Is enterprise software a suite deal for marketers?

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B-to-b marketers no longer have suite envy. Like their counterparts in finance, manufacturing and sales, they now have access to enterprise-scale, integrated software packages that oversee and manage all aspects of their operations.

Marketers have relied on a variety of software packages for years, of course, and to that extent marketing automation is not new. What is new is the arrival of complete platforms that address, as an integrated suite, all marketing functions, from managing campaigns and leads to tracking budgets and expenses to automating collateral delivery and more.

The question is: Should marketers be writing the large checks—often upwards of
$1 million—it takes to deploy such solutions, especially to automate a department that is all too often the last one to be invested in and the first one to get cut?

Aggressive approach pays

Marketing experts say the time may be right for companies that take an aggressive approach to marketing to deploy the proper software to allow marketers to get their job done right. Such efforts can pay off quickly, said META Group VP Liz Roche.

"Marketing is actually one of the easier areas for a company to demonstrate a real ROI [when it deploys an enterprise software suite]," Roche said. "The economics of this stuff for marketing tend to be very visible."

For example, said Roche, marketers typically have a very good idea of the costs to run an outbound marketing campaign or manage internal resources against a campaign. Marketing suites can not only cut those costs but make them easier to track, enabling marketing departments to demonstrate real benefit in deploying marketing software.

Customizable collateral

Amerisource Bergen, a $50 billion wholesale distributor in the health care sector, uses software from Savo Group to improve the distribution of marketing material to more than 500 sales representatives.

The reps can use the Web-based tools to create customized presentations rapidly or proposals that are guaranteed to include all the latest marketing inputs, from the most recent brochures and PowerPoint slides to the most-targeted competitive research.

"In our operation, sales and marketing have to work hand in hand," said Marlyn Cascarina, VP-sales operations for Amerisource Bergen. With the new marketing software, "we can take a new brochure or sales campaign and get it into the hands of the sales force as quickly as possible."

In addition to automating a previously manual process, Cascarina is beginning to use the tool to more closely track which programs the sales reps actually use—not to mention which ones close the most business, she said.

In addition to such measurable benefits, marketing suites can also help raise the stature of marketing companywide, Roche said. "A lot of times, the impetus to deploy [a marketing suite] comes from a CMO who is a bit embarrassed that his colleagues at the board meeting can report in detail on their departments’ budgets and success metrics and he can’t."

Indeed, the idea of department-specific software suites certainly isn’t new. In manufacturing and finance, such soup-to-nuts suites are called ERP—short for enterprise resource planning. More familiar to marketers are CRM (customer relationship management) or SFA (sales force automation) suites, which help track customer and sales activity.

Enter the marketing suite, a category that is so new there isn’t even an established acronym for it yet. Some analysts call them MRM, for marketing resource management; others have dubbed them EMM, for enterprise marketing management.

"We’re certainly in a very early stage of the adoption curve," said Yuchun Lee, CEO of enterprise marketing software vendor Unica, of the emergence of marketing suites. The tipping point for companies to make the move to running marketing on these new software platforms typically occurs when marketing "pain points become real inhibitors to revenue growth or even getting basic business done."

A growing group of vendors has appeared to address those pain points. Upstart vendors such as Aprimo, SmartPath (recently acquired by DoubleClick), Unica and Elateral have emerged as enterprise marketing pure-plays. Meanwhile, established vendors including SAP, Oracle and Siebel Systems have added significant marketing functionality to their ERP and CRM suites.

Buy-in at the C-level

The vendors typically pitch their end-to-end marketing suites to VPs of marketing or chief marketing officers, who are looking to bring new levels of their efficiency and accountability to their marketing departments. Also important is buy-in by company CEOs and COOs, who see such software as a chance to bring greater discipline to corporate marketing practices.

Driven by such requirements, the deployment of enterprise marketing suites is growing.

Researcher Gartner Inc. has counted about 450 major deployments of these suites among Fortune 1,000 companies, according to Gartner analyst Kimberly Collins, who tracks the marketing software market closely. According to Collins, the main drivers for such deployments are "the desire to deal with increased marketing complexity, along with a mandate to do more with less."

Enterprise marketing suites address those challenges in a number of ways.

"In the area of lead management, the return on investment is clear," said Joseph Meyer, VP-marketing and business development for vendor Aprimo. "Companies are losing leads today and [marketing software] delivers a straightforward business case for helping to track and manage them," he said.

Traditionally, lead management has been in the province of sales. But today, measurement-conscious companies want to track leads more precisely. And that means tracking how many leads marketing is actually delivering, including where they come from, how they get handed off to sales and whether or not they lead to closed business, Meyer said.

The process of acquiring leads is also bogged down, experts say. "If you look at the typical direct marketing operation, marketers are overwhelmed by the sheer number and amount of campaigns they need to deliver," Lee said.

Marketers have had no problem bringing in point software solutions to help them automate e-mail or other campaigns, but often still manage and analyze results manually. "We see so many companies run on spreadsheets, spread across a number of PCs across an organization," Lee said. "The growth in the complexity and volume in communications means that companies that used to be able to manage campaigns manually have hit a wall today without automation."

For other processes—such as managing the review, production and distribution of marketing collateral—the benefits may be softer but just as real, Meyer said. "There, you get a couple of phases," Meyer said. "First, you can look at it and say, ‘we’re saving six marketers 15 minutes to complete a task via automation.’ But in the hands of true believers [in marketing automation], what you end up hearing is that the real benefit is that they can do more marketing, not to mention more complex marketing."

In the b-to-b area, marketers face their own unique challenges, Meyer said.

B-to-b marketers tend to manage large numbers of events, both live events such as trade shows and, increasingly, virtual activities like Webcasts.

Conglomeration customer

They also must deal with the sheer complexity of b-to-b contact management, where the typical "customer" is often in reality a conglomeration of individuals with varying levels of input into the buying process, each of whom must be tracked and managed. Finally, b-to-b deals tend to be larger and more complex, with long sales cycles, complex negotiations and lots of margin to be played with before the final contract is signed.

Such realities are driving the automation of the b-to-b marketing department, experts say. But enterprise marketing software helps marketers improve their ability to manage—even explicitly prove—their contribution to the corporate mission more than ever before.

"The accountability trend is pretty clear and is going to help this [software] category grow" Lee said. "Five to 10 years from now, marketing departments are going to be much more accountable for the resources they spend for the results they are able to achieve."

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