Is it Really Free?

Published: August 31, 2010

In their press release, Genius CEO David Thompson was quoted as saying “Now, we’re able to provide everyone free access to Genius’ solutions, allowing businesses of any size to optimize lead generation using the number one rated platform.” In a feature story that ran here on DemandGen Report, LoopFuse CEO Sean Dwyer stated, “Clearly ‘free’ attracts a lot of attention. In reality, though, the main proposition is about a shift in pricing to value.”

If grabbing attention was the driving force behind these “free” offerings, then I would say both LoopFuse and Genius have succeeded in accomplishing the goal. I’m sure, however, that there’s more to the free offer than just attention, and the quotes above seem to indicate as much. From both statements, two key words stand out:  Optimize and Value.

While both of these vendors are looking to expand their presence in the market, and in the words of Genius “provide easier-to-deploy solutions”, the question that begs to be asked is, “Are these “freemium” models really free?”  Can we really say that engaging with the buyer via marketing automation has become such a routine process that a free solution can take you to the promised land?  Or, is there much more to demand generation and lead management than marketing automation vendors and many companies fail to realize?

Obstacles in the Path to Automation
On his Propelling Brands Blog, Adam Needles highlighted a recent research study that was conducted by Bulldog Solutions and Frost & Sullivan. The study sampled a group of 250 BtoB marketers. In this study, the question was asked “What are your biggest roadblocks in optimizing your marketing automation platform” – attendees could select as many that applied. Not surprisingly the top three answers came back as follows:

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– We don’t have the right or sufficient amount of people – 109 respondents

– We don’t have the right process – 109 responses

– We don’t have sufficient content – 88 responses

The study further reports 55 respondents cited “complexity of the solution” as the biggest roadblock, and 50 respondents cited “lack of budget”. If these two issues were at the top of the roadblock list, it would be simple to see how “easy-to-use” and “free” are prime selling points. But with the top issues being cited more than twice that of “complexity” and “budget” it’s hard to see how a free solution helps marketers overcome their core challenges.

In the myriad of conversations I’ve had with customers who own marketing automation, and with various automation vendors, it seems there is agreement that of those companies who own automation, approximately 75% are not using the solution to its fullest capacity. As a matter of fact, a significant number of them are using automation as a glorified email engine.

Focus on What Matters
This input from customers coupled with the research findings from the Frost & Sullivan research underscore the point that technology on its own fails to deliver. What we are seeing in the marketing automation space is not too different than many of the failed promises made by the CRM vendors 10-15 years ago. While the promises sounded great, the technology alone did not deliver. Sales groups learned the hard lesson that the adoption of technology with no framework can, in reality, automate chaos. Yet we see the same mistakes being made on the marketing side. Vendors are giving away the technology as if it’s a magic pill that will help marketers “optimize” and increase “value”. In essence what we are seeing, in the nascent stages of the marketing automation market, is the first glimpse of marketing software commoditization. And just like the CRM days of the 90s, we still haven’t learned our lesson.

Organizations that go for “free” to adopt marketing technology need to understand that in order to truly benefit from a marketing automation solution, they first need to…

  • Have a solid lead to sale (lead management) process in place;
  • Have a content strategy based on audience segments and buying cycle stages;
  • Make sure their marketing staff have the right skill set (they are “process” marketers).

In other words, marketing in today’s BtoB environment necessitates a focus on people, process and content. Adopting marketing automation (whether free or not) should be viewed as a support to these three, not an alternative. Even if it’s free, adopting marketing technology without focusing on these most important areas could end up costing much more than ever imagined.

Carlos Hidalgo is President of The Annuitas Group, a leader in marketing and sales process development, implementation and automation. With over 25 years experience, The Annuitas Group has developed marketing and sales processes and lead management programs for companies of all sizes helping their clients vastly improve the return on their marketing and sales investment.

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