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When the dust settles from IBM's acquisition of Silverpop, b-to-b companies should pause to consider the full story surrounding the automation market. Solutions that enable outreach to b-to-b targets by automating more personalized user experiences have become the hottest item on the auction block -- in addition to Silverpop, ExactTarget, Unica and Eloqua have all been acquired within the last few years. What these automated solutions lack is real-time personalization and an investment in the way companies prepare their salespeople for interaction with prospects and customers. Without it, companies are only addressing one side of the sales equation.
The need to scale marketing efforts to drive organizational growth is critical for companies to compete in today's market. It's no secret that marketing automation is and has changed the face of business by allowing organizations to broaden the reach of key messages to generate leads and drive growth. Yet time and again I hear earnings calls citing "extended sales cycle" and "sales execution" challenges as ongoing reasons why companies aren't growing or making their numbers. Why is this? Because automation does not always account for the human factor behind b-to-b engagement.
Before the Silverpop acquisition, IBM acquired Unica to help satisfy its need for marketing automation. The automation market continues to evolve so rapidly, however, that IBM needed to take on additional capabilities to try to address the need for personalization. This brings me to my main point: Are we, as b-to-b companies, too stuck on the concept of automation for the sake of automation?
This question was a key focal point at the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit last week. One of the big topics discussed was scaling personalization through technology. Automation -- and marketing automation in particular -- is a tricky phrase because it leaves out a significant factor of business success: the human element that allows organizations to be contextual in a situation, adapt as needed and successfully execute sales. Here lies the secret to the future of innovative b-to-b companies that have already invested in or are interested in marketing automation: Sales and marketing must not forget that humans impact the bottom line, not just an automated process.
Organizational growth begins when sales and marketing teams act as expert partners for customers that are looking to validate business problems and identify the right solutions to solve them. Without personalization, this simply is not possible. Marketing automation does many things, but let's examine the bigger picture. Salespeople can risk losing even more precious time (not to mention damage their reputation and lose the lead) that marketing automation saves if it's done according to a poorly executed process. This is why the human element is so critical.
If marketing automation is the first step, technology should also equip sales representatives with the insight and logic to realize that if it's not Scenario X, it must be Scenario Y. B-to-b buyers are buying from people, not processes or technology. It takes a human element to interpret the data to optimize the process and experience for the specific buyer -- otherwise you're just automating bad practices.
For example, during a session at the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit, one of the topics discussed was the fact that human inspection of the metrics and dashboards being used by sales and marketing is required to ensure true alignment. The data show just part of the story; in order to understand the context, someone needs to dig in. One story shared was around a sales representative who automatically discounted leads that had personal email addresses associated with them. Upon further inspection, the data also showed that these people were downloading free trial software -- which corporate networks would block, so personal emails were required. To mitigate the situation, marketing was able to send personalized emails to the people who downloaded the software with tailored offers so no lead was left untouched.
While Silverpop will be a key addition for IBM, we're likely to see more acquisitions in the future the next time the market presents something that needs to be automated. B-to-b leaders should consider sales and marketing alignment through both automation technology and the resources that allow for a truly personalized, customer-centric approach focused on selling situations. This is something that marketing automation simply cannot do alone.