Marketing Automation: How Much is Enough?

Jul 26, 2013

Jay Brokamp

The use of automation technologies in marketing processes has been on the rise, and according to recent studies, will only continue to increase in the years to come. When you read the stats and research, it’s only natural to ask if you’re company is keeping up or falling behind when it comes to marketing efficiency, which drives the demand for automation. A quick check of the automation market shows there are many different types of platforms automating many different marketing processes, but the extent of automation companies need should be taken very much on an individual basis. So how do you know what’s going to work for your company and who’s just another “partner” you’re cutting a check to?

Simple vs. Complex
First, let’s try to define “automation” a little better. I would categorize automation technologies/software into two groups: Simple Automation and Complex Automation. Simple automation could be exemplified by an email marketing tool or an auto-responder or something of that nature. You could even throw in some social media applications that automate posting across multiple platforms if you wanted to interpret the term broadly. Complex automation technologies are systems rather than tools or apps. They integrate not just front-end, execution processes, but also manage back-end processes, such as production. Think of these as your marketing resource management (MRM) systems or collaborative creative production management systems.

So back to our original question: How do you determine how much marketing automation you really need to operate as efficiently as possible? To answer that question, you need to look at your organization from a couple of different angles. Let’s examine some factors you should consider.

The first thing you need to do is know the culture and personality of your employees. If you brought on a new technology, how much effort will an employee expend to use it when they likely already have numerous applications they rely on? Here’s where you have to consider the complexity of the system. An automation system or tool can be the most feature-filled, greatest thing since sliced bread but is no good if your employees are just going to use its surface functions. Directly related to that point, do your employees have time to train to use the system? Also, remember, you’ll have to train new employees on the system as well, so it could impact the skills and requirements for future job candidates.

Along similar lines, companies need to consider actual employee usage and engagement with the software. Are they going to be required to use it or will it be merely another weapon in their marketing arsenal? If it’s going to be a required part of their routine, company resources must be assessed as far as time and personnel needed to train employees. If it’s not going to be required, a target level of engagement needs to be set and achieved to justify spend. In order to do that, you’ll have to consider what resources you need to market the technology internally.

Required or not, the more engagement/utilization the system sees, the more opportunities there are for something to go wrong. As with anything you purchase, at some point you either have to fix it or pay someone else to fix it. This segues to a discussion on vendor engagement and resources. Are they going to offer you the resources to maintain and support the system or do you have to bring on/train personnel to do that in-house? If the vendor isn’t going to provide the level of support you need and you lack the resources internally to maintain the technology, the answer to how much automation is enough automation may be a resources question rather than a business needs question.

Finally, how difficult will it be to integrate the system or tool into your business and implement it effectively? Again, you need to know how hands-on the vendor will be in providing these services. Complex automation, like an MRM system, is going to require regular dialogue between your employees and the vendor. Simple automation won’t require that much from the vendor and is more plug-and-go.

Where’s the need?
These are all considerations companies need to make when evaluating the role of automation in their business. We all know that person who wants something just for the sake of having it, but that’s not enough of a reason in the business world to justify signing a long-term or even monthly contract for anything. Marketing automation has to fill a business need. Just like MRM may be overkill for some businesses, email marketing automation may be too small-time for others. Evaluate your needs and evaluate your resources. If you do that, automation, whether simple or complex, can be a powerful contributor to your business.

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