Predictions are always a tricky business. That's especially true when you're looking at the future of marketing automation – a technology, and an industry, that continues to evolve at a lightning-quick pace.
We put together the demand gen industry's equivalent of an All-Star team as we compiled the Demand Gen Report 2013 Marketing Automation Forecast.
This year's forecast E-book includes input from an outstanding group of consultants, integrators and industry thought leaders, all of whom bring a wealth of real-world experience to the table.
When we assembled our contributors' essays, several common themes emerged. It's obvious that these folks are on the same page when it comes to describing the future of marketing automation and demand gen technology.
There's way too much great information in the E-book, which is now available as a free download for our subscribers, to share it all here. Yet there are three distinct, and very important, themes that we'd like to spotlight this week.
Evolution ahead for marketing automation platforms. Several of our E-book contributors predicted another year of very fast-paced change for marketing automation vendors and their solution offerings. According to Justin Gray, CEO of LeadMD, this includes the continued growth of platform ecosystems as well as expansion beyond traditional marketing automation capabilities.
"Marketing automation will have to prove its ability to collect, integrate, analyze and present data from a wide variety of enterprise sources," Gray said. "They're focusing on systems integration capabilities, delivering richer analytics and exploring the potential of Big Data applications."
Jay Famico, Research Analyst, Marketing Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions, also expects marketing automation to move beyond its traditional organizational role. "A marketing automation platform can be used throughout the customer lifecycle," he stated, including customer onboarding, training, service and support, and follow-on sales.
David Raab, Owner of Raab Associates, said vendors will also emphasize greater integration within enterprise marketing organizations.
"For marketing automation vendors to continue to grow, they need to support a host of other marketing-related activities," Raab stated. "This includes better integration with paid search and display ad systems, ad buying systems and data marketing platforms."
Finally, according to David Lewis, Founder and CEO of DemandGen International, vendors that focus on SMBs will have to place a greater emphasis on their out-of-box experience: "This is absolutely necessary to expand into markets that demand instant gratification when they adopt new technology."
For marketing automation vendors, Lewis added, Saleforce.com is a worthy role model here. "When a small or mid-sized business buys Salesforce, they can use it effectively almost from the moment they begin," he said. "Marketing automation vendors can take a similar approach with tools like template libraries."
Marketers and vendors need to realize that technology isn't enough. A second major theme for 2013 covers the challenges marketers encounter when they drop marketing automation tools into a business environment that isn't ready – or perhaps willing – to accept them. According to Carlos Hidalgo, CEO of Annuitas, vendors will have to address this problem during 2013 or risk a major customer backlash.
"Many vendors and consultants are focusing on marketing automation as an end unto itself," said Hidalgo. Instead, vendors need to "focus on developing buyer-centric demand strategies where marketing and sales both make vital contributions."
Jon Russo, Founder of B2B Fusion Group, also noted that when marketing automation technology gets dropped into an organizational vacuum, the results are rarely encouraging.
"Many companies use less than 10% of their marketing automation capabilities because they haven't deployed these tools effectively," Russo stated. "That's why it's so important to map every aspect of your customer acquisition and onboarding process – from inquiry to close and beyond – to CRM and marketing automation tools."
"Many executives I speak with confide that they underestimated the change management and transformation requirements necessary to take full advantage of marketing automation," said Bryan Ehrenfreund, VP of Digital Strategies for Televerde. "Many organizations compound the problem by adopting marketing automation before they map out a well-defined marketing process."
On a related note, Tom Crosby, Content and Creative Strategist at BlueBird Strategies, said that B2B marketing teams also need to focus more on nurturing and retaining the talent required to implement these solutions.
"Retaining staff with hot skillsets presents one of the biggest challenges" for these organizations during 2013, Crosby said.
Marketing analytics will seize the strategic high ground. The last major theme for 2013 that our E-book contributors discussed focused broadly on the role that analytics and measurement tools will play as B2B marketers adjust to a more revenue-focused approach.
"We need a game changer – one that taps into the power of Google and applies very focused and targeted analytics around buyer behavior," said Henry Bruce, President and Founder of The Rock Annand Group. "I believe 2013 will be the year when someone cracks the code to make this sort of targeting a reality."
For Jim Lenskold, President and Founder of The Lenskold Group, vendors will also embrace a growing need for big-picture marketing analytics capabilities. Given the fact that a majority of organizations say their marketing automation investments still aren't driving sufficient revenue contributions, Lenskold stated, "it's no surprise that lead gen marketers are now focusing on advanced analytics to drive results."
Malcolm Friedberg, CEO of LeftBrain DGA, shared a similar sentiment with his prediction that these capabilities will drive a "B2B marketing renaissance" based on "an infinitely measureable, analytics-driven practice."
"The rebirth of marketing is about measurement, accountability and ROI," Friedberg added. "Marketers that apply marketing intelligence realize the power of integrated data and use it to generate actionable insights."
Another contributor, Debbie Qaqish, Principal Partner and Chief Strategy Officer for The Pedowitz Group, said that 2013 will also usher in a new generation of predictive analytics tools.
"Today, just reporting on marketing-influenced revenue in the rear-view mirror is no longer good enough," said Qaqish. "Today's CMO is reminiscent of a VP of Sales in terms of the need to forecast the marketing organization's revenue impact in upcoming periods."
Finally, according to Joe Cordo, CMO of Extraprise, a related subject – so-called "Big Data" applications – will have an impact on how, where and why marketers implement analytics tools.
"Truly integrated marketing campaigns – those that involve email, social, display advertising, SEO/SEM and chat – are impossible without marketing automation platforms that can support and exploit unstructured data," said Cordo.
As these examples suggest, 2013 will offer plenty of challenges for B2B marketers and the vendors that serve them. For organizations that address these three pain points, however, their marketing automation investments are likely to deliver even stronger ROI than they have in the past.