24 September 2014

More growth with marketing automation

Finnish small and medium-sized businesses have been slow to take advantage of marketing automation. The seriousness of the situation will become clearer when we notice that a company's growth and profitability strongly correlate with the use of the new digital methods and tools. The technology itself is not the solution, but as a part of systematic renewal, it will help the company to stand out from its competitors. This blog will discuss the benefits and utilisation of marketing automation, especially from business-to-business (B2B) SMEs point of view.

Why marketing automation?

B2B companies, small and large ones, are facing the disruption brought by digital channels: since customers´ purchase processes more and more rely on web based information, ignoring traditional discussions with sales persons, it's much harder than before to reach them at the right time and with the right messages. In addition, customers have adopted global approach, they are looking for products and services well beyond domestic markets.
This will make room for marketing automation. It enables companies to get better visibility on what buyers really like and how they behave; thus it will be possible to boost the implementation of growth strategies, to increase sales by improving market share, to facilitate expansion to new international markets, to support the development of new products and business models or to enhance go-to-market programs and processes.

How marketing automation creates growth?

An American study found that 63% of the companies that are using marketing automation, grow faster than their competitors. Another research revealed that 79% of the top performers have utilised it for over 2 years. A study on Finnish B2B SMEs gave similar kind of results. Next chapters discuss in more detail how marketing automation supports some key growth strategy components.

Sales growth

Marketing automation increases sales, inter alia, through the following mechanisms:
  • The results of marketing campaigns can be accurately tracked and thus campaign effectiveness is better: it is possible to get more results for the same money or the same results for less money. 
  • The number and quality of customer leads grow: there will be more closed deals. 
  • Business relationships with customers will get tighter and it is possible to identify changes in customer behaviour and needs: cross-selling and upselling opportunities with existing customers can be realised. 
  • Sales and marketing cooperation intensifies: sales persons also market products and marketing persons also sell products. 
There is plenty of backing for the above. For example, a Forrester research found that B2B companies utilising marketing automation get considerably better results in their marketing campaigns and also their sales and marketing functions have much tighter cooperation.

International expansion
When expanding business into new market areas, marketing automation can ease the process, for example, in the following ways:
  • It is possible to reliably assess already in the early stages of internationalisation planning, whether potential target country customers and distribution channels are really interested in the company's products: target country prioritisation and selection can be done faster, with lower costs, and the risks with selected alternatives are smaller. 
  • Even before the business is launched, it is possible to get good insights on the needs and purchase processes of potential target country customers: necessary changes to offerings, as well as to marketing and sales channel processes can be done in a timely manner. 
To support this, a study on Finnish B2B SMEs revealed that digital marketing maturity clearly correlates with the relative size of international operations.

Support development of new products and business models

Marketing automation will bring more insights to new product and business model innovation and decrease uncertainties related to it. The corresponding mechanisms include e.g.:
  • At an early stage, it is possible to obtain customer feedback, whether there is enough demand for a planned product or business model: return on investment of the development projects is higher, because they can either be stopped in time or the changes appreciated by customers can be built in. 
  • It is possible to see at a sufficiently early stage, what customers need in order to take a product or business model into use and to then use it actively: expanding the core product with customer valued extensions, either by the company itself or with partners, will bring greater yields. 
The agile new development model has brought good results in the domain of digital services and startups and now it is rapidly spreading also to more traditional sectors.

Enhance go-to-market

Go-to-market of products or business models can be enhanced with marketing automation e.g. through the following ways:
  • By finding the right ways to generate customer attention and interest, as well as by identifying the most suitable sales channels to customers: quantitatively and qualitatively enough customer leads, which results to more closed deals. 
  • It is possible to find early enough marketing messages that resonate with customers and a positioning that stands out in the market: company products will get attention in the marketplace and the importance of price in purchase decisions will be reduced. 
  • Marketing and sales functions cooperate effectively and aim at the same goals: sales revenues can be maximised.

What companies should do?

Utilisation of marketing automation is already in full speed also in European companies. The pioneers are technology, financial services, life sciences and energy, followed by, for example, telecommunications, manufacturing and professional services. In Finland, for example, the following small and medium-sized B2B companies are leading: Basware, Vaisala, Deltek, Metos, CRF Box, Nebula, Asiakastieto, Zeeland and SSH.

The starting point for efficient exploitation of marketing automation is the definition of company strategy for the renewal and growth; in other words, from which direction, by what means and resources, the company is trying to find a new way to prosper. Overlapping with this are company personnel and development of their knowledge, skills and attitudes, as well as implementation of processes, required by the new strategy. Only then it is the time for marketing automation as the technology and the solution, which enables and glues together the strategy, the people and their competences, and the processes.

When selecting a solution, the key is the vendor's ability to support the company's business; the key parameters include, for example, solution features, customer segments that a vendor is targeting, possible industry focus and pricing models. All these are compared in a review, which also lists Finnish company references that the key marketing automation vendors have.


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