Marketing automation software is becoming less expensive and more available than it ever has before. This year marks the first time that even modest businesses can achieve enterprise-level marketing through automation software. Far beyond building and maintaining email databases, modern marketing automation attacks the middle of the funnel from all channels, integrates sales, IT, marketing and other departments, and enables marketers to view prospects as multi-dimensional human beings. But it isn’t a magic wand. Any business that invests in marketing automation software must also invest the time and take the steps to see it through from training to implementation. Think of marketing automation like a puzzle with each of these components functioning as a piece to completing it. So let’s walk through five key points to consider for your marketing automation effort.

The Middle of Your Funnel is Only as Good as the Top of Your Funnel

Marketing automation shores up the middle of the funnel, which is the first piece of the puzzle. If you put time, effort, money, and energy into establishing a marketing automation strategy before you’ve built a solid top-funnel foundation, you’ve done things out of order. Success in marketing automation requires a steady flow of organic leads from social media and other channels. Marketing automation requires large quantities of data to function.

Build the top of your funnel first, instead of hoping software can make something out of a miniscule fraction of what should be coming in from the top. Small businesses can have the greatest marketing automation software in the world, but if their social media channels aren’t filling it with leads, their software simply doesn’t have the fuel to turn those leads into prospects.

Take Advantage of the Training you Purchased

Venture Beat News, which called 2015 “the year marketing automation finally catches on,” said businesses pay an average of $2,000 for hands-on training, which is a required part of their automation software license. A staggering number of them, however, never actually attend the trainings that came with their kickoffs.

The same report found that marketers use, on average, just 32% of their implemented solution’s full capability. That statistic holds true even for the companies that employed experts to guide their implementation.

Cross Department Buy-In

If taking advantage of marketing automation training is the second piece of the puzzle, the third piece has to be implementation. It is natural for the marketing department to want to deploy the software on its own — or to task it to IT, which may not completely understand the software’s purpose. But deploying the new software and integrating it with existing systems can’t be a one-man show. In order for this transition to succeed, marketing, IT and sales — for starters — have to buy-in completely.

Let’s say the CMO for a company that builds e-commerce websites installs automation software. It doesn’t matter how well trained his or her marketing department employees are. If sales still uses shared spreadsheets to keep track of leads, automation will fail. Automation can’t succeed without interdepartmental integration.

email marketing databases

Move Beyond Email in 2015

The words “marketing automation” make people think of email — and all too often, only email. Going beyond email is the fourth piece to the puzzle. This mindset is responsible for so many lost opportunities. Marketing automation does not work if it limited to one channel. Email is an important avenue of communication, but it certainly cannot be the only one. Email marketing databases decay at a rate of around 23% a year, and no marketing automation software can prevent this.

Email-centric approaches lead to the purchase of large email lists, which, in turn, leads to irrelevant, spammy messaging. After years of email bombardment, many recipients are blocking marketing emails, either physically or mentally.

Instead, those buyers are using search, social, and other avenues of exploration. By focusing marketing automation solely — or even predominantly — on email opens and email clicks, you are shutting out a significant percentage of buyers who give their inboxes little more than a scan.

Treat Prospects Like People

Lastly, by leveraging all available channels — and not just paying attention to email opens and clicks — prospects become multi-dimensional characters, instead of fragments scattered across multiple channels. Those prospects are nurtured based on the needs, challenges and changes they reveal in every touch point they contact throughout their buying journey.

The year that marketing automation is likely to be adopted wholesale by businesses of all sizes is 2015. But those businesses shouldn’t expect miracles. Success requires a strong top funnel, training, integration, prospects who are treated like people, and most of all, the ability to look beyond email.

The Author

Nick Andrew Rojas is a self-taught serial entrepreneur who has worked with various startups as a business consultant. He’s also a journalist focusing on technology, marketing, and social media. He loves meeting new people online and being challenged with new projects. He loves to connect so reach out on Twitter! @nickarojas

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