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Atri Chatterjee of Act-On Software on the New Generation of Marketers

There are few areas of the CRM/Social Business industry that is more interesting than the marketing automation sector.  The big guys (, Oracle, Adobe, etc) are creating enterprise-focused marketing clouds via a dizzying array of acquisitions.  Others are raising millions of dollars either by going public or attracting the attention of venture capitalists.  But for all the shaking and baking that is taking place, the fact remains that still a relatively few companies on the B2B side have actually implemented a marketing automation system.  And the majority that have are still only using more of the basic functionality and tactics than anything else.  

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Atri Chatterjee, CMO of marketing automation platform provider Act-On Software, to discuss where we are today with marketing automation.  He shares his thoughts on why we're still at 16% adoption of marketing automation in B2B companies, along with why he sees that number increasing rapidly over the next few years.  He also discusses what it will take for more advanced marketing practices to become mainstream, and who will lead that charge.

Below is an edited transcript of our discussion which covers many of the topics we touch on.   Also included is the embedded video which includes our full conversation.

Brent:  Act-On recently referenced a benchmark study done by SiriusDecisions. One of the stats that really jumped out to me  when you think about what’s going on in the space and all the excitement - monies being raised, mergers, acquisitions, customers being brought on – was that only 16% of B2B companies out there are using marketing automation today. Why do you think that is?

Atri: Think about the way you and I go and buy something that is the high-ticket item; an automobile or refrigerator or something. We don’t go to the store and just buy it; we go and do research online, we go try to figure out what people are saying in social media. We try to get independent opinions on what’s best. So the whole buyer’s journey has really changed, and that’s really changed in the B2B world.

Now this new technology has come in; marketing automation. It’s only 16% penetrated but the good news is that it’s actually growing very rapidly. It’s growing at 50% every year. So a few years ago when I first joined Act-On, the market was less than 10% penetrated and it’s more than doubled since then. So that’s the good news. And even the Sirius research that came out shows the adoption is quite varied depending on industry.

Obviously the technology and IT industry have been early adopters. Marketing automation is probably around over 60% penetrated in that space, whereas say healthcare, it’s less than 2% penetrated. So quite a varying degree of penetration depending on the industry and it’s pretty common of how new technology gets adopted. The early adopters, they go into it… then it goes into the mainstream and then once the mainstream picks it up, then it really becomes much more prevalent. And I think we’re right at that cusp right now; going from early adopter into mainstream with the 16% adoption.

Brent:  It seems like there are only certain aspects of marketing automation that are heavily adopted; email marketing, landing page management. But when you get into the more robust areas like lead nurturing, lead scoring, sequence flow, predictive analytics, they are still way off in the future it seems in terms of mass adoption. When do you expect, not only mainstream businesses to start using marketing automation a little bit more across industry, but actually getting deeper into the kinds of tools services like Act-On provide?

Atri: The whole field of marketing has changed quite rapidly and quite dramatically. We’ve gone away from the Mad Men approach to marketing. It’s more about branding and establishing a name and a little jingle and so on. And we’ve gone to a lot more direct marketing; a lot more analytical marketing. So even the whole field of marketing has changed and all marketers have to adopt new techniques. 

And then there’s a new generation that’s coming in that is far more analytically focused on measuring what’s happening with A/B testing, etc. It’s a combination of marketing knowhow and statistics and math. So that’s the big picture of what’s happening and you see change happening.

A platform like Act-On for mid-market marketers and smaller companies who don’t have the resources large companies have can help you. So now the challenge becomes, how do you introduce something like this and really take a “peel the onion” approach; People start out at one level and as they get proficient with that, you introduce them to more and more things.

I think what your asking is when are people going to get to that next stage. And I think it varies. The reality is there are going to be some people, and there already are, who are much further along the curve because either they came out of a greater response type of environment, or they’re in a heavy technology company where they have the resources to do this. And then there are those that are further behind and they’re just starting off at simple things like a landing page and email and tracking whose coming to their website and trying to capture leads. And then, as they get more proficient with that, they can start doing things like A/B testing - testing out a couple of different versions and then auto-send the ones that are doing better. And then get into things like creating a little sequence of events, where depending on what actions people take, I want to give them different outcomes.

We’ve got now about 2,500 customers; all midmarket, smaller companies who are adopting this. I think that the testament is that these folks have started doing this. And the positive news is that I think it’s moving rapidly so I expect a year from now, we’ll be having quite a different conversation.

Brent:  As the buyer’s journey has changed and we start hearing a lot about social selling, we look at the sales person and sales team. The buyers in a lot of instances are cutting out sales until after the decision has been made. Sales people have to react and get involved in the buyer’s process. How does marketing help to change or evolve the relationship a sales person has directly with today’s buyer? What’s marketing’s new role in helping the sales person?

Atri:  I think the simplest way to describe that is that marketing can really provide intelligence. The marketing effort needs to provide sales with better intelligence. The other one is the marketing effort and the sales effort needs to take a different approach. It’s not a push approach. You’re not trying to push a product or push a service or sell something. You’re trying to engage, you’re trying to educate, you’re trying to present yourself as a knowledgeable partner who can essentially help the potential buyer basically go through that journey, and during that process convince them and support all of this with facts to show them that you’ve got is actually the right type of thing that they want.

It’s harder, it’s more subtle, it requires a little bit more patience and you don’t control the timetable. You have to work with the buyer on their timetable. But when that engagement happens, I think then the discussion that a salesperson then has, after a person has gone through the initial stages - marketing campaigns and so on - by the time they get to the salesperson there, they’re much more knowledgeable about things. Then the salesperson has a much better understanding of what the potential buyer has gone through because they have much better information about the profile of that buyer; what are the last engagements they’ve had, what have they read, what white papers have they downloaded, what webinars have they attended. You know, and that just makes that conversation that much more meaningful when you have all that information.

Brent: Does marketing automation play an increasing role in not just bringing on new customers, but extending the lifetime of current customers?

Atri:  Absolutely. The primary use of marketing automation today is in the lead to revenue cycle. But really if you think about the field of marketing and how marketers work in most companies and how good companies do that; you know companies, well known, iconic companies that we all know about. Marketers there have played a part throughout the customer lifecycle, not just the lead to revenue management.

Marketers have always had it in their job description effectively in a company to essentially be responsible for the entire customer lifecycle. It’s not going to be the support organization, it’s not necessarily going to be the sales organization, it’s not… it’s really the marketing organization that has a part to play all through that lifecycle.

Now today we’re not using automation tools for the most part in doing all of this, but that is something we see as our vision.   And when you look at how we develop Act-On and the things that we want to enable our customers to do, it’s not only the lead to revenue part of bringing in new business. But also helping a marketer better interact with customers throughout that lifecycle and thereby realizing a much bigger benefit for their organization because they’re really engaging with the customer all through that.

Brent:  How do we get folks to understand the benefit of putting enough resources on conversion and optimization because that’s really where the money is made, isn’t it? Not everybody is going to go to your webinar or go to a blog post, or have one interaction and then plunk down a check for five or ten thousand bucks. It’s the job of nurturing and all that goes into it that’s the real benefit of marketing automation.

Atri: Absolutely. I think you hit the nail on the head. Just think about it; there’s one thing about selling something for five or ten thousand dollars, which seems like a lot of money. And then there are companies that are selling things for over a $100,000 and no one makes a $100,000 or a $500,000 decision even in a business, you know, without doing a lot of research and putting a lot of thought and effort into it. And that’s where some of the tools that we provide in marketing automation, where you can nurture a lead or nurture a person through that process; understand where they are. Understand their profile and better interact with them as they are going through that process so that it’s not about how much they are putting at the top of the funnel, but it’s how well you are processing that through the funnel.

Every business is going to have to work with a system like ours and look at their processes, try things out, measure them, make corrections, make changes, iterate and measure again. It’s almost like a scientific process now. And there is no single answer that says this is how it’s gonna work for your business. It depends. But the best thing that we can do as purveyors of technology here for folks is to provide them the tools with the simplicity and with the intuitiveness so that they can actually use these tools effectively and get better at it.

And that goes back to your question;  this is an ongoing process. I think this is one of these conversations a year from now we’ll probably still be talking about, but I’ll probably have data to show you a  much higher percentage of people are doing more sophisticated things.



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