Larry would like to thank Tim Perry for his contributions to this month's column.

While the concept of marketing automation is not a new one, many companies need to pay close attention to this aspect of their business and the associated software solutions for a variety of reasons. They include:

Late adopters. You've been doing a "good enough" job over the years, keeping up with marketing demands via a manually intensive process. Why change now? Cost cutting, increased competition, declining or stagnant sales and resource attrition are forcing you to look for new ideas to be more efficient and effective.

Online marketing disconnect. More and more organizations are realizing that the rampant growth of communications with their online consumers and prospects has caused them to recognize new requirements for their marketing automation tool and processes. Few organizations have been able to successfully break down the barriers between online and offline marketing.

Total cost of ownership continues to rise. As a ripple effect from the consolidation of vendors, some traditional vendors have forced their users to go through painful upgrades. In some cases, these upgrades or conversions are costing organizations large investments. If a large investment is going to be made, some organizations must re-evaluate if they are on the right horse.

What to Look for in a Marketing Automation Tool

Here is a list of questions and features you should focus on:

Integration with your existing customer relationship management (CRM) solution. If you've already adopted a CRM solution across the organization, this is a great starting point. Specifically, staging campaigns within customer service and e-business solutions are beginning to escalate.

Lead management support. Can the application share and track leads with your sales force? How does it pull in responses from touchpoints made from each channel? Can these things be done in near real time?

Email and Web marketing. This is a primary channel of interest for most organizations. Does the application support email distribution and personalization? If not, you'll end up with two applications doing the job of one. Opens, clickthroughs and bounce-backs are old school. Organizations really want to track conversions - did they register for something, did they buy something, did they download something? In situations where delivery is outsourced, how does your campaign management application interface with your outsourcer?

Dumbing it down. Several vendors provide "lite" versions that allow power users to create complex campaigns and less-sophisticated users to run them with minor modifications.

Workflow. How are campaigns routed through approvers, management and/or other systems? Once you have leveraged campaign management for a while, you start to understand the value of marketing resource management (MRM). Project planning, budgeting and coordinating create even more efficiencies for marketing.

Response attribution. How is a response attribution actually executed? Are you able to customize the algorithms? How does it pull in the data necessary to identify possible match candidates? Keeping response algorithms outside of the IT department provides marketing with powerful capabilities unless it is perceived as a burden.

Reporting and analytics. Marketers constantly move between analysis and campaign management. Does your application offer canned reports? Are they customizable? What reporting tool is offered, and does it fit in with your enterprise-wide reporting application? Can you move seamlessly from a report to a segment?

The marketing automation space continues to provide value for marketing functions across ranges of marketing sophistications. Some vendors to think about include:

  • The options for application service providers campaign management models are getting better. Salesforce.com, RightNow and Siebel offer rental services.
  • Siebel/Oracle probably remains the best campaign management tool for those vendors selling holistic CRM solutions.
  • Unica is expanding their solution set to start covering all of the gray areas between marketing and other functions, such as lead management, Web analytics and multichannel offer management.
  • Who are the key contenders? Aprimo has successfully integrated DoubleClick with their product set. Siebel and SAS have also stepped up their development and sales efforts in this area to try to fill the void of contenders.
  • Some of the most interesting developments have surfaced in what has typically been the midmarket. Priced very aggressively, vendors such as Smart Focus and Decision Software may not have a full breadth of modules, but their campaign management functionality is very close to on par with the enterprise vendors.
  • Open source is an interesting, if not adventuresome option. SugarCRM, vtiger, Centric CRM and Queplix offer solutions for those in the open source game.  

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