What's Holding You Back From Marketing Automation Success? [Interview]

John_MuehlingAs we work to understand the opportunities and challenges facing marketing automation users today, it’s important to pick the brains of experts who have honed their core competency in implementing marketing automation strategies. It's for this reason I sat down to interview John Muehling. John is Sr. Director, Client Services at Digital Pi and formerly the VP of Marketing for VIRGO Publishing (now Informa Exhibitions). He has worked with recognizable name brands, such as Beechcraft, Cessna, Swift Transportation and Blue Shield of California to help them implement and make more effective use of Marketo, Pardot and Salesforce.

Q: Pressure is mounting on marketers to generate more ROI from their marketing automation investments. Yet, I've heard you discuss how most organizations are only using their marketing automation platforms at very basic levels. Can you explain the ways in which you see automation being underutilized (or incorrectly applied)?

John: What is happening with marketing automation today is a lot like what happened with CRM a decade or so ago.  Companies know they need a system to manage all the digital communications they are having with their prospects and customers, but they lack a process to manage what happens when those conversations accelerate the buying process.  

With CRM, a lot of companies went out and invested in a platform before they had a defined process. After all it’s an automation system – how can you automate a process that doesn’t exist.  So over time, many of those companies simply had a big contact management system with a bunch of very dirty data and no real way to report on it.  

Similarly, with marketing automation, marketers who don’t have a defined process for managing their funnel will simply end up with a very expensive email system.

The other key oversight for many marketers who deploy marketing automation is the lack of preparedness for the amount of content they will need.  I call it the beast.  Once you’ve set up your marketing automation platform, you will need to “feed the beast.”  Having a library of content, preferably aligned to buyer personas and buying stages will serve the marketer well and allow them to see a much better ROI.

Q: What are the key obstacles to marketing automation effectiveness and what steps can organizations take to achieve their marketing technology objectives?

John: What hinders marketers the most is the lack of defined buyer personas. And this hindrance translates directly to their ability to use marketing automation in a more advanced manner.  

Without a clear understanding of who they are targeting and what stage those targets are at in their buying process, marketing automation, again, simply becomes a very expensive email broadcast system.  

Knowing your buyer seems so elementary, but the statistic of B2B companies without documented personas is somewhere in the 90th percentile! Companies who want to take their marketing to the next level, and have made investments into technology to further that goal, should start by going through a comprehensive buyer persona exercise.

Once their personas are established, they can take the next steps of developing a progressive profiling strategy, defining a lead scoring model and translating their process into a measurable funnel. With these foundational pieces of marketing automation in place, it’s easy to move on to advanced lead nurturing, segmentation and true, analytics-driven marketing.

Q: As marketing technology solutions continue to proliferate and organizational tech stacks become more complex, how do you see this affecting marketing departments?

John: We’ve all heard that marketing will soon consume technology within companies – meaning that the marketing department needs access to the data that the organization is generating. So having systems to facilitate that access and manage the actions marketers want to take on the data is critical.  

I attended the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit the other week and heard Phil Fernandez (CEO of Marketo) speak about data and the wave of data that is about to hit marketers. In the last 5-10 years, the amount of data we are collecting has grown exponentially, but this next wave will be astounding. 

The next generation of successful marketers will use technology to dissect that data and make it actionable.  Obviously, this will require massive investments of time, people and money into infrastructure.  The people part of that equation is where the bottleneck typically occurs.  Right now, there is very little collegiate education on this aspect of marketing.  As marketing departments continue to grow, they will need access to more people that have technology and creative skill sets – something a lot of today’s most successful marketers have taught themselves.

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