Using an integrated marketing platform makes the lifecycle of the customer experience visible and measurable, allowing sales and marketing to share real-time situational analysis, and align actions and goals.
Today, most sales relationships begin online. This creates the opportunity for marketers to manage the evolution of the customer experience, from a prospect's first exploration to the chosen moment when sales engages with that now-well-qualified lead. For the process to be most effective, marketing and sales need to be able to see the same data and make joint decisions about how best to manage and act on it.
Before the Internet became central to daily life, the companies with the largest marketing and advertising budgets controlled the discourse - and usually won. Nowadays, with the broad base of buyers, users and prospects doing their own research and sharing their opinions publicly, what a company says about itself is often less compelling than what its prospects say about it.
Prospective customers have a range of ways to acquire candid information on a company and its products. In addition to doing online searches, they can engage with their peers, sharing reviews and war stories in countless blogs and forums. They can subscribe to RSS feeds providing running commentaries.
Because they are better informed, they have much less need and are less willing to engage with an actual sales person until much deeper into the buying cycle.
All this puts a significant burden on marketers. They need to truly understand what makes customers tick, provide content that customers find relevant and meaningful, provide this content through the channels in which customers choose to consume it, and finally to figure out when the prospect is ready for sales.
A study by MIT shows that in a B2B sales cycle if a lead is not followed up within 20 minutes, the likelihood of converting that lead to a sale drops dramatically. In addition, if that lead isn't contacted within 24 hours it should be dropped into the least expensive nurture program for a maximum of four months. If the lead hasn't converted after four months, it's likely that it won't.
What this means is that marketing must detect in real time when a prospect is ready to engage further, and react appropriately.
As soon as the send button is pressed, the form filled out, and the document downloaded, a prospect has essentially raised his/her hand and declared a desire for further interaction. That moment has to be captured, analyzed and transmitted immediately for follow-up by the sales team if appropriate.
This handoff from marketing to sales has to be quick, clean and seamless. Given the amount of research most prospects engage in prior to entering a buying cycle, the sales rep needs to see all the prior marketing touch points, understand the critical needs and pain points of that prospect within minutes of connecting and to articulate a solution, or else risk having the prospect move on to a competitor.
For this process to be effective, sales and marketing need to be in complete alignment, with teams exchanging information and ideas for good outcomes, and a common understanding of the metrics that define success.
The quantitative benefits of alignment have been well documented. Hugh MacFarlane, founder and CEO of MathMarketing, conducted an alignment benchmarking study by surveying 1,400 professionals in 84 countries around the world. The study found that the businesses that have the greatest degree of alignment:
Recently, Act-On conducted research on 1200 marketing organizations spanning 1 to > 500 employees, and found that over 90 percent of all responding companies said they use some form of digital media (often some combination of email, social media and SEO) to generate sales leads.
Act-On survey results snapshot:
There are two main obstacles to aligning sales and marketing.
The first is cultural. Marketing often sees itself as the strategic player and sales as the tactical delivery mechanism for the strategy. In contrast, sales often sees itself as the primary driver for the business, responsible for revenue, with marketing relegated to a sales support staffing role. This creates a fundamental rift between the two departments that can be hard to overcome.
The second obstacle is technology. Often each group's critical data is housed in separate data silos in separate systems, and sharing the data becomes an exercise in exporting and importing CSV files and spreadsheets.
There needs to be a foundation for fact-based conversations between sales and marketing that enables them to be more effective in their pursuit of the common goal: revenue.
The solution is to implement a system that provides real-time situational awareness and metrics about prospect behavior across all marketing campaigns and channels. The imperative is to deliver a common operating picture that lets both sales and marketing visualize prospect status and take appropriate action at pre- determined points.
According to a 2010 IDC Insight report, the potential benefits of automating key sales and marketing processes are compelling: "There will be significant process, cultural, and technical challenges.
But the benefits are self evident: lower cost, higher efficiency and productivity, greater accountability, better performance, improved customer experience, and potentially shorter sales cycles."
Marketing automation has been around for a decade, and holds out the promise of bridging the sales and marketing divide once and for all. However, adoption has been less than enthusiastic among a majority of the marketing centers within organizations.
Part of the problem lies in the inherent confusion that always attends emerging technologies. One vendor's "marketing automation platform" may look much like another vendor's "lead management system." The vocabulary is not standardized and neither are the offerings from vendors, making an apples-to-apples comparison tricky.
A bigger problem is that many of the vendors have roots in the world of enterprise resource planning (ERP). Their solutions often involve significant cost, process re-engineering, and extended time to implementation-all factors that bust budgets and bulldoze timelines.
Given tight budgets and shrinking head counts, it's no surprise that a fresh approach, pioneered by Act-On Software, is the idea of an integrated marketing platform that enables a "bottom-up" evolution to marketing automation. This platform allows users to get started with familiar apps (such as email marketing and website analytics), and to evolve to more sophisticated tools and task automation over time.
Since the data in the platform is available to both marketing and sales, they can evolve measureable metrics that are meaningful for both marketers and salespeople, and achieve alignment by a process of iterative refinement. Many of these companies don't realize the impact marketing automation can have or its relevance to their organization.
Given the challenges facing marketing and sales in the networked age, neither group has the luxury of resting in their silos and interacting on a perceived as-needed basis. Time cycles are too short-and the need for shared information too great-to allow these two critical components of revenue generation to remain separated.
An integrated marketing platform is the best way to ensure that alignment happens, by using data to create mutual accountability. Such a system gives marketing credibility and sales immediacy; maximizes attention paid to most-likely buyers who self-describe themselves as such through behavior; and delivers measurable results.