The last few years have seen an explosion of software tools to assist in the sales and marketing functions. These tools sprang from needs to capture specific data for reporting and analytics, and perform certain necessary or desired functions that were ripe for automation. These tools have entered and formed three main categories: Marketing Automation (MA), CRM, and Email Marketing.
Starting with the simplest of these, Email Marketing, I’ll briefly describe the category, some of the players and the role they play for certain users. Email Marketing tools were introduced to allow individuals and small businesses to create and send electronic newsletters. Simple, cheap, and attractive, their adoption rate has soared. Constant Contact, Vertical Response and Exact Target are three of the leading players in this category. These tools are particularly suited for simple, graphical bulk emailing. Response behavior feedback like clicks, opens, and unsubscribes allow the sender to plan appropriate follow-up. These tools are everywhere; they’re cheap and easy to use. They are primarily used by individuals and small companies.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) are work process tools ostensibly focused on sales (and sometimes service) departments. At their most basic level, these tools track customers and prospects as they engage in new buying opportunities. A category that has been mostly consumed by (or merged with) CRM is Contact Management. CRM systems provide this basic feature so that salespeople can keep up with the various timelines of contact to ultimately forecast and process orders. CRM is primarily a tool for sales departments. This was a rather custom and fragmented segment until the entry of Salesforce.com and Microsoft CRM. The entry of these two juggernauts added a tremendous amount of developmental energy as well as distribution to the category.
Marketing Automation is the newest class of tools to support sales and marketing. Acting as an incubator for leads, the MA feeds a steady drip of marketing content based on pre-defined scripts. This is a real breakthrough for sophisticated organizations as they can plan out their content and the key triggers for delivering it. Like the basic eblasting tools, MA allows behavior to be tracked and extends that tracking to website interactions. MA provides scores and rating systems based on these interactions so that an objective measurement can be made of the marketing department’s incubation process. Vendors like Pardot, Eloqua, and Marketo have led the way this category.
Now this is just a simple outline description of these burgeoning tools and not an exhaustive comparison. What they all have in common is that they require data in order to go! These tools provide wonderful opportunities to track and automate marketing and sales processes, but they are worthless without good contact information. Any good plan to use these tools must include a plan to populate them with verified, vetted and segmented contact data so their full promise can be realized.