Marketing Automation: Lesson From the Trenches

Updated: February 11, 2010

The survey conducted by DemandGen Report and Manticore Technology included insights from 53 marketing executives from different firms who have already implemented a marketing automation solution. The survey explored their overall thoughts about the marketing automation solution they chose as well as the business impact they have seen. Respondents were asked to rate their experiences on a 1 to 7 scale, with 1 being very negative and 7 being very positive.

A Key trend that emerged from the study was the direct correlation between overall Customer Satisfaction scores and Ease of Use, Ease of Implementation. Illustrating the impact of these areas on the success of a marketing automation deployment. 97% of survey respondents that found their Marketing Automation solution easy to use were satisfied with their solution, as opposed to 36% satisfaction rate among those that found their solution difficult to use.

In addition to these tips and suggestions, the survey found that where there have been breakdowns with marketing automation rollouts, the issues typically haven't been a failure of technology but more that companies were not prepared from a process standpoint. In fact, when asked: "If you were to head up the rollout of a marketing automation system at another organization, what would do differently," 79.2% said they would "better prepare their organization by building proper processes and content offers to feed the automation system."


Overall, the survey's feedback on the implementation of marketing automation systems was positive, with almost 60% rating their rollout a 5 or higher for Ease of Implementation. Looking deeper at the results there was a pronounced connection between both the Ease of Implementation and the timeline to complete the implementation to overall Customer Satisfaction scores. 79.2% said they would "better prepare their organization by building proper processes and content offers to feed the automation system."

While the composite scores were positive, the survey also pointed to significant variations and direct correlations in the Customer Satisfaction levels, based on the respondent's experience with:

  • The Usability of the system
  • The Ease of implementation
  • The Implementation time required to deploy the system

These variables and their impact on the overall Customer Experience were also highlighted in the direct commentary and feedback respondents provided to the survey. Respondents who rated their Implementation at the top of the scale also showed almost a full point gain in their overall Customer Satisfaction scores.

A similar correlation also traced to the amount of time it took to implement the solution and Customer Satisfaction scores, with a significant drop-off in rollouts that took longer than six months.

About 1/3 of the respondents reported running into unexpected costs during the implementation of their marketing automation solution, with the largest segment (19.2%) requiring consulting services to build and properly use the system, followed by (15.4%) requiring IT Services to integrate the solution with CRM/other internal systems and (11.5%) needing professional training for their internal team.

Although more than 60% of respondents gave their system a positive score for Ease of Use, a deeper dive into the data underscores the critical role the Usability of a system on the overall satisfaction levels and success of a system. For example, there was almost a full two point swing in the average Customer Satisfaction scores of those respondents who gave their system poor marks (between 1 and 3) and those that gave positive feedback for Ease of Use.

Industry experts emphasize that the usability of the application is critical in the early rollout, but also for the ongoing functionally of the system. "Most users we see are new to this style of application and come from a world of spreadsheets and manual execution so the more user friendly the better adoption," pointed out Leigh Kelson, Managing Director of Pacific Rim Marketing, a leading marketing automation consultant based in Australia.

"Some demand gen apps require a pilot's license to drive and 2 or more skilled operators in house to manage the app." The direct commentary from the survey's respondents also underscored that usability is important over the long-term of the system's lifespan, not just in the early stages of rollout. 36% of respondents said, "Just because a marketing automation solution has a slick interface does not mean it's going to be easy to use and function how you expect," as their biggest lesson learned. One respondent added: "What our team wants to send, measure and who wants to receive information is constantly changing. Ensuring the system is easy to change is very important."

Whether it is in the implementation phase or in more advanced phases of the rollout, the survey's respondents underscored the importance of customer support to the success of the system. When asked the biggest lesson learned during their implementation, 60% of respondents said "Customer support is extremely important and should be a top priority when purchasing a solution." In terms of advice they would offer future users, 48% said to "be specific in asking about the type of customer support you receive as part of your contract. It can cost extra, be slow and inefficient, or not a good fit for your organization." One respondent added: "We had a lot of support during the initial implementation phase, but I think it would have been a lot better if we received more help once we dove into the platform as well."

Industry consultants said they are now building customer support into their Service Level Agreements and emphasizing the importance to long-term success. "Newer users typically require assistance in building landing pages and emails but also struggle with transposing existing internal processes to marketing workflow," said Pacific Rim Marketing's Kelson. Left Brain Marketing's Baldwin pointed out that Customer Support typically breaks out into how to use the functionality within the application and then best practices on how to use it most effectively. "At the beginning of the adoption process, the support needs to focus on how to do it," Baldwin said. "As the client becomes more comfortable with the functionality, the questions move to ‘How should I do it in my particular case.' The best support model provides access to those different types of assistance at the appropriate stage."

The survey data supported the need for ongoing support at later stages, as more than 47% of respondents indicating they are currently using 50% or less of their marketing automation system's functionality.

Beyond the specific suggestions on finding the right solution and lining up the proper customer support, one of the most resounding points echoed by survey respondents was the role of new processes required for marketing automation. Nearly 80% said "preparing their organization by building the processes and content offers to feed the system" would be their top priority if they were to implement marketing automation again in the future processes and content offers to feed the system would be their top priority if they were to implement marketing automation again in the future. In fact, the most important lesson the incoming class of marketing automation users can learn from the graduates is that marketing automation systems won't magically produce results and make life easier. In order to work properly these solutions require the right campaigns, strategy and input from both sales and marketing teams. As one respondent explained, "Use of an automated marketing system does not make up for a lack of strategy. For best results, there has be clarity around the marketing objective, a clear strategy for how and when to engage prospects. "Teams I've worked with blamed the failure on the tool itself, when in fact the marketing strategy had some big holes in it."

Industry consultants who have been involved in multiple marketing automation deployments, pointed to the lack of process as one of the most common causes for breakdowns in performance."Most organizations we deal with in fact lack any real structured marketing process," said Pacific Rim's Kelson. "The fact that we are automating it literally forces them into having to think through what the process should look like. When we sit in the discovery sessions with salesand marketing we uncover that perhaps they don't quite have all the process they thought or more importantly that they are not all on the same page and different divisions and people do things differently."

In addition to preparing new processes, respondents also emphasized the need for alignment with sales and marketing in order for automation systems to be successful. When asked what they would do differently in their next implementation, 43.4% said "work more closely with sales organization to build alignment around goals/processes." Left Brain Marketing's Baldwin added that "sales must be involved in all discussions of Universal Lead Definition and scoring models." Kelson accentuated the point when he added: "The whole point of automating and demand generation is to more closely align sales and marketing."

A key part of the process preparation respondents pointed to was the critical role content plays in the ongoing success of marketing automation. For example, a tip from one early adopter said: "In preparation, inventory your content and align the content to the early stages of the sales cycle - like educating what the suspect can do with your solution." Another respondent added: "The platform is important but the success of the effort lies in your ability to develop the content and create the right content flow for different categories of suspects/prospects. Our effort was around lead nurturing and this required a revamp of content that we would push in the campaigns."

Industry experts agreed that content is a key ingredient to success and suggested future users to take the time to map offers to buying stage and process. "One of the key values of marketing automation/lead nurturing is the ability to establish one to one dialog with prospects," said Baldwin. "Nurture content is different than demand gen content - it doesn't talk about ‘shiny new objects.' It should deliver valuable content to the reader, based on their profile and behavior."

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