Appirio: When it comes to the marketing cloud, think before you leap

Marketing automation platforms require just as much planning as any enterprise software solution, yet few invest in the exercise.

It's very easy to be excited about the potential of cloud-based marketing automation services and platforms. I personally have been guilty of that, probably because I am a notoriously fickle consumer who pretty much hates shopping for anything except for maybe books.

The reality is that marketing cloud investments require just as much planning as any other enterprise software solution. Yet few companies are actually pausing to completed that exercise before leaping right into an engagement, said Balakrishna Narasimhan ("Nara"), vice president of marketing strategy and solutions for Appirio, which represents one of the most prominent of these platforms, the ecosystem. 

"People think these are cool products, but then we find they are only using 10 percent of the features," Nara said. "The reality is that most companies aren't mature enough in their marketing processes to know what they want to do with them."

His perspective is driven from an experience repeated multiple times by Appirio services and strategy teams, who engage with an account that has deployed a marketing automation platform only to find that it hasn't thought through the customer segments that it wants to target or how the handoff between marketing and sales will actually (eventually) occur.

Don't misunderstand, Nara and his colleague, Appirio business architect Ashley Brucker, are really excited about these platforms. But they are interested in successful engagements (ones that will grow and mature overtime).

We think strategy is a critical element for success," Brucker said. "A lot of times, companies don't even realized they have an issue until we start asking questions. We help uncover their issues, and then help them tie their plans back in to the technical capabilities."

Here are some of the questions the Appirio marketing strategy and solutions team suggests companies take into account:

Are you focusing on a B2B or B2C audience? – There are obviously different content consumption habits, yet the blur between personal and professional lives may offer a twist on how to reach these audiences. 

What works today? - If your team does really well with email campaigns, how can these tools help hone segmentation so that offers are more personal? Start by building on what you know.

How will the handoff work? - At some point, a salesperson needs to get into the act to close a deal. Be sure to define that specific parameters around when that should happen.

What kind of content do you need? - The days when someone will sit around and listen to your obvious pitch, just because, are numbered. Viral videos and mobile applications are just two of the new content forms that businesses will need to create, which was one big factor behind Appirio's acquisition last week of TopCoder , a community of digital content creators.

Nara sums up the rationale for that acquisition an Appirio blog post:

"Marketers have to adjust to a mobile world where people choose what content they want to consumer," he writes. "The world of creating and broadcasting a message to people who don't have a choice but to listen are over. Now, the only messages that'll cut through the noise are those that are actually relevant, useful and engaging to your target audience."

Has your marketing team's strategy accounted for that reality? If not, the marketing cloud may not yet be a wise investment.