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By Fred Isbell, Senior Marketing Director, SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud and Digital Business Services Marketing, SAP

A future where 75% of the workforce will comprise of millennials will bring, without a doubt, significant change. But I also believe that it’s responsibility of the generations before them – Baby Boomers and Gen X – to engage, enable, and educate them to ensure success for all of us.

Over the last few years, I have done my part by transferring my knowledge to students participating in MBA and undergraduate marketing programs. Last fall, I offered my insights on modern marketing, thought leadership, and more at the Duke/Fuqua School of Business Marketing Forum. Likewise, I had a chance to share my marketing analytics journey at SAP with the Information Initiative at Duke – a cross-functional initiative that showcases the growing importance of data science and advanced analytics. I also hosted a session during a digital marketing class at Northeastern University. Throughout the year my discussions about modern marketing, technology, and automation transitioned from the umbrella buzzword “digital marketing” to the now-expected aspects of mainstream marketing. Modern marketing embraces digital and it’s no longer a separate area of focus but a key component of mainstream marketing.

The experience of my SAP colleague and friend, Andy Greig, recently reminded me, there is one element of today’s modern marketing practices that remains unresolved for marketing: customer relationship management (CRM). Andy is currently in the first year of his own MBA journey, and he brokered an invitation to be a guest presenter at a marketing classes at the University of Colorado/Denver. And he’s right: Of all the advice I have given to MBA and undergraduate students, CRM is one of those critical areas that I urge aspiring marketers to study, as well as the enabling technology that is redefining the world of modern marketing.

My presentation, “The Marketing Funnel is Dead – Long Live the Marketing Funnel!,” conveyed the fundamental principles of CRM and marketing automation and their applications for enabling successful marketing execution and supporting a foundation for marketing analytics and reporting. The MBA class proved to be another great teaching experience as the students were clearly engaged and asking great questions. I found the class’ knowledge of and CRM projects fascinating as well.

Throughout the evening, three key lessons emerged and led to a lively afternoon of discussion and innovative thinking.

  1. The marketing funnel is not quite dead yet

The traditional marketing funnel model – the movement of marketing activity from awareness, choice, and consideration to evaluation and purchase – has served businesses well for many years. When matched with lead qualification approaches such as BANTS (budget, authority, timeframe, and solution), we have a process that qualifies and winnows down sales opportunities sourced from marketing campaigns.

However, there are various levels of complexity and multiple measures that today’s marketing standards require marketers to simplify and accelerate. Modern marketing frameworks such as the SiriusDecisions Waterfall enable this new reality. Next month, I’ll head to the annual SiriusDecisions Summit to learn more about this approach and report my “aha moments” from this amazing annual “Woodstock of B2B Marketing.”

  1. The buyer journey and customer centricity are essential

Forrester, as well as other analysts, reports that 80% of the buyer’s journey occurs online before they consult or speak to a salesperson. From my perspective, there is lots of truth to this observation especially as marketing becomes an increasingly digital experience.

Nowadays, content must be digital-ready and found in “digital watering holes”, where prospective customers go to enrich their own personal buying experience. Elements of the journey fuse with the latest iteration of the marketing funnel, as exemplified by the SiriusDecisions Waterfall. There is greater coordination with sales and marketing more than ever, instead of the explicit “throw it over the wall” concept from the past. Plus, marketing automation provides transparency into a buyer’s use of content, a process which is both customer-centric and data-driven.

While core marketing principles haven’t changed much over the years, customer engagement is steadily becoming faster, better, and more affordable as businesses apply standard methodologies with defined systems and processes and regular governance and reporting. Marketing automation and CRM comprise the digital foundation for powering these capabilities with customer centricity at the core.

  1. Modern marketing will guide the way

Modern marketing is a continuous evolution of practices that are part art, part science, and a blend of marketing automation and marketing technology. Strategic and insights- and data-driven, this new reality requires agile marketing teams and practices that deliver outcomes-based results at the speed of our digital world.

By placing data science as a key component of modern marketing, marketers can embrace the use of knowledge and the classic paradigm of data to information to intelligence paradigm. While becoming a data scientist isn’t necessary, marketers should acquire a basic familiarity with business intelligence and the value of big data and analytics.

Staying ahead of the modern marketing curve

Before I left the MBA CRM class, I asked every student to focus on marketing automation, reporting and dashboards, big data and analytics, and data visualization and predictive analytics – in addition to CRM. I also told them to carefully watch how modern marketing continues to evolve.

To stay ahead of this modern marketing curve, I am attending – and speaking at – several conferences addressing this and related topics soon. I hope to continue this dialogue and share this continued evolution throughout this year and beyond.

Fred is the senior marketing director for SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud and Digital Business Services Marketing at SAP. Join Fred online: TwitterFacebookLinkedInsap.com

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