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Key Issues to Consider When Deploying B2B Marketing Automation Globally

by: Adam Needles (@IBMforMarketing)
17 December 2009

My previous post on this site addressed the content challenge B2B marketers face when building marketing automation campaigns -- outlining strategies marketers can deploy to stay on top of content and put the buyer back at the center of dynamic campaigns. An offshoot of that blog post has been dialogue with some of my colleagues about how marketing content changes -- and becomes even more complex -- in a global context. This is unquestionably a true statement, but the complexity in deploying B2B marketing automation on a global basis extends beyond merely the need to translate or develop additional content.

Going global with marketing automation requires a broader set of thinking that covers not only issues related to identifying and segmenting differential, regional buyer personas, but also the concurrent challenges inherent to managing your marketing operations on a basis that is both global and multi-national -- both uniform and differential -- at the same time.

And going global also is an increasing reality for B2B marketing organizations of all sizes -- one that cannot be ignored. MarketingSherpa noted in their recent Email Marketing Benchmark Report, "Organizations targeting business channels are ... more likely to deliver a higher percentage of their email across national borders than their B2C counterparts."

So I thought it would be useful to write a post highlighting some of the key issues to consider when deploying marketing automation globally. To ground this discussion, I synced up with both marketers and thought leaders that have had a lot of experience with this topic. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to chat with the folks at Silverpop customer Ingres -- an open source database management company -- about their own global experiences. And following that conversation, one of my colleagues at Silverpop recently published a great new case study on them, which I'll add some insights from below. I also connected with several leading marketing automation consultancies -- including The Annuitas Group and Generation "O" Marketing -- to get their perspectives on challenges and opportunities their clients face. Finally, I spent some time sifting through recent research on this topic. This included looking at data from the MarketingSherpa report, referenced above, and reading a recent Forrester report by Jennifer Bélissent, who covers global marketing issues there.

Given the insights of these luminaries, what are the key issues B2B marketers should consider when deploying marketing automation globally?

I've presented synthesis of some key thoughts below. But to help better position this counsel, I've also grouped them into two major categories. Section one looks at issues related to 'targeting' global audiences, and section two looks at those related to 'operating' B2B marketing automation on a global basis.

What are the 'targeting' issues B2B marketers face when deploying marketing automation globally?

These are probably the most obvious of the issues B2B marketers face, and they definitely are an extension of the content dialogue that started this thread, so they're a good starting place.

> Localize, localize, localize: This is the first, most important issue of marketing globally -- whether you're using B2B marketing automation or not. It's fine to leverage economies of scale via your infrastructure and planning, but it's critically important that the campaigns you deploy appeal to and be salient with local buyers in every market. Yet localization does not occur as frequently as you would think it does and should.

Localization is something that larger enterprises, historically, tend to be more aware of and have had more experience with. "[T]wo-thirds of large organizations localize email content for foreign recipients to some extent, with about 20% localizing all content by country and language," according to the Marketing Sherpa report, cited above. The MarketingSherpa report also notes -- given the importance of relationships in B2B marketing -- that localization tends to be more important to B2B marketing organizations. "[O]rganizations marketing to business channels are more likely to use localization best practices. 46% of B2B marketers say they localize transnational email content to some extent vs. 35% of B2C marketers."

One obvious opportunity for localization is via language -- not merely in brute translation, but more broadly in ensuring that marketing automation campaigns are appropriately adapted to each region's linguistic structures, tone and nuanced modes.

This is an issue that Ingres, referenced above, is facing in deploying their marketing automation globally. The company has a sophisticated 18-step nurturing campaign it uses to elevate leads to a qualified basis. Nearly half of the company's marketing occurs outside the United States, though, and so rather than adopting a 'one-size-fits-all' mindset, the company is in the process of tailoring its marketing automation campaigns -- adapting the 18-step nurturing content flow to each of five key linguistic regions that are important to its business.

Caroline de Greef with Generation "O" Marketing suggests several best practices for approaching localization:

- Whatever you do, do not assume that the whole world speaks English and can be addressed with one email message. Most of your emails will not be opened or even end up as trash or even spam. Even executives in high positions do NOT speak or read/write English. So making that mistake will bring you nothing but sorrow ...

- Countries like Italy, Spain, France but also Germany need to be addressed in their own language. You can cover EMEA with 5 languages if you want to be successful.

- Find out what language your clients/prospects want to receive BEFORE you send it to them.

- When you translate, always, always have your local sales and/or marketing people proofread!

But as hinted at above, localization does not stop at language. Another major aspect of localizing content lies in the local 'touch points' referenced in your campaigns. "[A]lways use local businesses as examples in your case studies or success stories," comments Caroline de Greef. "Nobody cares (or has even heard) about Wells Fargo in EMEA, so if you need to use a bank, take Santander that has branches all over EMEA or localize per country, like Deutsche Bank for your German message, Credit Lyonnais for French and Rabobank for Benelux (these are examples)." It's also critical to address key issues and topics that are uniquely relevant -- and on the minds of -- B2B buyers in the regions you're targeting.

Forrester analyst Jennifer Bélissent adds to this insight in a recent post on her blog:

For B2B audiences, it helps to know what the business drivers are for the audience: what are the goals of the company, what are the objectives set for specific organization, what are the things that keep the boss up at night. For example, IT decision-makers across different regions adopt software as a service (versus purchasing licenses of a product) for a variety of reasons. Understanding those reasons helps to determine the messaging that would resonate best with those decision-makers. The data suggest cost-efficiency and ROI messages for some regions — North America and Western Europe— and time-to-market and competitive advantages in others — Asia Pacific and Middle East, Africa and Russia.

> Ensure regional preferences for marketing mediums are well-integrated into your nurturing campaigns: The fundamental goal of a nurturing campaign is to identify a 'critical path' that buyers follow in researching and assessing the potential purchase of your product and then to subsequently build and operate dynamic, buyer-driven campaigns that anticipate and respond to stages in this process. This critical path, though, extends beyond merely the information exchanged. In fact, the mediums accessed -- whether e-mail, Web pages, social media, live event or another -- are also an integral part of the critical path.

"German buyers will interact with various medium differently than a US buyer," comments Carlos Hidalgo with The Annuitas Group. "As we are now into an age of [the] buyer driven sales cycle, companies who simply set a structure of one geography managing the buyer dialogue will automate silence from their buyers in many of the [other] regions."

Different buyers in different regions of the world thus have different preferences for the mediums accessed in a buying decision and the degree to which they prefer direct versus indirect interactions with companies. This translates into whether a medium such as social media is appropriate or not. Does a buyer need more live interaction to know and trust your company, or does (s)he prefer the opposite and instead conduct his/her research entirely online? Also, how many people at the buyer's organization must be involved in order to make a purchase decision? This is as much cultural as anything else, and so recognizing and integrating these regional differences in marketing medium preferences into your underlying nurturing campaigns is critical.

One key implication in all of this is that the degree to which a given buyer persona has more of an online versus an offline orientation significantly impacts the nature of the campaign. Marketing automation is well-equipped to handle online marketing right out of the box. Yet if offline is critical and must be integrated into the online components of your nurturing, then you need to make sure your marketing automation platform can handle logic that routes buyers to live/offline interactions via call centers, events, etc., and you need to build these interrupts and loops into your campaign design.

> Embrace marketing consistency where it is appropriate, but focus global marketing efforts on identifying and addressing the differences that matter: This advice is almost the opposite of what you might think. Generally companies building their global brands look for that common element that they can extend everywhere and that will be the key to engaging all of their buyers. But successful marketing automation is buyer centric, and when it comes to a global deployment, that means finding the exceptions in each region that can help get us closer to a given buyer.

"Global marketing still requires a degree of consistency. How do you strike that balance?" asks Jennifer Bélissent of Forrester, cited above. This is where your planning plays a key role.

Before replicating and launching a marketing automation campaign in a new region, it's critical that the marketing and sales teams in that region, and the marketing leader developing the campaign, all collaborate. They must talk through the nature of the buyer that is being targeted, understanding the differential personas and walking through all of the buying process steps and mediums that will be leveraged in the campaign. Taking the time to go through this from the buyer's point of view will help identify key differences in a new region, versus the original/template campaign, and this presents an opportunity to really refine and adapt the campaign in a way that will drive significant results in a given market.

What are the 'operating' issues B2B marketers face when deploying marketing automation globally?

These issues relate to the daily reality of managing your automation platform and instances of your campaigns on a global basis.

> Follow a phased rollout, scaling at a pace conducive to capturing and building on best practices: The key issue here is avoiding launching all global campaigns all at once. Doing so significantly multiplies the opportunity for errors and for operational instability. Instead, it's much more appropriate to scale carefully, trying a campaign in one market at a time, learning from each new deployment and rolling these learnings into future deployments -- constantly raising the bar and constantly refining your approach.

A B2B marketing automation campaign is a living, breathing system. Really. It takes and nurtures leads in real time, as well as syncing with other data sources, including your CRM application, also in real time. A major logic mistake, such as an issue with routing, thus can have a very real and growing impact if not fixed quickly. Activating multiple campaigns in multiple geographies all at once could rapidly spiral out of control. That's why a phased rollout makes the most sense and helps manage the downside risk of potential mistakes in your content or logic.

Carlos Hidalgo with The Annuitas Group is a leading proponent of this approach:

Start with a one of the more active, more profitable geographies or regions and then take the learnings from them and apply what you can to the next and develop the new process which will be unique to that region. It is not a matter of waiting until one is finished before moving to the other, but moving too fast can lead to one size fits all and with all of the nuances in the number of marketing team members, use of channel in certain regions versus direct in the others and even use of agencies, a rushed approach without forethought on what should each region look like from a process and technology standpoint can lead to failure.

> Centralize data, spread out expertise: While the underlying architecture of your solution may vary, one best practice -- pioneered in the ERP domain over many years -- has been to limit your global instances of core data. Ideally, if you can have 'one instance of truth' globally for your CRM and marketing automation data sets, it will benefit your activities. This simplifies synchronization, and it ensures everyone is working off of accurate and up-to-date data.

But that doesn't mean you should centralize expertise in leveraging your CRM and marketing automation platforms in just a single region. Instead, it should be embedded in every market. "When implementing an automation system, the training is not something that should not be skimped on," comments Carlos Hidalgo. "Companies would do well to get as much as possible and learn the solution inside and out on all levels in each region."

> Ensure your marketing automation platform is capable of complex language handling, but keep it simple with content for global campaigns: Closely associated with the need for localization is making sure that your marketing automation platform is capable of complex language handling. Processing foreign language characters is one piece of the equation, but this also extends to the sophistication of handling personalization and dynamic content. For example, not only do different languages handle titles, surnames and greetings in different fashions, these things may even differ by region within a country where everyone speaks the same language -- Germany is one example of this. So it's critical that your marketing automation platform be able to handle dynamic content at this type of level if it is going to serve you well.

You don't want to overdo the complexity, though. Keeping dialogue threads simple and avoiding text that may lead to translational/adaption challenges is a smart best practice. "When you are translating, also translate the English message to a readable version, so take out all 'difficult' words," suggests Caroline de Greef. "Make it easy to read for everybody."

> Understand country-by-country differences in marketing regulations; adopt the practices of the country that sets the highest bar across all other countries: The growth in Internet-based marketing has also resulted in a growth in regulation globally. The challenge to marketers is that differences can be significant, country-by-country. One way to avoid complexity is simply to adopt the practices of the country that has the most-stringent rules regarding Internet marketing on a global basis.

Most of the rules of relevance to marketing automation are related to email marketing and cover the need for recipients to 'opt-in' versus 'opt-out.'

Caroline de Greef explains one approach to a 'global' opt-in/out solution for marketing within EMEA:

They can differ by country but using ONE rule for all EMEA makes it easy for you and you can never go wrong. That rule is: simple opt out, twice on the page (top AND bottom). And never send to a new prospect anything without permission.

Regardless of your approach, if you market via Internet in a region, know the law, and by adopting the legal practices of the country that sets the highest bar, it will be easy to maintain a common standard that ensures constant compliance with all countries' laws. (And consult a lawyer. I'm just a guy writing a blog post, so I don't want you to construe this as 'legal advice.')

Deploying B2B marketing automation globally can be challenging, but with the right approach to tailoring our targeting and operations, you can turn a challenge into a major win for your marketing and sales organization.

What do you think?

What are your specific experiences with implementing marketing automation on a global basis? How have you approached localization and managing your campaign architecture? Please share your questions and experiences around best practices.


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