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Taking Marketing Automation Beyond Lead Nurturing

David RaabBy David Raab, Principal, Raab Associates Inc.

B2B marketing automation vendors have always been focused on lead nurturing. This makes sense: lead nurturing is a major reason why marketers have implemented marketing automation technology.

The big change I expect in 2013 is that the large B2B marketing automation vendors will seriously expand the scope of their products to support functions beyond lead nurturing. Most would already argue they’ve done this, but their focus is still primarily on multi-step email campaigns, landing page and forms to capture response to those campaigns, lead scoring to track progress, and CRM synchronization. Even mobile and social media have been used mostly to interact with existing leads.

For marketing automation vendors to continue to grow, they need to support other activities within marketing, such as advertising, deeper analytics, and administration.  Advertising, including brand advertising, requires support for media planning, ad placement, and optimization. That means closer integration with paid search systems such as Google AdWords to manage search keyword bids at a very granular level (e.g. by day part, by audience segment, etc.). Support for display ads requires integration with ad buying systems (demand side platforms, or DSPs) and data marketing platforms (DMPs), a specialized type of marketing database that keeps track of cookies and lets marketers purchase audiences with known demographics. Some vendors might even build or buy their own DSP and DMP capabilities.

Deeper analytics could be many things, but I specifically have in mind better attribution techniques for measuring the contribution of individual marketing messages to the final disposition of a lead (i.e., did they become a customer). Deeper analytics could also support better matching of leads to sales, relying on advanced algorithmic techniques that find near-matches and non-obvious relationships (such as businesses with multiple locations or operating under different trade names). Such techniques could also identify multiple devices used by the same person, even without a direct link such as two devices signing into the same account. Finally, deeper analytics includes predictive modeling for lead scoring, content recommendations, and offer selection.

Support for administration means better tools for marketing planning, budgeting, project management, approval workflows, and content control (user rights, change tracking, version control, integration with external repositories, etc.). It also means more precise control over user rights in general, so companies can add more users to the system and still limit their activities to their own job.

Expanding functions in this way is critical if marketing automation is ever to truly become the core operating system for B2B marketing departments. Otherwise, the marketing automation systems will be no more than tactical tools for demand generation directors, not strategic tools for CMOs.

Marketing automation vendors will expand into sales as well – expanding on current features to alert salespeople when a targeted lead or company visits their Web site, or to display marketing automation data within the salesperson’s CRM screens. But there are limits to how far that can go; I’d expect the CRM systems themselves to eventually offer similar capabilities.

In fact, another trend will probably be continued incursions into the marketing automation space by vendors from adjacent areas, including CRM, web content management, email services, social, and Web advertising. All will share the same fundamental goal of emerging as the central system for the entire marketing department. Although marketing automation vendors have strong position to defend, their success is not assured. The potential invaders are often much larger, richer companies with deep relationships to senior managers in marketing, IT, and general management. For marketing automation vendors to maintain a central position, they will have to build similar high level relationships and provide compelling reasons why they should remain in control.

David Raab is a Principal at Raab Associates Inc., a consultancy specializing in marketing technology and analytics. He is author of the B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST), an in-depth guide to marketing automation products.