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Marketing Automation - Oasis or Mirage?

By John Schnitzler & Scott Kay

Every year it seems that a new "silver bullet" software package emerges, promising to automate critical marketing practices to increase sales. Since field sales alone cannot possibly maximize revenue across all accounts, a software solution may seem like a cost effective way to support uncovered or underserved accounts. As a result, many businesses now use some form of marketing automation software - either stand alone or as a part of a CRM system - but in most cases, having the features isn’t the same as using them effectively. Without a core database, strategic planning of channel use and flawless creative execution, marketing efforts are by no means automated.

Businesses looking to support or augment field sales with additional marketing investment likely use some combination of marketing channels - email, direct mail, digital engagement and inside sales. Rarely are these efforts interconnected, and rarely are they executed consistently. Using these channels, low cost reach and frequency is possible, but maximizing ROI only occurs through a highly coordinated effort. In today’s very crowded marketing landscape, business customers receive thousands of sales communications on a monthly basis, and it is difficult to cut through the clutter with a single message. Multiple complementary messages through several channels build upon each other and drive home brand awareness while ensuring specific messages are seen and utilized.

In order to be effective, these marketing methods must be driven by information. A clear understanding of customers' needs and desires must drive the messaging to be effective. Variable messaging, where different offers are sent to different customers based on things like purchase motivators, their behavior, or their potential to increase purchases, has proven to be significantly more effective than the typical "one size fits all" direct mail or email blasts that are often launched through marketing automation systems.

Having a complete database that is constantly and properly maintained is a key aspect of effective multichannel marketing. Without the ability to easily segment accounts and target specific groups with messages created specifically for them, marketing can become irrelevant and customers may condition themselves to ignore communications or even worse, opt out of future correspondence. Additionally, without a core database, many companies waste money and valuable time sending direct mail and other communications to customers that are out of business, aren't likely to purchase a product or result in returned mail due to invalid addresses. Having well maintained and updated data conserves both time and money, making sure that the right targets receive the right messages the first time.

In order to develop a core database, a coordinated plan must be followed. Any interaction with the customer should be taken as an opportunity to build a profile that shows the type of business the customer operates, current volume/value and the type of purchasing motivations they have (i.e. price, support from a distributor, brand recognition, etc.). Additionally, tracking and respecting how a client prefers to communicate is critical in ensuring messages are received and acted upon.

Ultimately, the goal of multichannel marketing is to support and augment the efforts of field sales. When executed successfully, any automated marketing must translate into a benefit for the sales team. Very often, however, the sales organization is not aware of marketing communications sent directly to their customers. Without the ability for field sales to follow up on and sell in conjunction with marketing efforts, potential impact declines significantly.

While the allure of a marketing silver bullet may be too strong to ignore, the reality is that the only method of sustained sales growth is a consistent and concentrated effort on multichannel marketing in support of field sales. Without a deep understanding of customers, strategic messaging and coordinated execution, automated marketing efforts will only provide marginal benefits. However, when done correctly, multichannel marketing has the power to stem attrition and produce significant sales growth year after year.

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