A few weeks ago, Marketing Land covered the release of an update to the Digital Marketing Depot 2013 B2B Marketing Automation Tools Buyer’s Guide. The 61-page report covers “key trends impacting the marketing automation software market, as well as detailed information about the leading pure play marketing automation platforms that primarily target the B2B market.”
This column takes an in-depth look at topics discussed in this guide, as well as perspective and recommendations for B2B SEO professionals.
Growing Interest In Marketing Automation
First off, what is marketing automation? According to Techopedia, “Marketing automation is the use of software and Web-based services to execute, manage and automate marketing tasks and processes. It replaces manual and repetitive marketing processes with purpose-built software and applications geared toward performance.”
Marketing automation is a hot topic right now. Adobe’s 600 million dollar acquisition of Neolane puts an exclamation point on twelve major mergers and acquisitions and one $79 million IPO in just over two and half years. According to David Raab Associates, marketing automation systems revenue grew to $525 million in 2012 — over 60% year-over-year and 160% since 2011 (see chart below).
The reason for growth is twofold: first, there is an ever growing pressure for B2B marketers to not just generate leads, but tie leads to sales and revenue. The B2B buying cycle is much more complex in today’s technology environment. The report states that B2B prospects manage more of the process independently, researching brand websites and social channels – without ever speaking to a sales person.
“Faced with these challenging market dynamics and increasing ROI pressure, more marketers are using marketing automation platforms to manage complex, multi-touch buyer ecosystems.”
Secondarily, Raab Associates estimates that of the total 28,292 estimated U.S. marketing automation installations, 78% are in the micro (less than $5 million in annual revenue) and small business markets ($5 to 20 million). Marketing automation is becoming more accessible, in terms of cost and ease of use, for B2B marketing groups of all sizes and capability.
As more B2B marketers invest in marketing automation solutions, it is imperative that SEO professionals understand key features and functionality, as well as leverage the information collected and made accessible.
Of the 15 marketing automation vendors reviewed, seven incorporate some form of SEO / PPC management level reporting, including two of the four with the lowest financial entry point (and no annual contract). The financial and technological barriers are getting much easier to overcome.
Challenges Marketing Automation Proposes To Solve
According to IBM’s The State of Marketing 2012 survey, keeping pace with the growth of channels and device choices is the most significant challenge facing marketing organizations.
More significantly, B2B marketing respondents indicated that a growing challenge faced daily is “dashboard overload.” Simply stated, having separate data silos for SEO, Web analytics, paid digital media, and social media management gets overwhelming and creates disparate campaign strategies within the organization.
B2B marketing automation vendors view this as an opportunity and have been committed to building out and expanding functionality designed to overcome these challenges. But, there is still complexity in this perceived simplicity.
One of the most significant assets found in this buyers guide is a concise overview of marketing automation vendor capabilities, broken out by marketing channel capability (email, search, social media, etc).
Action Items For B2B SEO Professionals
As search marketing continues to become more tightly integrated with broader B2B marketing strategy, marketing automation is a logical next step in closing the loop between tactical execution and ROI analysis.
There are several individual B2B SEO initiatives to consider, unique to specific circumstance and vendor selection. I’ve grouped them into three key areas of focus.
1. Know Your Marketing Pain Points
Joby Blume of BrightCarbon wrote an excellent post detailing how the misconception that a marketing automation solution would solve deeper B2B marketing issues ultimately was a major factor in a smaller organization’s demise. Marketing automation is not the solution to a broken B2B marketing strategy. The post is particularly relevant to smaller organizations with limited resources making the jump into B2B marketing automation.
While perceived ease of use and low cost entry points are attractive, there is still a lot of work that needs to be executed in unlocking value. Marketing automation solutions should help the B2B marketer understand where focus truly needs to be assigned.
- What areas of marketing execution are we lacking in most?
- Does the marketing automation solution augment our most critical digital marketing channels (do we even know what those are)?
- Do we have the internal skill set and staff necessary?
- How will we justify cost in investment (direct and potentially indirect, such as training, time investment, etc.)?
These are important questions to internalize before beginning the vendor selection process.
2. How Will Marketing Automation Benefit SEO?
Reporting aside, there are tremendous opportunities for B2B SEO professionals to use marketing automation information to demonstrate greater ROI and improved execution of SEO programs.
Here are a few examples:
- Integrated with CRM, marketing automation reports provide direct connection with keyword (or general referral) sources and revenue quotes and wins. In other words, true dollar attribution for SEO/SEM can be realized.
- More specific referral sources from prospects and customers should help guide B2B SEO link building initiatives and social media network development.
- Prospect and customer page view patterns and content consumption help B2B search engine marketers better define content marketing initiatives. For example, analysis of keyword referral data associated with lead-specific content consumption provides the opportunity to develop more effective content assets over the long run.
B2B SEOs need to acclimate themselves to each vendor’s offering in an effort to tie functionality to day-to-day SEO initiatives.
3. Involve Yourself In The Vendor Selection Process
Above all else, make sure to involve yourself in the vendor selection process. Search is a critical component of digital marketing tactics, representing as much as 16% of customer acquisition in 2012, according to a recent report from Custora, as highlighted by Marketing Land.
The buyers guide provides a concise set of steps for evaluating marketing automation vendors, from discovery and research to direct interview analysis. More importantly, over half of the guide is dedicated to vendor profiles and individual solution overview. This provides a nice first step in the exploration process.
We have seen our clients experience varying degrees of success with the implementation of marketing automation solutions. The key has been proper alignment of needs and expectations.
Regardless of solution (and we have worked with several defined in the B2B marketing automation guide), the opportunity to uncover key buyer information has been invaluable for specific SEO client initiatives we have been tasked with.
If your B2B marketing organization is evaluating marketing automation platforms, the B2B marketing automation buyers guide should be one of the first places to start. The guide is free after completion of a quick form that provides access to the download link.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.