Business has never been better for marketing automation vendors. For B2B marketers, however, what they expect from marketing automation doesn't always match what they get.
A recent SiriusDecisions study found that 85% of organizations using a marketing automation platform don't think they are using its fullest potential. According to experts familiar with this issue, the underlying problem doesn't always involve the technology. Instead, advocate a greater focus on the people and processes that set the stage for how technology gets implemented.
"A marketing automation platform will automate whatever you want," said Jonathan Block, VP and Practice Director, SiriusDecisions. "It doesn't care whether your processes and skills are optimized or not."
Integration Versus Alignment
The concept of sales and marketing alignment is already familiar to B2B marketers. It requires sales and marketing teams to accept the need to collaborate, develop shared definitions and metrics, and agree upon a common set of processes. Alignment, for example, frequently involves setting an agreed-upon definition of a "qualified lead" and getting mutual buy-in on a formal lead scoring process.
"Most B2B organizations today are in the alignment phase," said Block. "There's tacit agreement about the need to work together, and to consider the tasks and processes necessary to do that."
According to Block, alignment often falls short in terms of its real-world impact. "Alignment may happen at a high level, but that doesn't mean people with feet on the street buy into it. The [marketing automation] tech is an enabler, but without the right people, skills and processes, the technology will do very little."
As a result, Block and many other experts now emphasize sales and marketing integration as a more rewarding – if more complicated – long-term goal. The idea is to move beyond defining terms, metrics and processes, and building a single, cross-functional sales and marketing process that closes the traditional gaps between the two organizations.
Paul Rafferty, CEO of Sales Engine International, said a key obstacle to sales and marketing integration involves people rather than technology. "When companies make investments in marketing automation software, they think that they have solved their problem, and they fail to plan for people and processes required to make it work properly," he stated.
Rafferty cited the process of passing off – and passing back – leads as an example. "This is not always a linear process, and a lead may bounce back and forth between sales and marketing," he explained. "We like to use a soccer team as an analogy: Both the offense and defense are on the field at the same time, and the ball moves forward and backwards between the offensive and defensive players quite freely.
"This is the way sales and marketing need to function in this new environment," Rafferty continued. "It's much more of an integrated approach rather than simply trying to align marketing and sales."
People And Processes Set The Stage For Technology
From an organizational point of view, said Peter Gracey, President of AG Salesworks, sales and marketing integration is a concept that companies should consider taking literally.
"Communication, or lack thereof, is still the greatest obstacle facing sales and marketing teams," Gracey said. "They speak different languages and in many cases are being run by separate executives who are often at odds. The organizations that we've seen bring it all together have taken the step of unifying their senior level sales and marketing executives into one business title."
Rafferty suggested that companies look closely at job roles that provide a natural bridge between sales and marketing organizations. "The most successful teams that we see have an 'inside sales' rep as a nurturing resource for bridging marketing and sales," he said. "This individual engages a MQL over the phone, sometimes for many months and dozens of phone calls, and converts the appropriate MQLs to SQLs by nurturing them and qualifying them."
Indeed, the notion of "working the phones" as part of an integrated strategy may be jarring to firms that expected marketing automation to eliminate such tasks. Yet the latest SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall – a key resource for many companies' demand generation efforts – advises that no more than 15% of a company's automation-qualified leads should bypass a teleprospecting process and be delivered directly to the sales team.
Paul Alves, CEO of AG Salesworks, also advises companies to consider putting cash on the table to encourage the front-line cooperation that builds true integration. "My marketing team receives bonuses based on reaching high conversion rates, when an initial sales call moves to a second call, as well as when a lead passed from marketing closes."
Putting Technology Back Into The Picture
If sales and marketing integration begins with people and processes, experts like Gracey and Block say it should still end with an appropriate mix of technologies – with an emphasis on "appropriate."
"Any technology decision must begin with the following question: 'Can we plug this into our existing process and technology?'" said Gracey. "The answer is invariably 'no,' but if the technology is worth it you'll then plan out how to be prepared to actually leverage it."
According to Block, the key issue is finding a marketing automation solution that can match a company's people- and process-driven integration with a suitable set of technology integrations. "Not everybody wants or needs to access the same system," he said. "If you put a marketing automation system into place is it tightly integrated with your sales force automation or CRM? Lots of vendors say they can integrate, but in practice that isn't the case."
Block also emphasized vendor differences when it comes to understanding how technology maps to a company's sales and marketing integration goals: "Integrators aren't always well-versed in demand creation best practices; they may look at it strictly from a data perspective, but it's about more than just the data."
In the end, Block stated, companies that rise to the challenge of sales and marketing integration can expect to profit from it. "Those organizations that have done even a little on alignment and integration are seeing up to 10 times ROI in return. Alignment is verifiably driving business compared to the time before they put the changes into place."