By Jason Gumpert, Editor

If Microsoft's recent MarketingPilot acquisition left you scratching your head, chances are you weren't alone.  Few people in the Microsoft Dynamics CRM space seem to have known about the small software company before October, with several marketing automation vendors telling us they had never seen the company competing on a Dynamics CRM deal.

So while MarketingPilot's mix of marketing management capabilities around planning, resource management, brand management, and more may not be a typical focus area for many in the Dynamics CRM community, Microsoft's investment reflects a belief that there is an opportunity to win more--and presumably bigger--CRM-related deals in  organizations where traditional CRM marketing features don't go far enough.

While MarketingPilot's capabilities can in part be referred to as Marketing Resource Management (MRM), it is a term that can cover a range of capabilities that sometimes includes marketing automation and integrated marketing management (IMM).  Microsoft has highlighted several key capability areas that it values:

  • Marketing Resource Management: plan, budget, and forecast utilization of marketing resources and expenses.
  • Brand Management: execute and measure initiatives, tactics and spend across various product lines.
  • Multichannel Campaign Management: execute demand generation across traditional & digital channels, including lead management and lead scoring.
  • Digital Asset Management: produce, secure and measure utilization of digital assets within marketing initiatives.
  • Digital Behavior Analysis: capture digital clickstreams, behaviors and activities across campaign initiatives.
  • Media Planning: plan, schedule and book media plans across broadcast and interactive marketing channels.
  • Social Marketing: orchestrate and execute social media campaigns with native hooks into Facebook and Twitter.

It's also in the terminology where things start to get a bit fuzzy for both the industry and for buyers.  For example, Dynamics CRM corporate vice president Bob Stutz's initial blog post announcing the acquisition, titled "Microsoft Dynamics CRM Steps Forward in the Marketing Automation Space," had some observers thinking of more traditional marketing automation and execution capabilities that several vendors offer in the Dynamics CRM space, more so than the "integrated marketing management" or MRM space that the blog post actually describes. 

"MarketingPilot doesn't just do MRM," explains Seth Patton, Microsoft Dynamics CRM product marketing senior director.  "According to Gartner they have traditionally been strongest in MRM, but they have branched out over the last several years into also doing Multi-Channel Campaign Management, Social Media Marketing, Lead and Campaign Management, etc.  Marketing Automation is usually used to describe the Lead and Campaign Management portion, but also is used to describe the broader category, and [we] agree that can sometimes be confusing."

The MRM landscape overall has been led by free-standing products like IBM's Unica, Teradata's Aprimo, and SAS - all part of Gartner's January 2012 MRM Magic Quadrant leaders.  MarketingPilot was labeled a "visionary" (lower right quadrant), given its broad vision and capabilities, but somewhat limited by what Gartner saw as its North American focus.  Gartner also noted that its customers were primarily in the midmarket but large enterprise clients are increasingly considering the product. And they noted, rightly, that MarketingPilot had set itself up as a good acquisition target with its expanding capabilities in planning, financial management, and creative production management, as well as its on-premise and hosted delivery options.

Who can benefit from MRM?

In theory, any marketing organization that is serious about taking a data-driven approach to their strategy and execution can at least use MRM principals.  But the solutions out there are intended for larger marketing teams, says Ryan Teeples, a CRM and marketing strategy consultant who works frequently in both the CRM and MRM solution areas.

"To draw a line [from other marketing automation capabilities], MRM is about planning and budgeting, building out project and task management, assigning pieces of the project to different people, defining interdependencies, semantically getting the language in line, and defining a common set of goals that roll into a department budget or forecast," says Teeples. "[For example,] it helps you understand how if one marketing group is targeting a segment of the database, how it affects another group's marketing and how it rolls up to a single whole."

A pure MRM solution could offer Dynamics CRM customers a way to improve their management, execution, and optimization of the full range of marketing channels, starting with decisions made by the CMO.  In discussing MarktingPilot, Microsoft points to Gartner's prediction that, "by 2017, CMOs may have a bigger IT budget than CIOs do."

MRM can also help with digital asset management.  This is something that Dynamics CRM can already do well, Teeples points out, if you know how to correctly bring in the use of  SharePoint document management and libraries. These capabilities can prove valuable for managing digital assets and developing a templatization strategy.

A range of possible use cases

While the MRM-related capabilities found in MarketingPilot and its competitors don't always link directly to traditional CRM solutions, there are opportunities to bring the solutions together, but not without challenges.  As a competitive differentiator, MarketingPilot's strengths could offer Microsoft a play on the budgeting and planning that others like SAP CRM can already offer to marketers.  SAP CRM also benefits from its integration to SAP ERP, so a use case that includes a Dynamics ERP solution may not be far behind the CRM integration.

But MRM solutions are not without their pitfalls. For one thing, MRM adoption is very difficult, Teeples has found. Even when a company buys a CRM solution with MRM  capabilities, the MRM often goes unused or under-used, mostly because it requires executives to adopt the tools, to change the way they work, and to push their use into marketing organizations that include people with a variety of backgrounds who all want to run campaigns their own way.

"What I'm intrigued by is how Dynamics CRM will use MarketingPilot to be something of a project management function.  There are plenty of add-ons that exist and you can even use SharePoint with Project Server integrated to  CRM, but this changes the dynamic because you have a tool designed for marketing project management which can exist within CRM potentially, and how does that affect the customer service team and sales team with their project management?"

Marketing segmentation is another area where the MRM approach might differ from what Dynamics CRM users typically think of when it comes to segmenting CRM data through a tool like Advanced Find.  "Developing A-B spits, building a test and offer matrix, it will be very interesting to see how those work together where you have the planning and database analysis as a lead in to the delivery and execution piece."

Why MarketingPilot?

As for why Microsoft targeted MarketingPilot specifically for acquisition, Microsoft has stated that the company has "a comprehensive vision for Integrated Marketing solutions that aligns closely to our vision.  In addition, they have a talented team and an innovative product suite built on Microsoft technologies available both in the Cloud and On-premises."

As for the other marketing automation vendors that typically work with Dynamics CRM customers today, Patton believes there is plenty of space for them to coexist with MarketingPilot's offering in the future.  "We believe there will still be a lot of room for us to have a Marketing Ecosystem of partners which will help us differentiate our offerings in this space now and in the future," he said.

Patton's prediction sounds reasonable given what we know now.  MarketingPilot has apparently never competed on deals with the popular marketing automation solutions that make most of the Dynamics CRM customer short lists today, so presumably they have neither the exact technology mix or strategic focus on those customers.  There is no guarantee, of course, that Microsoft can't start edging the product in that direction, but investing in recreating marketing execution capabilities that ISVs are already innovating on at top speed seems like nothing but a good way to divert focus from the integration of other high value marketing management capabilities around planning, budgeting, asset management, and so on, that Microsoft is stressing already.

If nothing else, the MarketingPilot story will begin to raise awareness among Dynamics CRM users and professionals about the possibilities of integrated marketing management, which is ultimately about creating a system of record for marketing teams to account for execution based on specific strategy and measurable tactics.  Pushing more marketers to adopt such data-centric ideas can only help boost the value of CRM.

"The line between marketing and technology is getting very blurry," says Teeples. "And as a result, the need for marketers to understand technology at better depth is vital. I encourage all marketers to understand basic database schema, understand how CRM can be integrated to a content management solution, and how that plays into marketing automation and the acronyms of technology.  All those things are important for a true data-driven marketer, which I think all marketers should be."