Marketing automation software is arguably the hottest segment of the CRM industry and becoming the centerpiece of many marketing programs. We’re fortunate to have Lauren Carlson, an expert in this area, provide a guest post today explaining this important trend!

While it was a relatively quiet niche several years ago, marketers are now adopting automation systems aggressively. Vendors such as Genius, Eloqua, Marketo, and Pardot are reaping the benefits and growing fast. The marketing automation software industry clearly has a steady tailwind at its back.

The increasingly challenging B2B sales environment is forcing companies to explore new ways to market and sell their products.  A confluence of trends is changing the way business buyers purchase, making marketing automation software essential.  Here are a few trends driving this growth:

Buyers want content of real value.
Traditional pamphlets and brochures filled with marketing jargon just don’t cut it anymore. Buyers are looking for informative and interesting content that provides actual value and education throughout the sales cycle. Increasingly, the first two-thirds of that cycle is spent researching the market and vendors, without regular contact with a sales rep. To remain top of mind with the buyer and claim the “thought leadership” position, marketers are deploying marketing automation to provide a steady stream of educational content for buyers.

Buyers are increasingly wary of the phone.
One of the biggest issues sales professionals face when engaging with prospective buyers is a declining level of sales engagement. This is often because the buyer is just getting started on research, overwhelmed with competing priorities and not ready for a sales pitch. Also, when the economy is poor and money is tight, consumers become much more skeptical of sales people making big promises. Compound that with a macro trend away from the phone and toward email and the web. As a result, sales and marketing teams are facing the challenge of selling to buyers who won’t talk to their sales team. Delivering the right content over time is a great way to “warm up” buyers until they are ready to talk to sales.

Desire for marketing accountability.
Marketing has traditionally been somewhat of a “black box” expense for businesses. While development could be measured on release cycles and product quality, and sales was measured on performance against plan, it’s tough to track marketing’s ROI on positioning, collateral and brand building. B2B marketers have traditionally gotten off easy in terms of strict accountability, but are often the first budget to get cut and were sometimes looked down upon by more accountable departments. Marketing automation empowers marketing to define its contribution to the sales pipeline, tracking each sale back to one or more marketing campaigns.

Sales cycles are longer in a down economy.
Under adverse economic conditions, buyers are less inclined to purchase – plain and simple. Even when there is a clear business challenge and a solution with real ROI, tight budgets create hesitation on the part of the buyer. Therefore, sales professionals are faced with increasingly risk-averse prospects whose buying time frames are longer. Marketing automation tools supporting drip marketing campaigns and lead nurturing can build relationships with buyers during a longer sales process.

B2B sales processes are becoming “consumerized.“
According to Peter Sondergaard, SVP at Gartner, consumerization is a significant trend that will affect enterprise IT purchasing this decade and beyond. What does that mean? Business buyers are demanding that their enterprise purchase process be simplified to match the consumer purchases they make in their private lives. They demand coherent pitches, simplified pricing, rapid implementation and ease of use. Moreover, they don’t want to have to interact with sales every time they want information. Marketing automation plays a critical role in supporting self-service sales interactions.

SaaS systems are greasing the skids.
Given the number of relatively new entrants into the marketing automation market, almost all of these systems are built on a modern, software as a service (SaaS) architecture. This has reduced friction for early adopters. Buyers have been able to get up to speed and start demonstrating value far more quickly than early adopters of sales force automation (SFA) and call center software in the 1990s. Moreover, subscription pricing has enabled marketers to add a digestible monthly or quarterly line item into their budgets, rather than seek approval for a costly capital expenditure for on-premise software.

It will be interesting to watch the development of this CRM application over the next couple years as companies learn to adjust to and embrace the new realities of B2B sales.  What are seeing in your companies? Have I missed any trends?

Lauren Carlson is a CRM Analyst for Software Advice and covers various topics related to CRM software, with particular interest in sales force automation, marketing automation, and customer service. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/crmadvice .

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