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Key drivers for a successful marketing automation initiative

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This past year we implemented a multimillion-dollar marketing ecosystem at my company. At the center of the ecosystem is a state-of-the-art marketing automation platform and marketing database, surrounded by a redesigned website, comprehensive dashboards and a Big Data repository for modeling. All are connected to the company's CRM system and all were built in the past 12 months.

As I look back at it now and try to deconstruct how we managed to do all that within what is a $16 billion, 98,000-employee global giant, I realized that our technology choices (though they turned out to be the right ones) had nothing to do with successful implementation. The top three contributors to success were all people-related.

Success Driver No. 1: Establish a common lexicon. Do yourself a favor: Before you start doing anything else, do a small test. Ask some key folks in sales, sales ops, corporate marketing, field marketing, IT and a few others to jot down the various stages of the sales funnel, with clear definitions for every stage. Inevitably, you will get significantly more than one answer.

Then, build a slide or two proposing a common taxonomy. I recommend starting with the baseline sales funnel taxonomy from the IDC Marketing Council or SiriusDecisions, and then making as few adjustments as possible where your business processes demand it.

Success Driver No. 2: Over-communicate. As you move at the speed of light to get the new marketing automation project implemented before the organization changes (or someone in finance decides to yank the budget away), don't forget that many constituents who will help you make this successful don't have a common understanding of what marketing automation is and why you should invest in it now. Don't assume that everyone is as knowledgeable or as passionate about the real benefits. Pull together a short deck and go on a "mini-road show" to meet with key people from every function that will contribute to and/or benefit from the marketing automation project.

In our case, we covered IT, privacy/legal, data security, data/document retention, sales ops/CRM, sales and, of course, the various global marketing functions. In every case, we allotted more than 50% of our time together for a Q&A and discussion, so that at the end of the road show and before the project gained significant traction we had the key groups feeling well-armed with information and excited about the importance of this work. They eventually became an irreplaceable force-multiplier, and they helped us dramatically shorten processes and overcome hurdles because they individually felt that they were all in.

Success Driver No. 3: Hire the smartest people you can find. The best, most technologically sophisticated marketing ecosystem won't do you much good without well-thought-out business processes and skilled, new-generation marketers who know how to take full advantage of the technology. Eloqua, as powerful a platform as it is, cannot do the thinking for you.

One of the best decisions we made to maximize the value derived from the new platforms was to form a demand-center group. This group links very strong people in platform administration and integration, campaign management, database hygiene and telequalification, and together they squeeze the greatest value from our marketing automation platform. In addition, we set up a campaign help desk designed to teach an emerging community of 70-plus Eloqua seat holders around the company on "how to fish," so they can climb faster up the best-in-class learning curve.

So, as you embark on your marketing automation initiative (or any marketing technology project for that matter), keep in mind that marketing automation technology is just an empty vessel at first. You'll need smart, engaged people across the organization who have fully bought in, and who can help lay down the right business processes and cadence to power your new-generation marketing engine.

Nick Panayi is director-global brand and digital marketing for CSC (www.csc.com), a multinational corporation that provides information technology and professional services. He can be reached at npanayi@csc.com.

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