Three forces are shaping today's B2B marketing landscape - the growing power of B2B buyers, the need to make marketing messages and materials relevant to potential buyers, and the recent emergence of technology tools that automate many marketing tasks. I've covered buyer empowerment and the importance of relevant marketing communications in previous posts. This post will focus on marketing automation technologies.
By the way, if you want to dig deeply into the topic of B2B marketing automation, I highly recommend that you read David Raab's Customer Experience Matrix blog. This post will briefly cover the major points.
B2B marketing automation systems - also called demand generation systems - are software tools that are designed to help marketers acquire, nurture, qualify, and distribute leads to sales. Demand generation systems automate four types of B2B marketing tasks.
Lead Nurturing - Lead nurturing is the process of communicating with prospects on a regular basis until they are ready to buy. For example, a lead nurturing program might involve sending a prospect a particular sequence of e-mails on a specified schedule. Demand generation systems automate the execution of lead nurturing programs. Automated lead nurturing is probably the most important feature of demand generation systems because nurturing programs are difficult to implement without automation.
Lead Scoring - Lead scoring is a method of qualifying prospects by assigning numerical "points" based on information provided by the prospect and on the prospect's behavior (e-mails opened, white papers downloaded, Webinars attended, etc.). All demand generation systems allow users to define scoring criteria and assign scoring values to those criteria.
Lead Distribution - When a prospect's lead score reaches a pre-determined value, the lead is deemed to be sales ready, and the demand generation system passes the lead to sales. Other events can also be used to trigger a hand-off to sales. Demand generation systems are usually configured to distribute leads to sales automatically when these triggering events occur. Most, if not all, demand generation systems offer integration with salesforce.com, and some vendors offer integration with other sales automation and CRM products. This integration makes distributing leads virtually seamless.
Forrester Research has estimated that only 2 to 5 percent of B2B companies have implemented demand generation systems. My take is that this market is on the cusp of a huge growth spurt. I believe this growth will occur for three reasons. First, demand generation systems exist for virtually all sizes of B2B companies. Monthly costs start as low as $200. Second, all of the major demand generation systems are sold as a hosted solution, which means that companies don't need extensive IT resources to implement and use them. And finally, there is a growing body of evidence from early adopters that demand generation systems can significantly improve marketing and sales performance.
If you are a corporate marketer and you haven't already invested in a demand generation system, you should start looking at these technologies now. If you are a marketing services firm, you need to be thinking about how you can help your clients leverage the capabilities of demand generation technologies.