The Problem with Marketing Automation


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The marketing automation software market is expected to show continued dramatic growth in 2012, as companies frantically seek the “magic bullet” that will help them improve their marketing and sales performance in tough economic times. But there are no miracle cures, and we all know (or ought to) that technology by itself isn’t going to solve anything. In fact, there are worrying signs that mirror the “trough of disillusionment” that CRM fell into after a similarly over-hyped boom. And when the marketing automation providers themselves can’t work out how to apply their solutions intelligently, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Let me make my position clear: I’m a great believer in the potential of marketing automation when it is implemented thoughtfully and effectively. I feel the same way about CRM, but I can well remember how its reputation was tarnished by the failure to recognise that installing the technology would by itself achieve nothing (other than a growing amount of user frustration) if it was not intelligently configured and actively managed. Automating bad or poorly thought-through processes simply accelerate failure and highlight stupidity.

Quaffing their Own Champagne?

You would think that the marketing automation providers – of all people – would understand this, and would be enthusiastically eating their own dog food – or to use more refined imagery, “quaffing their own champagne”. Well, let me tell you – some of that champagne is warm and flat.

I have been following the marketing automation vendors for a long time, and I’ve been generally impressed by their marketing strategies. A handful of established players – Eloqua, Aprimo and Marketo amongst them – have emerged as the leading suppliers to medium to large enterprises, and I’ve always made it clear to them that as a small business, their solutions are way beyond my price point (I’ve been happily using Hubspot for years). In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to make it clear that I don’t consider myself a prospect.

Automating Stupidity Doesn’t Make it Smarter

Imagine my surprise, then, when one of these exemplars of marketing best practice (I won’t mention the name) followed up my attendance as an interested observer at a recent webinar with an automated email welcoming me as someone that had already made the decision to use their product. Oh, and by the way (and to quote) they then went on to say that they “believe that Marketing Automation is the future – the more we use it well the better marketers we become and that’s the ultimate goal.”

Hmm. Now, if I had been actively in the market, then frankly their presumption would have offended me, raised significant doubts about their ability to competently use their own products, and caused me to look elsewhere. And therein lies the problem with poorly executed marketing automation. You can chug along, nurturing your prospect, progressively increasing their regard for you, and then go and ruin it with one stupid act.

How did it happen? How did I end up on the wrong list? Am I the only person to have emerged with a newly negative perception of their organisation as a consequence? Who knows. But I am sure that the issue could have been avoided if they had indeed “used marketing automation well”.

3 Simple Suggestions

You see, when you automate anything, when you remove the human review from your actions, you had better be sure that you eliminate silly, avoidable errors. I am going to suggest that if any organisation is to make marketing automation a success that this must involve the following:

  • Pay careful attention to data quality. Data quality issues are often compounded when new lists are created or merged, or where existing records tagged with new information. It seems obvious that if you are going to automate decisions based on the information you have accumulated, that that data must be clean and uncompromised.
  • Design your processes carefully and in detail. Try and make sure that you’ve anticipated the various states that a prospect might find themselves in. Test “what if scenarios” to model what actions your model will take, and when. Allow scope – where appropriate – for human review and intervention.
  • Ensure that your messages “fail safe“. Don’t make unjustified or untestable assumptions about the prospect’s status. And even if (as in my case above) an inappropriate message is delivered to a prospect, take care with the wording and the content so that you minimise the chances of offense or (just as bad) ridicule.

I’m interested in your opinions – and your experiences. Do you see marketing automation as having the same potential (and the same dangers) as the CRM market went through a while ago? And have you got any lessons or suggestions as to how the changes of success can be boosted?

One Last Thing

When properly implement, marketing automation can help to align sales and marketing organisations around a common agreement as to who their best prospects are, what really matters, and how and why they make buying decisions.

If improving sales and marketing alignment is important to your organisation, I hope that you’ll join me for my upcoming BrightTALK-sponsored webinar on “Sales and Marketing Collaboration – from Vision to Implementation” on Tuesday 10th January 2012 at 10:00am UK Time. Even if you can’t attend, registering will give you access to the recording. I hope to see you online.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


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