Don't get me wrong. I think marketing automation is a smart tool to invest in, but I want to give some candid advice about setting the right expectations.
As we began our own journey over a year and a half ago reviewing marketing automation platforms, I wish I'd had someone take me aside and tell me the brutal truth. I could have handled it, really, but no one wanted to bring me down from my optimism. I thought for sure we'd cracked the code on how to boost our new customer-acquisition efforts. We were going to have fewer but more meaningful touch points with prospects and send only highly qualified leads to sales. It sounded great. I was ready!
I compare this journey to becoming a parent. Everyone likes to tell you the good stuff, congratulate you and wish you all the best, but there's more. Way more. What someone should have told me is that the first year of implementing a new platform is rough and that the first year is just a sampling of the hard work involved for years to come. There would be many rewards and insights along the way, but it was going to be a challenge for sure.
Here's my advice for those of you just starting out on this journey:
1. Be realistic about seeing results and then add six months. Set a realistic timeframe with sales and executive management (and maybe even finance) in terms of when the organization should see positive results. I really thought that in 9-12 months after implementing a marketing automation platform we'd be making notable differences to our close rates and that sales would be thrilled with the new process. In my experience, 18-24 months is a more realistic timeframe.
2. Define your reporting needs before committing to a marketing automation system. Know what information you need to have, and, if your system can't support it, figure out if there is an easy work around. In large organizations, it may be near impossible to put in a reporting request and layer that information on top of what your system provides. Don't deal with this after the fact, work out all these details ahead of time. Get input from sales and the executive team so that when they start talking to you about conversion rates and ROI you have all that detail on hand. Some systems are easy to implement and manage but don't offer robust reporting.
3. Asset Creation. It's one thing to implement a new marketing automation platform, it's another to have all the assets to effectively support your lead-nurturing efforts. Ensuring that you have the right assets is key and a ton of work, so define what you need to effectively support your efforts and get someone working on this right away. Outsource asset creation if you need to, but good assets are one of the main keys to using this tool effectively. Pick one or two key audiences to start and create solid content. Go light on the sales stuff and give your customers meaningful tips, articles and thought leadership. Build a solid foundation to support those audiences, get your results and see step 4 below.
4. Test, refine, test. I won't insult your intelligence here. You know what to do. Best of luck!