This past November I posted a blog piece, titled “Top 20 Cross-channel Marketing Execution Platforms?” The piece was a call for input on the state of technologies that assist marketers in running complex, cross-channel, integrated marketing communication programs that ultimately are focused on delivering one thing – customer sales. These technologies are becoming more critical to marketing organizations over time. Why? Chaos: Rapid growth in Internet-based communication mediums has led to a power shift in the buyer-seller dynamic; marketers have never been at a greater disadvantage. Meanwhile, their roles and campaigns are becoming more complicated. At the same time, they are being asked for greater, real-time visibility into results and marketing ROI as never before. “The online world … has refused to stay in a nice, little box,” commented Scott Brinker on his Chief Marketing Technologist blog in October. “[It] has exploded into millions of microchannels, with few boundaries, in constant motion, with people sloshing freely among them — often under little or no direct control of the marketer.”
Since my first blog piece on this topic, I’ve gotten some great feedback from folks in the industry, have spoken with nearly a dozen technology vendors and have digested quite a few recently-published books on the subject, including Sandy Carter‘s The New Language of Marketing 2.0, David Raab‘s Raab Guide to Demand Generation Systems and Steve Woods‘ Digital Body Language — all great reads. This process has helped to evolve my earlier thinking – validating some initial observations but also changing others.
A key revision from my first piece is a re-thinking of my taxonomy for classifying this technology group. First, it is clear that a centralized, intelligent and automated layer is emerging at the heart of the continuum of marketing systems (see diagram), and this layer serves a critical functional role in integrating high-level strategic management with tactical execution. I have chosen to refer to this layer as integrated marketing management. Second, it is clear that there are several existing software ‘camps,’ with different roots, aims, legacies and constituencies, that are both converging on and vying for this core integration and management layer. These camps include: demand generation, marketing automation/enterprise marketing management (EMM) and advanced customer relationship management (CRM). While each comes at this layer from a different angle, the lines between these systems are blurring and their features and capabilities are increasingly quite similar. Yet these camps remain important points of distinction and differentiation today because they are how many vendors classify their systems, and they help to understand both the strengths/weaknesses and the capabilities/gaps of these vendors systems.
The result is a complicated decision-making environment for marketers that want to harness the capabilities of integrated marketing management. “Now everyone is trying to tie it all together, [but] you wind up with a weird gulf in buyer expectations,” commented Steve Woods, CTO of Eloqua, in a phone interview. “Marketers aren’t used to doing this evaluation.”
That is why I’m writing about this topic. As a marketer, who has taken the time to become more educated about this space, I’d like to help lift the veil off of what is perhaps the Holy Grail of marketing – having IT systems that actually provide leverage to your integrated marketing activities and processes, rather than just drowning you in more data and execution responsibilities.
So what is an integrated marketing management platform, how can it help marketers, and who are the top vendors in this segment?
From a functional-area perspective, an integrated marketing management platform is any type of software-based execution engine and management infrastructure that brokers a diverse and integrated set of marketing communication activities and that ultimately helps marketing better support sales (whether via a direct sales channel or via third-party channels). These platforms come in different shapes and sizes (and certainly have different pedigrees, as we’ll discuss below).
From a business-process perspective, I believe these platforms really have four ‘holistic’ goals — (1.) driving new revenue growth and profits, (2.) maximizing return on marketing investments and resources and (3.) supporting a holistic brand experience (thus, building brand equity) while (4.) maintaining customer-focused dialogue and delivery of products and services. This means that (as the retail/CPG world positions it) integrated marketing management systems play a critical role BOTH at the first moment of truth (converting interest/potential into sale) and at the second moment of truth (maintaining customer-brand experience and probing for re-sale and up-sell). These holistic goals are consistent, whether supporting companies large or small, B2B or B2C.
This may make an integrated marketing management platform sound as monolithic as corporate ERP systems. Yes and no. The truth is that business processes are complex and ugly … and unraveling them via software is no easy task (as is illustrated below in a flow chart of integrated marketing practices at a typical company from demand-generation vendor Market2Lead – a flow chart the company refers to as the ‘marketing spaghetti board’). But marketers need more than to get their arms around the problem, they need to gain leverage and strategic advantage.
What are the ‘pain points’ of marketing organizations that integrated marketing management platforms seek to address, and what are the challenges to meeting these needs?
Marketers’ pain points – i.e., the activities that are critical to their success, but that are not always easy to achieve – are quite simple. Addressing them is the challenge. These pain points include:
- Centralizing management, control, coordination and communication
- Conducting marketing operations effectively and efficiently
- Maximizing value from current and potential customers
- Measuring and (eventually) predicting marketing outcomes
- Opening lines of communication with new potential customers and/or re-opening lines of communication with existing customers
- Showing positive net present value (NPV) of marketing investments
- Stemming the constant loss of sales leads through ‘leaky’ sales/marketing integration
The reality is that connecting the dots and managing marketing in a more integrated and sophisticated fashion is a challenge for many marketing organizations, particularly given their current processes and existing resources.
Steve Woods comments on this situation in Digital Body Language:
Marketers who continue to pursue their mission with a disconnected set of communication tools and non-integrated data sets cannot gain the multi-perspective visibility into their prospects that is required to understand and leverage their digital body language. Achieving these new perspectives, however, requires an approach to data, processes, and operations rooted in a new rigor and discipline.
Sandy Carter, an IBM vice president, also sheds light on this underlying challenge in The New Language of Marketing 2.0:
In an integrated campaign, marketers define the role of each channel. … The integrated campaign moves down a purchase funnel across a series of elements of the campaign. What is challenging is how to measure the success of that integrated campaign. … The way you measure the integrated impact of tactics is difficult, in particular, how the channels are synergistically working together is incredibly difficult. [We have not] found a company that has cracked the code yet.
The other issue – the ‘giant gorilla in the room’ – is the limited IT skills and ‘tolerances’ of most marketers. “[T]he biggest barrier to technology absorption — at least in my experience — is the maturity of the marketing organization and its processes. IT can be another key barrier,” commented Elana Anderson on her NxtERA Marketing Blog in December. Meanwhile, too many technology vendors don’t speak the language of marketing and/or don’t give marketers the tools to leverage technology without needing CIO-level knowledge.
It’s a ‘digital divide,’ without a doubt. Marketers need easy-to-use, Web-based marketing systems that don’t require the IT department to purchase or to install. They also need systems that don’t require custom development to tie together disparate applications and data – instead turning to new integration approaches, such as ‘cloud services’ (a.k.a. Web services a.k.a. service-oriented architectures), which was the topic of a past piece on this site.
What are the major ‘camps’ of integrated marketing management, what does each bring to the table and what do their distinctions mean for marketers?
The integrated marketing management layer is more architectural vision than reality. Today, there are three major camps that deliver degrees of capabilities that approach this vision; meanwhile, there is a ‘fourth’ camp that remains the old standby and that is worth mentioning.
The challenge in introducing these camps is that the lines between them are rapidly blurring. The primary factors for this trend include:
- Common set of features and capabilities: As vendors adopt similar tactical capabilities, ‘automation’ and points of integration, it makes it harder to discern their differences.
- Customers’ increasing shift towards forming buying decisions online: This means that nuanced Internet-based dialogue is more important than before … and is rapidly becoming a common point of focus for all of the camps.
- Emergence of Web services/cloud services integration: The issue of adopting a singular, end-to-end solution versus going ‘best of breed’ is no longer as important as it once was as integration becomes easier to achieve … putting marketing applications on course to do an end-run around IT and eventually be ‘plug and play.’
So what are the major camps, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
> Demand generation: What is compelling about the demand generation segment is its singular, customer-centric focus on developing, nurturing and distributing sales-ready leads. Without fail – quoting staggering statistics about how many leads are wasted by sales teams – this segment is focused on improving the efficiency of conversion between prospect and sales-ready stage. Vendors in this camp – examples include ActiveConversion, Eloqua, Marketo, Market2Lead, Manticore Technology and Silverpop (Vtrenz) – have varying degrees of ability to coordinate scale integrated marketing communication activities in support of this goal, but getting to sales-ready leads remains the common characteristic among vendors in this camp.
David Raab carefully defines what he believes is meant by a demand generation system in a white paper associated with his Raab Guide to Demand Generation Systems:
[D]emand generation systems manage only the initial stage of the customer life cycle: from when a lead is first identified until it is turned over to sales. This narrow focus distinguishes demand generation from marketing automation systems, which marketers use to manage the entire customer life cycle (acquisition, maintenance and retention), and still more from customer relationship management systems, which are used across the customer life cycle by marketing, sales and service departments.
I understand this perspective, but I’m sure Raab would also admit the point of demarcation is increasingly difficult to maintain. The focus of demand-generation systems doesn’t have to be deployed only at the front end of a customer relationship, but can be valuable throughout the entire lifecycle (giving sales continuous leverage in identifying up-sells, staying in touch and keeping customers ‘warm’). Demand generation may be a way to fundamentally re-think ongoing customer management. In fact, isn’t demand generation really just what marketing organizations do?
“I view it as demand generation is the overall approach to understanding what guides a buyer to buy,” commented Steve Woods to me via e-mail. “As part of that, organizations focus on orienting messaging around that buyer’s buying cycle, and to do so requires automation, as one is responding to the interest area, level, and timing of each individual buyer. So, the concept of marketing automation is a necessary enabler (technology) for the new approach to that discipline of marketing – demand generation.”
Geoff Rego, CEO of Market2Lead, also commented on this change via e-mail:
Demand Generation is all about ‘continuous production of sales-ready’ leads. This implies tight alignment of:
- Processes (Sales and Marketing Processes)
- People (Sales Reps, Marketers, Prospects, Customers, Executives)
- Systems (SFA, MA, Ecommerce, etc)
If all we care about is the front end of the life cycle, marketers will never be aligned with sales and all marketers would be producing are enquiries and not sales-ready leads. To me that is lead-gen and that is the fundamental reason of the digital divide between marketing and sales.
Demand-generation tends to have its strongest ties to B2B organizations, with a much smaller percentage of adopters residing in the ‘high-value’ B2C segment. The common bond for customers of this camp is organizations that are very sales driven and/or that have significant professional salesforces. This is why all of the vendors in this segment are tightly integrated with CRM platforms — i.e., developing qualified leads that ultimately populate the CRM system as ‘potential customers.’
> Marketing automation/enterprise marketing management (EMM): Both marketing automation and EMM (which are essentially the same space) represent “… a category of software used by marketing organizations to manage their end-to-end process from gathering and analyzing customer data across websites and other channels, to planning, budgeting and managing the creative production process, to executing targeted customer communications to measuring results and effectiveness,” according to Wikipedia.
This camp is perhaps the closest, today, to the vision of an integrated marketing management layer when we talk about bringing holistic control to marketing processes and resources. Vendors in this space – examples include Aprimo, Neolane and Unica – deliver very sophisticated platforms that “… can help sustain the [customer] conversation …” cross-channel and in an ongoing fashion, as Stephan Dietrich, co-founder and president of marketing automation vendor Neolane, explained in a phone interview. In fact, these platforms can manage a greater number of communication channels and mediums, today, than their demand generation counterparts.
Yet there are some fundamental challenges this segment faces – challenges that have contributed to the emergence of the demand generation camp. Marketing automation and EMM focused first on managing process – improving the efficiency, effectiveness and measurability of integrated marketing communication activities, in much the same way ERP started – but without the same laser focus on nurturing individual customers that the demand generation camp has developed. Moreover, the processes they were managing represented ‘traditional’ marketing activities.
The value of these traditional activities, though, has changed overnight, comments Scott Brinker on his Chief Marketing Technologist blog:
Online may still have a minority of the marketing budget, but it has become the dominant channel of influence. And in tough economic times, when the accountability of performance marketing sounds like a darn good idea to most CEOs, the measurability of online marketing has become irresistible.
EMM vendors … [are at] a tipping point where they must assimilate or be assimilated with the online marketing Borg. An unstoppable force has collided with an unmovable object. And the resulting fireworks are bound to be fascinating.
But as with the entire field, this is changing. Comparing this camp to demand generation, David Raab comments on marketing automation and EMM vendors in his white paper, “Indeed some of these vendors … are legitimate competitors in the demand generation field.” Vendors also have increasing sophistication in their management of online marketing activities – announcing product upgrades and acquisitions over the past two years targeting this capability.
It’s worth mentioning here that engagement with social media and the semantic analysis of qualitative data to help direct communication activities remain weak spots for all of the camps, not only marketing automation and EMM (a point we’ll cover in the next piece in this series).
Marketing automation and EMM platforms have equal ties to both B2B and B2C. Their focus first on process and second on nurturing makes them a slightly better fit for mass B2C marketers, which sell through scale retail channels and so have had less interest in integration with CRM databases. The common bond for customers of this camp is organizations that want to execute very complex, cross-channel, integrated marketing communication campaigns with less emphasis on individual customer knowledge, personalization or customization and more emphasis on managing complex executional processes.
> Advanced customer relationship management (CRM): At its core, CRM is essentially just a ‘really-intelligent’ relational customer database, optimized for marketing, sales and customer service. (I know CRM vendors around the world are cringing at that statement, but it’s true.) However … over time, CRM vendors – examples include Lawson Software, Microsoft (Dynamics CRM), NetSuite, Oracle (Siebel), Pivotal CRM, Salesforce, SAP and SugarCRM – have done much to enhance the capabilities of their systems to act on underlying data and to respond to customer needs. In fact, over an extended period of time automation has become a greater component of these systems. And no one does the ‘integration’ part better than a singular, monolithic CRM system — particularly those tied into larger ERP frameworks.
It’s also worth mentioning that while demand generation systems and marketing automation/EMM systems are often specifically designed to work with CRM systems, this is not the case for more advanced CRM systems, which ‘have it all.’ So you must have a CRM system in place to fully leverage most demand generation and marketing automation/EMM software, but not vice versa.
But let’s be honest, what’s under the hood remains not enough for the sophisticated needs of modern integrated marketing, and the ‘automation’ capabilities in CRM are largely in place as support for organizations that are not yet ready to move to a demand generation or marketing automation/EMM platform. Comparing demand generation systems to CRM, David Raab commented in his white paper, “[T]he differences between demand generation and CRM systems come down to this: demand generation offers more powerful campaigns, more features for content creation, and more detailed behavior tracking, while CRM systems offer tighter, easier integration with sales and service data.”
We won’t spend more time in this first piece talking about the state of advanced CRM vendors, but we will include some of these vendors in our final list of ‘exemplary’ integrated marketing management platform vendors.
> Excel + Word + Outlook: This may seem like a joke, but it is frighteningly real. A significant number of marketers — both in B2B and B2C — continue to operate scale marketing operations via a combination of Excel for segmentation, customer lists and targeting analysis, Word for developing plans and communication collateral and Outlook for managing e-mail pushes and follow-up with customer prospects. This problem is especially acute when it comes to measurement. According to SiriusDecisions (via Sandy Carter’s book) 27% of B2B marketers fall into this category of ‘manual’ marketing measurement.
This is the first in a three-part series of posts on integrated marketing management platforms. The next post will present insights for marketers into analyzing their needs and selecting a platform that is the right ‘fit’ for their organization. The final post will present snapshots of the top 20 vendors I’m watching and that I believe are representative, forward-thinking leaders in this segment. Stay tuned for more …
What’s next? What do you think?
As always, this dialogue is just beginning.
- What marketing needs do you believe are most important for vendors to tackle?
- What are your comments on the state of this technology landscape as presented above?
- Are there other camps you believe should be considered as contenders for the integrated marketing management space?