Marketing automation software, particularly the type that is leveraged by b2b organizations, is reaching a level of maturity after a good 5 to 6 years of early stage adoption. Many companies today at least know what marketing automation is and are adding it to the list of technology projects for 2013. For those companies who are just now warming up to the notion of implementing a b2b marketing automation platform, what type of solution should they be looking for in terms of functionality, support, training…etc? Taking a step back, we can define marketing automation software, or demand generation platform (whichever term suits you best) as a software application that, at a minimum, contains the following four elements:

Advanced email marketing – while this includes the traditional bulk email delivery as found in the sea of low-cost bulk email vendors, the email marketing offered by MA platforms should offer functionality around drip-based, trigger-based and nurture-based campaigns, including the ability to visually design a flow of emails over some time period.

Lead capture – whether this is web-to-lead functionality typically found in CRM systems or more advanced forms, surveys, landing pages…etc, a good MA platform must have the ability to create, deploy and host it’s own forms.

Website visitor tracking – typically a derivative of the first two items ability to add a first-party cookie to a person’s PC when clicking through or completing a form, MA should offer the ability to track a person on your website down to the page-level detail.

Lead Scoring – using the data gathered from items 1-3, in conjunction with demographics, an MA system should have the ability to assign point values to discrete actions and then rank, group and trigger actions against leads based on the response activity and profile data.

Having the four items contained within a single marketing application is a dramatic improvement over bulk email blasts, survey tools and basic web analytics. The big win of marketing automation 1.0 is the consolidation of disparate tools and the general improvement of CRM integration. But has it been enough? I would argue that while marketing automation, as a stand-alone software solution, provides tremendous value to its users, it has fallen short on delivering true lead to revenue management. The reason for this is the limitations in integrating these systems with CRM in both process and technology.

Let’s face it, having email click through data in a lead record in CRM is nice, but it’s not what gets sales excited about CRM again, nor is it information that can truly move the needle on advancing prospects through the buying cycle. So as marketing automation systems move into a more mature phase of adoption, marketers are taking on more overall responsibility for the top of the sales funnel and accepting accountability for the overall health of a sales pipeline. The sales alignment that we seek as marketers is found not in how well you can send an email blast or who quickly you can deploy a landing page. Sales alignment and sales enablement come when marketing and sales collaborate on key processes such as lead routing, lead management and, ultimately, lead to revenue management.

SalesFUSION, becoming Sugar Market, is on the cutting edge of this new wave of sales alignment and sales enablement through integrated marketing automation. And while the blueprint for successful lead to revenue management is still being written by early adopters, several elements have risen as standard practice and are as follows:

Embedded functions in CRM – moving beyond basic marketing data in the crm records, true integration lies in selecting the right information to present to sales and embedding marketing functions natively inside of CRM. A great example of this is website visitor tracking. Historically, within this popular category of MA functionality, sales may receive a daily or weekly report of companies and contacts who have visited the website. In truly integrated environments, sales can view, in real-time, which of their assigned leads and prospects are on the website, from within CRM. Furthermore, sales can drill down into the details of how a person came to the site, what they looked at on-site and make a strategic decision to call or add to a nurture campaign based on activity.

Lead Nurturing – more than just fancy click and drag campaign builders, true nurture marketing combines marketing actions (send an email, send another email…..send yet another email) with sales actions throughout the life-cycle of a nurture-marketing campaign. An example of this would be when a lead clicks a certain link at a certain step in the campaign, a CRM task is created, assigned and tracked to the assigned sales rep.

Opportunity integration & management – Marketing must have a direct line of site from lead source to opportunity and be capable of reporting on the ROI and pipeline impact of campaigns. Reporting in this area should be multi-layered in that it will show not only how many leads a campaign has generated but what the percentage conversion rate to opportunity is and which campaigns are producing the deepest CRM opportunity movement.

These three elements to integrated marketing automation are merely the tip of the iceberg but I can confidently state, from experience at many clients who have achieved this, that they are the “place at the table” functions that vendors who operate in our space, marketing automation, must provide to their customers.

Exciting times for b2b markers are upon us and a new generation of process-driven marketing automation with true lead to revenue management as the end-goal, is upon us.