I was analyzing results from our recent B2B Marketing University series, which Silverpop launched this past Fall, and the data seem to point to an eye-popping, potential ‘banner year’ for marketing automation in 2010. Without getting into all of the math, responses from 290 of the nearly 600 B2B marketers who attended the event series point to the potential for somewhere in the range of 70 to 75% net increase in total adoption of marketing automation technology in 2010.
Is this the best projection of market growth — i.e., is this ‘the number’ for 2010? Beats me — I’m not a full-time industry analyst — but given this data, plus some other recent insights I’ve read, it seems as though 2010 is going to be a big year for marketing automation.
Then it occurred to me: What do all of these B2B marketers (and some B2C marketers) actually mean by marketing automation? Is their definition the same as mine? What is it they think they are investing in — in droves — in 2010?
And I have had similar thoughts while reading recent blog posts by Jep Castelein (a.k.a., “The Lead Sloth”) and David Raab on where marketing automation is headed in 2010. So I did some thinking about how we define marketing automation.
Strategic Marketing Automation
The problem with definitions is context. I think many who look at marketing automation lean towards a definition rooted in how marketing automation improves the operational efficiency of a B2B marketing organization. There is no question that this is a benefit — a significant one — and it often is the initial catalyst that gets a given marketing organization thinking about marketing automation. In fact, it probably was the catalyst for the initial development of the entire marketing automation segment. But as with any technology advance — for instance, CRM — having a holistic platform to tackle the operational obstacles changes things. It opens up totally new capabilities that were perhaps not fully envisioned at the outset. This is what is occurring with marketing automation … and at a key moment.
Operational efficiency is important, but it is not the greatest challenge B2B marketers are facing today.
B2B marketers’ greatest challenge lies in responding to a rapidly-changing B2B buyer. A Web 2.0 world has fundamentally changed the dynamics of buyer-vendor interaction. B2B buyers not only have greater access to information than ever before, but increasingly, that information comes from industry peers and third parties, versus coming from their vendors or from traditional media outlets. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff wrote about this loss of control in their book, Groundswell, and they noted “[t]he groundswell has changed the balance of power.” Buyers now move forward on their own terms, conducting much of their education on their own (and online) and connecting with a live sales team member later and later in the process.
So given this power shift, B2B marketers must more than ever work to wrap their marketing programs around the B2B buyer — managing dynamic, anticipatory, buyer-driven campaigns and programs and being in the right channel with the right information in the right voice at the right stage of the buying cycle. It’s a posture that imitates how a live sales person might have engaged with a prospect in a consultative interaction in the past. But now it’s being driven — out of necessity — by a B2B marketer. I think of it as ‘mass one-to-one’ marketing or ‘bottoms-up’ marketing, and more than just enabling operational efficiencies, marketing automation is critical to executing against this type of marketing. In fact, I believe you really can’t do mass one-to-one without some sort of underlying marketing automation platform.
“[C]ompanies have to engage differently with prospects,” commented Lumension SVP of Worldwide Marketing C. Edward Brice in a recent interview on the Savvy B2B Marketing blog. “They have to stop focusing on the sales cycle and instead focus on the buying cycle. This ultimately means that companies need to understand prospects and customers to a greater extent, including how that individual wants to buy and what information they need at particular points in the buying cycle.” Marketing automation thus also is critical to observing and understanding the buyer — keeping track of information consumed and using this to better understand and tune outreach — and to closing the loop. This means having insight into buyers’ ‘implicit’ information-seeking behaviors and being able to link these behaviors to purchasing behavior.
This view of marketing automation — as the key infrastructure for driving buyer-centric, mass one-to-one marketing — is a different definition of B2B marketing automation. This is what I view as the strategic definition versus the operational definition. It recasts how we think about automation and its role in modern B2B marketing, and this is important because I believe it is this new role that is driving the rapid growth of the segment — the 70-75% (or whatever number) net growth I cited above.
An Expanded Agenda
Here’s the other impact of the strategic definition: Once you are thinking about marketing automation in this strategic context, it then becomes clear why recent and upcoming developments in the marketing automation segment make sense. And why it is natural that marketing automation will increasingly have an expanded agenda.
These developments are all about extending the platform’s ability to deliver buyer-centric, mass one-to-one marketing. “It’s all about the buyer now,” explains Castelein I his 2010 round-up, above. And so the natural evolution are features and capabilities that reach further upstream into a buyer’s decision-making process, strengthen our engagement in the middle of this process and reach further downstream into when that process naturally intersects with our sales organization.
This — in my mind — better helps to rationalize the current vector of marketing automation vendors better than any operational definition.
How do you define marketing automation? What are your thoughts on this strategic versus operational view? And how do you believe B2B marketers will leverage marketing automation platforms and related technology to be more successful in engaging buyers (and in the process, getting their arms around the ‘brave new world’ of B2B marketing) in 2010?
I’d love to get your feedback.
Tags: B2B buyer, b2b marketing, B2B Marketing University, buyer-centric marketing, Buying Cycle, CRM, Groundswell, interactive marketing, Lead Generation, Marketing, Marketing Automation, Marketing Strategy, strategic marketing automation, Strategy and Tactics, Technology, Web 2.0, Web_2.0