Marketing automation promised so much. The very name was enough to make marketers and their colleagues in finance sit up and take notice, one group imagining a world where the day-to-day grind of a typical marketing function would be automated. Emails would be sent, white paper downloads tracked, page views analysed, and marketers would be left to focus on higher value activities such as campaign strategy and creative messaging.
This vision of an idyllic future persuaded many organisations to spend significant sums on marketing automation systems from the likes of Marketo, Eloqua, Hubspot, and Silverpop. While these systems may not reach the sprawling ambition or costs of the great CRM projects of the 1990s, they were still significant tickets for many buyers.
The potential more than justified the outlay, but now, a few years in, many marketers are wondering why they use only a fraction of their automation systems and are still manually sending emails, tracking white paper downloads and analysing page views. They want to know why their automation systems are under-used, and, most importantly, what they can do about it.
Ceding market share
In its 2013 report on marketing automation , technology consultancy Gleanster found that of 1.396 B2B marketers it surveyed, the only feature of marketing automation used by 100% was email. Other features like lead scoring, web tracking and social engagement were only used by about half of respondents.
This under-utilisation of an expensive resource is a major problem for those organisations, not simply because of the wasted investment, but also because of the missed opportunity. This is in fact the greater issue. Marketing automation, when deployed effectively, can not only free up the time of the marketing department, it can also dramatically enhance the effectiveness of that marketing function.
It allows marketers to crunch data and provide relevant marketing content to potential customers at the right time in the right place. Those companies that are not getting as much as they can out of marketing automation are ceding competitive advantage and probably market share to rivals who have found a way to make it work.
Creating sales-ready leads
How then to make it work? Firstly there needs to be a recognition that the inbound components of marketing automation alone will probably not be enough to produce the expected results. The very common practice of waiting until a prospect reaches a certain level of scoring and then passing the lead to sales does not work, simply because those leads are rarely at the point where sales are going to have the best conversion rates.
Marketing should continue to nurture them, and at this point you need a telemarketer to pick up the phone for them. Not only to further qualify, but to confirm when they are sales-ready and if they are not, to tip them over to be at that point.
Telemarketing is the key
A growing number of marketers are discovering that telemarketing can be the key that unlocks the potential of marketing automation. The information that is stored within the system allows the telemarketing team to prioritise calls and create carefully targeted messages for specific segments.
There is often a wealth of information mounting up in these systems, but field sales agents lack the time, skills or sometimes inclination to engage with it in this way. Yet when it is used effectively it can generate a vast number of qualified and high quality sales appointments. Suddenly the sales team is seeing the value in the marketing automation system.
The process becomes even more effective when those field sales agents provide feedback on appointments, inputting it into the marketing automation system, promoting future engagement with prospects and further refining future activity by the telemarketing team. It is the sort of joined-up inter-departmental thinking that can transform the marketing automation system from under-used overhead to vital business asset.
Marketing automation promises a revolution in the way that marketing functions operate. As with all genuinely profound transformations it can take time for those who will benefit most to engage with the revolution and realise how to bring it to fruition.
Marketers are still investing in automation – according to a February 2014 report two-thirds of Western European companies were still expecting to invest further in marketing automation  - and in the years ahead we can expect to see more of them start to realise the full potential of those systems. For those who do, the revolution may happen sooner than they think.
By Henry Braithwaite, Founder & Operation Director, MarketMakers