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People: The most critical success factor in marketing automation

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As good as marketing automation technology is, and as much as I love it deeply and unconditionally, without the right people sitting right on top of it, you have a very expensive race horse and no jockey to ride it into the record books.

Every thoroughbred champion needs a top jockey to understand it, challenge it and guide it past all others in the field. Without the jockey, you have Black Beauty happily chewing on grass all day and racing its shadow for fun but winning no races—bringing in zero ROI for its owner.

Based on my experience of the last two years, building a digital ecosystem from scratch for a $16 billion giant, I can tell you with certainty I'd be brushing up my résumé if it weren't for a handful of key people configuring, integrating and tuning the automation platform to yield maximum benefit for a company that desperately needed it:

  • The Ecosystem Architect: The fact that best-in-breed marketing automation software is primarily offered as a service does NOT mean that integrating it with your website, analytics, CRM and other platforms is less important or less complicated. Though cloud connectors make the platforms talk to one another in the same language, you still have to tell them what to say and how to say it. There is no substitute for a chief brainiac who knows how to make the marketing ecosystem work in harmony from a technology standpoint while also understanding the business requirements behind the process. As in any other ecosystem, the whole is only as good as its weakest link. Our resident genius is why I sleep like a baby at night.
  • The Half-Marketer/Half-Technologist: Marketing automation platforms are so powerful because they pack a lot of complex configurations and not-so-obvious settings underneath a shiny shell of simplicity. Configuring and keeping the automation platform operating smoothly while the business reorganizes, people leave and business processes are reconsidered is not a job for your marketing programs manager. You need someone with deep understanding of marketing processes, from leads-to-cash and beyond, while also being able to write scripts, and understand intricate details behind configuration settings, scoring algorithms and lead flows. You need a marketing automation jockey. Thankfully I was able to get one of the best in the business to play this role for us, and together with another super smart engineer they can make configuration changes in hours that would take outside consultants—including the vendor—days and a good chunk of change.
  • The "Smooth Business Process" Drivers: The marketing-to-sales process "seam" represents one of the most critical areas of risk and opportunity for any organization that actually wants to make money. You will need at least two demand center process owners who are responsible for keeping leads-to-cash processes in lockstep with changing business conditions. One of these people focuses on the marketing side of the house, ensuring that marketers go from "glimmer-in-the-eye" to campaign execution as smoothly and effectively as humanly possible while also ensuring training and reporting cadence is in place. The other process expert focuses on things that enable the warm handoffs to sales. That includes managing a tele-qualification function (to ensure that only the highest-quality leads find their way to sales) building and managing service level agreements with sales ops and sales on lead distribution, lead management and lead escalations, and closed-loop funnel tracking.
  • The Demand Gen Campaigns Expert: It's not enough to get the systems to play nice with one another, and the leads to flow seamlessly from marketing to sales. Someone actually has to generate those leads. As smart as Eloqua and other marketing automation platforms are, they can't automatically design winning creative, powerful value propositions and clear calls to action. They can't pick the right prospect segments for you, and decide how many touches to send out or to whom. They can't guide the creative agencies for you, and they can't do four rounds of copy editing for you. A great marketing automation platform gives your campaigns the best chance to succeed. But the difference between campaigns that flop and campaigns that fly are people who can blend the art of marketing with the precision, scale and operational brilliance of marketing automation platforms.
So, before you start counting in your head the droves of qualified leads that you'll send to sales using your shiny new marketing automation engine, you may want to hit up your LinkedIn network for the best people you can find to ride this horse.

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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