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Need marketing automation? Start with the ecosystem

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I remember the day very clearly. My first day with CSC, and also the opening day of CSC's global sales conference. After a video on the power of digital marketing received thunderous applause, I got introduced to the entire audience as the guy who would make this vision come true (big gulp!).

As I stood there, all I could think about was that this storied and very successful $16 billion giant hadn't updated its website in what seemed like a decade, had never had a marketing automation system, nor a central marketing database, nor a systematic connection between marketing and sales.

Fast forward two years later. We now have a world-class marketing automation system in place, a centralized marketing database with hundreds of thousands of client and prospect contacts, a clear and cohesive leads-to-cash process, extensive 360-degree dashboards, our own Big Data analytics engine and an award-winning website that acts as the hub for more than 40 inter-connected systems, from social media integration to personalization and many other cutting-edge tools. So how did we do it, and what did we learn?

Air cover helps. Though the task was daunting at first, having the entire company behind you and a decent amount of money to make it all happen can help solve a lot of the problems you are going to face in the process.

Humans first, machines second. Before I started looking for the right technologies, I looked for the right people. I hand-picked key talent: the smartest pair of digital marketing technologists in the company; a marketing automation and CRM integration "black belt"; a savvy couple of battle-tested marketers to run the demand center; three brilliant ex-editors/journalists to build a strong content foundation; a killer digital designer, and many more super support personnel.

Internal navigation. A very experienced and disciplined project manager made a huge difference in our ability to move fast through the maze of privacy lawyers, IT security experts, IT infrastructure "police," data retention specialists and others who were assigned to make sure we didn't break anything while bolting on these new systems and processes.

Assume marketing automation ignorance. Marketers may assume that everyone understands what we mean by cross-channel attribution, MQLs, lead scoring algorithms, and multitouch and multichannel campaigns. I can assure you the folks from legal, supply-chain and IT security have no idea what you are talking about—while they also have the potential to bring your project to an abrupt halt. Before you embark on your marketing automation initiative, make sure you put a short, picture-heavy presentation together that clearly articulates what and why you are trying to do, and how fast your company can become irrelevant if you don't rapidly automate your marketing operations. Then, go on an internal roadshow and meet with such teams as IT infrastructure and security, sales and sales ops, supply chain, legal, privacy, corporate communications, etc. You will be surprised how cynics can turn to active supporters once you give them an opportunity to get their heads wrapped around the gifts of marketing automation.

Do your homework. Take your time to establish a rigorous selection process and clear, unambiguous selection criteria. Marketing automation technology has really matured recently, but when you consider your specific needs and business requirements you will immediately start to see a short list of vendors emerge. Think about the level of maturity of your own marketing organization, which will determine what features you can really use versus what's fun and exciting. Think about the environment you are integrating into, from the CRM platform to your website content management system and your analytics platform. These efforts can be significantly more complex than configuring your marketing automation platform itself.

Support afterward. Buying a maintenance/technical support agreement from your vendor is a no-brainer. In addition, you will need an internal help desk to triage requests and inquiries from different users. Otherwise you will mix technical, business process and campaign-related requests together and will spend your first year trying to peel them apart. Also, set up a campaign help desk that can hand-hold inexperienced users, so they can move to self-sufficiency. In closing, do yourself a favor and double the time and energy you estimate to spend on this effort, and set the expectations with your management appropriately. This is not for the faint at heart. But this investment will pay off handsomely for your company and for marketers who will now be able to push their performance and skill to levels never before possible. 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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