6 fatal marketing automation errors


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The word “automation” conjures up the image of robots on an assembly line – an impersonal process with little human input. With marketing automation, this image couldn’t be further from the truth. Used correctly, marketing automation software can create a far more personal experience for your customers and leads.

However, just as marketing automation can add a valuable human feel to your marketing communications, so it can also suffer from human error. Inappropriately managed or applied, this software will not provide the ROI you expect from it.

So how can we make sure our investment in marketing automation is fruitful? Below, I’ll share six examples of fatal errors regarding marketing automation that I’ve seen businesses make, along with recommendations about how to avoid these pitfalls.

1. Too much, too soon

Marketing automation is a brilliant tool for nurturing your existing customer base; what it can’t do is to produce customers out of thin air. Businesses that are just starting up can be tempted by the potential of a sophisticated marketing automation solution, but in reality such a solution needs a big enough customer audience in order to be effective.

Similarly, startups can go overboard by choosing marketing automation software with more functionality than they require at this early stage – wasting investment on features that will go unused. Or the software might even be too comprehensive for the size of target market.

Honda’s Andrew Pattison has some straightforward advice for startups looking to invest in marketing automation: “Start small, really nail something, and then scale it.”


Ensure your business has enough prospect data to make the solution worthwhile. If traffic is low, the investment would be better spent driving more users. Some say that only 20-25% of your total marketing budget should go on marketing automation.

Start with a smaller, scalable solution, based on a solid understanding of the features you really need. Ideally, it should be able to grow with your number of contacts.

2. Ignoring the customer journey

In the build-up to conversion, there is a series of unique interactions between a customer and your business. It is a mistake to assume that a conversion funnel from another business will work the same way for your customers.

Failing to engage in customer journey mapping could lead to investment in the wrong marketing automation solution. If you don’t understand the crucial touchpoints for your customers, you can’t ensure that this particular solution will offer the right tools for you to reach them.

In contrast, once you have gained an understanding of the customer journey, marketing automation “allows you to nurture your leads through the entire buying process, delivering highly-targeted, personalized messages that address their specific barriers to purchase.” (Hubspot)


Monitor customer interactions with your business, identifying the pain points that could be addressed by your marketing automation strategy.
Iteratively test different funnels and work out which marketing automation solution can be adapted for you. Perhaps you could implement a more targeted email strategy, or reach out to customers via social media.

3. Poor utilisation of customer data

Far too often, an effective marketing automation solution is rendered useless by the customer data it relies on. Mismanagement of your CRM system and a lack of customer segmentation result in the wrong messages getting through to the wrong people, threatening your overall inbound marketing strategy.

Businesses frequently overlook the need to clean up customer data held in their CRM. With around 15% of email addresses on marketing lists invalid, that’s a lot of inefficient noise. The impact of your marketing automation is dependent on the quality of data being fed into it.

Once you’re confident that your CRM data is up to date, the next crucial step is to segment it effectively. Marketing automation can achieve an impressively individualised method of nurturing your customers, but it can only do this if your audience segmentation is well defined.


Ensure your CRM data is relevant and up to date. This Uberflip guide has some excellent tips for refreshing your database.

Consider complementing your CRM with a data management platform (DMP) that can help you achieve even more accurate audience segmentation.

4. Alienating the customer

At its best, marketing automation should create an interesting, informative, personal experience for your customers. However, if mismanaged, there is still a risk of alienating people with irrelevant campaigns, excessive numbers of emails, or even the wrong mode of address.

Communication via marketing automation should make customers feel that you are giving them more choice and agency – not that you see them as one more faceless consumer. For example, florist Bloom & Wild has received praise for emailing customers the opportunity to opt out of Mother’s Day communications. Demonstrating this sensitivity could have a powerful positive impact on the value of their brand.

Nonetheless, using marketing automation to personalise the content your customer sees goes far beyond email communication. It can include the ads you show them or even a modified version of your website. You have the tools to shape a customer’s experience around who they are as an individual.


Make sure your marketing automation complements your inbound marketing strategy; use the software to nurture existing customers based on the knowledge you have.
Utilise other external data sources to enhance the data you already possess about your customers.

5. Insufficient integration

If your marketing automation solution is not sufficiently integrated with your other digital tools and systems, then it will not react at the right moments – and the chance of a valuable interaction with the customer will be lost.

Certain user activity – for example, making an in-app purchase or downloading an eBook – should trigger a sequence of messages. These will ensure the user knows you value their interaction with your business and are there to support them to get the most out of it.


Try using data management software to help you integrate your marketing automation with your other systems.

6. Focusing on the wrong metrics

When you’re evaluating the success of your marketing automation, it’s easy to get distracted by one high-performing metric – forgetting that this is just one part of a bigger story.

Perhaps your open rate for one email campaign is 40% versus 10% for another. Based on that metric alone, it looks like the first campaign was more successful. But what about click-through rates? If that 40% opened the email but didn’t follow the link inside, whereas half of the 10% did, suddenly the second campaign looks more productive.

Considering how multiple metrics work together will give you a much more accurate picture of the impact of your marketing automation. Take a holistic approach. This will help prevent a waste of budget on ineffective strategies.


Make the most of web analytics tools to test your KPIs and ensure your marketing automation solution is keeping pace.


In the right hands, marketing automation will allow your business to grow while still providing a personal experience for customers. Choosing software with the appropriate level of functionality for your business – and then using these tools to their full potential – is crucial.

Keep your customers in mind at all times. Who are they, what are they buying, what content do they demand? This data needs to be measured, managed, and used to shape your automation strategy. Furthermore, checking that your systems are integrated and communicating with each other will ensure that the high-quality content you’ve produced is actually reaching the right people at the right time.

Providing you invest in the right software for your business needs, marketing automation will be a great asset to your company – allowing you to connect with more customers in more profound ways. But you must take time to understand the software’s functionality, integrate it with your existing systems, and ensure that it is delivering a message that will drive engagement and action.

Oren Greenberg
Oren Greenberg is a growth marketer and the founder of the Kurve consultancy in London, UK. He helps startups and corporate innovations projects scale using digital channels. He has written for leading marketing blogs and has been featured in the international press.


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