Many MSPs have placed check marks next to RMM, BDR, and PSA on their in-house applications to-do lists. What about marketing automation?

Tools such as RMM and BDR handle customer support chores, while PSA covers time and billing and project management. Marketing, however, may be more sparsely automated. Demand generation activities -- whether in-house or outsourced -- drum up leads. But how well do companies track and manage them?

Not very, according to Televerde’s B2B Marketing Research Study. Televerde, which focuses on B2B lead generation and lead nurturing, reported that 68 percent of the companies it polled cited lead leakage or loss as a significant challenge.

“Within the world of B2B marketing most organizations, even the bigger enterprise-sized companies, generally don’t do as good a job as they would like to,” noted Larry Fleischman, Televerde’s director of marketing. “Many don’t have the tools and ... best practices in place to track leads.”

Fleischman said mediocre lead management stems from the nature of sales and marketing. Demand generation campaigns come and go. Unsurprisingly, leads with the best shot at quick closing get most of the attention. Other leads go by the wayside and, possibly, to competitors.

Marketing automation software aims to nurture potential sales opportunities as opposed to having them wither in the land of forgotten leads. The idea is to open and maintain lines of communication with prospects who are not quite ready to sign up for a product or service.

Companies such as Eloqua and Marketo provide marketing automation software. MSPs are among their customers. FusionStorm, for example, tapped Marketo’s software last year. Akibia and Rackspace are also on Marketo’s customer list.

Marketing automation’s market penetration among companies of all stripes remains fairly low -- under 25 percent by most estimates.

“Marketing automation is still in the early adopter stage,” Fleischman said.

Products in this category do more than keep leads alive. They also help companies launch e-mail marketing initiatives and run demand-generation events. But some observers suggest marketing automation’s greatest value resides in lead management.

Jeff Ernst, an analyst with Forrester Research, noted on his blog that most of the sales and marketing executives he’s interviewed use marketing automation to “do things they were already doing.” That is, cranking out newsletters and inviting prospects to webinars.

“While this is valuable, it just scratches the surface of what marketing automation can do, which is to help you create a demand management machine that supplies a steady stream of high-quality nurtured leads to the sales organization, a high percentage of which convert to pipeline opportunities,” he wrote.

There’s surely value in fully leveraging the leads that flow from various demand generation programs. But that value comes at a cost. The professional version of Marketo’s software starts at $2,000 a month, while the enterprise edition starts at $3,600 a month. Eloqua, meanwhile, offers three editions of its software that range in price from $2,000 to $6,400 a month.

So, the marketing automation decision requires careful thought and a hard look at product options. MSPs not ready to dive in immediately can at least vicariously experience the evaluation process. Capterra, which helps businesses find and compare software, is looking to purchase a marketing automation tool and has published its deliberations in blog entitled Desperately Seeking Marketing Automation.

Will marketing automation become a standard part of an MSPs software line up? That will depend on whether companies can demonstrate that the revenue impact of reclaiming lost leads justifies the price tag.