Are We Making Marketing Automation Harder Than Necessary?


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Summary: Is stressing the need for process change making marketing automation too complicated, or a recognition of what it really takes for success? Vendors take both sides of the argument. So did Aesop: see The Tortoise and the Hare.

Act-On Software officially relaunched its system earlier this week, offering a new interface and a new positioning. The interface is perfectly nice but the positioning is ultimately more important. The company’s press release puts the key claim succinctly: “The Act-On Integrated Marketing Platform disrupts the conventional wisdom that companies need marketing automation solutions that are expensive, complex, and require significant services engagements to get them up and running.”

I’m not sure that whoever speaks for “conventional wisdom” would agree that marketing automation solutions must be expensive and complex. My own position (loosely paraphrasing Einstein) is it should be as complicated and costly as necessary, but not more.

However, the real meat of that statement is the third item: “significant services engagements”. This refers to the idea that marketing automation must accompanied by comprehensive planning and process engineering, which often require external assistance. The oracles of conventional wisdom would probably agree. I know I do.

Act-On begs to differ. Their belief, outlined to me in January by Sales VP Shawn Naggiar and CMO David Applebaum, is that most marketers just want to get things done immediately with existing resources. Of course, no one could argue with that – we all want something for nothing. The real question is whether marketing automation can actually deliver value without marketers making a more substantial investment. Act-On is betting that they can, especially if aided by software that’s designed to make easy things simple. The company just received $4 million in funding from others willing to share the bet, on top of an initial $2.5 million.

It would be easy to dismiss Act-On’s proposition as something between wishful thinking and pandering, right up there with diet-free weight loss. But I’ve heard almost exactly the same argument recently from other vendors including Net-Results, Marketbright, and, to lesser extent, All cite the need for an intermediate step between the simplicity of email-only systems and the complexity of full-blown marketing automation. They see closing this gap as the critical requirement in spreading marketing automation to the masses, and as a great business opportunity for themselves. When so many smart people reach the same conclusion, it’s worth serious consideration.

On the other hand, the vendors with the greatest success to date have stressed the importance of process. This is true not just at the high end of the market, but also at the low end, where Infusionsoft, OfficeAutoPilot and HubSpot all make huge efforts to educate and cajole their clients into using their systems fully.

Infusionsoft and OfficeAutoPilot are selling to much smaller businesses than Act-On, Net-Results, and the new Marketbright. Still, it’s interesting that vendors at both ends of the spectrum have found that process focus is essential. Maybe success requirements are really different in the middle – but I’d say the burden of proof is on those making that claim.

If I want to start a good argument, I should probably end this post here. Drawing clear battle lines between vendors who believe in process and those who don’t should certainly prompt some response.

But that wouldn’t be fair to either side. The process-oriented vendors do strive to make it easy to get started, and the start-up-oriented vendors do expect their clients’ processes to mature over time. And, while Act-On, Net-Results, Marketbright, and Genius all argue that their systems are substantially easier to use than products like Pardot, Marketo and LoopFuse, those vendors surely disagree. My own (fair but wimpy) opinion is that there are significant differences among individual systems but neither group is generally easier or more powerful than the other. Users have to do the hard work of matching the system to their particular needs and style. Eat your spinach.

That said, the role of process is an important and worthwhile subject for debate. The greatest danger I see facing the B2B marketing automation industry is that it will develop a reputation for failure. This is exactly what happened to CRM systems when people started to think that simply purchasing one was a guarantee of success. It took a long time and much hard work for the industry to overcome the stigma of the resulting failures. They have now established that careful planning and disciplined deployment are essential for clients to receive real benefits.

Perhaps we’re doomed to repeat this history. It’s the “trough of despair” in the hype cycle. But we can at least try to avoid it. My position is this: marketers can start small with their automation systems, but they should still go into the project recognizing that real value requires substantial change. Ignoring this reality is bad for everyone.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. I think the answer here is, “it depends”. It depends on the customer’s current situation. Some grossly inefficient, manual processes will quickly become more efficient upon implementation of a marketing technology solution, because of the very nature of the solution and not necessarily because of carefully planning. Sales lead qualification through automated scoring would be an example of this.

    On the other hand, some advances require a lot more planning and process, e.g. lead nurturing. This tactic involves mapping out the buying cycle, creating a wealth of content and building campaigns.

    It’s expected that a customer of a marketing automation system will go through an evolution over time as the customer is able to move from old processes to new ones. Some wins take place right away, others come with time.


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