B2B Solution of the Week: Rethinking use cases for marketing automation

The Thinker
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Since the marketing automation category of B2B applications came of age in the early 2000s, emphasis has remained on its demand generation function for many companies. However, use cases have emerged that take the solution into new spheres, according to research by Act-On Software, a provider of marketing automation to fast-growing businesses and corporate divisions.

These use cases exist within the other two traditional regimens of marketing automation: brand marketing and customer marketing. According to Act-On’s survey of more than 250 senior-level B2B—and B2C—marketers (e.g., CMOs, VPs of marketing, directors of marketing), companies that exceeded their revenue expectations (i.e., ~40 percent of respondents) much more likely reported “total” alignment among demand generation, brand marketing and customer marketing than companies that did not achieve their targets (i.e., ~17 percent of respondents).

Counterintuitively, these leading marketing companies tend to devote less than 10 percent of their marketing time to demand generation whereas revenue-starved corporations more likely dedicate in excess of 10 percent of marketing time to demand generation, according to the survey.

Apparently, the secret of leading companies lies in balancing the three disciplines of demand generation, brand marketing and customer marketing. While demand generation gets less time and staffing at successful revenue-generating companies, it’s only on a proportional basis. Overall, these successful companies and their CMOs devote more resources to the new marketing automation use cases in brand marketing and customer marketing, as reflected in Act-On’s survey results. Or as Kevin Bobowski, CMO of Act-On, puts it, the CMO has to own the customer experience. And marketing automation and demand generation exist as only one of its joint aspects.

Brand marketing use cases

Influencer relations
In a broad use case of brand marketing, Act-On says that marketing automation can find applicability in influencer relations. Within this context, influencers could be journalists, industry analysts or bloggers.

These influential individuals can populate a scoring algorithm to reflect their engagement (e.g., opens, clickthroughs, form submissions) with B2B content, which arguably reflects their interest. In this way, a B2B communications professional could prioritize who to pitch and what content to pitch. Hopefully, intelligence was collected beforehand that indicated they should have been pitched in the first place.

Internal/corporate communications
A better use for marketing automation exists in the case of internal and corporate communications. Many corporate communications departments within B2B enterprises still use Microsoft Exchange and Outlook to distribute internal email newsletters. Beyond the fact that Microsoft Exchange and Outlook may not support very large internal distribution lists, no ability to track engagement exists regarding employee clickthroughs and time spent on content.

In addition to internal communications, Act-On says that prospective employees can be nurtured via marketing automation. Depending on how many potential recruits with whom a company wants to stay in touch that could become a possibility. However, most B2B companies—especially startups—only contact prospective employees when there is an immediate opening. They may not find an application for marketing automation in nurturing a group of recruits for onesy-twosy openings.

Perhaps, in highly competitive fields like electrical engineering and computer programming where a B2B company needs a continual influx of fresh talent would an HR nurturing capability become desirable or even necessary. And then only the largest of companies would probably find this useful.

Customer marketing use cases

Customer success use cases
In the customer marketing vertical of uses cases for marketing automation, Act-On cites three that roughly fall under the rubric of “customer success.” The objective of these cases mandates customers actually employ the product on a regular basis, expand the scale of users within the customer company, and monitor time on application:

  • New customer onboarding—automate 30-, 60- and 90-day emails to new customers with drip marketing. This can keep customers engaged and hypothetically minimize “buyer’s remorse”
  • Expand product use—with regular emails, users remain “in the loop” on new features and become informed about existing functions of which they may not have advantaged themselves
  • Customer retention—if users do not activate all the options in their B2B applications, marketing automation can measure levels of product consumption and trigger contact based on usage

Cross-functional use cases
No doubt, marketing automation presents remarkable capabilities that B2B practitioners could not do without, and Act-On’s rethinking of the category has laudable goals. But marketing automation cannot do everything by itself. However, in conjunction with CRM, ERP and predictive lead scoring, marketing automation can help B2B enterprises create more revenue opportunities with existing customers and turn those same customers into active partners in the corporate sales process:

  • Upsell/cross-sell—a holy grail of B2B sales managers remains upselling and cross-selling existing customers, but by leveraging marketing automation, CRM and ERP data, marketers can conceivably understand when a buyer is ready. Act-On counsels that teams look at page visits, downloads, renewal information as well as payment history then tie into engagement data to time upsells/cross-sells
  • Loyalty/advocacy—using predictive lead scoring, a B2B company’s most loyal customers can surface based on their behavior and engagement. Those with the best webinar attendance, event registration, social engagement, email opens and so forth could be amenable for approach to advocate on behalf of the company. Using marketing automation data and scoring it can reveal the best of the best. They can then feed into other solutions for customer advocacy marketing and employee advocacy marketing to systematize their performance and avoid mistakes

Constant changes

B2B marketing and the role of CMOs within it have changed. While marketing automation remains at the center of demand generation, CMOs must rethink the application of the marketing tool to brand marketing and customer marketing, according to Act-On.

“Not only must CMOs build a high-performance demand generation machine but also act as the chief experience officer and brand steward,” Bobowski says. “Therefore, it is time for CMOs to rethink how marketing automation is used across the marketing organization to build brand awareness and deliver an exceptional customer experience.”

Image credit: amira_a

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).