The Vision and Purpose of the Marketing Automation Institute

Carlos Hidalgo

A Focused Community for Marketing Automation Professionals

Carlos Hidalgo, CEO of The Annuitas Group and Executive Director for the Marketing Automation Institute (MAI) explains the vision, purpose and benefits behind this focused marketing automation community.

"The MAI was founded to help address [the skills] gap and give marketers the tools needed, the skills needed and the knowledge needed to adapt to this new way of engagement and this new way of marketing ..."

— Carlos Hidalgo, Executive Director, MAI

The written content that follows is a partial extract from the discussion about the Marketing Automation Institute with Executive Director Carlos Hidalgo.

Chuck Schaeffer (CS): Today I'm joined by Carlos Hidalgo, CEO of The Annuitas Group and Executive Director of the Marketing Automation Institute. The purpose of our discussion today is to expand upon a prior CRM video discussion and better understand the newly-formed Marketing Automation Institute. Welcome, Carlos. How are you today?

Carlos Hidalgo (CH): I'm great, Chuck. Thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.

CS: Carlos, can you give us a little bit of background on the history or the reason that the Marketing Automation Institute came to be?

CH: Absolutely. I think with the change that we've seen over the past several years, in especially the B2B landscape, but even what we're seeing in the B2C landscape, in large part driven by the buyers. The information that's available to buyers today via social networking, peer-to-peer networking and just the Internet at large, has drastically changed the buying process. If you look at the research that shows that 60% to 70% of the buying decision is made before a prospect ever engages with a company, this has been a monumental shift for both marketing and salespeople. And what we're seeing as a result of this shift is a huge skills gap that currently exists in both marketing and sales people and how to change from a brand MarCom, events-driven marketing to a now engagement type of marketing that needs to be performed to really begin a one-to-one dialogue with the individual buyers. So, the MAI is similar to an association management group founded to help address that gap and give marketers the tools needed, the skills needed and the knowledge needed to adapt to this new way of engagement and this new way of marketing that has to be done. We believe it's not about technology; while marketing automation is very valuable and can help enable that interaction, if they don't have the practical skills and know-how to make the most out of that technology, they're not going to succeed. And so, that was the driving thought behind the Marketing Automation Institute.

CS: So, you reference a skills gap and you reference that you're going to be providing some type of educational curriculum or programs. Are those programs going to be along both what I would call a strategy level as well as the supporting technology, possibly in the way of lead management systems or marketing automation software? Or do you tend to steer in one direction or the other?

CH: We're really going to focus on the strategy part of it. If you look across the automation vendor landscape, I think the vendors do a great job at educating the buyers on how to use their respective technology from a feature and function perspective. What we want to do is fill the gap to say from a strategy perspective or a philosophy or a practical application perspective, "These are the things you need to learn." So, for instance, you have to learn how to develop a marketing operations plan, especially if you're part of a larger company, so you can resource appropriately and operationalize your marketing automation strategy. At the same time, you need to learn how to develop a lead management approach and process to your organization. You need to understand what your metrics and benchmarks look like before you can go and set it up in a system. So, we want to stand alongside the vendors and make sure that we're filling that strategic skills gap and they can fill the technology skills gap.

CS: So, you've identified strategy formulation, you've identified business process support and you've mentioned that your technology partners are likely to come along and provide aid in the software technology aspect. Can you help me understand what types of educational programs will be offered by the Marketing Automation Institute?

CH: On October 1st, we'll have three courses that will be available: one is going to be a marketing automation foundations course which kind of outlines the marketing automation pieces and strategies that need to be developed within an organization to be successful. We'll have a lead management course and then we'll also have a marketing operations course. In addition to that, we'll begin working after those are launched on October 1st. We'll be looking to launch courses around content marketing, demand generation essentials, implementation basics which actually gets into the best way to map out a strategy on how to implement your technology. We'll also be covering social media and then metrics and benchmarking.

CS: That's an impression curriculum. Well done. Can you help me understand, will you be setting up, sponsoring, facilitating some type of online community forums to solicit community participation, possibly user-generated content? That kind of thing?

CH: We are straddling that line between academia with the education and the certification, but we also think it's as important that customers and buyers learn from each other. So, we actually are trying to foster that community aspect. So, one of the aspects we have is you become a member of the Marketing Automation Institute. We're actually in the process of developing a community site for our members that they can access once they log into the site where they can start to ask questions and interact with each other. As far as the user-generated content, we will be launching today the ability for guest blogging and guest commentary on our site. We are all learning in this industry together and it's going to make the industry better if we have multiple voices sharing their experiences and sharing their knowledge about this space and how everybody can learn. So, we are fostering that community and that's really one of the biggest visions for the MAI is for it to be the premiere community for marketing automation professionals.

CS: Do you anticipate that this association will have some kind of annual get-together possibly on its own or appended to another user-type conference or technology conference?

CH: Yes, I think as the membership grows and as the community grows, we'll defer a large part to asking them, "What do you want? What do you want to see?" But we definitely want to have that kind of community and the vision is such where we would have such a robust community that we would have a conference solely dedicated to the marketing automation industry. I think there's a lot of great conferences out there already, but one that is solely focused on this marketing automation piece doesn't exist. As far as asking about talking with other conferences and bringing our curriculum and some of our knowledge there, absolutely. Again, this is about the industry and, ultimately, about the marketing automation professional. So, we've had discussions with some other groups to say, "Do you want us to bring our curriculum and tack on an extra two days where we bring some of certification classes to your conference so that your end users who are involved in automation can benefit from that?" So, we kind of see it as our own and then in addition working other people to make this industry what it really could be.

CS: Carlos, help me understand, what is your responsibility as Executive Director of the MAI?

CH: As Executive Director of the MAI, I'm in large part tasked with seeing the vision of the MAI come to fruition which is something that I'm quite passionate about which is enabling those end users and then also helping grow the industry at large. I'm also the main point of contact for executive council members as well as our vendor council members and taking their feedback and their input in the direction of the MAI as well as understanding what the trends are and what's the next wave in marketing automation. So, I've been in this space now for over six years. So, I've been able to see a lot and when I look back six years to where we are now, it's a completely different industry. So, the other piece of that is really interacting with a lot of end user and customers to ask them, what are they doing in their organizations? What are they seeing? What do they want to see happen? And then trying to make sense of it all. In many respects, trying to chart the future of an industry is like reading tea leaves; I don't think anybody has the exact route we're all going to take. As I mentioned, I think we're all learning together, but that's really my primary role and then working with our team to make sure that that vision becomes reality.

CS: You mentioned this transition that has clearly been underway and it seems as though marketers are becoming more technology-focused; not technology for technology's sake and certainly not technical people per se, but possibly for the first time or at least in very recent periods, software applications and technology facilitators are being made with B2C consumerization technologies or other methods that put them in the hands of marketers so that they can basically accelerate their timeframes, make their own decisions, deploy their own campaigns, whatever the case may be. Do you see that trend continuing? Do you see the marketer becoming more self-empowered in order to get out their promotions, their campaigns and their programs? Do you see marketing analytics consulting people helping the journey?

CH: I do. I think the marketer will be continued to be empowered in that regard and what I would like to see more of is marketers understand that in the past we've never really had to buy technology, we've never really been enabled to buy technology. So, what that means for us is we're going into an area that is truly unknown to most of us and I think most marketers would benefit and that's one of the reasons that we were so adamant at having a marketing operations piece as part of our curriculum because I think what marketers would benefit from is enabling the right people in their organization under this marketing operations role to be their marketing operations or their marketing technologist. Get people who understand marketing, but also understand the value of IT and how to operationalize and resource IT and, in essence, be that technologist for the marketing department. And I think once you can get that right person in place and equip them accordingly, we'll not only see the trend continue, but marketers get much more from their technology investments.


The next podcast discussion is with CRM Thought Leader Brent Leary.