While awareness of marketing automation platforms is high among marketers and the proliferation of digital channels increasingly demands the assistance of technology, only 44% of b-to-b marketers have implemented some form of automated marketing, according to a new study by BtoB.
“I'm not shocked or blown away by the findings,” said Jeff Chamberlain, VP-b-to-b business solutions marketing at automated marketing solutions provider Aprimo Inc., a sponsor of the study. “But marketers are starting to consider marketing automation as mission-critical.”
“The State of Marketing Automation & Operations” report was based on an online survey of b-to-b marketers conducted in August and September. The survey generated 276 completed responses.
Of those marketers that have deployed marketing automation solutions, 52% are at least using those solutions for the automatic distribution of leads, with an additional 19% more thoroughly involved in the nurturing process, closed-loop automation, and sales and marketing alignment, according to the survey.
Chamberlain sees these advanced functions becoming more central to the marketing process. Even though marketing automation adoption lags, the economic struggles of the past few years coinciding with the rise of digital marketing have created greater awareness of automated solutions.
“When people are hungry, they need to eat,” Chamberlain said. “When the economy tightened, people needed to drive revenue, which in turn drove the adoption of marketing automation.”
The 44% figure for marketing automation adoption was called into question by Jeff Ernst, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. Ernst said full-featured marketing automation solutions are being used by only about 5% of marketers. The rest may be relying on simpler salesforce automation solutions for basic tasks such as lead routing.
“This tells me there is huge upside potential in this space,” Ernst said.
The adoption of operations software that helps organize a marketing department is also lagging. According to BtoB's survey, 50% of marketers have deployed some form of marketing operations solution to measure marketing initiatives, help manage costs, identify waste or enable a faster time to market, among other capabilities.
“Many vendors are trying to say marketing automation is drop-dead simple and that your first email will be out on the first day,” Ernst said. “But many who do move forward with some form of marketing automation are not ready for it. They're lacking an integrated lead-management process, and they don't have the right content to fuel the automated marketing process.”
“Having an operation [in place] that's efficient enough to run marketing automation hasn't reached a critical stage yet,” Chamberlain agreed. “Running marketing automation without paying attention to how to run it operationally is tantamount to putting a dragster engine in a Volkswagen and throwing it on the road.”
Survey respondents focused on lead generation (51%) and automatic lead routing (43%) as key benefits of marketing automation. Other key value propositions included increasing marketing ROI (44%), improving alignment between sales and marketing (42%), improving nurturing (36%) and personalizing communications with customers and prospects (21%).
However marketers are equally sure that budgets and resources are holding them back from achieving these value propositions.
Forty-four percent of respondents said budget constraints prevent them from advancing marketing automation processes within their organizations. Forty-three percent said a lack of other resources was to blame, and 20% cited difficulties keeping up with the content demands.
“It's very complex, and companies have to be ready for that next level of complexity,” said Tracey S. Fanelli, senior VP-marketing communications at Wells Fargo Treasury Management. “Part of it is looking at staffing differently, for example hiring marketing project managers with Web development skills or journalists to help with social.”
Fanelli added: “A lot of people talk about marketing automation but are not ready to execute on it.”
Indicative of the fledgling state of marketing automation is that, among those that actually have some form of automated process in place—whether a full-featured marketing automation solution or a more simple sales force automation process—only 35% have any specific ROI metrics in place to measure its effectiveness.
“I would assume most of my colleagues would look at generating X amount of revenue to cover their marketing automation expenses,” Fanelli said. “But I don't think you can take one slice out of an integrated marketing program and say that one thing contributed to it. All aspects help accelerate the sales cycle.”
While adoption of marketing automation is far from widespread, those marketers that have implemented it have a fairly high level of satisfaction with the process. Fully 72% of respondents to the BtoB survey said their marketing operations solution was adequate to the task, while 44% indicated satisfaction with it.
A majority of marketers want to be hands-on in implementing a marketing operations solution, according to the survey: 51% said the ideal team to handle marketing operations would be internal staff, while 43% said outsourcing to a technology services team would be best.
Among industry sectors participating in BtoB's survey, technology companies predominated, totaling 39% of all respondents. Financial services (14%), healthcare/pharmaceutical/medical (6%) and wholesale trade/distribution (6%) were also represented.
Company size was diverse, although weighted toward small-to-midsize companies: 52% of respondents reported annual sales of less than $100 million, while 20% represented enterprises with more than $2 billion in annual revenue.
“The opportunities are still evolving, but marketing automation really comes down to providing value to sales,” Chamberlain said. “And marketers also would really love to know what's working in their marketing operations and channels.
“Marketing automation runs on a whole other set of value positions, helping marketers get off the hamster wheel to do more effective things instead of just keeping up.”