Often, marketers believe that adopting marketing automation requires a complete reinvention of their marketing programs and processes. Faced with the cost and disruption of a massive deployment project, time-starved marketers decide they just can’t afford it. The wall is too high, so they do nothing.
This is a mistake. Let’s be clear: it is utterly true that the most effective marketing automation deployments include careful planning, process change, and program redesign. But this doesn’t have to be vast, disruptive change. The kinder, gentler option is an incremental approach with two basic steps:
- Replace your existing systems with a marketing automation system that runs pretty much the same programs you do now
- Then, slowly expand your marketing programs to take advantage of new opportunities that marketing automation provides
Yes, it takes longer to do it this way, spreading the work out over a longer period of time, with changes made when the marketing department finds them convenient. But this slower deployment reduces the culture shock and lets marketers learn new skills and develop new programs as they need them. The result is a less-demanding transition that is less disruptive and has a higher probability of success. It’s the crawl-walk-run approach, climbing the wall in a sequence of steps rather than trying to clear it in one impossibly high leap. Here are the four major stages:
- Deploy the marketing automation system. Just duplicate your existing marketing programs, except for simple improvements you’ve always wanted to make. Start with a feature that requires relatively little change, such as email. Try a slight enhancement that marketing automation has now made easier. Segmentation is a good candidate. Instead of sending the same emails to everyone, define two or three segments and create targeted messages for each. Another option is drip marketing, which means replacing a single email with a series of emails. Segmentation and drip marketing both add to the number of emails you’ll distribute, but that sort of increase is exactly what marketing automation helps to manage.
- Make your first improvements. Now it begins to get exciting: Take your list of major programs and identify improvements that will be easy to deploy, easy to measure, high potential, and gateways to further change. Select changes in this group that exercise different features in the marketing automation system – segmentation, landing pages, reporting, etc. Then, lay out a schedule to introduce a new change at regular intervals – say, one per month. Be vigilant about this; the biggest risk is that you’ll stop before finishing a full implementation. Having a schedule is critical to ensuring you don’t stop making improvements after your initial deployment.
- Measure results. Each improvement should include a way to measure its impact. This doesn’t have to be a formal Return on Investment calculation, but you need some way to see whether your efforts are bearing fruit, both to guide your future investments and to show the value of marketing automation to others. Like other aspects of your deployment, your measurements can grow more sophisticated over time.
- Tackle the hard stuff. Getting better at basics like email segmentation is good, but the full value from marketing automation requires deeper changes: lifecycle mapping, lead scoring, process improvements, behavior-driven nurture programs, revenue analysis, and tighter integration between marketing and sales. Once your first few changes are complete, start looking for projects that add these components. Again, take the smallest steps first: start with projects inside the marketing department, including nurture programs, process improvements and lifecycle mapping. Later, expand to tasks that involve other departments: lead scoring, sales integration, and revenue analytics.
Keep looking ahead. Your first list of improvements might cover a three to six month span. Every time you finish one project on that list, add a new one to the bottom, so you always see there’s more to do. Eventually this list should be integrated with your regular marketing planning process. Remember that marketing automation is a tool to do better marketing, not an end in itself.
For more information about implementing marketing automation incrementally, including advice about resources and motivation, read the Raab Associates white paper “Marketing Automation One Step at a Time.”