Solutions Marketing Success Story: Leveraging Marketing Technology to Generate More Qualified Leads - IBM

IBM_logoA number of recent B2B studies have indicated that marketing’s primary role is to generate qualified leads for the sales force.   Given the importance of this activity, do you think your company would be interested in applying new marketing technology that would increase your funnel of qualified leads six-fold within a one-year period?

This is exactly what IBM was able to do by adopting a new marketing automation (MA) platform two years ago. Now that enough time has gone by that they’ve been able to measure the results of implementing the new MA platform, a compelling story has emerged about the role of technology in marketing and selling complex solutions. By having a more structured, systems-driven approach to lead generation and management, the number of real solutions opportunities that they handed over to the sales force went through the roof in a short period of time.

The Emergence of Robust, Multi-functional MA Platforms

While new systems and processes have burrowed their way into accounting, finance and sales departments, and have virtually taken over manufacturing operations, marketing has been one of the last major business activities to be converted.  The continuous improvement of MA platforms from companies such as Aprimo, Marketo, Eloqua, Genoo, Unica and many others have provided the compelling reason for adoption.

Given these new, attractive options, IBM looked to transform how it was managing its own marketing activities.  It began the process by looking at what could be automated, and they determined that lead generation campaign management (LGMC) was the best initial candidate.  If an MA platform proved successful with LGMC, they would look to extend its functionality by automating their ability to maintain more relevant conversations with customers, improve their inside sales activities, and upgrade their telemarketing call automation abilities.

The Issues that an MA Platform had to Address

IBM knew that it had to find a way to be more effective with its internal marketing operations.  The issues that it wrestled with included:

  1. Although IBM did a very good job in basic demand generation, was it able to identify key customer insights and needs?
  2. Could IBM improve its ability to execute a lead generation campaign in a timely, logical and effective fashion?
  3. How can IBM help its sales force engage in ongoing conversations with its prospects and customers that were more relevant and engaging?  Solutions sales were often long term propositions, requiring continuous value-based and educational conversations with the customer. How could Marketing better support these sales efforts?

Would an MA Platform be the Answer?

IBM decided to see if any of the MA platforms on the market would give them the functionality and new features required to support their solutions marketing and sales initiatives.  They put together a committee that included people from their existing demand generation systems, other marketing programs and functions, and IT and Business Unit leaders. The group evaluated all of the major alternatives, and concluded that Unica’s offering best fit its requirements. The final criterion they used was scalability since the system would be deployed in over 200 countries, which didn’t appear to be a problem for the Unica platform.

“We didn’t decide to implement the Unica system into IBM’s marketing functions because we had bought the company”, said Zarina Lam Stanford, VP Marketing, IBM. “In fact, it was the reverse.  We decided upon the Unica platform because it met our very rigorous evaluation criteria in terms of our own marketing objectives.  We then looked into buying Unica once we implemented it and saw how effective it was in helping us meet our marketing  and business goals. We were happy to see that it gave us information and data needed not only to automate the execution of our campaigns but also allowed us to capture relevant information regarding the  preference of the respondents to our campaigns”.

In conducting an assessment of the MA platform, IBM realized that they weren’t just “plain vanilla” process automation tools. In fact, they would actually enable Marketing to better support its campaigns and other outbound solutions-based initiatives. They allowed Marketing to establish a real dialogue with its customer base, with built-in feedback loops.

IBM decided to do an initial controlled introduction by deploying the new platform in North America, and from there they rolled it out to 50+ countries within 12 months, becoming the largest marketing automation roll-out ever undertaken by any company.

The Results

In the first year, IBM experienced a tremendous improvement in campaign execution and measurement.   They discovered that the new system reduced the time it took to get reliable, quantitative feedback on their solutions campaigns literally from weeks down to several hours. An example of the system’s impact was with their paid search digital marketing campaign.  The minute the campaign went live, the marketing team was able to monitor the impact of the campaign , which gave them the ability to make changes to the campaign faster and more economically.

“Think of the cost savings and higher impact that this has created for us” Stanford said.  “In addition, we’ve been able to increase the overall volume of leads that we generate from a typical campaign around our solutions offerings to the point where we’re getting up to six times the response rates.”

This implementation of Unica transformed the IBM’s approach from mass marketing to a business-to-person marketing capability within a B2B environment. “With a marketing automation tool in place, said Chris Wong, Vice President, Marketing and Communications Transformation, we were able to conduct thousands ’s of campaigns for targeted groups of less than 100 people instead of a typical B2B campaign where we’d run 2 or 3 campaigns targeting  thousands of people.


Lessons Learned

“Looking back on the selection and implementation of the Unica system”, Stamford said, “We should have included more of the other marketing disciplines earlier in the process. Having them play “catch up” after the decisions were made caused some unnecessary problems.  We were concentrating on the needs of the demand generation teams, but overlooked the role that the content development teams played in the campaign processes.”

“Another lesson that we learned was to think about the entire demand generation eco-system beyond marketing.  Once they engage and see the benefits, they become powerful allies”. Wong also felt that there were a number of key takeways from the initiative. “If you look at it as a pure technology implementation, and only focus on systems deployment, you will fail. He concluded that success was dependent upon four critical pillars on how IBM performs marketing:
  1. Redesigning the entire process
  2. Developing new skills, including how to understand buying personas, what the buyer’s journey was like, and understanding preferences
  3. Supporting and aligning with the existing infrastructure
  4. Understanding how to expand their ability to collect, organize and govern the data”.

Final Comments

Unica is now part of the new Enterprise Marketing Management (EMM) group at IBM, and is considered an integral part of the company's Smarter Commerce initiative.

In our conversations with IBM, it’s clear that the implementation of an effective MA platform has had a huge impact on how they market and sell solutions.  They’ve discovered that the more complex the offering, the more important it is to have integrated campaign management and business processes tools.   Over the past two years, IBM has been able to measure and track the benefits on operating a new marketing automation platform, underscoring the fact that complex solutions require better technology-based systems and processes to be able to market and sell them.

Comments (4)


This is a fascinating story because it sounds that IBM bought a solution to improve its solutions marketing system. This story shows the importance of technology, and also shows how solutions offerings can truly permeate every aspect of an organization. I am excited to see more and more non-technological companies offer solutions as well.

Myshyl Lyn Aquilino

Great article, quite surprising though. It just goes to show that when looking for solutions, one needs to keep an open mind on where to find these ideas. As said, IBM didn't plan to implement the Unica system into IBM, but once they saw the capabilities of this platform, they decided to implement it. It was a good call too since it improved their operations a lot. Nice to see how technology is helping make things get done easier and more efficient.

Chris Chan

It's interesting that even marketing can be partially automated now. It makes perfect sense that marketing automation would help in generating leads for solutions sales. It's no different than the financial world. It's all about how much data is being generated, and how long it takes to sift through that data. Those who can sift through it quickest and generate insights will win. Thus we now have computer trading where real-time financial data is analyzed by powerful computers and trades initiated without consulting any human. In product and services marketing, a generic offering is created then sold to customers who feel it's "good enough" for their needs. Customers are segmented into archetypes and only these archetypes need to be understood in order for marketing to be effective, thus keeping the amount of data manageable. Solutions, on the other hand, are customized for customers and each one is unique and different because each customer is unique and different. And solutions can become amazingly complex. With this complexity and customization comes an overwhelming amount of data, and managing such a thing "manually" is a gargantuan task that results in a lot of missed opportunities because either it is too slow, or there is too much data to effectively analyze every piece.

francesca musco

Interesting case the shows as the interaction with the customer is a key success in the solution business. Indeed, a solution is the answer to a customer’s need or problem and then the customer itself it the most entitled source of information to define the requirements and to grant that the solution works as required. The Ness model gives also other benefits: • Customer trust: the customer has the possibility to collaborate and interact with the solution company from the beginning and then to have a clear perception of its capability. Also, since they are part of the process, the solution company and the customer act like partners, increasing the customer perceptions that they work for a common goal; • Relationship building: working together allows not only to understand better the customer and its need but also to build a more long term and durable relationship; • Pull Marketing: a strong knowledge of the customer enables the solution company to create marketing campaigns that really hit the bull’s-eye. However, the customer should be involved also in the further steps of the process. A solution takes long time to be implemented and even with the right requirements, the result can be different from what expected. Conversely, periodically checks with the customers during the developing phase, can help to correct any gap or error and guarantee a successful launch.