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Why B2B marketing automation is here to stay

There is a lot of talk in the market about how marketing automation is now a must for B2B Marketing but implementing new tools is always easier said than done.

Marketing Magazine caught up with Nishi Seth, senior marketing manager, FX International Payments at American Express to her understand her perspective on how B2B brands can make their marketing more data-driven and automated.

Marketing: How has B2B marketing become more data-driven?

Seth: Online and big data analytics have created the possibility to segment and reach prospects and clients more effectively in both B2B and B2C marketing.

B2B purchases tend to be more considered, have longer sales cycles and more decision makers involved. There is a greater need to understand the pre-sales and buying process really well which is where a data-driven approach is helpful. Subject to compliance with data protection, privacy and similar laws, B2B customer data allows a company to study its current customer patterns and use predictive analytics to identify prospects.

B2B Marketers across the world are using such data to identify future prospects, to target and move them through the funnel, analyse sales pipelines and draw insights from current customer behaviour like never before.

Marketing: What are the most important points you look for in new tools for lead management in B2B?

Seth: Lead management is the complete process of generating leads, managing them through the B2B funnel to eventually converting them to clients. We do that through a variety of tools and programs. Often lead management involves multiple systems as well.

With that, there are several areas to consider for new tools:

  1. First, it’s important to take note of how the new program fits in with your B2B strategy. If it is not an area of focus for the business, even the best tool may not serve well. The tool should fit the strategy, not the other way around.
  2. B2B companies have existing CRM which is the primary repository of all data. The new tool should easily sync to your existing CRM and reporting systems and work as a well oiled machine for lead generation. If not, automation can create a lot of manual work and is simply not sustainable.
  3. The resources and commitment required implementing the tool and its ongoing management is another factor to be mindful of before selecting a new tool.
  4. It’s important to note the cultural fit and buy-in with your sales team who will play an important role in driving the success of a new lead management tool. For example, social lead generation may not be the right tool for an organisation if sales teams are not committed to learning and using social media. Companies invest resources in a new tool only to see it fail sometimes due to poor internal uptake.
  5. Within the tool, it’s important to look for a reputable vendor, ease of usage, training requirements, service levels and reporting capabilities.

Marketing: How advanced is marketing automation for B2B marketing in Asia Pacific? What is lacking?

Seth: According to a Pardot survey, over 50% of B2B Fortune 500 companies use marketing automation technology, which is around 5 times the adoption rate of companies overall.

Marketing automation was built around 2000, and has been around in Asia Pacific for a few years now, but outside of the big companies it hasn’t been adopted widely and is still at “trial and error” stage. I’ve been on automation forums with fellow marketers from various industries, and collectively what’s lacking are.

Experts driving Marketing Automation

There are over 200 marketing automation solutions present, but only a handful of agencies outside the US have the expertise and ability to draw the vision and drive marketing automation for companies. I have worked with a few agencies and have had such mixed experience. Marketing managers rely on these experts to guide and implement automation and we definitely need to see more experts leading the change.

Cost of implementation.

Automation projects can be resource intensive, both on budget and time. It may require a few months of planning and implementation, buy-in from stakeholders outside marketing and dedicated resources which is often difficult to commit to amidst existing priorities.

Longer return on investment.

The ROI on automation projects are generally longer than short term campaigns and often marketing teams end up de-prioritising automation even after implementing it.

Lack of skill set

Automation projects require multiple skills to implement including project management, creative, technical and analytics to name a few. Often, automation projects don’t take off due to a lack of the right skill set within marketing teams.

Best practice and case studies.

With anything new, it helps when you can share and learn from each other. As an industry, we must create forums where marketers from different companies can meet and talk about their experience on marketing automation and help us all come up the learning curve faster.

[More from Seth and other senior B2B marketers at B2B Asia 2016. Join us on 2 September for a day of insightful presentations, case studies and discussion on the state of B2B Marketing.]

Marketing: What are the most prevalent myths surrounding marketing automation in 2016?

Seth: These are my top three:

  • It’s just a one-time effort

Marketers often think that once they set up automation, it will work on its own. That’s far from reality. Automation programs need to be continuously monitored, tested and adapted. For example, a lead generation automation program will need to be tested for the effectiveness of the content, layout of the page, timing and context of delivery of content etc.

  • Automation is only for big companies.

Automation has come a long way.  With the programs and software now available, small companies can benefit as much. In fact, being a small company may even offer you the nimbleness to implement automation quicker.

  • It’s too complex to implement.

It’s true that marketing automation requires good planning and approach, but the benefits are too big to ignore. Having the right partner and tools to implement automation is the key. Automation is here to stay and more marketers need to embrace the change.

Marketing: What are the main differences in the impact and relevance of marketing automation between B2B and B2C marketing in terms of acquiring and managing leads?

Seth: Marketing automation was purpose built for B2B to help generate leads, shorten sales cycles and measure marketing effectiveness. In recent years, B2C companies have started using automation as well. However, there are key differences. B2B companies tend to have more customer data through their CRM and can use that to implement automation. B2B companies also work with sales to convert which is not the case with B2C. In my experience, B2C marketers are using automation effectively to build brand awareness, automate existing campaigns, and create better engagement and loyalty programs for existing clients.

Marketing: How can brands realistically start on the path to marketing automation success? What should be the first steps?

Seth: Setting up Marketing Automation team may look like an arduous task. It’s important to take a planned approach with realistic expectations. Some of the basic steps to follow would be to:

1. Identify the objective.

It’s important to identify what area you think automation may work for and gathering as much details as possible before meeting an automation expert.

2. Find the right agency expert.

I can’t emphasise enough about hiring the right agency especially if it’s your first time. That alone can make all the difference to the performance of the project. Take the time to meet prospective agencies and select carefully. Agencies should showcase and provide case studies to help you refine your objectives and expectations.

3. Dedicate resources.

Marketing Automation is a live ongoing program that needs constant management. Not having the resources in place to launch it or drive it can mean an early death of the program.

4. Create the culture for embracing change.

Automation needs to be embraced as much by Sales as Marketing. As the beneficiaries of new lead generation or customer communication programs, ensure your sales organisation has bought into Automation and is involved in its building process.

5. Finally, set realistic targets.

Automation projects can take time to build and may need to be fine-tuned to deliver the intended results so it’s important to stay invested instead of expecting overnight success.

Marketing: How is American Express improving its approach to demand generation?

Seth: American Express is working through a variety of programs to improve demand generation. The three pillars of our demand generation strategy are improving our Outbound Marketing efforts through sourcing and modeling the right data, growing Inbound Marketing through Content, SEM, SEO and Marketing Automation, and Cross Selling within the organisation. Trying new industry programs and tools is a key part of our strategy and helps us monitor and improve our mix of leads.

We are also continuously working at improving lead management to plug the leaky sales funnel ensuring leads are worked through and produce higher conversions. I believe this is as important as generating leads.

Marketing: Should social media and content marketing be automated for B2B marketing?

Seth: This is the age of self-educated B2B buyers, where buyers are at a minimum 57% through their buying process before even before they contact a supplier (CEB). Influencing potential customers and understanding how they are conducting their pre-purchase research is important. This is where the role of social and content becomes important. Both channels allow you to reach your prospects at various steps of their self-education journey, build brand awareness and create a distinct position in their mind. Social channels need to be embraced by sales as well and can be used effectively to build a network and pipeline of buyers. Content, if used well, can build awareness but also an important part of building clicks to your website. These channels have never been as relevant to B2B as now.

Marketing: What does the future hold for B2B marketing automation?

Seth: At the moment Marketing Automation is largely trigger based and used on email. This will change and automation will become more predictive. Softwares will be able to crunch data and change the program based on the results. A simple example could be that future software will be able to evaluate the best time based on open rates and update the program itself.

Automation software tools are also now targeting users outside of email, serving content based on where the prospect is. An area of improvement will be creating better reporting framework and integrating seamlessly with existing company  software to create a single view of the customer journey.

Of equal importance is greater industry participation which will create a flow of ideas between the software providers and end users and help drive and shape the future of marketing automation.

Seth’s session at B2B Asia will go in further depth on the changing landscape of B2B customer acquisition and the impact of marketing automation.

To book your seats for the conference contact Emilia Nathasha at or call +65 6423 0329, +65 8782 1974

For sponsorship opportunities contact Johnathan Tiang at or call +65 6423 0329.

To discuss the agenda, enquire about presenting or to suggest topics contact Audrey Khoo at or +65 6423 0329

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