There was a big underestimation of what it would take to overcome those challenges: robust data management, accurate reporting, finding the right people (once everyone really figured out who they are), building the right processes and understanding the intricacies of the technology. As the market evolves, whether you’re trying to get smarter about the technology and the way you use it, or you’re considering a new platform, the following are a few important considerations that should be at the top of your list:
1. Data management reaches a critical point. Even the best technologies available will fail to provide the needed insight if the data isn’t in order to support it. There’s just no escaping the importance of clean, normalized, reliable data to drive success in online marketing. Data management is a necessity, and it shakes out in many ways. It’s critical not only for all of the revenue-driving activities marketers want and need to do, such as lead scoring, segmentation, lead nurturing — but also to reporting and business intelligence tools. We know that most marketers will not hold back from exploring new channels, so the challenge to marketing automation companies is to keep up and allow for easy integration with any applications, including: Webinar platforms, social media applications, third-party media programs, data cleansing and appending services. The good news is that some of the top platforms are aware of the challenge and making huge strides in opening up their platforms to support fairly simple integration configuration and data management for third-party sources. Eloqua’s Cloud Connectors is an example, and the Bulldog Solutions team has created a proprietary solution that addresses the data standardization and distribution challenge.
2. Finding the right people is not optional. While there are certainly marketers that are qualified to utillize automation effectively, there are some traditional marketers that are lacking some of newly defined skills. It’s out in the open now that it takes a combination of marketing savvy, a solid understanding of data and a bit of technical know-how to produce a really effective “power user.” These people aren’t a dime a dozen. The most successful are those with the combination of a marketing background, have some technical experience (they won’t freak out when the WYSIWYG editor doesn’t work perfectly) and are eager to embrace the platform, or those that have significant technical background and a penchant for and understanding of marketing.
3. Platform shoppers should tread carefully. 2011 will be a furious year for both old and new players in the space. New technologies are coming online fast and the landscape is changing rapidly for existing technologies. While some of the newer players will have the luxury of learning from the veteran’s previous mistakes and may jump right in with easy-to-use interfaces, they will likely still have some work to do when it comes to scale and availability. The stable players will continue to focus mainly on new advanced feature sets while the new players will have to multi-task between building a competitive feature set, aggressive brand building and managing scale. If marketing automation is new to you or you’re looking for an upgraded solution, be very thoughtful in your RFP process and keep this in mind. You’re going to want a vendor that will be there for the long haul and will be available when you need them from both a system and support level. Finally, don’t be tempted to base too much of the purchase decision on price. Price is certainly important, but as with just about everything else — you get what you pay for. Make sure you put ease of use, data management, reporting and analysis, automation, integration, stability and security ahead of (or right there with) price point.
For more turnkey tactics to rev up your demand generation efforts in 2011, download “The State of Marketing Automation,” a comprehensive report that includes insight from BtoB experts on content marketing, the new sales & marketing alignment paradigm, and the technology & tools driving growth in 2011. The report also includes a vendor profile, complete with growth metrics and new products from a dozen leading marketing automation solution providers.