Marketing automation software, which began its business adoption life as an add-on solution for CRM systems in B2B enterprises in and around 2004/2005 has finally crept out of the corner and taken front and center stage as a mission-critical, enterprise application worthy of the C-suite’s attention. Bold predictions from analysts such as Forrester Research and Raab Associates put the total market value for CRM at $750 million near term and $19 billion long term.

Today, many technology executives would argue that marketing automation may very well replace CRM as the core front-office application that drives top-line revenue for their companies.

Looking at the acquisitions, industry predictions and performance of those in the marketing technology sector who have gone public and you’d think the wheel has officially been reinvented relative to business applications.  What’s important to understand is that while marketing automation has not re-invented the wheel per-se, how business consumers research, evaluate and buy product & services has been reinvented from the ground up.

Who’s in control?  Not your sales team!

Thanks in large part to the new “social web”, many buyers of business products and services are in complete control of the traditional sales cycle. CRM systems have been built and have evolved to support the “traditional sales cycle” from the perspective that the internal sales team was in control.  So what does “traditional sales cycle” mean?  And what are the implications of buyers being in control?

Firstly, the “traditional sales cycle” is one in which the sales personnel are largely responsible for dispersing product, service and company information to prospective buyers.  Sales personnel are also largely responsible for shaping the perception of the company for the buyer.  Good sales people who are effective and creative at these two elements have historically performed at a high level.  

But what if the business buyer of 2013 and beyond could get all of this information online and form their own opinions of your company through self-guided research, social references and more?  And what if these social web resources were continuously changing, self updating and adapting in a manner that is not wholly controlled by the selling company?

While this may seem like a nightmare scenario for B2B sales, it’s actually the current state of the B2B web, or social web and, ironically enough, it’s the exact environment that the B2B sellers have created in their rush to push more and more content online and engage in non-traditional selling processes such as social selling.

What does this mean for CRM and marketing automation?

Today, the buyers are in control; the information network is crowd-sourced and ever changing. Your sales team has lost a significant amount of control of the early-stage buying cycle.  CRM systems, as useful as they have been in helping companies organize sales and service organizations, are simply not equipped to support sales in this new environment.

CRM is, at it’s core, a data gathering and reporting tool.  Sales personnel have long griped about the fact that every CRM system is designed to take information from sales personnel, organize it, and then facilitate management-level reports on the sate of the funnel.

The reason marketing automation systems are enjoying such high adoption and growth right now is they have been purpose-built to support both marketing and sales organizations in this new selling environment.  

The best example of this is website visitor tracking, a feature that is rapidly becoming the darling of sales organizations who have had a taste of it.  Basically, when someone visits, or repetitively visits your site, assuming that person is identified via cookie/IP, sales is instantly alerted and is provided complete details of the prospects browsing history on your site.

In addition, sales is presented with a rich history of all of a prospect’s behavior up until that point in time.  In other words, unlike CRM systems, marketing automation systems are GIVING sales people information that they can use to drive sales forward.  This is the polar opposite of CRM, which continually asks sales to GIVE information to the gods of the CRM database.  A novel concept, and one that is endearing Marketing Automation systems to sales.

As the world continues to move towards a true social web, in all its collaborative glory, it’s the marketing automation systems that are built to help sales continue to engage, adapt and survive this brave new selling world.  CSO, CMO, CIO, CEO and CFOs alike are waking up to this new reality and quickly learning that the future of their success lies in marketing automation – not outdated CRM.