Keeping customers - automatically

Marketing is a business function that has been transformed by automation technology, impacting demand generation in a way that has reaped huge financial benefits for organisations. But as Act-On Software, a leader in marketing automation, points out, there’s still much to do.

It is an issue that Act-On’s chief executive Andrew MacMillan is passionate about. He talks about a huge misalignment of marketing effort within the majority of business-to-business or B2B companies, with too much focus on customer acquisition and not enough on retention. As a result, organisations and their marketing functions are missing a trick.

“Traditionally, the marketing function within most B2B companies is focused on demand generation,” says Mr MacMillan. “This involves finding new prospects, assessing their suitability and fit as a prospective client, scoring their interest, and then handing the next stage of the client acquisition and retention process to the sales function.”

Act_On_image2While the adoption of marketing automation in the last few years has speeded up and effectively streamlined the demand-creation process, its use has been primarily just for that – acquisition marketing.

Now the widespread adoption of marketing automation is reaching a tipping point. As the use of the technology becomes a majority strategy, the early adopters are looking for ways to retain a competitive edge. And it is the forward-thinking chief marketing officers (CMOs) who are recognising the broader applications for their marketing automation platforms.

This comes at a time when greater demands are being placed on the CMO, in terms of engaging customers with the brand, yet as Mr MacMillan says, no one is actually accountable for the customer life cycle.

“We can see huge opportunities for the CMO to step into this role,” he says.

The use of marketing automation has just scratched the surface; the technology can also provide the structural framework for monitoring, measuring and engaging with customers across the life cycle. The same techniques used for demand generation can be used to score and nurture other business relationships, including influencers and end-users.

As more businesses turn to a subscription-based model, more of their revenue eventually starts coming from existing customers than from signing new prospects. As a result, the extended use of marketing automation for customer retention will grow.

“We are seeing more and more companies apply their marketing automation to the renewal process. By incorporating predictive analytics they can apply a much more prescriptive approach to marketing across the entire customer life cycle,” explains Mr MacMillan. “This allows organisations to manage and trigger communications based on life-cycle stage or customer behaviours. They can identify who the brand advocates are among their customers, taking marketing intelligence to a new level.”

A study into the customer engagement life cycle, carried out by Act-On Software and Gleanster Research, involved a survey of marketing professionals. It found that top-performing marketing teams made better use of certain tactics than average companies. For example, top performers were twice as likely as all other companies to trigger personalised messages by stage, based on prospect behaviour, demonstrating a clear understanding of the customer life cycle. Top performers also leveraged data using technologies that include marketing automation.

We are seeing companies recognising they can still create a very personalised customer engagement experience, but in an automated way

“The way to grow a business is to increase the number of quality prospects,” says Mr MacMillan. “It is a major driver of potential revenue. With marketing automation they can also retain and engage those customers.”

Some marketing professionals may have concerns that moving from more traditional manual marketing interactions to automated processes could undermine the customer relationship. In fact, it can bring a more personal touch to the customer relationship, moving beyond conventional market segmentation and engaging customers on an individual basis.

Mr MacMillan says: “We are seeing companies recognising they can still create a very personalised customer engagement experience, but in an automated way. The way to do this is by using data and rule sets to ensure every single prospect and customer feels they are constantly being dealt with as an individual and in a personalised way. This is where people start to feel engaged with a brand.”

Does this mean that marketing professionals need to acquire a whole new set of skills to be able to use marketing automation in a more sophisticated way? Or will there be a need to bring in technology experts to run the system for them?

It means neither, according to Mr MacMillan. “We believe that you can have powerful technology that is easy to use. With our own products, you do not need to have a database admin or specialist IT expertise. They are designed to be simple to use by marketing professionals. Basically, the scoring processes within the automation technology takes the raw data and boils it down into something that you can use,” he says.

The business world is becoming increasingly customer centric, with a growing demand for companies to treat the customer life cycle of engagement as a continuing, seamless process rather than a series of stages to be managed separately by different functions within the business. Marketing automation technology is the key to delivering a more holistic management of the customer experience throughout the buyer’s journey.

“We are seeing more and more companies globally rolling out marketing automation, and it is happening very quickly,” says Mr MacMillan. “The CMOs within the top-performing companies are becoming the new managers of the customer relationship. And using marketing automation to focus on and manage the entire customer life cycle leads to higher levels of customer satisfaction and engagement with the brand.”