What’s Wrong with Marketing Automation Today


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Over the last decade, research has consistently shown two undeniable truths about marketing automation:

  1. Superior performing organizations are more likely to invest in marketing automation (want proof check out the Revenue Performance Management Gleansight Benchmark Report). We can actually correlate success with use of marketing automation (when best practices are followed).
  2. Over 80% of the companies that invest in marketing automation fail to leverage the full breadth of features in the tools. In fact, 7 out of 10 have a difficult time moving beyond traditional batch and blast email campaigns- which was the very reason they likely invested in the first place.

You can’t help but wonder, what’s the deal? Why is this so difficult? And make no mistake, marketing automation can be difficult for the average marketer (even Top Performing organizations).

  • It’s time consuming to learn best practices.
  • It’s difficult to learn the nuances of different platforms.
  • It’s hard to prioritize over other day-to-day activities that you actually get measured on.
  • It’s time consuming to create content.
  • It’s difficult to orchestrate cross-channel strategies.
  • It’s difficult to justify changing whatever archaic marketing processes your organization has been slave to for the last decade.

The problem is, it’s really really easy to buy into marketing automation and what it can offer for your organization. And the return on investment is legit; there are countless case studies to prove it. You can see clear as day that point A (where you are today with a single email tool) is not ideal, and point B (a multi-channel, behavior based, automated communication platform) is critical to continued growth as an organization. But, what happens in-between point A and point B is a little tougher to map out because there are lots of different paths and approaches that can achieve similar outcomes. Part of that difficulty lies in general marketing strategy and expertise. Old habits die hard. The old generic mass email messages just don’t cut it anymore, and marketers need to embrace the complex sale in the age of information accessibility and the informed customer. But many marketers are educated about what they need to do, and still struggle to find the time to do it. And, in that case, I blame marketing automation tools for not making our life a little easier.

I’m not Leonardo da Vinci. That’s what’s wrong with Marketing Automation

Marketing automation tools are extremely powerful and undeniably valuable, but they don’t do a great job at helping marketers get from point A to point B. Sure, most providers have professional services, and success coaches, but the technology can do more to simplify my life as a marketer and save me time. Marketing automation technology is a blank canvas, but I’m not a skilled painter. I have to know how many times to touch a prospect, what type of channel to use, how long to wait, what to ask for on the form capture, etc. If you gave me the best paintbrushes in the world, I couldn’t produce a Leonardo DaVinci style painting. But marketing automation is just that, a really great platform with really great capabilities and a blank slate for campaign execution. Literally, marketers have to go in and drag over campaign elements to a blank workspace to configure them in most tools.

Here’s the issue, marketing automation is a utility knife of really cool things, all of which are useful; web analytics, email, landing pages, lead alerts, lead scoring, social media, CRM integration, etc. But like a good utility knife, it’s really only useful if the user knows which tool to pull out in just the right situation. Even the most simplistic marketing automation tool is like a Star Trek spacecraft to the average marketer. It’s capable of incredible things, but it needs a pilot that knows how to operate it. And even if you know what needs to be done, who has the time. Even Top Performers experienced a learning curve. In our research, the Top Performing organizations are typically early adopters of technologies, which suggests it takes time to really learn the nuances and best practices. But marketing automation isn’t new anymore, there are loads of best practices by industry, company size, sales focus, etc. It seems to me that technology providers should be baking these established best practices into the platform, not the service package. Here’s what I want to see from marketing automation tools:

Campaign Template Libraries

Email Template libraries have been a key differentiator for Email Marketing providers for years. “Search our library of email templates there are hundreds – and that’s why we are better!” So why don’t we have template libraries for campaigns in marketing automation? We now know there are a handful of different lead nurturing campaigns for customer acquisition, customer retention, reanimation (see Set-and-Forget Nurture Marketing for the Overwhelmed Marketer for the seven types of lead nurturing campaigns.) Why can’t Marketing Automation providers configure template campaigns so marketers have a basic starting point. Give me a coloring book, and I can do a pretty good job at making it look good. Let marketers fill in the copy, creative, and customize things. But give us somewhere to start from. Heck, with the popularity of social communities, let marketers save templates in a library and have the customer community rank and rate the best ones. Or pre-configure industry specific templates to choose from. That’s sticky, and that’s compelling. I think more marketers would take a stab at more advanced features if there was a clear path to walk through.

Gamification that Unlocks the Platform

Nine times out of ten, marketers struggle to leverage all of the different capabilities in marketing automation tools. It’s overwhelming. In many cases, companies that invest in marketing automation end up using the same basic campaign features over and over for years. But what if the marketing automation tools were designed to adapt and learn based on use. Most marketers just want to send an email campaign the first time they enter the tool. What if that first email campaign unlocked other features, and marketers could earn badges and unlock capabilities by trying new tactics and techniques. Add a social element to the gamificaiton and the customer community can then earn badges and rewards for helping other customers. Gamification could help force marketers to start with baby steps and gradually earn and learn more advanced and valuable features.

We’re Waiting

So, I know for a fact some providers are starting to think about the campaign template library concept -including Infusionsoft and LeadFormix. But I have yet to see anything from an execution standpoint. Anyone else? One theme I have seen in the research is a general lack of customer loyalty in the marketing automation landscape. It’s easy to switch providers. But why do so many companies feel the need to? Maybe there’s still something missing. Perhaps it’s time to re-think marketing automation tools. Make them easy not easier. That’s what’s wrong with marketing automation.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Michiels
Ian Michiels is a Principal & CEO at Gleanster Research, a globally known IT Market Research firm covering marketing, sales, voice of the customer, and BI. Michiels is a seasoned analyst, consultant, and speaker responsible for over 350 published analyst reports. He maintains ongoing relationships with hundreds of software executives each year and surveys tens of thousands of industry professionals to keep a finger on the pulse of the market. Michiels has also worked with some of the world's biggest brands including Nike, Sears Holdings, Wells Fargo, Franklin Templeton, and Ceasars.


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