Implementation Challenges Limit B2B Marketers' Success with Automation

The Technology Is Increasingly Essential, Yet Few Are Ready to Transform Their Operations

July 1, 2010

For today’s B2B marketer, marketing technology enables sophisticated lead nurturing that delivers results. Gain insight into how changes in buyer behavior have changed the B2B marketers’ job. Learn why use of technology tools is now essential to the marketers’ expanded role. See the elements of the business justification for marketing automation, and explore why such a successful technology has so many underperforming implementations. This article is the first in a series on B2B best practices using marketing technology.


B2B marketers’ jobs have changed significantly in response to changes in the way their customers buy. Marketers now establish and nurture buyer relationships during an extended period of time before those buyers choose to engage with sales. To do this nurturing effectively, marketers need to take advantage of the information and coordination that today’s technology provides. Technology enables marketers to identify and analyze prospects’ digital footprints, personalize communication to responses of each buyer type at each stage of the buying process, and test conversion of alternative offers.

Effective use of marketing technology has been proven to yield significant positive impacts including revenue increases, cost reductions, and improved accountability. However, success with marketing automation systems,1 in particular, does not come as easily as many vendors would like you to believe. In fact, about a third of all implementations don’t improve marketing results.

The reasons for this high rate of underperformance are easy to identify at a high level: systems don’t get used or they are used to do marketing in the same way as before implementation. Digging a little deeper, the culprits are varied. Sales and marketing organizations aren’t aligned. Clear objectives for the technology purchase are not established. Processes from lead management and data management to campaign planning and content creation are broken. Skills needed for developing strategies, buyer personas, campaign maps, and for analyzing data are lacking. Marketers make poor use of metrics, key performance indicators, and best-in-class benchmarks. These are not easy fixes for most B2B marketing departments.

With marketing automation one of the fastest growing segments in the software industry, we think it’s time to find out what can be done to improve performance. In this series on marketing technology, we will explore how marketers have used technology to achieve significant benefits, what vendors are doing to make their customers successful, and what steps you should take before, during, and after you automate your marketing processes.

B2B Buying Process Has Changed

B2B buyers now rely extensively on Web information from the time they start exploring a problem until just before they are ready to evaluate alternatives. Sales people, who used to be called upon to educate buyers about possible solutions, are now called much later in the buying cycle, often after the buyer has narrowed their field to a few choices.

In addition, many B2B buyers now use social media to find and follow experts or other users who can educate them on areas they are exploring. Having confidence in the opinion of someone you find via social media takes time (and a leap of faith). By engaging on the Web very early in their buying cycle, buyers take that time.

A third change in today’s B2B buyers is that they are typically part of a four- to eight-person team involved in purchase decisions, even for products costing only $25,000 to $100,000. These team members have different roles and needs, a diversity that suggests that the same message will not hit the mark with each.

Each of these changes has affected how B2B marketers do their job. They now “own” the prospect for an extended—and critical—period of time in the buying cycle. They need to provide timely relevant information to multiple buyer types with diverse needs during this time, and they need to find ways to engage buyers early using social media.

Timely, Relevant Electronic Content Has Become Table Stakes for Sales to Get a Meeting

As buyers turn to the Web for their information, their expectations for that content have skyrocketed. If the content they want isn’t there, they move on to another search result, another blog, or another vendor site. And what they want varies with all the traditional segmentation characteristics such as company size, location, or industry, as well as the client’s role, stage in the buying cycle, and frequency of contact with the vendor.

A salesperson who is face-to-face with a prospect can vary his or her pitch to accommodate all these factors based on a buyer’s responses. Now provision of information on the Web needs to vary in the same way in order to keep the attention of a B2B buyer. Only by keeping the attention of the multiple buyers at a company through the early and middle stages of the buying cycle, can marketers have a chance at being in the consideration set when buyers are ready to take meetings with salespeople.

Nurturing Leads Has Become a Critical Marketing Function

Savvy marketers can now read digital footprints of Web visitors, track their online behavior, collect additional demographic information gradually, and respond to buyers’ online actions with targeted information. This is the birth of sophisticated lead nurturing. It is also one of many ways in which the B2B marketer role has become more analytical. There is so much at stake that testing landing pages, experimenting with forms and offers, and refining buyer personas has become critical to successful nurturing.

Lead nurturing replaces a practice of passing leads to sales shortly after obtaining them. After nurturing, marketing passes fewer and higher quality leads to sales. This means more revenue. One source reports that a 10 percent increase in lead quality translates into a 40 percent increase in sales. Another source reports that there is a 47 percent increase in the value of the customer when that customer has been nurtured.


Nurturing Is a Giant Step Beyond the Static Interaction B2B Marketers Used to Execute

Nurturing leads is a significant management and analysis job. Requirements include:

  • Collection of lead data in one place from both online and off-line sources.
  • Segmentation and targeting—based on both demographic and behavioral data — to match the offer to the buyer’s role and company at each stage of the buying process.
  • Identification of online channels and sites used by targets.


1) Marketing automation is a subset of the technologies used in marketing. This term is commonly used to denote systems that, at a minimum, do email marketing, nurturing campaigns, demographic and behavioral scoring, form and landing page building, dynamic list segmentation, dynamic email content, and visitor tracking.



We welcome our newest analyst, Susan S. McKittrick, who will be writing a series of articles on B2B cross-channel marketing best practices using technology. Sue has more than 30 years of B2B marketing and business consulting experience. She currently focuses on the ways that changes in buyer behavior have transformed the jobs of B2B marketers. Sue specializes in the processes, skills, and tools for using multiple channels, electronic footprints, customer data, and timely relevant content to sustain effective engagement of targets, higher revenue growth, and improved return on marketing investment. She can be reached at

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