Recently, I heard a very smart marketer say that his job wouldn’t be tenable without his “circle of life” – a web of vendors and services he relies on to manage, integrate and optimize campaigns.

He’s not alone. Forrester, Gartner, and IDC all predict that marketing automation will continue to be a top investment priority for CMO’s for the next three years (through 2015), a position that Focus Research says it has held for the past five years.

Multi-channel marketing automation uses an integrated set of online tools that empower users to easily search, find, select, assemble, customize, distribute and track campaign assets across multiple channels. A distributed marketing platform takes marketing automation to the next level, while making it easy for sales and marketing people at the local level to personalize and execute campaigns while allowing central or corporate marketing the ability to govern system usage through permission based business rules, automated workflow approval processes and centralized reporting.

The Annuitas Group says that businesses that use multi-channel marketing automation to nurture prospects experience a 451% increase in qualified leads. Over the past five years, as the economy has weathered a deep recession and more and more decision makers have become part of most large purchases, the average B2B sales cycle has increased by more than 20% according to IDC.

I use a powerful, multi-channel distributed marketing platform to deliver campaigns to partners, automate and measure email, manage collateral, and manage my on-demand print collateral needs, as well as to automate the tracking and reporting on landing pages, microsites, digital flip books and sales kits, educational modules and surveys, flash cards, and presentations. Since I work for the company that makes the product (the Distribion DMP), I think it’s very good, and very complete – but it works much better when I add services and products from other sources.

eCRM from Aplifi, social media monitoring and management from Socialware, the Gryphon preference engine, data from Epsilon Targeting, web analytics from Google Analytics and Omniture, and lead management through Salesforce.com are the other components in my circle. Larger companies might also add campaign management and channel or indirect marketing solutions.

Like nearly everyone else, I use managed services. In my case, it’s creative services like copywriting, and SEO from a local agency and SEO powerhouse Vertical Nerve. You probably use more than one kind of managed service, too – a PR or advertising agency, systems integration and implementation service, or a consulting firm.

The key to using the marketing circle of life is to have solutions vendors who play well with others. Don’t let yourself get locked in to any “point” solution that has a closed, proprietary API that doesn’t let you plug in other solutions as you need them. And don’t fall for the idea that any single vendor can provide everything you will need.

Instead, look for someone who has the partnerships, integration, and strategy that will help you harness the power of leading products and services that can create the right circle of life for you. You may need one or two of the options shown in my diagram, or you might need some other combination of services and products.

If you work in a marketing organization that hasn’t yet identified its own “circle of life” services and solutions for a streamlined, automated multi-channel marketing operation, perhaps these statistics from Forrester analyst Suresh Vital will prompt you to start evaluating solutions now for 2012.

  • Companies that automate their lead nurturing process generate 50% more sales ready leads at 33% lower cost.
  • Automating lead management is likely to result in a 10% or greater revenue increase in the year following automation.
  • 80% of marketers believe that their organization’s effectiveness and ROI would improve with a comprehensive and integrated marketing automation solution.
  • The cost of maintaining and operating a marketing automation solution is important to 83% of CMO’s, but just 18% rank the size of the required investment as the primary barrier to adoption.

One thing that I’ve seen myself is that more than half of CMO’s we speak with in marketing our products are now responsible for P&L reporting, with marketing’s contribution to overall corporate profits carefully measured. I also find that CMO’s with P&L responsibility are much more likely than their counterparts whose performance is judged more traditionally to adopt a robust distributed multi-channel marketing platform with links to other solutions.

That makes sense to me. Gartner estimates that companies achieve a 15% savings on creative production with marketing automation, along with a 5% reduction in marketing waste through automated fulfillment. What kind of results could you expect by adopting the “circle of life” strategy of linked solutions providers for your organization? That depends on your existing processes and services, but here are the results I tabulated from customers who have been using our solution and those of our partners over the last year.

  • 33% increase in field or local sales usage of marketing assets created by corporate marketing
  • 25% faster delivery of corporate marketing messages to prospects
  • 10% reduction in development and IT support costs
  • 10% increase in revenue attributable directly to marketing

It’s results like those that have helped us grow 40% this year as more and more organizations realize that their current marketing process is too complex, with too many places where bottlenecks and manual processes make it harder than it has to be to get an approved, effective, tested message to the right audience. I listed some of the tools and solutions that help us simplify complex multi-channel marketing processes. What works for you?