Customer Relationship Management (CRM) implementation projects are generally big hairy beasts that take a long time.  Especially if you are a large global firm with lots of business units that need to cooperate to figure out a data structure that works.  So it’s not surprising that the marketing department, tiring of waiting for all the business units to duke it out on CRM, is often tempted to go around them and setup a Marketing Automation (MA) system on their own.  Most MA vendors have a cloud-based option for their software today, so marketing can get this done without IT and without sales, which means they can get it up and running very quickly.  But there are a few issues with this that you need to be aware of up front so you can address them.

Problem #1: MA systems do not manage leads.
MA systems are meant for the marketing department to use.  They have the ability to score and route leads, nurture leads, and notify people of leads.  But leads don’t live in MA systems.  MA systems track contacts and activity on contacts.  When there is sufficient activity to call a contact a “lead,” that lead needs a new place to live where the sales team can view and track its progress and ideally turn it into an opportunity.  Salespeople don’t log into your MA system, nor do you want them to.  Even if they did, there is no easy place for them to find their leads.

Problem #2: MA systems do not track campaigns.
The second issue is that MA systems don’t have a strong concept of campaigns.  They have silos of activities and programs.  But a true concept of a campaign with several parts that can easily be tracked together with a full lifecycle of contacts, leads, and closed won sales just isn’t there.  Some MA systems have tried to implement pieces of this but with little success.  The MA system is really meant to be the execution engine, not the tracking mechanism.

Problem #3: MA reporting is limited.
MA systems are going to report on contacts and activity.  It will not let you easily report on lead progress, revenue segmented by your critical criteria and multi-channel campaigns.  Some MA systems have tried to incorporate some of these pieces, however I have not yet seen anything that comes close to the type of reporting that an enterprise firm needs.

Problem #4: Data has to be refreshed manually.
Another issue is that your data will only be updated when either you upload new data, or your customer fills out a form.  Your salespeople will not be able to update contact information.  You likely also have many other systems and departments, such as accounting, that might have updated data.  All of this information would have to be ported manually into the MA system and data priority would need to be managed manually.

So now that you know the problems, what are the possible solutions?  Integrating a CRM to your MA system is obviously the best choice.  To get robust reporting and segmentation, you should also integrate your other systems (ideally into your CRM or data warehouse as the data master).  If this just isn’t an option or your CRM implementation is taking a painfully long time, there are plug-ins out there that you can setup to temporarily manage your leads and reporting.  Just keep in mind that you will still have some of these limitations until you get your CRM up and running.