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How company culture will make or break your marketing automation

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11th Nov 2013
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As we’ve already established, marketing automation is anything but plug-and-play. The data integration demands alone ensure that brands need to dedicate significant efforts into the installation process. And even after the integration process is complete, there are still hurdles to cross – not least the cultural transformation that must take place within your team. Simply put, no matter how expensive and impressive your marketing automation investment has been, it will fall flat on its face if you do not have collaborative working between departments, or complete buy-in to the MA project from your marketing team.

“Marketing automation cannot happen until a significant change management programme has been undertaken,” suggests Martin Smith, head of marketing at Neolane, an Adobe company. “As well as CMO support, other board members should advocate and champion the strategy, driving it forward. Multiple departments will be affected and sponsorship is needed from department heads and their teams from across the business. Marketing will need to understand data sources, and work to overcome internal politics, such as of data management and customer communications process ownership.”

While getting other departments to play nicely with marketing may be a tough task, first of all you need to sort out your own backyard. And unfortunately getting buy-in to marketing automation isn’t always easy, because for some marketers, this requires a significant change in mindset and behaviour.

Simon Bowker, country manager, UK&I, at Teradata eCircle, notes: “The problem is, in practice marketers are not typically process driven; they’re often more driven by developing powerful creative. Therefore, before any business can implement a new automated marketing solution, they have to consider how they will introduce a new culture and way of working across the business.”

The traditional marketing culture is very campaign-driven and linear, built around traditional channels, with a lot of press and PR activity, and a lot of display advertising, brochure creation and direct mail. As such, as the team’s skills are historically very campaign-oriented, they are not necessarily accountable for the number of leads that are generated, because in traditional marketing it is very difficult to measure return on investment from the campaign. However, in modern digital marketing, and with the assistance of marketing automation, the whole process is monitored and measured from awareness all the way through to acquisition, with marketers now far more accountable for the leads that they generate. And this is a big shift in culture.  

“When you’re starting to implement marketing automation, it means the marketing team becomes more powerful within the organisation, but also more accountable,” says Sam Davies, the lead consultant and training course developer at Zoober Digital Training. “On the one hand you have to change people’s skills from traditional marketing activity to modern activity – so you write for the web instead of print, you create a digital asset rather than a piece of direct mail – but then you also have to change the culture for them to be accountable for the assets that they’re producing.”

Davies highlights the following eight steps to help drive marketing automation adoption in your marketing team:

  1. Gain agreement. It’s imperative that stakeholders understand the rationale behind the change, support it, and most important, feel some sense of ownership. If people feel that the change is for change's sake, or that the system was thrust upon them, they will be reluctant to adopt..
  2. Communicate how things will be better and different once the system is implemented and adopted. Be honest if anything will be difficult.
  3. Establish and share the rollout, onboarding, and training aspects of the plan. Develop those aspects of the plan collaboratively with users.
  4. Determine and communicate (in advance) measurable milestones of success for adoption.
  5. Provide an incentive to be a pilot group.
  6. Publicly acknowledge and reward early adopters.
  7. Identify and secure champions who can help engage users and encourage adoption.
  8. Share the project plan, and communicate your progress regularly.

And Davies also recommends the following five keys for developing an employee engagement strategy to help achieve buy-in to marketing automation:

  • Have provocative visions and values for the project to excite and inspire people – it should not only help you find and attract like-minded loyalists but also deter those that don’t share in the beliefs.
  • Show how the new way of working will provide more opportunities for professional and personal development.
  • Help everyone find a meaningful purpose in their work. You can help team members define meaningful work by engaging them in strengths-based conversations.
  • Introduce a meaningful reward and recognition process for initial adoption and continued use. Formal recognition solutions create visibility for the recognition that is occurring and help infuse those behaviours into the culture.
  • Include plans to manage ebbs in engagement levels and drive them back up again. You can enable sustainable engagement by removing the obstacles to great work, providing access to the right tools and resources, and coaching team members through challenges. 

But buy-in to marketing automation from the marketing department alone is unfortunately still not enough to guarantee success. As part of the transformation that needs to take place, marketers will also have to work more collaboratively and effectively with the sales team – which means not only effecting change amongst the marketing department, but also the sales department.

“It is always a challenge to get that alignment of marketing and sales,” says Gerry Brown, senior digital marketing analyst at Ovum. “They are slightly different camps. But it has been proven that when you get a strong alignment and cooperation and collaboration between sales and marketing, you get a step change in performance.”

Indeed, research by the Aberdeen Group has demonstrated how businesses that have aligned the two departments behind a marketing automation project to manage the lead generation and development process prosper compared to their peers. Tellingly, the study reveals that those organisations with sales and marketing alignment report 40% of the sales pipeline coming directly from marketing-generated leads compared to the industry average of 22%. And unsurprisingly this translates into financial gain – with the research revealing that businesses with collaboration between the two departments report 31.6% average year-over-year revenue growth compared to 18.2% for the industry average.

Singing from the same hymn sheet

But of course, getting sales and marketing to sing from the same hymn sheet is easier said than done. And even if the inter-company relationships are amicable, there can still be organisational barriers to collaborative working.

“If you have a highly siloed organisation, where sales is very discrete from marketing, marketing automation can bridge the gap between the departments, but only to a certain extent,” notes Brown. “So if there are discrete silos then there needs to be a change of thinking within the organisation.”

He elaborates: “What we’re really doing is automating and improving a certain part of the business which is a central business function which has tentacles into other departments. So everyone will be affected  by an MA system which is successfully implemented because it requires data from many different functions and requires some level of resource, investment and time from other groups such as sales, service and finance in order to make it work effectively. It’s not just a discrete marketing process. Therefore, you need to think about a collaborative culture within the organisation. And I would say you also need to think about a learning culture too because it’s an ongoing development and innovation, something that you need to keep working on.

“So the modern ideas of flexible working, agile interactive collaborative internal operations, all come into play. And if you have an old-style mechanistic, highly-structured siloed organisation it will be much more difficult to get the kind of results you’re looking for out of marketing automation.”

In its analysis of businesses which report a “good” or “strong” relationship between sales and marketing, Aberdeen found a number of common characteristics. These included: sales and marketing having access to a common set of marketing collateral - such as white papers and data sheets - more frequently than the industry average (53% vs 41%); and meetings between the two departments occurring more frequently than other firms (an average of 1.89 meetings per week vs 1.12 meetings per week).

Chris Fletcher, research director for enterprise applications at Gartner, elaborates on some areas of confusion that need to be cleared up in communications between the two departments, that would benefit a marketing automation project.

“One of the key things is to get the sales team involved so they can help the marketing team understand what makes a qualified scored lead - is it a company/prospect with an identified budget and timeframe already or is it somebody who’s earlier on in the cycle that we can work with to develop their needs and help them understand what it is they need?” he explains. “Likewise, the sales team's always complaining they want more leads so a marketing team will go out and do an email marketing campaign and throw a 1,000 contacts over the fence to the sales team, which is really not what they're asking for. What the sales team really wants is more qualified leads with a shorter time for closure. So there are some cultural things and communications things that need to happen.”

Another common characteristic identified by Aberdeen’s report as being far more common amongst those organisations reporting sales/marketing alignment (91% vs just 61% of the industry average) was an individual/team being given responsibility for improving marketing performance. In particular, recent years have witnessed the emergence of the ‘chief revenue officer’ – someone who executes and owns everything from the first marketing tweet through to the completion of the sale.

Brown acknowledges that encouraging collaboration between sales and marketing has been one of the reasons for the rise of the chief revenue officer. “The idea of the chief revenue officer is somebody whose job it is to bang their heads together and explain that we’re all on the same team and we should be working together. And they drive that integration of sales and marketing. So that role is really emerging, particularly in the US.”

So it is clear that rolling out effective marketing automation can be a dirty job. Businesses need to tackle internal politics, organisational silos and entrenched behaviours. But the cultural shift that is enabled during this process is not only one that is primed to embrace marketing automation. It is also one that is prepared to take the next step up the evolutionary ladder in the world of marketing.

“Marketing automation means that marketers have to work more effectively with the sales team, and traditionally the relationship between sales and marketing is always one which can be culturally a little bit rocky,” says Davies. “The quality of the leads are always a bit poor according to the sales team, and the sales team are crap sales people according to the marketing team. But culturally, this change is hugely important from a higher level.”

He concludes: “Marketing automation is just an element of transforming your whole marketing team and their approach to marketing. And it is incredibly important that businesses are prepared to make that cultural change from traditional marketing to modern marketing.”

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By sandhyaramesh
13th Nov 2013 13:47

This is an excellent writeup and makes very valid points. I completely second the fact that you need a dedicated team of people to do the MA for you - people who accept it and will use it well. Great implementations tend to suffer too because of ignorance in the company about how to use the product right. Rewarding early adopters is one of the best ways to encourage acceptance. Marketing and Sales alignment is yet another gargantuan step that needs to be taken. Often, rather than just encouraging communication, a more effective strategy would be to integrate CRM and MA systems. That was a major aspect we kept in mind while designing Agile CRM - to provide effective marketing-sales collaboration and reduce the conflict. What Mr.Brown says above makes much sense. Get a giant octopus with far reaching tentacles! 

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By Neil Davey
14th Nov 2013 09:16

I'm delighted to hear that it struck a chord with you. We'll be collating all of the articles in our marketing automation series into an ebook in the new year, so keep an eye out. 

Thanks again

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