Marketing automation platforms are a hot topic at SiriusDecisions, and for good reason. In addition to helping with demand creation and marketing operations, they can be used for other purposes, like customer marketing and influencer relations.

My colleague Jay Famico and I were discussing marketing automation recently and talking about how, in addition to serving all these different purposes, marketing automation could also be used by product management. This was especially interesting to me, because I suspect most product managers are only vaguely aware of marketing automation and very few have leveraged it for product management purposes.

Jay suggested our discussion would be a good topic for a blog post, and I agreed (I also may have lost a bet with him, though that’s a different story altogether). So, here are few suggestions for how marketing automation can provide benefits for product managers:

  • Better understand your customers. MAPs capture a lot of data on customer buying behavior. Like Web analytics, this data can provide insight into customer needs and pain points. What specific Web pages are buyers looking at? What messages are drawing interest and action? What keywords are buyers using to get to your site, but even more importantly, are there trends and patterns associated with customers that you end up winning vs. those who fall out of the buying cycle? When tied to specific companies, marketing automation can help provide insight into differences across segments – certain triggers that are more appealing to large companies, for example, or prospects in a certain industry.
  • Influence your future roadmap. Many software-as-a-service startups build “fake” landing pages and use traffic and conversion on those pages to determine what capabilities and features to build. This same approach can be taken with marketing automation, though in a bit more conservative way, as the idea of mentioning product capabilities that are still under consideration wouldn’t fly at many companies. Imagine you manage a software product and are trying to determine whether to focus more on enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration or enhanced mobile capabilities. Informational pages for both types of features likely already exist online, and clickthroughs and call-to-action conversions on both pages can be monitored and compared as one input into the prioritization process. Most marketing automation platforms provide functionality to allow you to filter the data by company characteristics, such as industry or company size. For example, traditional Web analytics may tell you that customers overall are interested in improved ERP integration based on traffic, but marketing automation can tell you that mobile is of more interest to prospects in the healthcare and education markets.
  • Identify potential persona and customer interviews. As much data as the marketing automation platform provides, it generally focuses on what happens, not why (see my blog post “Data Doesn’t Tell You Why.” Product managers should be talking to prospects and customers regularly to understand their needs and get this insight firsthand, though actually arranging interactions is sometimes time-consuming or challenging. This is where marketing automation can help pinpoint individuals for further discussions. For example, identify people who fell out of the funnel at a certain step (e.g. downloaded a white paper but never responded to any subsequent offers) and reach out to them to understand what the context and why their journey ended. Also, the marketing automation platform may have more robust and detailed data than the sales force automation system for targeting certain types of customers. For example, you might want to focus your interviews on prospects who originally came in via search vs. those who were attracted by an ad on a partner Web site. Marketing automation platforms also usually have much better email tracking capabilities than corporate email systems, so interview invitations can be tracked to see if they were received or opened.

It’s important to recognize that a marketing automation platform isn’t a replacement for other activities, techniques, or systems. But when leveraged properly, it can help supplement and facilitate things product managers should already be doing.

In a future blog post, I’ll cover how marketing automation can be used by product managers post-purchase to better collect product feedback, tailor messages to customers more appropriately and more effectively upsell.