Marketing Automation: Unique Kid on the CRM Block

By David Taber, CIO |  Enterprise Software, Marketing

CRM systems are supposed to comprise everything that touches the customer relationship. Through native functionality or integration across systems, CRM systems are supposed to achieve the holy grail of the 360-degree view. But all the good books on CRM were written before the current wave of internet marketing techniques (Twitter anyone?), and marketing automation apps continue to evolve rapidly.

Marketing automation systems interact deeply with leads, and may even trigger the conversion of leads into contacts. So there's definitely overlap with the front end of the CRM pipeline. Before we talk about the overlap, though, we need to talk about where sales and marketing automation are different.

Not Just a Matter of Semantics The first critical difference is at the business process level: marketing automation is focused on lead management and cultivation, the end product of the awareness and demand generation business process. In contrast, sales automation starts with the output of the marketing automation process: well groomed and cultivated contacts who are ready to start a sales conversation.

So the first and most fundamental point of confusion comes when users think that sales and marketing are interchangeable words. Of course marketing feeds sales (they'd better!), but the two need to be optimized as separate, tightly linked business processes.

The second critical difference is at the "willingness to talk" level. Marketing automation works with an audience or a community that's a target market. At the outset, these individuals have no specific interest in your product, even if they are aware of your company. They aren't yet leads-they're just "names" with an email address or phone number. Even if they've provided some information as part of a registration cycle, you don't know much about them or their level of interest.

The marketing automation system's focus is to build awareness among the "names" so that they really want to know more-and that can take months. At that point, the name graduates and becomes a lead. So the second point of confusion comes when users (particularly in sales) think that names are willing to take a call, or are worth sales cycles investment.

Marketing's Dynamic Profiles The starting point for an SFA system is a campaign that results in a lead insertion or update. But the campaign is typically an exogenous event: perhaps a tradeshow or an ad or a webinar.

That's where the marketing automation system comes in: it helps execute the campaigns and manage the results prior to lead insertion. Typically, the marketing automation system has to deal with much larger numbers of people (the conversion rate from names to leads may be only a few percent) and monitor very different details than the CRM system does.

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