At November’s SiriusDecisions Technology Exchange in 2016, Laura Cross and Jen Horton shook up the attendees with their presentation on The State of Marketing Automation when they showed research reports revealing that 50% of marketers surveyed expressed dissatisfaction toward their marketing automation system. Even more startling was that they planned to switch platforms within the next 12 months.
My first reaction was, “Holy cow, half of the of the respondents surveyed aren’t happy!” My second reaction was, “Those folks need some help.”
My help comes in two forms: advice for those of you wondering if you should migrate or not, and a checklist for those of you who are planning to migrate. If you’re absolutely sure you are going to migrate, then just grab the checklist I put together for you — and I encourage you to consider getting our [DemandGen’s] help with the planning and execution of your migration. If you’re not sure whether you should migrate, keep reading the rest of the post and as I have a potential solution for each use case.
Following the conference, we conducted some qualitative research to better understand why so many marketers are dissatisfied and what we found was that there are the two broad categories of dissatisfaction.
Frustration with Support
For many marketing teams we talked with, the frustration was not even about the system itself, but rather about the lack of customer service they are receiving from the vendor. These customers were looking for the concierge-like support they were accustomed to years ago when the vendors were smaller and more focused on customer service instead of profitability. We heard complaints about vendors not being proactive and not responding in a timely way. Another common theme was that vendor client services teams are stretched too thin: clients asking for help with their systems are being directed to online self-service resources, communities, user groups or being asked to pay for professional services engagements from the vendor. We also heard that the vendor customer service teams lack the breadth and depth of digital marketing savvy needed to properly advise clients.
While we certainly heard some clear examples of poor customer service they’ve experienced, the majority of complaints really had to do with missed expectations around what the vendor was able to provide long-term.
When I started DemandGen in 2007 it was because I knew back then there was a gap between what vendors could provide and what marketers needed for adoption of these sophisticated and powerful marketing automation platforms — and I knew that gap would widen. Had there not been this need, there would be no DemandGen. Having worked at Microsoft, Ellie Mae, and several other leading tech firms in my career, I knew firsthand that the larger the market grows for a given solution, the more the need grows for an ecosystem of online communities, consultants, trainers, and service providers to help the customer base for that solution.
Fast forward 10 years. . . and the marketing tools are even far more powerful, more sophisticated, and have more integration capabilities that will challenge any marketing team small or large. I believe that since MarTech is still relatively new as a software category, vendors will eventually end up over-selling their ability to provide internal support and professional services capabilities. Therefore, customers become dissatisfied with support over time. It’s probably a lifecycle model that I’m sure someone will create a curve and infographic for some day. Maybe one already exists.
So here’s the truth, and don’t shoot the messenger. The average client load of a marketing automation vendor’s customer account manager is around 150 clients each! At that level, how can they possibly have the bandwidth to provide you quality best practices guidance, training, and adoption support? Furthermore, can they really be expected to maintain proficiency in the ever-changing digital marketing strategy and methods? Marketing is going through such a massive transformation that the best place for ongoing support is not from the vendors anymore. They simply can’t keep up with the changing technologies and methods, and the size of their customer base makes it virtually impossible to support them all effectively and timely.
The Solution (if support is your frustration):
Adjust your expectations. You don’t expect to establish vendors like Microsoft, Intuit, Adobe, or Salesforce to provide you “free consulting” and concierge-like support at no charge anymore, so you probably should not expect your marketing automation vendor to do so either — unless it’s a startup-hungry for your business that lacks the huge installed base to serve. Migrations are costly in time, money, and opportunity cost (you’re often not able to keep driving demand while you’re switching unless you get outside help) so it’s less expensive and more impactful to get on-demand or managed services support from a MarTech agency like DemandGen than just punt your system out of frustration.
According to research conducted by several of the leading marketing automation providers, approximately 70% of companies that have purchased B2B marketing automation systems have used outside resources in some capacity.
In short, if you like the platform you have, don’t migrate just because of support reasons. Instead, keep the solution you’re happy with and invest in outside resources that will better serve your needs.
Frustration with The Platform
The second segment of people considering a migration was frustrated with the product in one of the several ways (or a combination of them).
Group 1: We’ve Outgrown the System We Have
These folks have been using their marketing automation system for a few years, and feel that their needs and level of marketing maturity have grown to the point where the solution they purchased is no longer right for them. Many of them feel their current vendor is no longer innovating and enhancing the product. Others simply feel that they are ready to take on a more sophisticated platform because of the experience and expertise they’ve developed over time. I won’t say publicly in this post which platforms they are most often using, but I’ll simply say that I found these marketers to be level-headed and objective; their desires to migrate are based on real needs to “do more” with the system. They are ready to go beyond primarily email marketing, basic nurturing, simple scoring, and lead capture. They are passionate, experienced, confident marketers who want more integration capabilities with other MarTech tools, Omni-channel marketing capabilities, more sophisticated scoring and nurturing capabilities, remarketing tools, integrated social monitoring, SEO tools, predictive content, ABM capabilities, more granular user group control and security, better reporting, more database management tools: essentially, an ecosystem of tools for their marketing automation system.
Do a simple, inexpensive assessment (internally or with an outside consulting firm like DemandGen) of your current and future state needs that factor in your level of marketing maturity and resources as well. If your needs don’t align with your current solution’s capabilities, it’s probably time to evaluate other systems and migrate.
Just consider this: Ascend2 research in 2015 concluded that 59% of companies do not fully use the MA technology they have available. Is it really too difficult, or is it that your team is not taking advantage of the tools they already have?
Group 2: It’s Too Expensive
This group is simply paying too much for what they are getting. Either their licensing fees have increased due to the growth of their marketing database, or they bought a system that was more than they need or have the capability to handle. Rarely do we find that the total cost of ownership is actually higher on a particular system. Just don’t buy an inexpensive SMB platform if you’re an enterprise, or buy an enterprise class system if you’re an SMB.
Since most of the marketing automation vendors’ fees factor in database size (along with functionality), I prescribe that you do an annual “spring cleaning” of your database at least six months in advance of your renewal time. Face it, you’ll need to do it anyway if you migrate systems, so doing one annually will shrink your database and reduce your licensing fees. If your costs are going up based on the growth of your database and you don’t have the time or experience to trim your database in-house, then hiring a firm like DemandGen to analyze and clean up your database is significantly less expensive than migrating and also will decrease your license fees. If the base price of your platform has gone up but you want to keep using the system you have, then negotiate like heck months ahead of your renewal while you still have leverage. Your cost of migrating, re-training, and getting proficient on a new system is often more costly than an increase in the vendor’s licensing fees so be sure you’ve done your best to negotiate and avoid license creep due to database bloat.
If you don’t need the all the capabilities that your marketing automation system now provides, see if you can go down to a smaller package with your existing vendor, as most have created capability tiers and you may be in a higher one than you actually need to be.
Group 3: It’s Difficult to Use
This group seems to have a bias akin to iPhone vs Android users: they simply have a preference as to which platform is best or easiest to use. As companies hire people who have experience with different systems, the new team members often lobby for a migration. Let’s face it, we know what we like, and we like what we know. If your current vendor’s interface is not continuing to get updated and simplified, it might be time to switch. If you do migrate, you will have a steep learning curve (unless your team has used the platform you plan to migrate to) so be sure it’s truly a usability issue and not just folks seeking familiarity and avoiding change.
Peel back the onion and ask your team for specifics as to why the platform you’re using is truly hard or time-consuming for them. Some are. But all of the leading ones have capabilities beyond the expertise of most marketers due to lack of training, experience, or a combination. If you are personally the one that wants to change systems, be sure to prep and make a convincing pitch to your management why you’ll be able to accomplish more in less time and have a greater impact. Otherwise, if the company has had success with the current platform, your request to change systems will be met with skepticism around your own capabilities and personal bias.
Bonus personal tip: If you plan on changing jobs yourself and going to a new firm some day, go to one that has the marketing automation system you prefer, instead of expecting them to change to accommodate your needs once you get there.
Group 4: Frustrated with Performance
This last group in the “frustrated segment” express that “the system takes too long to do X” or “when we make a big change in our CRM it bogs down our marketing automation system that is synced to it.” Some also have experienced costly outages and have had to explain to senior management that “the reason lead generation and pipeline are down was due to a system outage by the marketing automation system.” The first time this happens, it’s shame on the vendor. The second or third time this happens, it starts to affect the perception of how marketing is managing and taking accountability for its infrastructure.
If your system simply does not scale to your current needs, or the needs you’ll have within the next year or two, it’s probably time to plan a migration to a more scalable and reliable system. Before you do, though, consider escalating performance issues to your vendor’s leadership team so you have their commitment to addressing the performance issues in a specific time frame. We’ve coached our clients to get these performance commitments in writing, including relief of licensing fee payments due to performance issues. Saving on licensing fees for performance issues is not a long-term solution, but it will hold the vendor more accountable and get you some budget back if you do end up migrating.
Group 5: Acquisitions
There is one last group that does often migrate marketing automation systems and they are the companies that have been acquired by another parent company who uses a different system than the one acquired. In general, standardizing on a marketing automation platform across your global organization is a best practice. If you’re highly decentralized and running independently, there might be a rationale to operate different systems. Otherwise, if you get acquired, and the parent company has already standardized on a different platform, expect to migrate at some point and embrace the opportunity of becoming a two-footed soccer player in the marketing technology game.
Where to Start: Migration Checklist
If you fall into the group of people considering or planning to migrate, you’ll find this migration checklist I put together an incredibly useful tool.
The migration checklist covers:
- 10 Business Functions Impact By a Migration
- 30 key tasks you’ll need to complete during migration
Don’t Take This on Alone: Get Help
I’m writing this blog post because so many people are saying that they are going to make a change this year, and if you’re committed to doing that, we know exactly what you’re going to go through! DemandGen has helped dozens of companies with marketing automation assessments and migrations. We help with overall project planning, project management, database preparation, re-integrations, cutover scheduling, porting of existing assets, program renovation, website integrations, CRM integrations, global campaign configurations, training and all the other tasks you haven’t even thought of yet. So reach out to us when you start contemplating a move. You’ll save a ton of time and money and eliminate the risk of defocusing your team from generating demand and revenue.
Did you find this post helpful? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below. And please share any advice around your own experiences for others to read. “There is no-one smarter than all of us.”
For more than 20 years, David Lewis has been a pioneering innovator in digital marketing and has overseen marketing for some of Silicon Valley’s leading technology firms. He founded DemandGen in 2007 to build the worlds’ first marketing technology agency.
For the past decade, David and his team at DemandGen have been at the forefront of the transformation taking place in marketing by helping hundreds of the top sales and marketing teams around the world incorporate sales and marketing technology to drive growth. David is an accomplished industry speaker, thought leader, author, and host the of DemandGen Radio, a bi-weekly podcast devoted to educating marketing professionals on the best technologies and methods for driving growth. His ground-breaking work on the transformation of marketing and sales is at the heart of his #1 book on Lead Management, Manufacturing Demand: The Principles of Successful Lead Management.