What CEOs need to know before investing in marketing automation software


The data revolution known as ‘martech’ has swept the marketing industry, and forward-thinking organisations are starting to align their marketing departments with the new technology-driven business environment. Marketing automation software has transformed a discipline notoriously difficult to measure in terms of effectiveness and therefore budgetary requirements into one driven by data and aligned with the rest of the business. The marketing department is now responsible for more of the customer lifecycle, and this means focusing less on channels and internal processes. According to The Global 2015 Digital Marketer study conducted by Experian, 31 per cent of businesses in Australia and New Zealand are prioritising the integration of marketing automation technology this year.

But digitally transforming the marketing function isn’t easy. It requires new thinking and a customer-centric approach. In the same Experian study, 43 per cent of businesses surveyed said marketing automation is one of the biggest challenges they are facing this year. Smooth implementations are so uncommon that CMO Magazine has even written an article on what marketing leaders would do differently if they had the chance to roll out their marketing automation platforms all over again.

Strategy before structure

Unfortunately, much of this struggle comes from adopting technology without clear objectives and a well thought-out strategy. Many organisations make the mistake of adopting these platforms in the hope that it will solve all of their communication problems, without realising that they don’t work in isolation. What’s the point of buying a car if you don’t have any petrol to run it? No amount of data, technology, or integrated systems is going to make a difference to your marketing if your team isn’t aligned to the same goals and your strategy resonates with your target audience. It’s all very well capturing data on your leads and customers, but without a clear content strategy and set objectives, it’s useless. Structure must follow strategy, not the other way around.

One company that learned this lesson the hard way and was featured in the aforementioned CMO article is data-driven marketing and advertising association, ADMA. CEO, Jodie Sangster, says: “We implemented marketing automation without clear objectives, a strategy, implementation plan or goals.” If she could stage the rollout again, she would make sure the association had a pre-defined digital strategy in place, and an understanding of how marketing automation would drive that strategy.

Prepare to invest in more than the software

Furthermore, marketing automation requires skills. At its core, marketing is a creative process concerned with understanding people’s motivations and using these insights to create campaigns, but the digital mediums now used to achieve this require one to be trained in data analytics, CRM and integrated marketing strategy. This leaves organisations with two options – acquire the skills in-house or look for them externally.

Sangster says what was required from a skills perspective was another aspect that wasn’t thought through prior to the implementation of marketing automation. She admits the marketing team should have been up-skilled at the start of the project so the true value of the software could have been realised. Instead, they had to play catch up, “Since implementation, we’ve done some intensive internal training and made new hires with the right skillsets to get the most out of the technology.” Sangster also recommends that organisations hire a project manager with an understanding of marketing automation and technology to oversee the rollout.

When up-skilling or hiring new talent, employers should seek candidates who comply with the DARC framework. However, this isn’t an option for businesses that don’t have the knowledge, human resources or financial capacity. Not only is it a costly exercise, but according to recent research from Hays, digital and technology skills are lacking in the Australian jobs market. This has contributed to a major gap between the demand for and supply of skilled marketing candidates. In this case, outsourcing is another option. In fact, digital marketing agencies are considered “best placed to implement new technology systems”.

You’ve been warned

While marketing automation software has made measuring the ROI of your marketing easier, it’s not a magic fix. These platforms shouldn’t be implemented without the right support structures, change management processes and strategies in place. CEOs and business owners would be wise to not only to take into account the cost of the software, but also the cost of up-skilling existing employees, hiring new talent, or partnering with an agency. That old adage ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ applies here. The basic principles of marketing apply; it’s just the medium that’s different.

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Topics: marketing automation reporting