Automating Demand Generation: will we follow the SFA model?

A History of Failure
As someone who has worked in the computer software industry for 15 years, I am painfully aware of the history of failure in implementing new technology. Some of this has to be laid at the feet of the industry itself, which could be accused of over-hyping the benefits (i.e. features) of the software and down-playing key success factors; such as:

  • clarification and documentation of business processes, 
  • data modeling, 
  • reporting, 
  • user training, 
  • project management 
  • culture change

These are just a few issues that, in my opinion, outweigh the breadth of functionality on offer – much of which may never be used.

If technology is intended to ‘provide the answer’ to a business problem rather than merely automate processes, then it is being chosen for the wrong reasons: this is the lesson of MRP, ERP, SCM, ECM and CRM. It is a lesson that technology marketers would do well to learn now that the software industry has caught up with them.

SFA/CRM: a guide on how not to do it?
One article quotes multiple sources that suggest the failure rate of CRM implementations – defined in multiple ways, one of which is failure to meet initial expectations – ranged from 18 – 70% between 2001 and 2009. Why? According to ZDNet the 3 big reasons are: not having a business strategy; not paying sufficient attention to user needs and benefits (does it make their life easier/ better?); and using ambiguous measures of project completion and success.

This last one is particularly prevalent in the implementation of software: its implementation can change so many things that were not previously measured that no one can clearly articulate (until after the project, which is a bit late) what success will look like. The before/ after metrics don’t exist.

So back to Marketing Automation – arguably part of Customer Relationship Management, but most people are referring to Sales Force Automation (SFA) when they refer to CRM. In the Technology industry, Marketing will often be driven by sales automation initiatives into looking at what its function should be doing. This may be as the result of trying to use the SFA system for lead management, because this is where Sales wants leads to be. Or it may come about as an evolution of existing fragmented marketing initiatives in web analytics, Blogging, SEO or PPC.

These tactical initiatives are never a good place to start in considering a strategic approach to automating demand generation, because they are, by definition, tactical tools to do a particular job. This is a bit like comparing the implementation of a personal user license of Quicken with implementing enterprise SAP. They are different levels of complexity.

Start with the Process and KPIs
This is where it can get tricky for Marketing. We’re not good historically at joined up thinking about demand generation – or any other part of Marketing for that matter. Thinking through process, sales/ marketing alignment, how we are (or should be) measured is difficult stuff. Far easier to be persuaded by a vendor’s smoke-and-mirrors demo that it will be easy to create emails and landing pages and that this is enough to get you started. It isn’t.

Marketing has to take the initiative in documenting what it does and how it does it, as well as how value is created in the process. We need to focus on the core inquiry-to-lead cycle, because Sales can relate to that, and not try to boil the ocean. However, we need to understand what the whole journey to marketing automation is likely to look like and set expectations with management and our colleagues accordingly. Because this is a journey, not a one-off project and success factors need to be determined for each stage of the journey. I like to focus initially on customer and prospect data management, lead scoring and routing and simple outbound emails and forms. This drives a focus on the hand over to Sales and on lead generation which can show immediate returns.

Vendors have got much better now at hand-holding customers through initial scoping and process definition because they understand that without it they will have a lot of unhappy customers. I am particularly impressed with the strides that Eloqua has made in this regard over the last 5 years. They have an engagement model that focuses on experience-based best practice – we all have a lot to learn from others.

Early Days
I forget sometimes that the penetration of technology in marketing is, while experiencing rapid growth, still fairly low. We need to educate ourselves as a function on the value it can bring to the organisations we work for. Sirius Decisions and the Marketing Leadership Council are thought leaders in this area, while there is also a lot of other very good advice around.

Will we learn from past mistakes or, in the words of George Santayana are we destined to repeat the mistakes of the past? Only we can decide.