will be happy to learn that they're not alone. Sixty percent of companies struggle to find the resources necessary to successfully deploy MA within their organization, according to a study conducted by Econsultancy on behalf of Act-On Software. Fifty percent of survey respondents said their company doesn't have the skilled experience to get the most out of MA.

Other factors that contribute to less-than-ideal deployments are data management (48 percent), software complexity (44 percent), and integrating MA tools with other legacy software (37 percent), according to the report. Just over half (53 percent) of business-to-business (B2B) organizations surveyed are already using MA and 37 percent say they are planning to implement it. However, 10 percent of B2B companies that haven't implemented MA aren't planning to do so at all. Despite the challenges, 90 percent of respondents who have implemented MA said they have no plans to change vendors.

The majority of companies (38 percent) that have deployed MA were able to prove return on investment (ROI) within three to six months. Six percent of companies were able to generate ROI in less than a month, and 14 percent were able to prove ROI between one and three months after deployment. Unfortunately, it took 26 percent of companies six months to one year to realize ROI, and it took longer than one year to achieve ROI for 16 percent of companies.

"Marketing automation is a somewhat a new concept for the mainstream audience, which means there is still a fundamental lack of marketing automation expertise," said Michelle Huff, CMO at Act-On Software. We still see a divide between those marketers who know how to use and those who do not know how to use marketing automation. This is why it is an important charter for vendors to offer and provide continuous learning and education to help keep marketers at the forefront of the marketing automation game and skilled on the latest use cases."

What Is Marketing Automation?

MA software lets you create pre-programmed email sequences designed by using if/then branching elements. Contacts are funneled through an automation based on how they interact with marketing collateral, such as email opens, link clicks, web form submissions, and abandoned e-commerce shopping carts.

Similar to email marketing software vendors, MA vendors design templates that guide marketers through the automation process. The templates start with a basic interaction, such as a "Welcome" or a "Thank you for making a purchase" message. A recipient is then guided through a sequence based on his or her actions.

"I've always considered marketing automation a foundational tool, a cornerstone really, of the modern B2B marketing technology stack because of the control it allows, consolidating the functionalities you'd otherwise have to assemble via point solutions into a centralized workspace," said Huff. "The technology's breadth—a deep bench of features across web, email, mobile, social—means marketers have the ability to tell a consistent and compelling brand story across the customer journey, at every touchpoint."

When asked why 13 percent of companies still aren't using MA, Huff said complexity, need, and tactic preference all play a role in keeping companies from entering the space. "While we've seen tremendous growth in the space in recent years, it's worth remembering that marketing automation is a relatively recent phenomenon, one that marketers, early adopters, and now, an early majority of industries, are only just beginning to grapple with," she said.

"It's a technology that requires organizations to have a clear vision for their marketing efforts, a strategy around usage, clear and cogent metrics to operate by, objectives to answer to, and a curriculum for content which, for some businesses and industries, can prove a tall order, particularly when so many businesses and industries are rethinking what marketing means and looks like....beyond that, not every business has a capacity or clear need for automation in general. Several of our respondents from niche and small marketing teams made clear that, while they saw a benefit in the tool for tracking website visits, opens, and clickthroughs, there was only so many automated programs they could run and benefit from given their relatively low numbers of inbound leads."

Marketing Automation Use Cases

Acquisition of new leads is the most significant marketing challenge in B2B, with almost half (46 percent) of those surveyed citing it as their main headache. Sixty-six percent of those surveyed said generating higher-quality leads is why they implemented MA tools. Forty-nine percent of respondents said increasing revenue was their number one reason while generating more leads was only cited by 41 percent of respondents.

Seventy-three percent of respondents use MA for email while 63 percent are using it for web form lead capture and 56 percent use it for landing page lead capture. Less than half (47 percent) of respondents use it for customer relationship management (CRM) integration while only 41 percent use it for lead nurturing. Companies have largely ignored business intelligence (BI), account-based marketing, and dynamic segmentation, all of which were being used alongside MA software by fewer than 25 percent of respondents.

"Some of this might be the fault of the technologies themselves," said Huff. "A number of marketers in our survey complained of poor integrations between their marketing automation and CRM systems that kept their data from migrating and prevented their organizations from fully harnessing the solutions' power. But a larger obstacle might be organizational: a lack of alignment between sales and marketing that leads to counterproductive processes and programs."

Huff said it's possible that a lack of collaboration between department heads might limit the amount of technological integration that occurs, and that each department might be operating under a different set of metrics and objectives. For example, if sales has to focus on gaining new accounts, closing deals, and increasing and managing renewals and marketing has to focus on pipeline, lead quantity, lead quality, and brand awareness, then a software integration might not make clear and immediate sense to decision makers.

In terms of measurement, 69 percent of companies are using MA to track traffic to landing pages and forms. Sixty-seven percent of respondents are measuring how many new contracts the company has created. Roughly half of all respondents are using MA tools to measure marketing and sales campaigns to qualified and generated leads. Only 28 percent are measuring customer success through a MA tool.

The survey included responses from 355 in-house marketers from B2B organizations fielded in April and May of 2017.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.